My reflection on Mary, the mother of Jesus prompts this prayer on the third Sunday of Advent. which by some calendars is about Love:
O Holy One of Love,
I long to be as loving as Mary, when she first said yes to Gabriel, to be the bearer of the Light, persistent despite her anxiety, reaching out for friendship when she felt so alone, bursting forth with praise and gladness for the Light she knows in her body and spirit.
I would want to be as flexible as she was in adapting to her circumstances–long journey in discomfort, doing what was required amid fearful politics, reflective of all that kept coming her way.
I celebrate and would learn from her caregiving to her child, no matter how old he was, and her celebration of his emerging person, meanwhile speaking her truth to him as she understood it.
I pray for the tenacity and courage to stay with each of my beloved ones, as long as I live, even if means walking with them through heavy sorrow and broken-heartedness.
I pray that I will be supportive of the vision and journey of each one, even as they go on paths that are alien to me, even unimaginable.
In this Advent season I look back and give thanks for the Love that has brought me safely thus far, however imperfect, love that was patient, faithful, elastic, welcoming and celebrating. Keep teaching me by your Spirit to keep learning to Love as many days as I have been given to Love!
In the name of the One who is Love in Person, Amen
Right after I posted my blog last week, I opened my Facebook to behold one vista after another of sunrises in the east–one Tiepolo sky, one giant swath of golden and peach rays as far as the eye could see, one bright ball of color arising out of a nest of dark and formidable twigs and trees. Light is coming, slowly but surely, sometimes in ways we can’t miss it, other ways in which it suddenly dawns on us. Yet the Light keeps shining, even if I can see it only a little at a time.
As I light my second Advent candle this week, I acknowledge that there is growing Light in my and the world around me. I am amazed at the way the Light kept shining through the ugly dark patches in the world headlines. For almost every reported incident of meanness or narcissism or selfishness, there was another tale of generosity or sacrifice or kindness. Between the notes of honking and shouting and grinding of gears, came the harmonies of Advent and Christmas hymns and parents adoring and protecting their little and big ones! After the blinding cold rains came the double rainbows across the sky! And in these moments of illumination comes Peace.
The One for whom we are waiting is about Peace.That truth challenges me to imagine how I am to be a Maker of Peace in this season, as I get each dollop of Peaceful Light around me. I see that I can bring a peaceful face to a a contentious criticism. I can listen to my tone of voice as I participate in conversations that are querulous or despairing. I can change my posture to one of open-heartedness, arms uncrossed, when I am in a place where aggressiveness and rigidity seems to be the chosen affect of the day. I remember that sacred text which tells me that “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.” With the Light I have been given, I am to be Peace in this season, which gets so captivated by un-Peace, and in this world which is so chaotic as it flings itself around in the dark.
My prayer for myself and for others in this week of Advent is that I would allow the increasing Light to bring more Peace:
Holy One for whom we are waiting, it is hard to wait, especially with the all the hustle and bustle around us, even more so with the never-ending conflict, injustice and callousness in the world that needs our attention and work. Let me be a bearer of your Light that leads to your Peace–for my sake, for the sake of those I love and you have given to me, and for the sake of the world. Amen.
God, the world is dark at the beginning of this year. I am often anxious in the dark–of noises that frighten, of shapes that threaten, at memories that haunt. This year so much seems so much darker–the grief of the planet, the chaos in nations, the loss of hope in the community of peoples.
The lives of people I love are dark. Illness, loneliness, catastrophic loss,deep sorrow, frustration and boredom all cut hug swaths of attention, intention and aspiration, energy. They, and I, struggle to keep finding the light and the places where it can get in.
As I age I notice more darkness in me–my response to my limitations, with less patience for the change and decay in the world, my feeling less powerful to make a difference, fewer days in which I can persist.
Yet I am sure and I trust that You are in the dark too, with me, and in the world. Along with the psalmist, I know that “my darkness is not dark to you!” When I lift up my head and look around, I see that there are glimmers of Light shining–in communities that gather to rescue, save and preserve; in churches that act on their convictions to care for the poor, widows and children; in generous souls who keep on with their acts of great love and their constant presence to those in pain, whether it is received with grace or not.
