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 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!
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!
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!
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)
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)
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?”
I have always cared about what to wear. As child I looked wistfully at a store window, knowing that my clothes came from what we then called “the missionary barrel.” As an adult in public ministry when I received an invitation to preach or speak, my first interior response was always, “what will I wear?” And now in retirement I have found that my sartorial needs are fewer and fewer.
Then comes the Covid-19 virus! Symbolic to this season is a dress hanging in my closet. For years it was important to me to have an “Easter dress” to wear on Easter Sunday, and then in the vocational years I wore a clerical robe all the time, so no new togs were necessary for festival days; I was out of the habit (so to speak!). But This Year, I thought, I would celebrate by choosing an Easter dress early, and on that time of great rejoicing, would add to the festivities by wearing something new, a sign of new life, energy and spring., of Resurrection. And on that day, we were sheltering in place! And the dress still hangs on its store hanger, waiting!
On a “normal” day in this pandemic, I don’t go to my closet to try to choose what will be best suited for the day’s occasion. At the most demanding, I try to see if my top is presentable for the Zoom and FaceTime calls ahead. I don’t spend an inordinate time in front of the mirror, making sure that the things I am wearing match, accessories are not too flashy, or the whole look clashes with the occasion. If it is to be a day of phone calls only, I am content to allow my T-shirts and comfortable pants suffice–no need for make-up, shoes, maybe even bras!
However, my attention has been caught by some words from Colossians:
…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness,and patience…Above all, clothe yourselves with love… Colossians 3:12,14
No matter what my body is wearing, this list a wardrobe to which I need to attend. In my conversations with people, I find that I am not the only one who finds herself with frayed edges in which I am judgemental toward others—near and far; unkind in words and action; impatient with over-exposure to beloved ones, as well as with the chaotic news of the world; and I find myself egocentrically wondering “what about ME?” It takes stamina and intention to keep reminding myself that the outfit of the day is Love, and the challenge of the day is to see what Love looks like today with all its sameness and surprise. This is a demanding practice, even in long relationship and commitments, and it is also a challenge to practice for myself–to extend the same kind of compassion and kindness and patience to my own muddling through these baffling times. “Put on Love!” That’s a pretty clear choice to make each day, and it doesn’t require washing ot ironing!
I haven’t given much though to the fruit of the Spirit called “faithfulness” before now. Renita Weems is her book, Listening for God, prompted me to take a look. She says that fidelity or faithfulness is keeping up our commitments, doing the “things I have to do until belief returns”…”to be here not there…”showing that we are serious about touching and being touched…by grace.” I have begun to ponder how to keep faithful during times of global pandemic. To whom? and to what? and how?
It is a Sunday morning…sheltering in place…again! This is a day and time when I would usually be in the car on my way to the sanctuary, to join with the gathered ones to sing, confess, pray, savor sacred text in word, sermon and song, and to greet those I know and don’t know who have come together in Spirit to worship. Instead today I am doing cursory ablutions, curling up on one end of the couch across from my husband, the dog in between, with lighted candles, clicking on the link to our congregation’s pre-recorded worship. I have done this faithfully for all the weeks we have been sheltering in place. I read this week that 48% of churched adults in the country are not tuning into a place of worship, familiar or different at all. But I am very clear that this practice of routine is one of the things that is sustaining my getting through this time of unknowing and anxiety. I surely miss all the elements of corporate worship, but being faithful to this ritual is grounding me, keeping a place marker in my life in its Spirit journey.
I have staked out other practices of fidelity which help me know what time it is and the passing of the hours and days. I try, sometimes against all temptation to do otherwise, to care for my body–the walking, the eating healthily, the taking of meds, the breathing and stretching. I have had to learn, rather late in life to be a good steward of the body I was given, by acting on the routine practices that demonstrate my care for it. I am faithful to my best beloved ones, trying to discover and use the medium that serves each one best–Facebook, Instagram, phone or text. I miss being able to hug and pat my grands, all of them, either from actual or social distancing, but in this liminal period, I am faithful to touching them from afar. I am strongly committed to my practice of reaching out to those who are struggling with health, grief, sadness loneliness or despair, with the same attention to mode and frequency that I choose for my family. I don’t need to know how my communiques are received, because just doing this faithful act reminds and grounds me of who I am and that to which I am called.
