A FRIDAY MEDITATION – It’s still Advent

 

There’s a voice in the wilderness crying, a call from the ways untrod:

Prepare in the desert a highway, a highway for our God!

The valleys shall be exalted, the lofty hills brought low;

make straight all the crooked places where the Lord our God may go!

~ THE HYMNAL 1982

This past year has gone way too fast. Faster than any year that I can remember.  Of course, I have been sick since August and didn’t feel very well for the first part of the year.  I was sick then, but I didn’t know it as I had not been diagnosed.  Being sick has taken up a lot of my time and energy. I travel through time much slower than I am accustomed to travel. I’m even trying to draft my writing on a yellow pad rather than my computer. It’s slower and will, maybe, help with my concentration. I’ll see.

We are mostly through the first week of Advent, the beginning of the Church year, and rapidly approaching Christmas. Most people have finished their decorating.  Parties are taking place. We frantically try to keep up with it all – the shopping, wrapping, finish decorating, meal planning, baking, cooking, cleaning, choir and pageant practice, etc.  The world is already celebrating Christmas while the Church is preparing for the royal birth.  Preparing is what Advent is about. And, it’s true, all that shopping, wrapping, etc., has become part of it for many of us. We’re preparing, aren’t we? Maybe or maybe not.

For me, it would be “not”.  I would just get it all done, and Christmas would be over.  What is it I was preparing for?  Has the prep time just been more chores piled on top of my regular routine?  I don’t believe the season is supposed to be like that. Did I – did we ever slow down enough to feel the excitement of Jesus’ coming into the world.  Did we take time to prepare for him?  Did we ever sit like Mary and ponder what this all means to us? All of the busy work and my soul begins to feel empty.

 

Many years ago, I don’t remember when it began, I decided Advent was going to be different.  I wanted to slow down my preparations and take time to enjoy the season. On the first Sunday of Advent, we put up the tree.  Our trees have grown in a factory for many seasons rather than in a forest or tree farm. No theological reason for that.  I’m just allergic to evergreens when I touch them.  Anyway, our tree is up now.  It’s not decorated because I start that the second week of Advent. It did, however, grow with lights already on it which I would have put on the second Sunday. The decorating of the tree and of the house will be finished on Christmas Eve. 

 

My Advent candles are out, of course, and we light them every evening.  Tomorrow, I’ll dig out the nativity set. I’ll set out the manger, empty of course, except for a turtle, a Cursillo chicken, and a few farm animals.  I would put out the spider, so it could decorate with its webs, but it is bigger that the baby Jesus, so I decided against it. The shepherd is out on the hills watching the sheep and the Magi are far, far away. On Christmas Eve during the day, Mary and Joseph arrive.  Jesus is in a small covered dish on the shelf below the nativity set.  He will arrive in the manger after Christmas Eve Mass and the shepherd and other animals will move in to adore him. The angel that has followed Mary and Joseph is now in the barn with them.

 

I bake very little anymore, because trust me, I would eat most of it.  After losing 60 pounds almost ten years ago, I decided to bake all those cookies was not in my best interest. As for Christmas gifts, it is possible some of them might show up on Epiphany.  That is when Jesus received some of his so it’s traditional. I love how we have been doing our decorating and all the rest of our preparations.  It isn’t so hectic, and it gives me time to ponder. I have time to prepare my spirit for the coming of the Lord anew in me. What new thing is he trying to show to me? How is he trying to transform me? Maybe he is just enjoying me spending time with him. I’m enjoying it. It helps me stay in the moment.  It helps me listen. And I do not miss all the craziness.

 This year, as I do most of them, I start Advent by attending a Quiet Day at our Church.  Fr. Jack told us the day was for us to be able to have a renewing encounter with God, and he gave us questions to ponder to help us.  I plan to use them in my quiet time each day and by Christmas, I hope to have some of the answers.  Perhaps I will share some with you.

