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Posts Tagged ‘Brookline’

flowers lilies windowsill church tulips brookline easter 

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins…

Easter at Brookline: gold-foil-wrapped pots of flowers lining the deep windowsills, tulips and lilies and hyacinths, bright splashes of color against the white walls. When you pull back the glass-paned double doors at the rear of the church, the scent hits you like a wave. It smells like spring, like hope, like resurrection in the face of impossible odds.

We set up two long tables behind the back pews and pile them with food, a rough division of sweets and savories, plates of sandwiches and mini quiche and cookies galore. Sarah brings the traditional cake frosted to look like a lamb. Sierra makes her cherry-center cookies dusted with powdered sugar. Early on Easter morning, the hubs slices avocados in our kitchen, a sturdy apron tied over his pastel-striped church shirt. The guacamole is a reliable crowd pleaser, even if we eat a lot of it ourselves.

And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains…

I didn’t walk through Lent this year the way I sometimes do, with an urgent, pressing awareness of the story. After a blue-skied Ash Wednesday, which fell incongruously on Valentine’s Day, a thousand other things demanded my attention. Even Holy Week felt fragmented: we were on the West Coast seeing friends on Palm Sunday, then jet-lagged through the days leading up to Easter, busy with to-do lists and the demands of everyday life. I wasn’t quite able to quiet down and listen.

Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power…

On Friday night, we pulled together the worship order for Sunday, sitting in our living room, discussing hymns and Scripture readings, updating the prayer list. J suggested we begin the service by singing an old hymn, just the two of us and his guitar. We sang and he strummed, and on Sunday morning, we stood up in front of the community we love, and did it for them.

Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved to sin no more…

This was our eighth Easter in this place, with these people, and as I looked out over the pews, I saw faces I love deeply and faces I’d never seen before. I saw the couple with their toddler son in his seersucker blazer, who are days away from welcoming their second child. I saw our friends who moved up from Texas three summers ago, on little more than hope and a sense of adventure. I saw our church treasurer, Dale, with his tall Jewish wife and daughter, all of whom had prepared and hosted a Passover Seder for us at the church the night before. I saw the couple who moved here from California for a year back in 1967, who have never stopped serving this church.

I sang to all of them, for all of them, my voice rising over the lines I know so well, and I saw how so many of them smiled back at me, how they could not help but sing along.

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day…

I’ve been humming this hymn on and off since I read the second Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne mystery, which shares part of its title. In the book, Clare is unnerved by the song, but I’ve always loved it. It belongs to the canon of hymns we sang when I was a little girl, the ones that put the cross front and center, that remind us of the ways this story is visceral and real.

And there may I, though vile as he
Wash all my sins away…

You can’t have a resurrection without a physical death first; you can’t have a true redemption story without it getting very, very dark. A fountain filled with blood is a gruesome image, maybe, but in my mind it has always been linked to hope and grace.

E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply…

We listened, that morning, to Amy reading from the gospel of Mark, recounting how Mary Magdalene was first baffled, then afraid and – at last – amazed. We listened to Dasha, age 12, reading the words of Psalm 118: This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. We listened to Colette, nine months old, adding her voice to the congregation’s chorus as we sang the familiar hymns.

christ the lord easter hymn sheet music

We listened to Landon reminding us of the hope of the resurrection, the fierce gladness that has endured for all these years. And when I got up to speak over the communion table, I said: today we celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, of life over death, and the certainty that we are loved beyond what we can imagine.

Redeeming love has been my theme
And shall be till I die…

Those are my favorite lines from this hymn. Those of us who have believed, who have made this story our own, are called to tell it, to keep singing this song for our whole lives. We have witnessed redemption and joy, light beyond the clouds of the darkest, most bitter night. We have been rescued from grief, from loneliness, from pain: we do not get to dodge it or avoid it, but we are assured that there is something beyond it, that God is making all things new. This story, which at times baffles and confuses and even breaks our hearts, is the story we will wrestle with forever, and the story we will tell until we die.

If you celebrated, I hope you had a wonderful Easter.

