Advent 1: Attention in Quarter Light

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.Only one candle to begin Advent…things are gray, misty, even opaque…yet it cheers me, one candle to set the intention to look for the places the Light gets in. However, my presbyopic eyes have trouble seeing much behind or within that tiny Light

So my attention has been directed to another sense, my hearing. In a conversation with a friend, I was asked to listen for the way the Holy One reaches out in sounds, words, music, echoes, touching me, if I am open to it through those media. Even though my spirit journey experience has been circled, enlivened, nourished and directed by those sounds for all of my life, I was startled. The liturgy Advent has rested heavily on words of darkness and Light, on looking and watching.

Yet now I am directed to Listen! Immediately I began to hear the ways that the Holy One is present in my conversations, in the Word proclaimed, in the reading fo sacred text, in the sacred music of the season, phrases of comfort and joy, speeches of challenge and daring! Following that thread, I found immediately discovered that the sounds in my life were leading me to clarity, understanding, reassurance and spiritual perspective. Even though my eyes are dim, my listening is acute, and the Spirit keeps catching my attention through whispers, through gentle voices, through clear and straightforward thinking expressed–eloquently or not. And often the Word that I hear stays with me, sinks down into my bones and marrow, into my heart and ruminations. And it brings me Hope.

The word that returned to me this week–as it has again and again over my life–is Love. Despite the messiness, despite the venality, despite the heavy, heavy grief, despite the pain and the loss, I am prodded to join with the saints and angels to hear Love as it is spoken, to speak Love as I am given space, to offer Love no matter who might want or need it. Each day of this Advent will be unique–different circumstances different demands, different opportunities, but all opportunities for me to act in Love. The “encircling gloom” is not too dark to be Love this Advent.

Ordinary Time…in Extraordinary Time

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God had made everything suitable for its time… Ecclesiastes 3: 1

So we find ourselves in that the Church season calls ordinary time. Yet we have lost our sense of what is ordinary in the sense of what is ordinary in these last 16 months.

I have tried to track an ordinary day in these last few weeks. I have found that though there is nothing extraordinary, there is nothing predictable.

  • I have an appointment and the appointment is changed
  • I have a list and the store is out of what I listed
  • I plan an on-line conversation and the Wifi, or the internet, or the power, on the block goes out
  • I am told that masks are no longer required and then they are again

So I am beginning to equate “ordinary” with “unpredictable.” Will the repairman return the phone call? will the traffic allow me to arrive on time? Everything must be written in erasable pencil.

(MUCH LATER) And now this Sunday, Ordinary Time will come to an end…and what has become clear to me? These months of this time were to be lived moment by moment, with elasticity, but also hope and trust that each moment has holiness in it if I am paying attention, not always east to do. I touch holiness easily when I am doing my sacred prayer and reading with music in the air and candle lit. It’s much more problematic when I have spilled something on the floor, or have to reschedule an appointment where the office has made a mistake, or when someone responds sarcastically to my sharing an idea or perspective. Ordinary Time has required living by a much more muscular faith that “all will be well. all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.” It has asked me to pay closer attention to the places “where the Light gets in,” and to savor them, and to be deeply grateful.

Thanksgiving has been the culmination of remembering both how stressful these particular months of living with a pandemic have been, and how much Grace has been “downloaded” in the same months. I see a picture of last year’s celebration in the backyard, sitting across the yard from the family, separate tables, separate dishes, with diagnoses and media protocols hanging over our spirits. This year we were not only sharing a table, common dishes, but hugs and touches and smiles and laughter in person. It was and is all Ordinary Time, because each day is a day that the Holy One has made, and we are learning to be glad and rejoice in it, even through deep grief and loss and disillusionment and distress.

Advent begins in darkness. But wait! Haven’t we been living in the ordinary darkness of not knowing, not seeing, all these months? Yes, AND we have been living and loving in the cracks where the Light has gotten in–the episodic freedom the has come when protocols have changed, the small but mighty advances in awareness and actions for justice and mercy, the blooming of gifts in and for people we love as they respond their life circumstances with persistence and courage. And we have continued to trust in the Love that does not let us go, even, maybe especially, in the dark.

As the Church begins a new year this week I am am deeply aware of the ordinary darkness, of the lack of clarity, of the not-knowing, but I am determined to keep looking for the Light in whatever ways it breaks through, and to live with the Extraordinary Hope that comes to us even in the most ordinary of days, times, moments!

