Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Being Thunderstruck

William Blake: God and Job

“At this my heart pounds
and leaps from its place.
Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,
to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
and sends it to the ends of the earth.
After that comes the sound of his roar;
he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds,
he holds nothing back.
God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
he does great things beyond our understanding.

Job 37:1-5

This post is adapted from a sermon by Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash, Sunday, March 19, 2017, Princeton United Methodist Church. It is part of a sermon series based on the book by Eric Elnes: Gifts of the Dark Wood: Seven Blessings for Soulful Skeptics (and Other Wanderers), a guidebook for spirituality in a post-Christian world.

Awe is often translated to fear, but it can also mean a mysterious encounter with the numinous —  Ancients thought the sense of awe could carry gods messages from the divine. Imagine the awe of those experiencing the eruption of a volcano, an earthquake, a storm. They created gods so they could feel control over a hostile universe.

When we feel awe, our inner god, we have flashes of intuition .We call our moments of clarity and understanding  – seeing the light – sudden flashes  – being dumbstruck.

Scientists say that opening ourselves to awe – like children do- reduces stress and increases creativity.

Allow time for awe! The wonder of morning light can give a sense of holiness. Or the touch of a baby’s skin.

By taking the time to notice these Creation moments, we can cultivate a sense of holy inner wisdom. Moses and Elijah heard God’s audible voice, but we can try to cultivate an inner awareness.

The psalmists say the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Our encounter with the numinous may make us be humble and open us to the gifts of God’s grace – but the inner voice can also cause us to stand tall As in Psalm 8,  

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals[a] that you care for them? 

Pay attention to your wow moments. Let them help you feel connected and alive. May you hear that voice in the thunder and the silence in the quiet awesome moments of wow.

Or — be thunderstruck. Be aware of God’s presence. Connect the inner you – to God’s voice in that moment – and listen to God’s word for you,


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Cooks in Our Kitchen

On almost every Friday this spring, we welcome cooking classes to our kitchen. Princeton Adult School held two classes in February, and a mouth-watering array of menues will be prepare by five different cooks.  Prices range from $60 for one class to $130 or $170 for three classes — and of course you get to taste what you cook. Go to the “Get Exploring” section of

Greek Pastries and Savories, taught by Iphigenia Yiacas, March 10, 17, April 28

Cook Like a French Chef, taught by Virginie Cartier, March 31, April 7, April 21

Gefilte Fish Without Guilt,  taught by Ellen Goldblatt, March 24

Vegetarian Cooking with Whole Earth, with Melissa Printon, May 5.

Bibim Bop, taught by Inkyung (Anna) Yi, May 12

As the saying goes, “Nothing says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven.”

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Strategic Plan: Project Vibrant Worship

Sunday Morning Traditional Worship Team

Worship is a huge part of our church life!  It is one of three elements in our Strategic Plan for 2017 (see complete document here).

Church council members have been discussing at great length what worship experiences will serve both our current congregation — and those not currently worshiping with us — and have agreed to explore how we should move forward to encompass the things we currently do and what we might want to do differently in the future.

As part of what we are calling Project Vibrant Worship, we have created two subteams.

One subteam will explore the possibilities for Sunday morning worship: continue two services, combine with one Sunday morning worship, or some alternative scheduling for Sunday morning

Another subteam will explore alternative worship experiences, with focus on attracting families with children and youth

Project Vibrant Worship’s leadership team includes Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash, Tracey Feick (Church Council Chair), Lori Pantaleo (Worship Committee Chair) and Bernhard Brouwer.

The subteams have formed and began meeting in February. Please share your thoughts with members the special Project Vibrant Teams – and also with Church Council, and church committees. 

Sunday Morning Traditional Worship Team Chairperson: Lori Pantaleo

Team: Reggie Cann, Ida Cahill, Sharon DiStase, Rick Engel, Tod Hamilton, Sara Hicks, Beverly Masters, Janis McCarty, Christine Shungu, Hyosang Park, Jana Purkis-Brash

Alternative Worship Experience Team Chairperson: Bernhard Brouwer

Team: Sarah Betancourt, MaryBeth Nelson, Robert Scheffler, Hyosang Park, Skitch Matson

Church Council welcomes input! Church Council is committed to keeping the congregation updated. We ask for your involvement and prayers as together we seek to continue to serve God at PUMC and in our community.

Tracey Feick-Lee, chair Church Council


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Lenten Tuesday at Noon: March 7

What’s it like to come to Mid-week Lenten Worship at Princeton UMC? The 30-minute services are Tuesdays from noon to 12:30 in the small chapel; entering by the ramp door.

They continue every Tuesday through April 11 on the theme “Let All of Me Kneel before God’s Holy Name.”

For the first one on March 7, a dozen people gathered as Rev. Catherine Williams led worship on the theme “We worship God with our flesh,” meaning that the soul/spirit is not necessarily more important than the body.

Christopher McWilliams began by playing the evocative “Song of the Dark Woods” by E. Siegmeister, followed by the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.”

Everyone read the following passages.

John 1:1-5, 14;

Psalm 139: 1-3, 13-18;

and 2 Corinthians 4:7-10.

“The psalm reminds us of the care that God takes in forming bodies, and that even what we perceive as imperfections or physical flaws are useful to God in our worship and service,” said Catherine.

“The apostle Paul speaks of carrying about in his body marks that signify both the death and the life of Jesus. We are encouraged to worship and serve God with all of our bodies – this indicates true devotion.”

For a time of reflection, she offered the video This Is My Desire by Michael W. Smith.