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Last month, I wrote about my need for a neighborhood – and how the smallest church I’ve ever been a part of, with the simplest, most stripped-down services, is becoming my place of home, of rest. Felicity commented (on that post) that she’d heard of city churches stripping down their production values to appeal to overstimulated city dwellers. And the more I think about that, the more it fits. That isn’t why we chose Brookline, but it’s certainly part of why we’ve stayed.

I’ve been a part of three big churches in my life (plus more, when I was a kid) – and all of them are high-production in some way. My parents’ church has an organ, a choir, an occasional orchestra (in which I used to play flute), and a big, extravagant Easter pageant every two years. (I sang and acted in said pageant half a dozen times, and loved it.)

My church in Oxford, though it follows much of the liturgy of the Anglican church (particularly for prayers and communion), has a praise band and snazzy PowerPoint slides and lots of events every day of the week. If, during my time in Oxford, I’d wanted to be at St Aldates every night, I could have. (And as an expat student – often a lonely one – I adored the community there.)

Finally, my church in Abilene, though perhaps simpler than the other two, is high-production in the way of most big churches. There are a lot of details to iron out when you’re serving a congregation of two thousand or so. There are baptisms and baby blessings and Senior Sunday every May, and Wednesday night events and praise teams and semi-annual church retreats and oh my, it’s no wonder my husband used to get a little stressed when he helped organize worship and plan events. Make no mistake: we loved it, and we miss it. But since moving to Boston, I’ve become so grateful for simplicity.

Brookline is housed in a small brick building, whose graceful blue-gray walls, vaulted ceiling and large windows let the light in (and recall its original existence as an art gallery). Our services contain almost no flash – but they bespeak a quiet sincerity I find restful. We certainly don’t all agree on matters of theology (or other things, I’d wager), but most folks seem more inclined toward thoughtful discussion than toward argument. We all pitch in to make the service happen, wash the dishes afterward, bring snacks before worship, bring food for our monthly potluck. And no one has any interest in making things complicated or fancy for their own sake. Which, in a city where life often requires a lot of complicated effort, is a balm for my soul.

I’m working on making our apartment into a similar kind of haven – look for a post on that soon.

Where do you find haven and quiet space in your life?

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I’m usually not a reluctant reader.

Even when I was in school, and we had to read certain books, I rarely minded – and usually wound up enjoying them. But I wasn’t (and still am not) much given to reading fantasy. So when, after I read The Hobbit in ninth grade (and liked it), my dad started bugging me to read The Lord of the Rings, I brushed him off. For years.

I did pick up his copy of The Fellowship of the Ring once or twice, but I got bogged down in the long prologue and first chapter. However, after the first (brilliant) movie came out, in 2001, I fell deeply and instantly in love with the story, the characters, the languages – everything about Middle-earth. I blazed through the first book in a week, went to see the movie again, then read the other two books long before the second movie hit screens. I’ve now read the trilogy four times – each time picking up my dad’s soft, worn set of 1965 paperbacks, with maps in the front and yellow-edged pages and original cover art by Tolkien in muted shades of blue, green, gold, brown and grey.

I hope to inherit those books from my dad someday – he loves Tolkien more deeply than anyone I know, and those books are a treasure of his – but I also hope that day is a long way off. And in the meantime, I’ll want to read them again and again. So I thought about buying them in nice, new editions – or even a three-in-one volume – but somehow that didn’t quite feel right.

There are dozens of editions of Lord of the Rings, of course – one-volume, three-volume, hardback, paperback, annotated, movie tie-in, whatever. But I wanted these editions. The ones my dad used to read aloud from, trying to convince me I’d love the books (his favorite scene is the showdown between Gandalf and the Balrog in The Fellowship of the Ring, where Gandalf shouts, “You shall not pass!”). The ones with hand-drawn maps, so I can flip back and forth and follow Frodo and his companions on their journeys through Fangorn Forest and down the River Anduin and across the Emyn Muil. The ones I took to England with me and read on various bus and train trips, thinking as I did so, “This is the Shire. This is the country Tolkien wrote about.”

So I borrowed my dad’s copies once, twice, three times in college, took them with me to Oxford and Abilene, but still never bought my own. And then, in 2007, I found a copy of The Two Towers in just the right edition – my dad’s edition – at Shakespeare & Company in Paris. For 4 euros.

