Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Virginia's Life: Springtime & Quarantine Edition

Welcome to Virginia's Life: Springtime & Quarantine edition!

It's been six months since I posted here, so it's time for an update! We've been in coronavirus-lockdown-of-sorts for over two months now. What does that look like for me?

The main thing is that I am working from home (WFH) for the foreseeable future. My employer sent us all home with laptops and headsets. We don't have a definitive word on when my department (crisis hotline) is going back to the office, but I suspect it won't be anytime soon. I don't miss the hour long round trip commute, I like working at home, and it's not so bad with teenagers who respect the need for privacy and quiet. 

My desk with snack rack to the right

I miss seeing my adult children and my grandchildren as often. We did a drive-up-and-stand-on-the-sidewalk greeting when my second daughter turned 31 in April and some of us have cautiously seen each other at various other points in time. Easter was really quiet with only my three teens who still live here, as well as their father, who lives nearby and came over to the house to join us for the meal. (He kindly planted the hibiscus bush that you see at the top of this post.) Our family also keeps in touch and sends photos via a group thread in the Messenger app. One of my sons joined the Navy in February, survived quarantine in boot camp, and is in another training school for the next year. We're glad that he could rejoin the family conversations once they returned his phone!

All ten kids together before one brother left for bootcamp!

For my Mother's Day present, my sweet kids hired Daniel Morris, a violinist in California, to do a splendid virtual serenade concert for me. I especially love his rendition of Andra Day's "Rise Up" and I've been playing the recording frequently! It's also such a cool way for him to support his family during quarantine! Check out his page (clink on his name above) to listen to his beautiful music, leave a tip, or hire him for an online gig! A YouTube of Andra Day's vocal version is at the end of this post.

I am also super proud of two of my daughters who were featured on the news recently - one as a hospital cardiovascular PCU RN and the other for fundraising and delivering meals to nurses in her sister's unit and what was then the COVID-only floor where her sister-in-law is a nurse. Watch it here! Sister's Project Helps Siblings, Nurses Care for OtheSister's Project Helps Siblings, Nurses Care for Others er's Project Helps Siblings, Nurses Care for Others

Besides my family, the other thing I really miss is in-person church services. Our congregation, Church of the Incarnation, started out with live-streaming on Sunday mornings (with just several people in the chapel to run the show), but then switched to pre-recording on Fridays. Though we could officially start in person services, we are holding off and don't have a return date set yet. I have been able to take part in two of the recordings as the Scripture reader. Here is the Facebook video link for April 26, with my part starting at the 9 1/2 minute mark. I will be even more involved in services in whatever format) all summer since I am interning at the church for my Mentored Ministry class at Asbury Seminary.  A team of 14 from our church was scheduled to go on a "listen & learn" mission trip to Honduras for a week in July, but that got cancelled because of the virus, so we're especially having to improvise to replace those internship hours I would have accumulated there. My pastor and I have brainstormed about expanding our use of virtual & digital ministry. We are already using Zoom for weekly prayer and Bible study meetings, but we are evaluating the opportunities for more online liturgy, mentoring, encouragement, and congregational care.

Zoom Bible study! I'll be leading one on Philippians soon!

I have been practicing for all of this by making some quarantine-care videos which you can see on one of my other blogs here:
As for shopping, for groceries I am mostly using Walmart's online ordering with curbside pickups once or twice a week. This usually works well, but my last try was a 70 minute wait even after they said my order was ready. I also put on my mask (which a sweet friend made for me) and venture into Aldi for a quick socially-distanced grocery trip every few weeks.  I order frequently from Amazon Prime, like my favorite lemon protein bars, toiletries, tripod and mic for video making, printer ink, and curtains and decor lights for my daughter's newly reorganized bedroom. I got the Prime service for six months free as a student, and now pay only half price for it. I also order Kindle books for seminary and for personal reading. Why Kindle? Lots of reasons! Saves space, immediate delivery, no paper or packaging, adjust font size for my eyes, color-coded highlights, search function, copy & paste with citations, and read anywhere on phone or laptop or tablet!