Spirit, Where She Wills

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The Spirit lands where it wills…

I have been waiting for Pentecost, the day when the Church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit. As many of the other liturgical landmarks in this past season, the actual time and place of celebration has felt ambiguous and amorphous. will the Church gather? where and when? Will people congregate or continue to sit with their screens and watch from afar?

With those questions in my heart, I began to pay attention to the way the Spirit has made Her presence known in my quotidian life already, since it is my conviction that the Spirit is already here, everywhere, in everyone, and Pentecost is the simply day when we celebrate it together. As I cast my eyes over my daily meanderings, I remembered the mornings when I woke with real energy to make something happen, the afternoons when I rested in peacefulness, despite the chaotic winds in the world around me, and the healing of past hurts and slights that I recognized has come to my hearts and soul over time. This is Spirit in my life! I celebrated the acts of courage and wisdom that I have witnessed in the lives of people I know and those far away, who do justice, love, mercy and walk humbly with the Holy One. I reveled in the grace and beauty of those who step up to the moment to bring resolution to sticky situations. The Spirit at work! I made notes of words of wisdom, breadth of perspective, that were spot on. And I mused with joy at the Mystery of ways being made where there had seemed to be no way. Again, the Spirit on the move!

All spring our reminder of last year’s joyful hummingbird family remained on top of our wind chimes in the patio, an empty nest. And although we had been told that a hummingbird will return to her nest, ours remained vacant, even when two other nests attached themselves to our rafters around Easter time. But then! the night before the date of Pentecost, there she was! Last year’s Mother Hummingbird, feathering, then sitting on her nest., exactly where she had left it last year! I am overjoyed! She’s not a traditional dove. as picture in so much sacred art, but she represents to me the beauty and surprise of the Holy Spirit–coming when she is ready, adjusting her normal warp speed to the constancy of still presence to the eggs beneath her as they grow and become who they will be.

The pastor preached yesterday: Pentecost is an ongoing event; it is a constant filling… I know that to be true! And how grateful I am for the particular images of the Spirit’s presence–moving, sitting still, surprising, nourishing, energizing–and giving wisdom and beauty as she does so! Blessed Pentecost!

Christmas Light

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Sometime a Light surprises…

We celebrate that Light that has come and incoming, that continues to come! This year we have just endured has seemed overwhelmingly dark in hue with so many things blacked out, covered over, chaotic and unwelcome. Yet the Light keeps shining!

Several times this past week I have walked into a place in shadow or shade and a Light surprised me–a sunbeam focused on a silver cup, a refracted reflection of the dawn from outside on a bedroom wall, a sunset caught on a Christmas tree ornament, and a flash of lightning illuminating the early morning garden. The Light keeps appearing!

I also felt it, let it wash over me, as I read about former students who have persisted and prevailed in ministry in very difficult circumstances, in grandchildren who have not only survived, but thrived, in these times of on-line schooling and confinement, in persistent loving and care for those who experience homelessness and hunger by faithful people who do what Love demands.

In anticipation of turning the page on the calendar into a new year, I trust that the Light of the World keeps on being!

I believe in the sun, even when it isn’t shining, / believe in love, even when I do not feel it/I believe in God, even when God is silent.

Whatever cracks appear in this turning and living of the year ahead, the Light will get in…surprisingly!

Advent IV: Love

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We love because God first loved us

Advent 4 is the candle of Love. Loving in the time of the corona virus is demanding re-imagining, stretching on my part, yet it seems like the most important thing I can do in this season of non-doing!

My love needs to be creative! No more dropping by for conversations, no more hugging at the door, no more long lazy lunches. Even close up exchange of gifts are off the table this year. So how do I keep the Love alive? I am so inspired by pastors in worshiping communities who have uncovered ways to share God’s love without being there in person. Our Christmas children’s pageant on Zoom was full of laughter and affection. I am so touched and comforted by notes and remembrances that come in the mail. And I am planning a memorial service by Zoom with deep sorrow and affection, something I have never done, but is what Love asks for in this season.

And my love need to persist! it can be easy for me on any particular day to stay rooted to my couch, and say to myself that there are too many limits, too many constrictions, too much gloom, and too little energy to keep in contact with others, even if they are alone, suffering or just in need of a listening ear. Yet the candle of Advent insists that Love, in person (or on-line, or by mail or phone) is what it’s all about. So I must write those cards, make those calls, make those contributions, send those greeting by whatever means, for the sake of Love!