I bought it, of course, and they put the store stamp (which depicts the Bard’s head) in it for me. And ever since then, I’ve been sort of casually keeping an eye out for the other two.

I found a similar-if-not-quite-the-same edition of The Return of the King in Oxford, on one of my trips back in ’06 or ’07, for a pound in the stalls outside Arcadia. A pound! I couldn’t resist; despite the slightly cartoony cover art, the fonts, the maps, the heft and feel of it were right. I handed the bookseller a gold pound coin and counted myself lucky a second time.

The search for Fellowship, the first volume in the trilogy and the last to complete my set, has lasted another several years. I thought for sure I’d happen upon a copy in an Oxfam shop, or even strike gold twice at Shakespeare & Co., at Arcadia, or at Brattle Bookshop here in Boston. But no luck.  I even found Two Towers and Return of the King in the Brattle stalls last month – and put them back, regretfully, since Fellowship wasn’t with them. And then, recently, I was in Brookline Booksmith doing some Christmas shopping, and wandered over to the sci-fi/fantasy shelf in the Used Book Cellar, out of habit, just to check.

And there it was: the perfect edition of Fellowship, with the painting of Hobbiton on the cover and the brief, gushing foreword by Peter S. Beagle (which ends with the lovely line “Let us at last praise the colonizers of dreams”). In great condition for a 45-year-old paperback. For $3.

Yes, of course I bought it. And now I have the complete set – each book picked up in a bookshop, and a city, that has special meaning for me. A bibliophile/book-nerd’s dream.

I’m thinking this calls for a reread this winter.

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An odd, beautiful mix of old and new. My mom’s sweet potato casserole, topped with pecans and brown sugar; Abi’s cranberry-mandarin sauce; Fei-Ying’s Cajun chicken; Jill’s green bean casserole; a huge turkey; Desiree’s sushi. Candles and confetti leaves on a long table in the Brookline basement. Singing “Give Thanks” all together, a cappella, before the meal, as both prayer and blessing. Board games after dinner – Bananagrams, Sequence, Rock Band and Krokinole. Cups of tea from Abi’s enormous stash. Peanut butter balls and pumpkin pie.

Breakfast at Abi and Nate’s on Thanksgiving morning; scones and sausage and tea, and Thanksgiving episodes of Friends. Kelsey and Bailey, getting their first taste of Boston and nearly doubling the size of our little Boston coffee night on Tuesday. Wade and Kristin, playing tour guides on Friday; Daniel, insisting that the girls try Mike’s famous cannoli. (So. Delicious.)

Some quiet evenings with J, since we neither traveled nor hosted guests, and some attendant loneliness. Remembering Thanksgiving in Oxford, the only other one I’ve ever spent away from my parents and sister. A bit of sadness because I’m a grown-up now, and I live far away from my family, and things can’t ever be the same, not really, as they used to be. (And a teeny bit of jealousy for my sister, who spent Thanksgiving on the beach in Hawaii with her in-laws.)

I found it sometimes hard to be thankful this year. Since I am jobless and our community here is small, I spend a lot of time these days focusing on what we don’t have. But I am still deeply thankful for family, even if they are far away, and for our small, loving Boston circle, and for all the tastes and smells of the season. I’m thankful for my health, and for sunny, crisp autumn days, and for all the small blessings that abound here, and which I notice perhaps more since some of the big blessings are different or absent.

How was your Thanksgiving?

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I’d heard of Brookline Booksmith before we ever arrived in Boston, thanks to the wonderful Shelf Awareness, a daily e-newsletter for the book trade that often spotlights indie bookstores. Booksmith has two locations, one in Brookline and one in Wellesley, and they host and spearhead various events, so they were on my radar. However, I literally stumbled across it a couple of Sundays ago, as we walked through Brookline to get lunch after church. I peeked inside and vowed I’d be back.