Speaking of school, this semester I had two classes which were mostly online with just five full days in a real classroom: Practical Theology and The Theology and Practice of Equipping the Laity. I had originally signed up for  different ones but due to a cancellation, I reworked my whole plan to ensure that I can get my required Ministry major courses as soon as possible and leave the electives for later. The two courses I chose both met for the hybrid classroom sessions at the Kentucky campus during the first week in March. I found a beautiful room to rent in a vintage home a few blocks from campus, and it was like taking a personal retreat. I even got to visit for a few hours with a beloved aunt who lives a few hours from there. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience despite a bit of emotional overwhelm on one of the days. One interesting realization is that all of the campuses were shut down just a week after I got home; if I had taken the original courses, I would have missed out on the classroom portion since they were scheduled later in the semester. I am so very grateful the way it turned out for me. I just finished my second year there, still with a 4.0 GPA, and I only have one year left if I can hold the pace!

Beautiful campus!

Calligraphy notes for my classmates

Leaving the building after evening chapel feeling bittersweet,
suddenly captivated by this reflection in the glass doors.
"Strength for today, bright hope for tomorrow."

My sister arrived from Maryland the day after I got home. She rarely travels or even leaves her home due to her disabilities. We spent a long-anticipated day at EPCOT's Flower and Garden Festival and a night in a Disney hotel just a couple days before they shut down all of the Orlando theme parks. We also enjoyed visiting with my six grandchildren, most of whom she hadn't met yet, just before quarantine started.

The only cultural outing I've had recently was going to Leu Gardens with my youngest daughter. Just what my soul needed! We had masks with us but didn't need them because everyone was spread so far apart.

Other than that, I've just kept busy in my house, organizing My Blue Haven (my bedroom), cleaning up other messy areas, and decorating my foyer for summer with Americana.

I also created a prayer reminder, adapting the concept of the Anglican prayer beads. I knew I needed actual words to prompt my prayers, so I bought alphabet beads at Walmart, arranged them into words on my blue table, and put them together into a long strand. Later, I bought more beads and restrung them into two strands. There is nothing magical or even mystical about my prayer beads. They are just a tangible and creative reminder of what is important enough to me to pray about. It's another way for me to turn my heart toward God.

This strand is for worship, confession, and communing with God,
and the next one is for intercession about things important to me.

Since I also love liturgical and classical prayers, I've been copying many of them into a yellow journal. I find them in the Book of Common Prayer, John Baillie's Diary of Private Prayer, Celtic Daily Prayer, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers, Field Guide to Daily Prayer, and of course the Bible (as you can see from my Romans 15:13 calligraphy earlier.) These pages seemed particularly relevant to this time of global crisis we are experiencing right now. "Give peace, O Lord, in all the world."  "Lord, keep this nation under your care." "Let your way be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations." "Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor be taken away." "Jesus help me to give myself away to others, being kind to everyone I meet." (I found the last prayer in the Lectio 365 daily prayer and Scripture app, which I highly recommend.) I also have a blue prayer journal which I use to write my own prayer-filled thoughts and reflections.

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And that's pretty much been my life these past two months of quarantine! All in all, it hasn't been too difficult for me since I enjoy being home and still have a job, but I do know that the virus and the shutdown has caused so much grief for others. My heart goes out to them. So many of the calls I get on the 211 community referral and crisis line are related to this, and it's always difficult to hear their stories. I am grateful that I can play a small part in helping them find resources to get through the crisis, and in giving them an empathetic listening ear. Though I can't pray for them audibly on the phone, I sure do it in my heart.

I also know that food pantries need donations. If there is one in your area which serves the Hispanic community, consider buying several varieties of Goya brand non-perishable foods and dropping them off! (Near downtown Orlando, the Healing Hunger Food Pantry is a joint effort of Christ the King Episcopal and Iglesia Episcopal Jesús de Nazaret. I will be working with them for part of my internship.) With quantity limits for each product for any one customer, sometimes the pantries have a hard time getting enough of what they need. So having lots of people buy a few of each is a good method for restocking their quickly emptied shelves. It's so easy to do on the Walmart grocery shopping app, and if you got a stimulus check this is one very effective way to share beyond your own household. Two of my prayer bead words are COMPASSION and COMMUNITY. This is a way to put those prayers into action.