So today I light my first candle of Advent to add both my witness to the Light in which I trust, and to signal my commitment to be a bearer of that Light in to the places that I go. I light it to remember that as the gospeller John tells us, You the Light are the Light of God and the darkness cannot put it, or You, out! By Your Spirit I can fan my sparks of hope, despite the “encircling gloom,” despite the ugliness that passes for common discourse in these times, no matter the catastrophe of the hour.
As I write this, the radio begins to play, “Lux Aeterna,” by Morton Lauridsen, Eternal Light. Yes, Light of the Holy, You never are extinguished, even in times of deep darkness.This Advent, while feeling blanketed by darkness, I am joining Your Light for the world, even as we wait for your coming again in the world.
A voice of joy! Advent began with a voice on one crying…in a wilderness! And we take a turn into the season with a voice of joy! I am relying heavily on joyful voices in this season, Music and words combine to life my spirit above the oppressive sounds of so much that is being given attention.
So I have heard Joy in the voice of children in productions of “Beauty and the Beast.” I have heard Joy in concerts downtown at Disney Hall, first all of the Bach motets, then the voices of Chanticleer. My Facebook community supplies me amply with music of Joy of many kinds–country western, early Renaissance, piano and cello, hundred voice choirs, a capella ensembles. On Christmas Eve by candlelight, we heard in variegated voices the story of the birth of Jesus into this world and what it means; it led us to stand and sing together “Joy to the World.”
And then we were stunned at dawn to get a familiar voice on our phone on Christmas morning telling us to go look on our front porch–and there to our shock and surprise was our complete Florida family awaiting to say Merry Christmas and to feed and love us, through this festival week. It has been followed with singular voices of Joy: laughter of cousins, hilarious remembering between siblings, excited regaling with new experiences, eager recitation of encounters with something special–all Joy! Certainly the we have shared the Joy of Christmas with enthusiastic voices this season.
I am convinced that I am to bring a voice of Joy into the new year. It is counter-intuitive if I become saturated with the voices of the world around us–news, op-ed pieces, and Cassandra like predictions of the doom to come. However, the voice of those who are seeking Spirit and intending to live with its energy are filled with hope, perseverance, compassion and imagination because of what we are celebrating this Christmastide. Those are the choruses of which I would like to be a part. I anticipate with expectation the anthems of those who are joining their journey of Spirit with their intention to be part of the healing of the world, whether in political demonstration and action, or in service to those without resources or agency. I align my heart and voice with those who croon softly to the person in pain and despair, or to the ones who feels as if there is no place to call home. I accept the lowering registers of my own voice to calibrate it to the song I have been given to sing for now: God is here, does not leave us, nor can anything separate us from Divine Presence and Care. There is Joy in all!
Good Christian souls, rejoice! with heart and soul and voice…
In this New Year I am adding my voice to the band of angels and saints who hear and care for the voices crying in the wilderness, and then go on to bring a more hopeful, Joyful song of “Peace on earth, good will to all!”
This third week of Advent, after Gaudete Sunday, where we praise the Holy, as Mary did, remembering her with a rose colored candle in our Advent wreaths, is about Loving. All of one’s body is involved in loving, but often the first movement is with our arms.
I found this work of art in Montreal this fall. So much Love is shown in the arms of these three: the expressive arms of the one telling her truth; the accepting arms of the one bent in to listen deeply; and the arms that hold and support the truth as it is being told. How many people, especially in this season, long for welcoming and supportive arms of Love outstretched on their behalf!