 

 So, if you haven’t finished all your preparations for Christmas, remember that Christmas doesn’t start until December 25. You still have time.  Take some of that time for a renewing encounter with God.  You can be refreshed rather than frazzled when you get to Christmas Day. And have a Merry and blessed Christmas.

 

Grace and Peace,

Donna

 

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A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Again Suddenly

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth ~ John 1:1-2, 14

“And, suddenly….”

Advent begins this coming Sunday. How can that be? It would be nice if everything could slow down a little. Advent is a good time to work on slowing down, but why would we want to do that? For one, we would be able enjoy Christmas when it comes, but a major reason for me is that when I am rushing around like crazy, I might miss all of the “suddenlys” that happen when I am not really paying attention, and I don’t want to do that.

God shows up in the suddenlys and life changes – he suddenly does a new thing. We live life doing what we are doing, and suddenly….!

Suddenly, an angel appears to Zachariah and says, “You will have a son….”

Suddenly, and angel appears to Mary and says, “I have news for you, you lucky girl. God has chosen you….”

Suddenly, the baby, John, jumps in his mother’s womb, when he recognizes the Messiah in Mary’s.

Suddenly, angels appear in the heavens singing, “Glory to God in the Highest….”

Suddenly, there is a cross, where Jesus hanging says, “Father, forgive….”

Suddenly, on Sunday, a stone blows away from the door of a tomb and….

Suddenly, a mighty wind fills a room and scared apprentices are changed….

Suddenly, life is changed never to be the same. God is like that.

The burning bush in the Old Testament was one of those “suddenlys”, too. You know that story but let me share a modern one. I was one of the spiritual directors on a weekend when a table leader came to get me. She wanted me to hear a story. One of the women had been wrestling with a calling she felt was from God, but she wasn’t sure. Someone at the table asked her if she was waiting for a burning bush. When those at the table looked out of the window, suddenly a bush was on fire. This bush wasn’t burning up, either. The reflection on the window of a fire in the fireplace of the room made it appear that the bush outside was burning. The really odd thing was that where ever I stood in the room, the lit bush was still visible. Unusual! Out of the ordinary! Strange! The woman answered God’s call. Her life changed and has never been the same.

Sometimes, a “suddenly” comes to me when I am reading the Bible. Sometimes, it comes when I read a spiritual book. The voice of God jumps from the page. Sometimes, while in the shower, He speaks. Sometimes, I realize that the words a person is speaking to me has suddenly become the voice of God. Often, creation speaks – like a burning bush. Of course, God is with us all the time, but when I am running around like crazy, I could miss seeing him. I might assume that what I hear or see is just an ordinary happening. I need to choose how I will respond, because these “sudden” appearances of God have all changed my life in one way or another. I want to notice, so I must slow down in order to listen and watch for him. How about you?

Come, Lord Jesus.

Donna – [29 NOV 2013]

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Ready for Jesus?

God is coming! God is coming!  All the element we swim in, this existence, echoes ahead the advent. God is coming! Can’t you feel it? – Walter Wangerin, Jr.

  I woke up this morning. That’s good.  However, I have come down with a bad cold.  Not good.  Why do I have a tendency to do this at this time of year?  Maybe it’s the cold weather.  I have too much to do to get ready for Christmas.  It seems that there is always so much more to do than I have the time to accomplish.  That is not good for an apprentice of Jesus. He does not want us to be so stressed.  I think that this all means that I am trying to do more than what needs doing. Sigh. But as long as I don’t run out of Kleenex and cold pills, I may be able to write this meditation.

I remember reading a meditation by Sharon Jaynes a few years ago, where she says, “It seems like everywhere you go during the month of December people ask the same question. At the grocery checkout counter—‘Are you ready for Christmas?’ At the bank drive through window—‘Are you ready for Christmas?’ At the doctor’s office—‘Are you ready for Christmas?’”