As Andra Day sings:

You're broken down and tired of living life on a merry-go-round
And you can't find the fighter but I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
Move mountains, we gonna walk it out and move mountains
And I'll rise up, I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up, I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up, and I'll do it a thousand times again
And I'll rise up, high like the waves
I'll rise up, in spite of the ache
I'll rise up, and I'll do it a thousand times again
For you, for you, for you, for you
When the silence isn't quiet
And it feels like it's getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we'll take the world to its feet
Move mountains, bring it to its feet, move mountains
And I'll rise up, I'll rise like the day
I'll rise up, I'll rise unafraid
I'll rise up, and I'll do it a thousand times again
For you, for you, for you, for you
All we need all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other
And we will rise, we will rise, we'll rise, we'll rise
I'll rise up, rise like the day
I'll rise up, in spite of the ache
I will rise a thousand times again
And we'll rise up, high like the waves
We'll rise up, in spite of the ache
We'll rise up, and we'll do it a thousand times again
For you, for you, for you, for you

(My friends, it is time to rise up for one another, in every way we can.)

Blessings to you and yours,
Virginia Knowles

"I'll rise up, rise like the day!"

OH! One last thing! This song has been such a blessing to me. We sing it at church, but I adore this version sung quarantine-style all over the United Kingdom! I've played this over and over again. What a prayer! What a benediction! Be blessed!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Dear Bezalel (An Advent Poem for Artists)

Dear Bezalel,

May I write to you from many millennia hence?
I am in awe as I think of your life:
You were a man of exiled Israel, enslaved in Egypt
Miraculously rescued in the Exodus through the Red Sea
Sojourner in the wilderness with Moses and all your people.

It is said that you were filled with the Spirit, 
The very first person of whom this was written.
And that God himself, the great Creator and Redeemer
Called and gifted you as a master artist and craftsman and designer
To create a tabernacle with beauty and excellence in the desert.

So along with Oholiab and your company of skilled women and men,
You hammered, chiseled, carved, engraved, and set in patterns
These things: gold, silver, bronze, wood, and sparkling precious stones 
You also spun, wove, dyed and embroidered cloth for  
The walls coverings and liturgical linens and priestly ephods.

And so arose the tabernacle, that moveable sacred space
For the Glory of God to dwell in the midst of his people
As you all wandered your way to the Promised Land
For forty years, gathering manna to eat, 
Following a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night.

Your very own hands built the Ark of the Covenant
Reliquary for all the Holy Things in the Most Holy Place.
And the angelic Mercy Seat to be sprinkled with the blood of sacrifice.
What was it like, Brother Bezalel, to bring into existence
The very first earthly dwelling for the Most High God?

This is why I am in awe all these thousands of years later.
Your work was an act of worship, an example of devotion
Yet now you and your beautiful and sacred holy tent are long gone. 
So are the Jerusalem temples that came later.
Yet the Glory of God abides! Where?

The Glory dwells not in buildings made of human hands.
For God himself came down to earth in human form, Incarnate.
Tabernacled for a time in Mary’s womb,
This Jesus, too, sojourned in a desert wilderness
But he, the Bread of Life, had no manna to eat.

Walking among us, face to face, hand to hand, heart to heart
The Divine Son taught and healed and prayed.
And when he had offered himself as the holy sacrifice 
And was resurrected from the dead, he ascended to Heaven
To build a house for us, a beautiful glorious home.

And then he sent the Holy Spirit to fill all of us
So that we, as his people, might be 
The very tabernacle of God’s holy presence on earth.
Did you dream of this, dear Bezalel? 
Could you even imagine what your tabernacle foretold?

And so in grateful remembrance of you, I think of how 
I too can create spiritual space for people to meet with God
In the work of my hands, in the labors of my heart and mind
And like you, may I be freshly filled with the Spirit of God
And know the Glory of his presence in this place.


I write an Advent poem each year, missing only one year in the last 12 or so. Each year, I muse on what I will write, and each year, it comes to me on its own.

