When Diane Savona said that she would make me a stole on commission for the 20th anniversary of my ordination, she asked, “What sort of images mean the most to you?”

Wow. Where do I start? Even more difficult, where do I stop? I started scribbling in my notebook, which is my way of breaking through Questions Too Big To Answer, and came up with this list:

Burning bush: this became an important image for me in the process of writing a sermon to be delivered to colleagues on one of the great challenges of this work: How to stay present to people at the most painful, intense moments of their lives, and not just shrivel up and float away on the breeze. The best I have come up with, then or since, is that there is something deeply invigorating about entering fully into such moments: that (as I said then) it is in the places of pain and risk that we find the strength and solace to withstand the brokenness of the world, and even be transformed for the better by it. And the burning bush is of course an image from my cradle religion, and was even, it occurs to me now, the logo of Conservative Judaism as I was growing up (or was it the Jewish Theological Seminary, the movement’s rabbinical school?), with the accompanying phrase in Hebrew and English: ” . . . and the bush was not consumed.”

Spirals: these are, essentially, my personal yin/yang, a reminder of balance, because of the way they combine two kinds of motion: forward motion (in the way they move outward, or in the case of a helix like in DNA, onward), and cyclical/repetitive motion (in the way they circle around). In a spiral, one comes around again and again to the same place, but not quite the same place. Which is how life is, I think. I try to communicate this kind of balance to the folks in my congregation: stillness and progress, tradition and change, being and becoming.

Decay/erosion: for several years now, as followers of this blog know, I’ve been drawing and photographing decay. Layers of walls in Oaxaca exposing hundreds, or even millions, of years of change; the patterns left by insects burrowing in wood; wrinkles on faces; etc. I find erosion very beautiful for the way it reveals time and history, and there’s a tension between that beauty and the way our culture (over)values youth and novelty. A big part of my ministry is helping people perceive the beauty in the ordinary or despised.

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Sun, stone, seed (monoprint, 2018). The lack of centering comes from having to snap the photo of it while it’s attached to the stairway wall. 😉

Seeds/stones: I’m moved and intrigued by how closely many seeds resemble stones. There is so little difference between them, and all the difference in the world. And then there is the way seeds have to split open, essentially die in one form, in order to become more than a stone and actually grow. Whereas stones are just . . . nonliving. (No shade on stones. They’re pretty cool in their own right; note the title of my blog.) I don’t quite know what is so meaningful to me about this image of the seed in the act of sprouting, but it keeps popping up in my own work, as much as I cringe and worry that it is a cliché. There is something there about the way life and death are intertwined that keeps troubling and inspiring me, especially as I get older and try to come to terms with the reality that I am going to die. Also, an early and dear memory of mine is planting the family garden with my dad, and I always got to plant the beans, which are satisfyingly fast and visible in their process; you can often see the remnants of the seed still stuck to the first shoot as it emerges from the crack in the ground.

That’s what I told Diane, and after a bit of further dialogue between us, and many, many iterations that she worked through and recounted to some extent on her blog, she has now finished the design phase. She added so much. Mexico is in there now, and my wife and daughter, and the subtle suggestion of a rainbow, and the subtler suggestion of bees, and a water lily leaf (a.k.a. lotus–despite the fact that I never even got around to saying what was important to me about Buddhism), and roots finding their way through brick- and stonework to the sources of life. I’m so excited to see how it will be further transformed by her stitching.