An Epiphany Season

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“What to my wondering eyes should appear!”

I am delighted and blessed to read so widely in the faith community that Epiphany it celebrated by some as a season, not just one day! The story of the Adventuresome Wise Ones feels so apt in these days of unknowing, grayness and uncertainty.

It is such a season on unknowing, even though we had hoped for the holiday and turning the year be an actual marker of something healing, healthy and new. Instead. the Omicron phase of COVID has been invasive, disruptive and unnerving. Daily plans are upset, promises are having to be revisited, hopes deferred. And I am imagining the post-visit to the Christ child was much the same, going out without not knowing where they were going, the Wise Ones went home by a different route–did they know where they were going? what would meet them on the way? what fresh hell they would encounter? Or was it for them, as it is for us, a daily step forward, in vigilance and trust with flexibility to see how, when and if they would find their way home?

I am trying to be a Wise Wanderer this season, wondering if, at least for the duration of COVID, this is The Season–appointments written in pencil, events canceled, protocols observed, directions re-routed, expectations rearranged. As someone who likes to plan and anticipate fun and joy for the future, this is a big stretch. My grounding in sacred text is more and more deeply: THIS is the day that the Holy has made, I WILL rejoice and be glad in it!”

So today if an appointment is late in arriving, if an invitation is turned down, if yet another appliance breakdown, or another tree in the neighborhood falls over without hurting anyone, or a long awaited connecting venue is canceled, my deep call is to once again see how the Holy One is here is the surprise, and to be one who is open to the possibility off something beautiful appearing, even as it did this last week–a friendly conversation, a bank of birds of paradise guiding my way to a medical appointment, slow, but constant healing in a loved one, celebration of a great accomplishment by a grandchild, a musical arrangement that transported me in amazing grace, a faithful blogger who “gets it,” but still carries on. God’s mercies are new every morning is this season, despite politics, despite the pandemic, despite all the gloomy doom-saying pundits!

And so I invoke and inhale the Spirit of Epiphany, looking for Light, surprised by the road on which the Star led them, and flexible, more and more so, to take another road where the Hoy One leads, the invitation opening up! I am grateful to be on the surprising road! Thanks be to God!

Advent IV: A Well-Lighted Wreath

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“Love, the Rose, is on its way..”.

All my senses are invited to join in as this part of the season crescendos…the culmination of Advent, Winter Solstice, Christmas Eve, then Christmas Day, beginning twelve days comfort and joy to savor. And for me in my rose garden, small but reminding me of the giver so long ago, a confluence of scent, color, softness, awakening to the possibiity of the Light that has come, will come and is here!

The Church calendar this final week of Advent lights the way with Love. Although the promise and vision of Light is increasing each week, I am all too aware of the opaqueness and miasma that surrounds us daily–rising COVID numbers with its Greek variants, standoffs and vitriol in the world’s capital cities, floods and tornados, with destruction and cutoffs shriek from the headlines. Yet, all though this season, and I believe, beyond, I can sense Love lighting up the world, Love wafting through the air, Love softening some of the hurts and slights, Love sweetening the bitterness. Indeed, Love wins!

On Christmas I celebrate with Christian communities the coming of Jesus, the Christ, Love in person. The Love that I have sensed throughout these days of bafflement and confusion comes from that Love. In my small world it has looked like generosity, goods, service and presence given to so many in such places of need, grand and small, in the name of that Love. It has touched folk with gentleness in response to ranting, impatience and grief. It has filled the room with the aroma of patience, deep listening, even to the oft repeated stories, more than twice-told. It has been a taste of the goodness of the Holy One, who has downloaded the Grace of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

I am as unclear as everyone else about what a new year might bring, to me and to my beloved ones, to my community and my city, to the nation and the nations of the world. But in the lighting the Advent wreath I can see as much as I am able that Love is the only way to navigate the unknown–Love when I deliver coffee bread to the neighbor, Love when I make that phone or e-mail connection to the lonely or limited one, Love when I encounter the service people who come or to whom I go, Love to the agencies and organizations that are on the front lines of distributing resources for shelter and sustenance, Love to my dearest and nearest amid frustrations of changed plans, snafus and hoped denied. And I can reach down into that Love, because I am Beloved myself–by the Holy One in Jesus.

Heedless of the pouring rain this Christmas Eve morning, I am letting myself be filled, in my body, mind and spirit with God’s Love for the world, for me, and am trusting that in recycling that Love, I can participate in the ongoing healing of the world this season and on the days to come. Love Wins!

Advent III: What I Sense in Three-Quarter Light

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What is this lovely fragrance flowing…?

Three candles are lighted for this week of Advent. Light is increasing, but still not fully illuminating, so as hearing and touch have been increasing my awareness of Holy Presence these past two weeks, so this week the scents of the season call my attention. In our house we have the paternal legacy of Swedish glogg as it simmers, and occasionally there are the aromas of breads or rolls, even meals being roasted for guests, so long absent from our table. There is a turning, although tentative, from the long austere absence of communal sharing of coffee and goodies into small, but welcome, breaking of bread, and porring of wine together into this bleak midwinter. And what Joy that brings!

On the third week of Advent we light the Joy candles for Gaudete Sunday, a joyful pink explosion into the waiting dark, a respite from the reality of the gloom and sadness, if even for a moment. It is promissory, but welcome , as are the smells of greenery, candles, fireplaces and hot drinks on the stove, a reminder and hope of what is yet to come. Howard Thurman, pastor and prophet writes, “I will light the Candle of Joy, despite all sadness…,” and that prompts me, when I am lighting the candles around my house, and inhale breaths of vanilla, pine, winterberry and peppermint, to sense and trust that the Christ Child is indeed coming: “Live in love, as Christ loves us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering…” Eph. 5:2

The Light is increasing, and so is Hope and Peace and Joy, even though it comes in wisps of fragrance, in shimmers of softness, in snippets of song, that are fleeting and ephemeral. I wait, and am comforted by the reminders in my senses of the One who is coming and the One who has come!

Maya Angelou tells us that, “We need Joy as we need air…” May the Joy of the Lord be our strength in these Advent waiting days!

Advent 2: Attention In Half Light

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” I see people as trees walking…”

The Light is only slightly more visible, two candles lighted this week. It’s enough to increase hope, but still the future, even the present, is pretty fuzzy, unclear, reminiscent of the process that the man who was being healed by Jesus from his blindness in the the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 8. So once again I am called to use my other senses. Some liturgical calendars list this week’s candle as the candle Peace, so I listen for Peace. I am still listening, grateful for the phrases that hum in my brain–“the messenger shall speak Peace,” “Peace, be still,”and “the Peace of God which passes understanding will keep your heart and mind.” And now I am trying to engage some other senses.

Some of the senses of touch in my experiences outside feel clear–the breeze on my skin, the warmth of the sun, the solidity of the trunk of tree, the wind that blows through waves, trees, fields flowers. Can I learn from my Celtic spiritual teachers that these touches on my skin, face, and body can bring peace to me from the Holy One, a reminder that Christ in in all of creation and parts the world? And inside my house, as a person who has been given so much, can I learn that the warmth of the fire, the softness of the blanket, the texture of the faithful dog all are prompts to remind me that the One who speaks Peace is bringing it now and always?

I sense and hum the anthem which sings in my heart, through the misty view in which I cannot see clearly:

Deep peace of the running wave to you,

deep peace of the flowing air to you, deep peace of the quiet earth to you, deep peace of the shining stars to you, deep peace of the gentle night you, moon and stars shine their quiet lighten you, deep peace of Christ to you.

Even though I cannot see clearly this second week Advent, I can be at peace.

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!