I have been noticing active arms of Love this week:
- the driver who ferries the car pool daily, often adding to his load, children other than his own
- the grandparent who opens her heart and arms to greet the little one after he trips and falls
- the strong arms who give support and balance to the one whose gait is not quite as steady as it once was
- the long arms that reach that elusive ingredient on the top shelf of the grocery store for the shopper who can’t reach it
- those who put all their arms together to pack up turkey dinners for households who need them this Christmas
- the quick defensive arms who keep others from tripping, or ward off danger from something unexpected
- the willing arms that carry things from story to car, from car to home, from home to friends
So many ways to show Love! And each one is characteristic of the Holy One who is Love. The prophet Hosea characterizes God speaking this way:
…it was I who taught Ephraim to walk. I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of Love. (Hosea 11: 3-4)
I am seeking to make my arms loving ones this Advent, whether it is rocking a little one, following the Mother Mary, or offering a great-grandmother’s cookie recipe to guests invited, or sitting with relaxed posture to hear the story that needs telling, whether I am hearing it for the first time or have heard it many times before. As for my own needs to be replenished in Love this season, I am taking shelter in the Loving Arms of the One who made me just the way I am, who can comfort and heal me, then send me out again to Love the world!
People, look east, the time is near/of the crowning of the year./ Make your house fair as you are able,/ trim the hearth and set the table./People, look east and sing today:/ Love the Guest is on the Way.
I have begun Advent in Hope, but am deeply aware of all the sorrow swirling around me. I have been for weeks now. It has shown up in all shapes and sizes among the people I know and love: the loss of a spouse for one longtime friend, the failing of another body part in someone else, the ending of traditions of many years because of circumstance, and more tragically, the continuous pouring out of the failure of human beings, personally and politically. So I grieve, for that which has been lost, for that which has been broken, and for the allure of despair that can accompany grief in some of its stages.
When I think about the familiar characters in the stories of the Advent and Christmas season, I see that many of them were acquainted with sorrow in their participation on the events of the season we now celebrate. Mary was unexpectedly, inexplicably pregnant, with a fiance willing, possibly eager, to divorce her. Joseph felt betrayed, with no clear idea what to do next. The Wise Ones from afar seemed to be charged with the need to find a solution, a truth, to the searching of their minds and souls. And the Church marks with deep sorrow the slaughter of the innocent ones after Herod’s insane rampage in killing all the infant boys born, who threatened his imagination.
I can and do connect with those sorrows. There is sorrow in the child that appears, no matter what age or stage, that seems to require something more from us than we are able to provide, or with whom we are ill-matched. There is sorrow in marriages and partnership when illness or grief strikes a loved one. There is sorrow in so many who have been faithful to the ideals and the principles to which their lives have been committed, only to find that now all the rules, sensibilities and specs have changed. And our lamentation is deep and wide when we witness the brutality and callousness and dis-empowering of so many vulnerable human beings, in our own neighborhoods and in our nation and the nations all around the globe. In this “bleak midwinter” of our world’s history, we grieve profoundly, even as we look for some Light that will show us how to participate in its healing.
I began Advent with a trip to the local art museum where there is a stunning exhibit of the work that Marc Chagall created for ballet and opera. Colorful, provocative, enchanting, each figure and background set forth imagination and energy, but also each one carried a shadow, the sorrow to be found in the work for which it was created. Even in “The Magic Flute” by Mozart which delights with humor, with wit and intrigue, in the midst there is sorrow, an intimation of which I found in the backdrop (pictured above) that opened the opera, “wings of sorrow,” lurking even in the starry sky. I am comforted with the depiction.
I also began Advent reading Father Gregory Boyle’s new book Barking to the Choir in which he regales his readers with story after story of the tears of tragedy that is the daily fare of the “homies” with whom he works. The stories are unimaginable to some of us who live comfortable lives. A friend of mine said, “I laughed, I cried, I laughed, I cried, over and over.” Yet it is a book about Hope, even in and through the sorrow.
I am challenged to give place in my life to the sorrow that is part of who we are, where we are in this time in history. Sorrow is a constant thread of life, not strange, not the result of something bad, just life on this earth. But it is not the only thread, nor the last word. I acknowledge the sorrow, grieve it whatever way is right for me, and leave room for Hope to come in. Not a bad way to begin Advent!