After prayer, she closed with a couple of rousing rounds of the chorus This Little Light of Mine. 

Then everybody enjoyed the delicious lunch served by Lula Crawford. For her African Pea and Potato soup recipe, click here. 

EVERYone is welcome for Lenten Tuesdays. Come if you can!

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Lula’s Lenten Lunch Soup

For the first Lenten Tuesday, Catherine Williams led the service and Lula Crawford prepared the lunch. Everybody loved her African Spiced Yellow Split Pea and Potato Soup so much that we prevailed on her to share the recipe. Note she uses white potatoes rather than sweet potatoes, “too sweet” she says. 

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Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Uncertainty.

Erik Skitch Matson — March 5, 2017 — 1 Corinthians 13:11-12

What is Lent?

Lent was spoken of in the 2nd Century, but then established as Lent with the typical Ash Wednesday in the 6th century under Gregory the Great.

Why? Self examination and Penitence in preparation for EASTER. It is a time for Repentance and Renewal: Giving up things, originally food until sundown (vegetarian), but now it is a more robust “Fasting”. It is also a time for self-reflection, prayer and reading of scripture

Gifts of the Darkwood  

Our sermon series is based on the book Gifts of the Dark Wood by Eric Elnes, a wonderful Lenten book for reflection. In this series we can see our time in the Dark Wood as a gift.

Another book worth reading, Dante’s Inferno is about finding your place in the world at the very point you feel farthest from it. Here the dark wood includes struggle. It is “where you meet God.”

As we explore the Gift of UNCERTAINTY, we realise that this is not a “Typical” gift. We like control, certainty, and understanding, now. So where can we go with uncertainty.?

In 1 Corinthians 13:11-12, we see a flurry of pride, and then a swift shift to vulnerability. I had always known Paul to be the confident leader, with the perfect pedigree and best teachers backing him — he’d fit into Princeton pretty well. But this is not your typical Paul. This Paul is more vulnerable about his own limitations and his own uncertainty. Paul admits that he sees dimly.  What would it take for us to have the courage to admit that our own spiritual vision is dim?

Take a look at the people around you: what would it take for us to dig into the Lenten season, and live in the Dark Wood of our lives together? What would it take for us to have faith, now, in these lives we live.

What would it take for us to be the body of Christ—a body where each member is known, loved, and cared for.

What would it take to be vulnerable with one another about our personal pains? Our sins? Our uncertainties?

We know we want it. We know we need it. But what will it take…?

It will take a Christian Community that has ONE body, and ONE blood. A Christian Community where we—the broken, the maimed, the sinners, and the saints—are welcomed and accepted.

Where at times we are supported, and also where we support others. Where we are known not for our rigid certainty, but our radical faith in the midst of the fluidity of real, human life.

The Christians we have looked up to for centuries… Can we follow their example? Can we create a community, here, in this place, where the hope of seeing Christ face to face leads us to accept our own spiritual vision as dim?

Where does this start? It starts with the Release of Shame. One Body, broken for you; One Blood, shed for you. The Free Gift of Grace transforms us to be the Christian Community that calls itself “The Body of Christ.”

Let us come…

As we take communion, we wonder if, by leaning on each other, our collective vision can be more powerful. Let us therefore go together, as one broken body, through the Dark Wood of Lent.

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“Spot and Call New Leaders” says Bishop John Schol

Bishop John Schol calls upon each church in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference to spot potential leaders and prayerfully call, equip, challenge and support them. “I challenge each of our congregations to give permission for your pastor to be more apostolic and to continue to support and challenge them to develop their leadership to lead the congregation to engage in and grow more fully the mission.”

“In GNJ we are developing new leadership resources that create a culture of leadership, spot and call new leaders and grow our leaders to be like Christ in their attitude, skills and spirit.”

Here is a link to Bishop Schol’s message for February 2017

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Fourth Grade Bibles

Photo by Robin Birkel

Director of Christian Education Machaela Irving — along with teachers Barbara Sageser, Janis McCarty, and Lorie Roth — presented each fourth grader with a NRSV Bible on February 12. They were curious and delighted!

Photo by Anna Looney

Back in the classroom they began to explore their new Bibles. Photo by Lorie Roth

Photo by Lorie Roth


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Laura Bratton: Overcoming Adversity

Wide Image Bratton3

When you’re in your thirties and the book you’ve written about your life has just been published, you must have done something amazing. The “you” in this case is the Reverend Laura Bratton ’10, author of Harnessing Courage: Overcoming Adversity with Grit and Gratitude (Clovercroft Publishing, 2016). Richard Trenner wrote this in a post for Princeton Theological Seminary, see the rest here. 

Many Princeton UMC members attended Laura’s talk and booksigning. Here is a link to our post on her book and a photo of them getting their books signed (thanks to Richard Trenner for both photos).

Learn more about Laura Bratton’s life and work at

Watch the full video of Bratton’s talk on PTSEM’s Multimedia page.

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Letter from Jana: February 19, 2017

Dear Friends,

I’m writing to share with you the news that the Bishop is appointing me to serve as the Executive Director of the GNJAC Stewardship Foundation beginning July 1st.

One of the principles of the United Methodist Church is our Connectionalism; we do not stand alone as a congregation but are part of a network of congregations that all work together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Connectionalism has always been a part of my DNA as a UM and so to serve in the wider church of the Annual Conference it will allow me to fully live out one of the values that has been so important to me as a UM pastor.

Her letter continues here 

For the letter from Bishop John Schol, here. 

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