“When the song of the angels is stilled ..

img_3277Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.    W. H Auden

Yes, W. H. Auden, this Christmas Eve, “everything became a You and nothing was an It!”   I loved this Christmas Eve the best of all my years of priesthood.  Gorgeous music, flowers, mostly smooth liturgy, beloved people—friends and strangers.  Okay, one of the greeneries caught a little bit on fire at the One o’clock, and we had a tiny little throw up moment at the Three!   The good news of great joy still came to us!  (Though it did take this 69 year old two days to recuperate!)

Around this block, it goes very very quiet the next eleven days after the first Eve of the first day of Christmas . . .

Kevin watches over the going-back-to-work-parents dropping off kids at Bright Horizons.

There is NO PROBLEM getting a parking place. There is just quiet, quiet, quiet.


There is no line to get in and no friends to hug, no children to exclaim over.  Below a lady walks her chihuahua which is nice but not miraculous. Is Christmas over?


 No  Indeed!  Christmas is not over!  We are just catching our breath.

The Wise People are still seeking!
The Shepherds are still in awe and still watching over their flocks.

For instance, on the Third Day of Christmas here is Johnathan Davis, Executive Director Shepherd of the Covenant Community.

Shepherding goes on around this block every day. 

Below may be a little doorway on the North Avenue side of our block that you don’t recognize, but it’s a holy stable.  Around this block we host ten 12-step meetings a week. Up these steps, people help each other find their lives and their personhood.  Shepherding is always a community project. 

One meeting started twenty-five years ago by Covenant Community folk is called Home Sweet Home. Isn’t that great?

And LOOK! Threads will open tomorrow just like always, because great kids deserve great clothes!

Finding just what you need is surely just what God wants for all.

And of course even after the manger scene is put lovingly away, we still have our favorite donkey in the window! Remember around this block, jackasses are beloved, too!  This is the window near where Carroll and I will  be buried. We have lots of friends and relatives there already.   

Jesus asked specially for a donkey in his big parade, and All Saints’ has a beaut!

The theologian and poet Howard Thurman gives us our marching orders in this beloved poem.  Please God may we live into this deep and abiding life.

The Work of Christmas

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

Thank you God for Christmas Eve, 2016. We needed it.  Help us to live in this light.

Martha +

Stumped on Christmas Gifts? We Got You!!

Ann Woodall has got it going on for real. I look phony. Flash is plotting something.

This fall beloved Saint Ann Woodall came into town and we started remembering Ann’s theology of  “the ministry of the smile.”  The picture above shows a right way and two wrong ways to smile for I am faking it and Flash looks like he wants to bite someone. Ann has a smile that is the gift that keeps on giving! I remember back in the old days I would go lie down on the sofa in Ann’s office and say Want to know who is on my last nerve today? (Sorry Harry!) And Ann would laugh and smile me out of my crankiness.  Smiles are miracles. 

Look Ann!  The staff still has LOTS of huge smiles.  We are SO happy and proud for Tremaine Davis, our webmaster!  Tremaine graduated this week from Georgia State and also just got a great job in his hometown of NYC teaching people how to build websites and make them more exciting!


Around this block we rejoice with those who rejoice! And yes, weep with those who weep.

Here is an oldie but goodie nineties era Smile-Fest from Jim Pritchett who got DOCC up and running— Disciples of Christ in Community!!  Jim just retired as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Western North Carolina. I keep up with him on FB so you might connect with him there.  A good priest, good guy.

DOCC was GREAT!  Look for you or someone you love!

Below is a present day picture of what you might call WARM SMILES!! GALAS collected a record breaking number of coats for kids at Threads!


Tim photo-bombed but he is smiling, too!

Sometimes people smile with their whole body (Look at BBT!); sometimes people smile with their whole face (our friend, Catherine Meeks) and sometimes folks smile with their eyes (priest and psychologist and one of the saints of Canterbury Court, Walter Smith)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And then there is whole ‘nother kind of smile from Flash Sterne – ears to tail! Creation is full of the glory of the Lord—sometimes in the smiles of creatures large and small.  What creaturely smile do you love?

For a small dog living on the 28th floor, running free on a beach is kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes a smile is somewhat complex. Flash took a while to warm up to Tim but he did. Sort of.  This photo was taken in the pre-warmed-up-to-Tim moment.

Flash is rarely cowed but I think Tim’s smile cowed him!

Who smiles the smiles you count on??  A smile I love is Mike’s who is the shepherd of the place where Carroll and  I live.  Mike smiles through it all and has since Park Place opened almost thirty years ago.  He even knew how to smilingly manage my mother-in-law and those of you who knew Helen Hopkins Sterne  know what an exciting job that would be!!


Mike can multi-task smile!  

When you tell MIke something you are worried about, he smiles reassuringly and says, “I got you.” I’m not sure what that means but it helps.   Once when my own mother became confused and slipped out of the building, Mike, followed her and brought her home like the Good Shepherd.  She was smiling.  And that was a miracle.

No matter how dire the situation, look around for an encouraging smile or try to offer a smile.  Around this block, smiles are the gifts that keep on giving. Here is an old smiler Carroll spotted in Greece.