The liturgical year comes to an end this week, and I am struggling with what am experiencing as spiritual clutter in my heart and mind: too many books, too many websites, too many blogs from others, too many fraught conversations. All of these sources are good, some even brilliant, but the sheer number of them is crowding out my ability to listen for the Word of the Holy One to me day by day.
I am attracted to every shiny word and image about people’s journey of Spirit that I see. What does this young woman have to say? what insights do these theologians have to bring? how are these spiritual teachers expanding the parameters of deep conversation? and who are the latest voices to come to sit in at the table of conversation? Most of these sources are worthy, provocative and helpful. Theirs are insights and perspectives that challenge and enrich my own study and experience so far. But what I am finding is that for me right now, the engagement of “more” is crowding out the “one thing necessary” that Jesus flagged for Martha and Mary, that time of listening deeply, musing, pondering, letting the Word dwell in me richly, truly, madly deeply. I read quickly, so I can absorb lots of words in a record amount of time, but I am noticing that my rapid speed and prodigious quantities of written material are making it hard for me to hear a Word. I remember the seekers who went to the Desert Ammas and Abbas to ask, “Amma, give me a word!” Rarely were the responses given in more than one or two sentences. When that Word was given, the seeker was to go into her own life again to ponder, to meditate, to contemplate what that might mean for her in the location she was given to live.
As I take the turn into Advent next week, I want to attend to the one thing necessary. It will mean ignoring and tuning out some very glittering images and plangent siren calls of What’s New, What’s Exciting and What’s Different. It will mean turning down the volume on the shrieking headlines and news updates of the hour. It will mean choosing an Advent practice wisely, and then sticking with that, and only that, while I give myself the time and space to reflect on what comes up for me. It will mean committing myself to the parts of my practice that I skate over quickly–the silence, the journal writing, the focused prayer. And keep my eyes and ears focused on the one thing I intend to do.
I have already begun removing things from my basket in my prayer place. That book I nearly finished but didn’t can go to another stack of awaited reading. That diary that is more about quotidian activities than the heart of the matter can come to my reading chair for later. That journal that is really completed can be replaced by a new one that is eagerly waiting with me for a Word. And my timer can keep me rooted and breathing in my prayer place as I listen for the Word.
My late spiritual director, Betsy, often quoted C.G. Jung, saying ,”The Good is the Enemy of the Best.” The good clutter all around, so readily accessible to me, is in this moment the enemy of my best hope for getting a clear channel of connection to the Holy One who is waiting to teach and direct me in these days fraught with bafflement. outrage and grief. My invitation is to un-clutter, sit still and keep my heart, eyes and ears open.
I look forward to what will come in this Advent of attention.
My days of hands-on childcare have come and gone, yet this Advent season, I am surrounded by babies and little ones, in the main virtually, but also in person. Next door baby Benjamin was born, a child with a black father and a white mother, adored and adorable. My peers are almost all grandparents, each year adding more to their tribes–Juliet, Asher, Joshua, Henry, Rosie and Alexander, among others. My hearts leaps up with Hope when I see or hear these little ones. I see Hope that something new and unrepeatable has been created, full of promise, untarnished as yet by the cares and pressures to which we as humans are heir.
Little ones give Hope with their eyes. Their watching everything that is shiny and new, without cynicism or boredom, lights up my own eyes. If I can continue to look at each day, each person, each flower, bird and tree with the Hope that somethings precious is to be found there, I can replenish the Hope that so often threatens to die with the doom-saying media and the prognosticators of cloudiness.
Little ones give Hope with their vulnerability. They are willing to take love and nurture wherever it comes. There will be a time when they need to learn how to defend themselves, and to put their startle reflexes to good use. However, in the beginning they can trust that when food is offered, it is good food; that when warmth is offered, it can be nestled into, and that when smiles are shining, they mean good intentions and love. I would love to nurture a spirit of appropriate openness, one that radiates Hope.
