Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Holy Days

Ascension Day

Extravagance and Care

May 21, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

When Jesus left his friends, amid their loss and grief, they also had new space. I am wondering what beauty and what meaning they discovered in that space and what we might disover in the space we have now.



Science & Nature

It couldn’t be clearer: the power of interrelatedness

Betsey Crawford

The Soul of the Earth: Exploring the World Flower by Flower–blogsite

Crawford's reflection on the nature of our interrelatedness and the importance of care as the essential quality that fosters our interconnections.

Follow the progression from Crawford's highlighing Swimme's concept of care as the "wonderful mystery" that "fosters" our interconnections to her wondering how we have lost our way with care to her call for us to take our place in re-establishing it.

Open in a new tab


How is the extravagance of existence awakening your care for others, for yourself, for creation?


In the middle of March, when the world changed, I had twelve round trip flights to cancel with the airlines. I was to take them all between mid-March and the end of May. A dozen trips. That’s a lot. All of them for good reasons–to go places I wanted to go. For engaging work, for celebrations with friends, for cherished time with family, to mark important milestones. Suddenly, they were gone, and in their place was this space.

Space and a lot of other things, too. Fear, sadness, loss, grief, anxiety, worry. And sometimes reflection, joy, solitude, togetherness, gratitude.

Now, as the season of our distance continues, I am beginning to apprehend new companions: longing, un-knowing, listening, rediscovering.

There are things you cannot see until a change comes. I suspect the disciples experienced this truth after the Ascension. I’ve often focused my attention on the question from the men in white robes: “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” It’s a question that directs our attention to the disciples' work and ours: namely, to get going with the mission Jesus has given to us.

And it is a worthwhile focus for the Feast of the Ascension. However, I notice a slightly different angle this year as I read the text in our current reality. Namely, I notice myself wondering more about the gift of still being here. What was it like for Jesus’ friends to wake up the next day and, amid their grief and fear, still feel the sun on their backs, still see the pomegranates blooming, still hear the birds at dawn? What was it like to notice all this beauty in the space they now had after their intense, often fast-paced years with Jesus?

There had to be something other than grief that compelled Jesus’ friends on all the days they lived after he left them. Something more than holding on to the way things had been. Looking up to the sky to hold on to Jesus as hero was not the thing that could give them energy now. Any more than looking back to recreate our pre-pandemic days is the thing for us to do.

When we find ourselves still here, there is a responsibility. A responsibility, I believe, to care. In today’s science and nature lesson, Betsey Crawford notes that scientist Brian Swimme suggests there is something that fosters the interconnected web of life. He names it care. And, she notes, care is something that characterizes all of creation. It has been in the fabric of the universe long before we existed.

Crawford wonders how it is that we have fallen so far away from care. She points out the many ways this pandemic is revealing how we have lost our way in engaging the universe with care. The journey back to this place where we embrace the beauty of our interconnections and nurture them with care is not made by heroes alone, but by all of us.

Each of us does what we can. Individually that can look like a pittance in such a vast field of urgent need. But fabrics are not woven of heroic threads. They result from the patient weaving of countless thin strands. The interrelated threads making up the tapestry of life on earth are all crucial. The mightiest tree trunk cannot live without the finest of fungal threads at its roots.
–Betsey Crawford, “It couldn’t be clearer: the power of interrelatedness”

This space we have now can help us find the threads that are ours to weave in a larger fabric.

There are far too many whom we have lost in this pandemic. They have gone before us. And we have the gift of still being here. What are we to do with the gift? What are we to do with the space of one second, one minute, one hour, one day, one week, one year–one lifetime, however long or short it may be?

Our present reality is not something we designed, invited, or wanted. And it comes at great cost. We know that. But the space itself is the gift in the midst of our loss. The unbidden gift to prepare us for a new setting-out.

I do not know where we are going. I sense it will be to a land we lost long ago, a land of wisdom that has been waiting for our return, hoping we might regain our ability to see the sheer extravagance of it all. Hoping we might re-discover how deeply we care.