               Well, my answer to that is always, “Nope. No way.”  I usually say that Christmas isn’t here until the 25th of December and I have 12 days after that, until Epiphany, to celebrate and finish up all that I have not managed to get done. (However, I still don’t get done.)  I am trying to simplify this year.  I always say that, too. What does “ready” mean? 

               Sharon said that a voice spoke to her in a dream and asked, “Ready for Christmas, what do you mean?” She said she would rephrase the question and ask, “Am I ready for Jesus?”  That puts the whole thing in perspective doesn’t it?  Are we ready for Jesus?  Am I?  Our Advent meditations and antiphons say, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  We aren’t only remembering the yearning of the Jewish people.  This is our yearning, too.  We are not only asking for Jesus to come at the end of time, which he will and we long for that. But, what we need, desire, and for which we pray is for Jesus to come, today, now.  We need Him to come into our hearts and lives.  Are we ready for Jesus to take over?  Transform us? Use us to spread His Kingdom?  Use us to accompany each other on the journey?  Use us as His hands and feet in a dark and hurting world?  Use us as light so that others can find the way?  Are we ready for this? If so, all we need to do is say, “Yes, Jesus, I am ready.  I am ready for Christmas.  Come.  Come, Lord Jesus.’”

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.  We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.  We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.  We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.  We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.  To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” ~ Henri Nouwen

Have a Blessed, Peace filled Christmas beaming with the Light and Love of Jesus. 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Just Waiting

I’ve learned how much the Advent season holds, how it breaks into our lives with images of light and dark, first and last things, watchfulness and longing, origin and destiny. ~ Kathleen Norris

What is Advent anyway?  An advent is about something or someone coming/arriving. The “Advent” of the Church year that we are experiencing now is about waiting.  It’s about darkness. It’s about lament. It’s about rescue. About hope. About preparing for the coming of light. About birth.  About rejoicing.  About Hallelujah. About Jesus. About Holy Spirit Power.  About suffering and sacrifice.  About Revolution.  About the Kingdom of God.  Did I say about waiting? Yes.

I know a great deal about waiting.  Most of us do when we think about it.  I am a mother who gave birth to five children.  The waiting was hard – especially for the first one when, even though I was expecting, I didn’t know what to expect.  I didn’t even really know when to expect the arrival of the little person. There were many questions.  What will he/she be like?  Boy or Girl?  Will I be able to handle this responsibility?  Will I be able to wake up in the night for whatever is expected of me? Etc.

This year has been one of waiting as well.  We were moving into a different house.  We thought we knew which one, but we were never completely sure it that we had it right.  Interim arrangements for living had to be made while we waited.  Should we look elsewhere?   We tried even that.  We waited.  We expected.  We prayed.

We lost family members and friends with whom we waited as did they. We suffered through presidential campaigns. Aren’t we still.  We thought we were done with that.  We waited.

We ask, “Where is God?”

We pray, “Come, Lord, Jesus. When will you return?”  We wait. We hope. We pray. But we would like to avoid the hard work of waiting.  We would even like to avoid the hard work of looking for God where he is, even now, in the world.

Advent is a season in which, while darkness grows-and we can observe that, we are called to stay awake.  But, like the disciples waiting while Jesus prayed in the garden, the temptation to sleep – both literally and figuratively – is strong.  We often would rather not notice. However, the call of Advent is to “Wake Up”, to pay attention, to notice the Kingdom of God in our midst, to help in creating it where we are in whatever little (or big) ways we are called, even when we can’t see that it is helping.  This reminds me of this quote by Winn Collier. He said, “I’ll do the waiting the watching, God, and you do the Adventing.  I assume you’ll do it on your own schedule – that seems to be the way it works.” True. Right?  Let God do it.