I am aspiring to express Love with Joy! As I listen to the familiar seasonal texts, I find them laced with Joy–a birth, a supportive soul-mate, a chorus of angels, the found destination after a long journey, gifts from the heart are all expressions of Joy. So I want to offer my gifts–tangible or not–with Joy, taking Joy to my own heart in hope that Loving Joy (with laughter!) will be the real contagion of this time, in spite of all the dour prognostications. Mother Teresa of Calcutta has said, Spread love everywhere you go. Going or coming, that is my intention!

Love the star is on the way!

Advent III: Joy

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There is joy is all…Anne Sexton

Joy come in a mixed bag this season. There is joy all round–worship on line with music, Word and scenes of the life of the community; decorations, a few, going up in new locations around the house; candles promising that the Light has come and is coming! But behind the Advent wreath in our worship space is some clutter, some chaos and disruption. And in our circle this season someone is leaving this life, someone is grieving mightily, and many all over the world are in despair for countless causes and reasons. How do I hold on to the Joy, while so much is so wrong?

For many reasons I have been dogging that questions in these months of upside-downness, confinement, and as our pastor preached, no script. In my pursuit, I have found that that there is a consensus on two things: first, that Joy is a gift of the Spirit: The fruit of the Spirit is…Joy! When I sing “Joy to the World” these days, I am acknowledging that the Holy One comes to us in Grace, in a Person with a promise of Presence, Hope and Love, discernible and accessible by me, and all the people of this world. In addition, however, there is a shared sense by wise ones though time, from Fra Gionvanni, to Lady Julian of Norwich, to Dorothy Day, to Maya Angelou, that Joy is something I need to choose and practice. Henri Nouwen says, Joy does not simply happen to us. We must choose joy, and keep choosing it every day.

So today this third week of Advent, I will practice choosing joy: as I rise, as I eat breakfast, as I convene a Zoom gathering, as I wrap presents for folk, as I bake coffee bread, as I listen for the phone or e-mail, in order to see how God is present in my world and the world around me and where the joy of the world is showing up this season. I am exercising the spiritual muscle that Nehemiah speaks abut when her tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength.

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything, says Lady Julian. May it be so for me today!

Advent II: Peace

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The lion and the lamb shall lie down together…..in peace.

Still not many words for this Advent, but I am very eager to seek “the things that make for peace” I wonder in this season what they they would be.

A few things occur to me:

  • I need patience; the pace of life to which I have been accustomed doesn’t fit any more! So much of what moved in a straightforward and timely manner is now random and at a snail’s pace. Patience is a gift ofthe Spirit, I read.
  • I need to let my expectations be very modest, maybe for only a little while at a time. “Be here Now” say the ancient wise ones. Again, THIS is the day that God has made; what is here for me to notice, be grateful and do Now?
  • I need to be elastic, willing to adapt to the place and time in which I find myself, both giving and taking what is offered.
  • Knowing that the limitations on meeting and greeting are so confining these days, I need to ask of where and when I am, “How is Holy One here in this place at this moment? and how can I respond in gratitude and grace?
  • I need to savor and relish the beauty that is part of each day–the kind and thoughtful words and actions of my loved ones, the constant blooming of the garden, the wisdom of the words from spirit leaders who wrestle and struggle, the bravery and diligence of people caring from those experiencing homelessness, hunger, injustice, the art of those who refuse to let despair dominate hope.
  • I need to let joy and laughter wash over me whenever and however it comes.

Maya Angelou says, “true Peace/A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.” That is the Peace for which I pray today!

Advent 1: Hope

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My hope is in you!

This Advent I have few words, but I am observing the season, each day, each week, by paying attention to the surrounding darkness, and trying to see where the Light gets in, little by little! This week I am noticing where Hope breaks in!

As Advent began yesterday I was surrounded by the Hopeful voices and image-makers who pointed me to the Light in so many places, big and small–rescuers, helpers, peacemakers. The writers and artists themselves are human strugglers, faithful, articulate, aware and honest, and they keep their minds and hearts and hands open to be Light-bearers in this challenging and confusing time!

..Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into us…(Romans 5:5)

Here’s Hoping!

Crossed Wires, Loose Ends and Short Fuses!

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How little I knew about the timeliness of this topic when the thought occurred to me! I have noticed that so many of our “systems” that we depend on seem to be running on the rims of their wheels, or even falling off their tracks–the post office, the businesses that have closed, the happenings that are not happening, and the short tempers and frustration that is right at the service of nearly everyone!