And oh MY:

Its shelves seem to go back forever – and then there’s the used book cellar, a treasure trove of all sorts of literary goodness. Pardon my gushing, but after eight years in Abilene (which REALLY NEEDS a good indie bookstore), I’m a little giddy with all the great bookstores around here. They’ve got a lovely gift section that includes stationery, jewelry, socks (of all things) and journals galore:

There’s also an an adorable children’s area in the back, and full-to-bursting young adult shelves:

Their fiction section is huge; they have a writing shelf and a large travel section and tables of bargain books, and author events on a regular basis. I’m in love.

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the Lord’s Prayer

As a church kid, I’ve known the Lord’s Prayer practically all my life. I memorized it in Sunday School and then again in Bible Drill; our pastors referred to it frequently; and when my church served communion once a quarter, the Lord’s Prayer set to music was always the finale. At the end of the service, we’d all stand and join hands across the aisles, and listen to the organ swelling, and then join our voices in the prayer Jesus taught us (though I admit that musical version gets a little operatic at the end).

At Highland, at St Aldates and now at Brookline, the Lord’s Prayer is a weekly occurrence, recited in unison by the congregation and whoever’s up front. And each time I hear it, wherever I am, I hear other layers of voices in my head – and for a moment I’m all three places at once.

I’m at St Aldates, where the accents are British and the Lord’s Prayer comes as part of the liturgy they use every week. (That liturgy is interspersed with praise songs, but they still use the Book of Common Prayer for confession, communion, etc.) I can see Charlie in his gray suit, or Simon in his black jacket, and hear both their voices saying, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

I’m at Highland, where the prayer usually comes after a few songs, sometimes after another prayer or another Scripture reading. I’m often on stage at Highland, in a line of nine people holding microphones (usually standing next to Jeremiah), reciting the prayer with a thousand other voices. Sometimes I close my eyes; sometimes I look out over the congregation at the faces I love. I can hear Mike’s voice, and Jeremiah’s, and the voices of many elders and church leaders. (At Highland, we say “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”)

And I’m at Brookline, where we’ve been spending Sundays since we came to Boston, where all 30 or so of us recite the prayer, Asian and Russian and Middle Eastern accents blending with American, our voices echoing in the quiet, blue-walled sanctuary that used to be an art gallery. At Brookline, we say “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

But at all four churches, we ask forgiveness. For what we’ve done; for what we’ve left undone. We ask humbly for our daily bread; we ask for God’s Kingdom to come on earth, His will to be done as it is in heaven. And at each church, and at thousands of others across the world, we say my favorite line: “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”

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When we told our Abilene friends we were moving to Boston, everyone who had lived, worked, gone to school or even traveled here said the same thing: “You’ve got to try Brookline.”

Nate and Abi, who arrived a month before we did, were already plugged in at Brookline by the time we arrived – and so we took little convincing, on our first Sunday in Boston, to come to the tiny, adorable church in the heart of Brookline:

I’ve been at big churches all my life – the last three churches I’ve been a member of have each had more than a thousand members. Brookline is tiny by any standard – just 30 or 40 souls in the pews each Sunday. And yet I love it. It’s a tightly knit community, people of all ages, races and backgrounds coming together to sing some hymns and share communion, to listen to a sermon and then thoughtfully discuss it. The singing is a cappella, a nod to its Church of Christ heritage, but there’s some liturgy from the Book of Common Prayer, which reminds me of my beloved St Aldates Oxford. There’s always a prayer for the church and the world, which I love because the church can never afford to forget about the world, and each Sunday night a bunch of us gather at Amy and Ryan’s for dinner, singing and fellowship.

Don’t get me wrong: I miss Highland deeply. I miss singing on Sunday mornings and looking out over the congregation as part of the praise team; I miss standing next to Jeremiah as he leads worship (though of course we stand next to each other in the pew). I miss eating doughnuts, giving and receiving hugs, listening and laughing in Sojourners class. I miss our Lifeteam every day, but especially on Sunday nights. I miss my coffee ladies – oh, how I miss them. (Thank God that sweet Abi is here with me.)

But I love Brookline already. This feels like a thoughtful, compassionate community dedicated to seeking out God’s work in the world. We’ve been welcomed in with open arms; we have a place to come, to worship, to serve, to be nurtured, to be loved. And I am, above all else, so thankful.

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