This morning, I was laying in bed reading a fascinating and inspiring book on my phone's Kindle app for one of my seminary classes. Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster explores several faith traditions in Christianity: Contemplative, Holiness, Charismatic, Social Justice, Evangelical, and Incarnational. For each one, he sketches a Biblical character, a historical example, and a more contemporary person who exemplifies that theme. I am in the final section, which includes the stories of Susannah Wesley (Mother of Methodism), Dag Hammarskjöld (Swedish diplomat who was head of UN), and Bezalel. I sighed with satisfaction when I saw his name as one who brought God's presence into daily life through tangible means. Though obscure, he's always been one of my favorite Old Testament heroes, appearing in Exodus 31-37 as... an artist! Here are excerpts from the Scripture: 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law with the atonement cover on it, and all the other furnishings of the tent— the table and its articles, the pure gold lampstand and all its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, the basin with its stand— and also the woven garments, both the sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests, and the anointing oil and fragrant incense for the Holy Place. They are to make them just as I commanded you.” Exodus 31:1-11
He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers. Exodus 35:35
I got interrupted while reading Streams of Living Water. Then, inspired by what I'd read of Bezalel there so far, I wrote the poem. Later I went back to finish the chapter in the book, since I have a paper to write on it this weekend. I was quite amused to see that Foster had also picked up on the idea of Jesus "tabernacling" in Mary's womb, as well as God's presence now dwelling in his people through the Holy Spirit. Sweet affirmation of my poetic thoughts. 

I wrote the last stanza trying to bring it even further forward to the now. Yes, God's presence is available to each of us, but I wanted to acknowledge the role that creativity (especially the arts) still plays in the Christian faith tradition. I am not a professional "maker" but I dabble in many forms. I painted when I was in high school and college, and have tried to pick that up a little bit in my fifties. For visual arts, I mostly do calligraphy & lettering, photography, word burning/dyeing, and tie dye. I am also a poet, but I guess you know that already since you just read one of my poems. Most of my artistic/poetic work also reflects my faith, since I do really want to, as I said, "create spiritual space for people to meet with God."

Another facet of the Incarnational stream of Christianity is the use of liturgy and the arts. Last December I visited an Episcopal congregation, Church of the Incarnation, with a friend. We both stayed, and both now serve at the prayer altar and as Scripture lectionary readers. I love the liturgy. I love the small lakeside chapel in the woods with the Jesus icons on the wall. This past summer, I even attempted to make a very small icon painting of my own.

Icon from Stations of the Cross series
-artist unknown-
St. Augustine Chapel (Church of the Incarnation)
Canterbury Retreat Center

"Icon: Incarnation"
by Virginia Knowles, 2019
Water color creams

Speaking of Sacred Space, I am also a cathedral lover. You can find many cathedral photo posts on this blog (mostly from Paris and Geneva) but these two actually have liturgical poems that I wrote. 


If you'd like to read my other Advent poems, you'll find them in the links below.
If you would like to see some of my other liturgical art, you'll find it here:
Here's a painting I did in college, depicting how the sacrifice of Jesus opened the way into the Most Holy Place. 

Did you know that when Jesus died on the cross, the heavy curtain in the temple (which separated the worshipers from the direct presence of God in the Most Holy Place) tore from top to bottom.  So we can enter in, receiving his abundant mercy and grace! 
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. Matthew 27:50-52
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:19-25
And finally, here are links to some of my seminary posts from my Watch the Shepherd blog

(Note: The colored woodcut at the top of this post is listed as "Bezalel and Oholiab Making the Ark of the Covenant" from the Nuremberg Bible Biblia Sacra Germanaica.) 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Travel 2019: Maryland, Pennsylvania, DC, Virginia

Hello! Ready to travel to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington DC and Virginia with me - in photos, that is? This post is a bit belated. I'm writing it in September, but it's all about July!

My late mother's family has been having Hess reunions in Pennsylvania for several decades. The first I remember was 1976, which is when and where I became a Christian. Other more recent reunions in 2006, 2012, and 2014 have also been important to me. And this time, the older generation, my mother's cousins, decided to pass along the responsibility for organizing it to someone younger. I gladly volunteered! We started planning last year.

Fortunately, I found round trip tickets from Orlando to Baltimore for under $100. I took my three teens and my daughter's friend.

I always travel with my scarf / shawl, a present from one of my daughters a long time ago.


Butterflies in the front yard as soon as I get to Maryland! I didn't even make it into my dad's house before I was snapping photos!

The day after we arrived, I drove our rental SUV up to Philadelphia to retrieve my sister from Jefferson Memorial, where she had gone for a week of migraine treatment. She wanted to take a short diversion to get our photo at LOVE Park but she was disappointed by the size of the iconic statue.

Another adult son flew up the day after us. We headed down to Washington, D.C. on the Metrorail for the day. The older ones split off on their own while I took my youngest to the National Archives and the National Gallery of Art. I took a lot more photos, but my phone met an unhappy demise a few days later and I lost whatever I didn't upload to Facebook along the way.