This week I lived into this confusion, as in one hospital stay for my husband, we experienced orders that failed to be given, wrong instruments prepared for surgery, hence a 2 hour delay, and flowers undelivered! Meanwhile, the world continues to unravel–politically, rhetorically, hopelessly! I feel so often that there are so few things I can do about any of it, so how do I live in the mega-chaos, the mini-derailments and the in-betweens of not knowing?

Two things have emerged for me in my musings. First, I need to accept that the warp speed with which I am familiar, for myself and for the world, is no-operative these days: Everything is Slower Now! Nothing goes as quickly as it once did, save for the spread of the pandemic and natural disasters! I must continue to learn to re-calibrate my expectations for the speed at which I can do things, and the speed at which the systems I inhabit are able to respond and function. Slowly, slowly, slowly! Lente, lente, lente! Slow me down, O Holy One! Let the words of Ecclesiastes sink into my bones as well as my mind and heart: For everything there is a season…And what a season this is! A time to heal? a time to weep? a time to search? a time to throw away? Teach me how to discern what time it is at such a snail’s pace.

It Is Six Weeks Later:

See, things move much more slowly! And things do come undone, fall apart, and take more time than I expected! And maybe what my learning here is that I need to change my expectations of what a day, and hour need to look like! This is the day that the Holy has made. I WILL rejoice and be glad in it! Not glad for it necessarily, but in it. Tonight we celebrated Thanksgiving according to Plan D: no spatchcock barbecued turkey at the correct social distance in my daughter’s back yard; no drive through the In’N’Out; no home-cooked small meal for the two of us, but a lovely takeout dinner from a local restaurant less than a mile away. And beloved ones who are very ill or recuperating, and other dear ones facing surgery this week, and the Cods-19 virus still spiking, and businesses that I have loved or counted on going out of business. And so we were Grateful for what was; Brother David Steindl-Rast says that we need to “Bless what is for being!” And that is where my expectations need to be focused: on being grateful for the place and condition in which I find myself–no denying that there are crossed wires and loose ends, but finding how Grace appears, or even, as my grandson so aptly says, the silver linings, in what is!

Dear Lord, Help me to live right now in this moment of time You have given me. (from Marian Wright Edelman)

A Wider Deeper Gratitude!

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All your works shall give thanks to you, O God!

Since nearly the beginning of the pandemic, I have been faithfully keeping a new gratitude journal, keeping it close at hand all day, recording the things for which I am thankful. The epigraph on the front reads: “Grateful for the sun & the earth & the memories of what it is to love everything Life has brought me.” (Brian Andreas). It has been an anchor in these many days of not knowing–what is coming next, what to expect, what is lost, how to proceed. However, in reviewing it this week into the sixth month of sheltering in place, I find that my focus has been very narrow, for the most part checking out my own bubble in the world, not noticing where grace, peace and mercy are flowing in the wider world.

I am challenged this week to lift my eyes and open my ears to the Good News and Actions around me in the world, among faithful people, in what I know and have experienced in the way the Holy works in the world.

  • I am thankful for truth tellers, and for the truth that is incontrovertible, if not uncontroversial.
  • I am grateful for those who are honorable. who do the right thing with respect and mercy for others and themselves.
  • I give thanks when justice is served by people with agency and vision.
  • I am thankful for those who are pure in heart, and, therefore, whose response and actions are purely loving and gracious, even if some would call them naive.
  • I rejoice and give thanks for the things that are pleasing–beauty, grace. laughter, music, color, art, good food and drink, sweet aromas, soft textures and open skies.
  • I am thankful for the ones who are commendable, who go above and beyond what anyone expects, who show up, standup, put up, shut up when the situation calls for it, despite the prevailing mood and chatter.
  • I savor with gratitude those who continue to pursue and savor excellence in their appointed rounds, whether it is in the fine arts, folk art, outsider art, pop art or the arts of silence, making a home, crafting a piece of furniture, or raising a child who loves and lives fully in this world.

I am learning to stop in my daily commentary to notice and to say: “Listen to that graceful reply!” “Look at that open acceptance!” “How full of mercy that response was!” “Look at that generous giving of time and energy!” Thank you, thank you thank you!

With the ash-filled, polluted air all up and down this coast, with the Covid-19 virus still very much alive and well, with the vitriol that spills over the airways and through cyberspace, I find some days, that I have to dig deep and wide for objects of gratitude. However, this week, as I have lifted my eyes, broadened my gaze, deepened my trust, I have discovered again so much goodness of God, so much love of Life, so much breeze and energy of the Spirit, “How can I keep from singing?”