It is the faithful routine of all kinds that is keeping me from collapsing into despair these days, especially in my journey of Spirit. I keep a new journal of gratitude right next to me all day long, to capture the unexpected graces that occur when I least expect them. My husband and I go on neighborhood “scavenger hunts” looking for beauty on our morning walks. My own reading–many from voices unfamiliar to me-:African-American, Native American, poets from all around the world–reassures me and points me to the Light. I take mindfulness moments each evening. And there is in me an ongoing stream of prayer prompted by the Spirit, inhabiting my body and mind, recalling sacred text that I can savor, that keeps my faith in the Holy One alive and in motion.
Faithfulness is a gift of the Spirit, but I am learning that it is given to me new every morning, even on the days when I have to slog through early gloom of weather or mood, and that my fidelity is made possible by the Faithfulness of One who is unfailingly faithful and keeps the energy going in me! I am grateful!
Among the hard things that have fallen out of this pandemical sheltering in place is the loss of ability to plan. So many squares in my day-runner are now neither full nor empty, just scratched with cancellations, and there are no future appointments down the weeks to replace them. A trip to see grands? an elective surgery? a dentist appointment? even lunch with the Tall Group? I feel stuck. Since I am used to planning for events, appointments and possibilities, I feel stuck many days!
I get some perspective when I reflect on how many people over the course of history and even in the present day are proscribed in their planning. Who could plan if they are incarcerated or under house arrest or in hiding? Who could plan when they set out, not knowing where they were going or who was taking them? Who can plan is their city is being bombed and occupied by hostile forces days after day? I have enjoyed a life that has afforded me so much latitude, so many choices. And I still have many of them! It’s just that the circumference of my choices has narrowed, and some days I chafe under the restrictions.
Therefore! today I am choosing to explore the edges of my time and space limitations:
how can I honor and use my body in the hours in which I have energy? walk the labyrinth, stretch my legs, play the piano, bathe my muscles? all of these I can do without harming myself or endangering others, and can let Spirit energy flow through me.
to what can I give my intelligence, to keep my mind flexible? so many resources are available through books, podcasts, blogs and newspapers, on-line or paper right now: daily news summary, a book on Native American philosophy and practice of living with the Earth, journeys with folks on pilgrimage–personal, memorial, spiritual, African-American spirituality.
to whom can I reach out in the many modes of communication at hand? friends who are isolated by health or circumstance, those in suffering or in mourning, those with whom I have allowed too much time to pass in our togetherness. Even with sheltering in place, I now have Face Time, Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, snail mail, text messages, phone; how amazing to be granted access to so many far and wide! And how freeing it is to choose one to express love, appreciation and grace.
in what ways can I deepen my experience of the Holy One and the worlds that have been created? how can my journey of Spirit broaden without being able to “plan my work, and work my plan”? I have precious time for silence, and therefore, for prayer of many kinds–gratitude, reflection, hope, compassion, lament and need. I can join praying congregations on-line, adapting to singing along with the soloists, saying words of liturgy with the congregation in Spirit without hearing other voices, listening to a Word that come though a screen. And I can use my communication platforms to work for justice and kindness through my giving, my encouragement and my prayers.
What is more elusive is a daily plan. Almost daily my “plan” gets derailed by “tyranny of the urgent:” road closures, doings in the neighborhood, news from near and far. So without a plan, confined to quarters, I rest in these sacred and wise words from the Psalmist:
my times are in your hands
THIS is the day that God has made,
I will bless the Holy at all times, praise shall continually be in my in mouth
In this time which feels hidden and fallow to me, there is still Spirit at work–in me, in the world, even when we feel stuck! Gratefully sighing!