Little ones are always learning, ever Hopeful that there is something new to be discovered–through their mouths, their hands, their skin–their own bodies. When they are moving as they should, they pave their way into becoming all they are meant to be. I want to keep Hopeful by continuing to learn about the world and those in it. I have had to learn much about my body this past six months, through surgery and accident, but on the other side of those challenges, I have deeper knowledge of how I am fearfully and wonderfully made, how the health of the earth contributes to my own health and how I need to participate in its on-going healing. I have also learned, incarnated in my own body, an intimation of what the senses and feelings are of so many who live with constant pain, suffering and challenge, and it has made me more compassionate and prayerful. And it has made me Hopeful that I can be an agent of healing or solace to the pain of others.
It is not accidental that in this Advent season our Hope begins with a little one, a Child, born wide-eyed, vulnerable and growing in favor with humanity and divinity. I see that it is not sentimentality that calls us to celebrate the birth of the Child, but that it is a statement of Hope. What and Who is born comes to give sight to our blindness, openness to our hyper-vigilance, and learned hearts for our own usefulness and capacity to heal in the broken world.
This week as we move into Christmas, I will be seeing and hearing little ones–my own grandchildren, those in the neighborhood, real and virtual, and those around the world. My own little Sadie who looks at me so intently in the photo above is now eight and a half years old, with personality, vision, intelligence and, most of all, love. And her growth gives me Hope–for her own contribution to the world, for her own future. She and her brother and cousins, my grands, are Hope for me. As are Benjamin, Juliet, Asher, Joshua, Henry, Rosie and Alexander. What God began with the birth of a Child continues to bring Hope, Healing and Things that make for Peace.
May the signs of hope brighten these last days of Advent in you!
So much of the Great Grayness that we are living through is covered with noise and disconnection. We read of or hear people screaming, horns blasting, helicopters hovering, sirens klaxoning all through our roads and towns. I long for peaceful silence, and yet there is a hopeful lilt in the atmosphere when I hear beautiful harmony. It is in the old carol’s words, “heavenly music (that) floats o’er all the weary world.”
It grounds me in the promise of Hebrew Scripture that there will come a day with a new heaven and a new earth, where the wolf and the lamb shall feed together and the lion shall eat straw like the ox (Isaiah 65: 17, 25). Things will fit together and make beautiful music together. Most Sunday mornings as soon as I wake, I tune into our local classical music station to the offering called “Soul Music.” For three hours I drink in choral music, primarily sacred, sung to ancient texts of Hebrew and Christian Scripture. Some of it is sung in languages other than my own; some of it offers plangent chords and melodies which cover the words. But the bringing together of the voices themselves–four part, madrigal, chant, echoes–all remind me of the promised dream: Peace on earth and good will to all people.
I practice feeding that dream all during Advent and Christmas. This year so far I have heard Eric Whitacre conduct a holiday concert in the downtown Disney Hall, blending old Christmas songs with his modern compositions. I have heard our church choir sing one of Bach’s less known cantatas, “For Unto Us a Child in Born,” expressing words of hope and trust. In our small group of friends who have gathered for 20 years, as we reflected on this past year and anticipated turning into the new year , we sang in the half-light, “O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here…” Then we sang, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel,” words from the 9th C. Latin, hoping, looking, trusting, as we are trying to do. And the harmonies reassure me that it is all true!
In my conversations in these days, which can so readily turn to despair and bleakness, I listen for the harmonies can keep me hopeful. There is a family widely divergent in their politics whose members treat each other with love and respect. There is a man who has given himself to caring for an aging family member, as he volunteers at his church for the jobs that no one else does. There is a church who provides a community dinner every Sunday night all year long for the seasonal workers who come through the town. There is a community of educators who unanimously vote to safeguard its students who are at risk of deportation. There is a church who goes out on a limb to bring justice and mercy for those who are at risk in the neighborhood.
My call as the music in me and around me brings harmony to the world is to be one of the voices that fills in the chords, that supports the ostinato beneath the solo, that helps the chorus swell with joy as the Light appears, or even as the Hope of it soothes my heart. I sense I want to be one of the angels that the carol sings about and let the Hope in harmony fill me:
And you beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,/ who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow,/ look now for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing:/ O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing. (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Sears.)
The illustration is taken from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”