Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Second Sunday after Pentecost

The Unexpected

June 14, 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.

This week, amid the profound struggle for race justice in our country, and the continued revealing of where we are, I am moved by the many people who are finding the courage to choose hope, despite a myriad of reasons they might do otherwise.



Arts & Architecture

"Wick" from The Secret Garden

Luke MQuillan


Video in which Luke MQuillan sings “Wick” from the musical “The Secret Garden.”

Think about what you are seeing in these days that may be wick.

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Current Events & World Affairs

Report on Black Lives Matter March in Jackson Mississippi on June 7, 2020

Black Lives Matter, Jackson, Mississippi

WAPT Local News

WAPT local news report on Black Lives Matter march in Jackson Mississippi.


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How can we open ourselves to hope?


So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?” The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” –Genesis 18:12-15

We expect certain things in certain seasons. Pain followed by joy in birth. Chaos followed by a new emerging order in the early days of life. Attaching to those who love us and then learning how to venture out and find our own voice as we grow. Seasons of trust followed by questioning and then integration of new insights into former models. A season of fecundity and then seasons when we can no longer bear fruit in the ways we had been able to do earlier. Seasons of change and seasons of stability.

Our expectations in the seasons of our lives shape our actions.

In seasons of grief or despair, we come to expect very little. And so, we shut down. We become resigned to what we expect—which is very little. We come to expect very little of others, of ourselves, of the Divine who moves in and through us all.

When God tells Sarah, an old woman, that she would bear a child, she laughs out loud. She had shut down any hope of such a wonderful thing as this. It didn’t seen possible. It was the unexpected.

In times of pain, it’s hard for us to believe the unexpected can happen. It’s hard for us to open our hearts again to hope.

Hope is not an easy or a naive thing. It takes a certain kind of courage to choose hope. And hope cannot be prescribed by one person for another. Or by one group of people to another. Our life experiences are different. So it follows that we each carry different types of pain. This we must respect and deeply honor in one another. To choose hope is an individual decision.

I am learning I must exercise specific muscles before I can choose hope. Muscles that are particularly difficult to access when I am shut down. The muscle of compassion towards myself. The muscle of tenderness. The muscle of the peace that passes understanding–present deep within us all–even in the most trying times.These are the muscles of the heart. They give us courage. Courage means of the heart.

A wise person told me that compassion for myself is the portal that leads me where I long to go in relationship to others, and indeed in my relationship to the whole wide world. Just as I must strengthen my physical muscles bit by bit—being patient with myself—so must I work with the muscles of my heart. When I do so, I see that my courage grows. I see that I have more space for others. My genuine curiosity emerges. My capacity to grow increases.

Exercising the muscles of the heart lets us extend our roots deep into the soil to find the waters of unconditional love that sustain us and make us strong and verdant, no matter what is happening above the ground.

One of my favorite songs from the musical The Secret Garden is “Wick.” I’ve shared it with you in an earlier post. I offer it again now in today’s arts and architecture lesson because I believe we are in a time in our world, and in many of our psyches, when things that have been wick might be on the verge of coming back to life.

I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi. In today’s current events and world affairs lesson, you’ll find a local news report on the Black Lives Matter march that took place there this past Sunday. I wish I had been there. The road ahead is long; I understand that. And, the public witness on Sunday in Jackson, like in so many other places, reflects to me something wick that is coming to life. Far too long coming. Far too long. Far too many lives lost in my home state. Far too much suffering in this country. Yet, from a land that has borne centuries of anguish, division, and despair, there is a glimmer of something new. Something unexpected.

People are exercising muscles they didn’t know they had.

In the midst of everything else in these days, let us not neglect the muscles of the heart–self-compassion, tenderness, deep peace. For, as my friend told me, they are portals to our connections with one another. These are the muscles that give birth to courage. And with courage, we can choose hope.

Even though grief and despair may have shaped your expectations for a long time, the unexpected is still and always possible.

Look around you. Listen. Go ahead, laugh out loud. The unexpected just might be knocking at your door.