So in the meantime – the Advent time – what, specifically, do we do to help usher in the Kingdom of God in fullness? For each of us, I don’t know.  We continue our preparations to celebrate Christmas, but not at the expense of our Advent.  We watch and pray.  We pay attention and God will show us – will tell us.  I find that when I do this, it is usually small assignments that I am given such as – Talk to that person in the church lobby on Sunday Morning.  Pay attention to someone who looks like they need help. Smile at the harried cashier in the store. Pray for those on the prayer list.  Look around.  Pay attention. Spend time with God.

Teresa of Calcutta says, “Words which do not give the light of Christ increase the darkness.” “I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?”  “Love begins by taking care of the closest ones – the ones at home.”  “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”  And this one, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” She is a good example for us this Advent.

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. ~ Romans 13:11-12a

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Watch Therefore

“Watch, therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning.  Watch, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.  And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.” ~ Mark 12:35-37 

Happy New Year!  Where did the year go?  I have no idea.  But no, it’s not January 1; it is still November. The Church begins its new year on the First Sunday of Advent which is this coming Sunday. The scripture lessons this year are more about the Second Coming of Jesus than they are about his birth.  It’s much easier to write about birth stories, since I know something about that, than it is to write about the Second Coming of Jesus of which I have had little direct experience.

Birth stories are more about waiting and the second coming is more about watching. Waiting for birth is about preparation for new life.  Birth pangs will tell us when it’s time.  Watching has a different feel.  As I sit here, I’m trying to get in touch with that difference. Watching is about paying attention to what is going on around us as well as inside of us.  In giving birth, we know for what, even if not exactly for whom, we prepare.  Paying attention – watching – is about noticing the signs of Jesus’ coming again.  We’ve never done this before. For what do we watch? How do we prepare?  How will we notice? How is it different? Maybe the work of Advent this year is reflecting on those questions. Today, I have been looking through some books of Advent meditations.  I am trying to decide which I will use this season.  I read this from Preparing for Jesus, by Walter Wangerin Jr.

“For nearly one thousand five hundred years Christians have spent the days of Advent not in passive inaction, but in activities strenuous and profitable; they have prepared themselves by scrubbing and cleaning their lives, by examining and repairing their souls—even as people generally prepare themselves body and home to receive a visitor of ineffable importance.

“Who is coming? Who awaits him? And when will he get here? And how shall the people prepare?” 

“The Son of man, He is coming.  Jesus.  That One, Him.”

“And we are the people who await him.  You and I. Since it was for us he died, we are the ones who wait in love.  And since he ascended to heaven with promises to return, we wait in faith—for the next and final Advent, Jesus will take us as friends, as brothers and sisters into his house forevermore.

“And when will he get here?  Like any New Year’s Day: at the end and the beginning.  But that Advent to come—the final arrival of Jesus in glory—will itself cause the end of this present age and the beginning of our eternal joy.  When will that be?  Ah, my friend, I do not know.  No one knows its day or hour.  Therefore, Jesus commands us to “Watch.  Stay awake. Get ready. Prepare, prepare—and watch?”

“Finally then, how shall we prepare? In these days, while yet there are days and time, by what activity should we make ourselves ready? Why, by meditating on his first coming—for though the future may be hidden from us the past is not, and the one can teach us the other.

“The story of the birth of Jesus is open before us.  We have a spiritual and holy account of the time when God himself directed preparations for that first coming of his Son into the world.  What God ordains is always good.  Therefore, those preparations may be the perfect pattern for our own this year again, this year too.

“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy…. 

“Oh Lord, Stir up, we beg you, your power—and come.  Come even now into this season of our meditations, that by your protection we may be rescued from our sins, and saved by your mighty deliverance in order to look forward to your final arrival with the joy that cannot be uttered…  Amen.” 

Bless you in your waiting and in your watching.

Pondering…

The angel Gabriel from heaven came, his wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary, most highly favored lady.”  Gloria.“For know a blessed mother thou shalt be, all generations laud and honor thee; thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold, most highly favored lady.” Gloria. ~ Hymnbook 1972 

It’s one week until Christmas. Seven days. Are you ready for it?  I’m really not, but then, maybe I am.  It depends on what I mean by ready. No, all of the preparations that usually go on this time of year are not done.  I haven’t had the energy for it, but I am ready for Jesus, I hope. Working through life this year has helped me here.