Of course the kids were ready to play cards with their three cousins while we were in Maryland. By this time, two other adult daughters and a son-in-law had also arrived.

These two look and act like twins, but they were born 10 years and two days apart!

On Friday, we split into three cars with kids and my dad, and headed to Pennsylvania for the reunion. One son lost his glasses out the van window on the highway. Oops. We had a buffet dinner scheduled for the evening with our relatives before the main reunion picnic the next day.

Here's the whole clan - 70 or 80 of us?

I'm with my sister, who due to her migraines didn't last very long at the picnic. She's still glad she came to see our relatives.

I was the MC, and since I was counting my work at this reunion as my community service project for a seminary class, I also shared some of our family's faith heritage. This started with two tales of Puritans-behaving-badly, but there were some positive ones, too! We have a long Quaker and Methodist heritage which I've written about elsewhere.

These are my mother's remaining cousins, all grandchildren of Charles and Mary Hess, who were married in 1904. These are their grandchildren, and with all the new babies, there are another four generations after that! Unfortunately, one of my duties was also to report the many deaths in the family since the last reunion. Sigh.

I planned a "fun" hike for the next day. I remembered back to my college days when we had hiked at Rickett's Glen State Park, where there are gorgeous waterfalls. I invited anyone who wanted to join us... My daughter tried to warn me how steep the trail would be, based on the web site. Well, about that! We started with my aunt, my father, my cousin's family, and another of my mother's cousins, as well as my own kids. Three of our hikers were over the age of 80. Remember that.

It started well. Let's just say it all went downhill from there. Literally.

I asked my son to take a photo of my sitting at the edge of this small waterfall. Unfortunately, in the process, I lost my balance and tumbled headfirst over the waterfall into the water, miraculously missing the rocks. Two of my children saw me go over and thought I'd be dead. But I popped back up and climbed out laughing, just a bit shaken. We eventually located my glasses and my phone. The glasses were fine. The phone was not.

So I thought I'd be OK....

But I wasn't. The trail descended 1000 feet in the next mile, and it was filled with slippery mud, tree roots, and loose rocks. My legs were wobbly from my waterfall woman-fall. I kept falling on the trail. Over and over. Eventually, two of my sons had to walk me down by the hand. I still barely made it I managed to make it out of there! I did some damage my backside! Don't laugh.

My daughter who is a nurse coached me down the trail too, keeping a close eye on me.

By this time, my mom's cousin had turned around, and my aunt and cousin's family had gone on ahead. My elderly father kept trucking along. He's in amazing shape. Better shape than me, actually.

We were supposed to climb up the 1000 feet along another path to the parking lot where our cars were. I knew I couldn't make it. My daughter discovered an alternate flat trail out to the road. We split the group, and four of us went the easy way, while the others, including my dad, went up up up. They retrieved the cars and picked us up later. Thus ends the exciting hiking saga. Remind me about the trails next time, will you?

The next day, the kids took off for King's Dominion (an amusement park in southern Virginia) in the rental SUV. My dad took me to Verizon to buy a new phone, then dropped me at the Metrorail station so I could carry on with my original plans for that day. I wanted to go to the Museum of the Bible, especially to see their Tapestry of Light exhibit, and then visit with friends in northern Virginia, where I had gone to high school.

I was limping all the way. I exited the subway station, walked six blocks in the wrong direction, and ended up calling Lyft to get me to the museum. The museum, which is six stories, is absolutely gorgeous. I was running so late that I only had about 2 hours there. I could have spent the whole day, and I will when I go back to Maryland next time. I'll have to give it it's own blog post!

Tapestry of Light exhibit created by Irene Barberis with glow-in-the-dark thread

Tapestry of Light exhibit 

The Good Samaritan by Egbert Modderman
Luther's Bible translations

The Bible translation exhibit

I stayed at the museum until closing, then took a Lyft back to the L'Enfant Metro station, then took another train out to Vienna, Virginia to meet up with my friends whom I knew in high school. We reconnected on Facebook a while back, and I knew I wanted to see them! They picked me up and drove me past our high school, W.T. Woodson, before going to their house. Then another high school friend came a bit later. We had an amazing time. I am so very thankful for their friendship. My kids picked me up that night on their way back from King's Dominion.

And the kids and I flew home the next day!

Phew! What a week! What a trip!

Thanks for coming along!

Family Reunion & Legacy Links:
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