Does he terrify you? He inspires me.

Here are smiles to break the heart open. Our newest refugee family. From Burma by way of a long time in camps in Malaysia. Once they had no people. Now we have each other.  You will notice their beautiful celebration/wedding clothes: I hear the garments were created by their mother, and they wanted to wear their wedding garments to meet us. (Jesus told a story about that!) Please pray for the almost 7,000,000 displaced persons in the world, and may we continue to be a welcoming home, family after family.

How beautiful it is when strangers are welcomed.  For all of us have been strangers somewhere, too.  

Finally, a blessed Advent from some of the generation to generation smilers in my family.  These are also complex smiles that kind of make my eyes well up. Christine was just finishing the 2015 New York Marathon running on the Beat Pancreatic Cancer team in memory of her truly darling mom, Tisha, (an Irish/English immigrant). The picture of Carroll, Anna, Charles and me was taken last week   two hours after we said goodbye to our beloved brother-in-law/uncle Yves.  The kids – well that’s just an old pic of them that I threw in because our grandson is smiling such a great fake smile and our granddaughter is smiling such a long-suffering big sister smile. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pass a smile on today. And then catch one from friend or family or pet or stranger.  Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Martha +




Around this block we gather from many other beloved places. That’s the secret.

Maybe my sixth birthday?  Like my cowboy jacket? I LOVED it. Birthday 69 was good, too.

Last week marked the beginning of my seventieth circle around the sun most of which have been spent in Mississippi, Atlanta, and East Tennessee.  It was a week of terrifying wildfires in East Tennessee very close to where we lived for ten years. You’ve heard about the conflagration in and around Gatlinburg?   Blount County is the next county over and as you see below,  there was a thousand-acre fire set on purpose  – maybe kids fooling around, maybe an arsonist- right behind Walland Elementary School on a beautiful little winding, wild-flower meadowed road. In my years of living close to  these mountains  I never ever imagined this destruction, though wildfires and arson are certainly not unknown in that world.  God bless all the people and beasts and flora.

Dear God. See the deer sheltering from the blazes in the Little River?

Our cabin, which we built and loved, is three miles past the Walland School down East Miller’s Cove. We sold it a few years ago but this screen porch especially is still  in my heart and comes to All Saints’ with me.

See Carroll and the cat?  Flash was not part of our pack yet.

Our beloved  neighborhood “block” up in East Tennessee was Chilhowee Mountain, really a forty-mile long and narrow ridge in the foothills. Looking over toward the Great Smoky Mountains, this is what we would see from our cabin.

The Great Smoky Mountains are the world’s largest temperate rain forest, but it didn’t rain this year. Water is rising in places it shouldn’t (beaches) and is MIA where it should be.

All Saints’ Earth Stewards are good at reminding us of the need to care for our creation. You would be very welcome to join them, and certainly we need to listen a lot more because, when a place you love is endangered, it hurts all of us around this block, and really all around the world.  Our blocks are so so so interconnected.

Back to last week being the beginning of my seventieth circle around the sun.  I had three birthday parties with so much territory to cover, so many years!  And so many beloved blocks to remember.

First  another all girl birthday party just like my six year old one.

Cousins and Saints Ann Pearce, Sue Mobley, and Sister-in-love, Helen Anderson. (Helen IS a saint but she deserted us and went Presbyterian.)  I got rings, FO, and a neckid dog.

And see how beautifully interconnected our block is?

Look beyond our friends to our block—Covenant Community is closest, then on and on.

And here’s my other (surprise)  party to which I was late because of the Varsity Party. And I am not even a Party Animal! I love these people—the gifts of them, the heart of them, the goofiness of them!  Note that the priests and a couple of other folks aren’t there.  That’s surely  because they are off doing good works!  We saved them so cake.  Your new rector is a lucky duck.  The people and staff around this block – gift, gift, gift, gift.

Is this a rogues’ gallery or WHAT?

We had one more party for supper – kids, grandkids, dogs – at our daughter’s place but we didn’t take any pictures because Flash barked his head off (who knows why?) and we forgot.  The other two dogs were angelic, and it was a great gathering, too!  So instead of a picture of that party, here is a picture of Flash and Carroll with whom I almost always begin and end my days.  They are heading to the elevator to  go down 28 floors and take care of business somewhere around our block.  I guarantee Carroll has a plastic bag in his pocket because he always does unto others as he would have them do unto him.  Flash doesn’t care.

Flash is not a great dog, but he is our dog.

Thank you for letting me spend my seventieth rotation around the sun with you on our beloved block of Saints of truly all sorts and conditions. You know the saying, we are only separated from anyone anywhere around the world by six people?  Six degrees of separation!  Please pray with me that we may connect with person after person,  block after block after block, all around this city and this state and this country and God’s world with our hopes and needs  (we are not the always gifted ones) and our compassion and  receptivity.

Here’s one last pic of another of my favorite blocks, Roseland, our family’s farm outside of Natchez … many, many block residents—cousins, critters, etc. and stories for another day.

Caddie is quite the joker. Spoiled rotten just like Flash.  Is there a common element?

God bless your blocks. Bring them to church with you.

Martha +