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Spiritual Reflections

Angel Wing Buds

by Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins is the Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community. Other Spiritual Reflections are available on the Religious Advisor's page.

You can write to Joyce at

"Did you know your shirt has wrinkly bumps on the shoulders?" the woman said to me. It was Sunday morning, and several of us were vesting before the 8 am service in the sacristy at Trinity Church. She leaned over and tried to smooth out the fabric on my shoulders with the palm of her hand. No good. The bumps still stuck up rather dramatically. I smiled weakly and shook my head as I pulled on the alb, blessedly long-sleeved and floor-length. "Thanks for trying!" I said to her. She looked at me with a combination of affection and pity. "Maybe they're the buds of your angel wings!" she offered.

What could I say? I seemed to have multiple reasons to feel embarrassed that morning. As usual, I had stumbled in at the last minute, when everyone else was ready to go. As usual, I looked as though I hadn't spent much time in front of the mirror, because I hadn't. As usual, I was counting on the vestments to cover up the shortcomings of my wardrobe. And this particular morning, I wasn't feeling too confident about the sermon I was about to preach, either.

But as we entered the church and I began the service, the words of one of the prayers caught my particular attention. This prayer, called the Collect for Purity, begins thus: "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid..." Now I do have secrets, as everyone does, but of course not from God. God knows all my shortcomings--wardrobe and otherwise. But I realized at that moment that the thing I had just been trying to hide, the thing that had embarrassed me in the sacristy, was actually something about which I should feel proud. My priorities were all mixed up. I had allowed my self-consciousness about material things, to overshadow a spiritual thing. In so doing, I had missed a chance to spread the Good News.

You see, the reason for the wrinkly bumps on my shoulders was that I had bought a clothesline. It's one small step I am taking to reduce my carbon footprint and play my part in the stewardship of God's creation. All summer, and still into this fall, instead of using the clothes dryer, I have been hanging the family laundry outside to dry. Including my clergy shirt. And it has developed these cute little wrinkly puckers on the shoulders where the clothespins attach it to the line.

Why did I not think to tell my church friend about the clothesline, as she was anxiously trying to smooth out the bumps in the sacristy that morning? Why did I feel embarrassed, not proud, of my small effort? Why did I feel a need to keep my efforts at sustainability a secret? Those are good questions. But after my prayer that morning, back in the sacristy after my mediocre sermon, I did tell her. I told the altar guild. I told the layreaders and the acolytes lining up for the next service. I told everyone in the sacristy. And since that prayerful morning, I have been telling everyone I know about the funny wrinkly bumps on my shoulders. I'm learning to feel proud of them now. Who knows, perhaps they really are the buds of my angel wings.