This Advent season began as the Angel Gabriel visited Mary with the announcement that she was to be the mother of the Messiah.  Emmanuel. God with Us. The one who has been awaited by God’s people almost forever, it seems.  For the most part, they still believed He would come as promised. Luke 1:29 tells us that Mary was perplexed and she pondered this strange greeting. She meditated upon these words not really able to understand. Her thoughts were probably deep thoughts.  “What? How? This can’t be, can it? Am I ready?”

What have we pondered as we prepare for Christmas? Have we thought about how the Messiah is growing us? What is God saying that brings us to pondering pause? Below are a few of my thoughts so far.

First, Ann Voskamp wrote this on December 1:  “Okay — deep breath — not only is this month going to be okay — it’s all going to be Beautiful! No-Stress Holidays this year — because simply? quietly… we are hushing the hurry & waiting for you, Lord. And when we know it’s all about Jesus — there. is. no. stress. And we whisper it: I will not let December become about making a production when it’s simply about not. missing. You. Miracles happen throughout Advent — whenever I slow…. whenever I still…. whenever I simply look for small and unlikely shoots of Jesus’ love everywhere… because this grows deep in Jesus’ love for everyone.”

Wednesday, while we were snowed in, we saw Flickers looking for food in the cracks of the Green Ash right outside our window?  They were very purposeful in their poking around.  The fat squirrels joined them in the search for food, in the tree but also on the ground, where I throw dried bread crumbs from time to time.  Ten inches of snow did not hinder them.  They were more than willing to look deeper for their nourishment. Have I been willing to go deeper for mine?

I read in Isaiah (40:3), “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” Still pondering.

Do I dig deep looking for Jesus?  Or have I stayed on the surface of things? Do I still myself and consider what I’ve heard and seen?  Have I spent still time with God? Or am I going at a mad pace with no time to wonder?  No time to listen? To ponder? Have I allowed time to prepare myself for the coming of Jesus anew in me?  Well, there is one more week in Advent.  How about this week?

So, how? How do we go deeper? Where will we find nourishment? How might we prepare the highway in us? How will we be still in such a busy time? What will I do? Well, I have a list – First of all – Number 1, Decide; Then Be still; Read the story; Ponder; Share it with others; Pay attention; Join together; Pray without ceasing. Watch for Jesus; Be still. Repeat.

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head; “To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said,“my soul shall laud and magnify this holy Name.” Most highly favored lady. Gloria!

 

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Have Peace

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” ~ John 14:27

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”~ John 16:33

The focus for the second week of Advent has been on Peace so I have been meditating on it. Several quotes, in addition to the scriptures above, came to mind as I sat. These are three of my favorites.

“Peace in the world cannot be made without peace in the heart.” ~ Henri Nouwen

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  ~ Mother Teresa
“Peace is not the absence of trouble, but the presence of God.” ~ Oswald Chambers

What does peace actually look like and feel like? Even though Oswald says peace is not the absence of trouble we would like it to be, or at least I would. If we had peace wouldn’t there be an absence of war and other turmoil in the world? Wouldn’t there be an absence of war and turmoil in our own inner and outer life?  Apparently, that is not what Jesus meant by the scripture verses above. Although, if we all had the peace of God perhaps we would eventually get there.

Having and keeping the Presence and Peace of God within really requires the practice of some form of silence and solitude—some form of meditation—some way of paying attention. There are several ways to practice this.  Some take long quiet walks in nature to be with God.  Many use Centering Prayer when they sit quietly and ignore, as much as possible, the distractions of the mind and heart.  Lectio Divina—sitting with a Bible passage, not for study but for prayer and meditation, helps others.

Some people, including me, use all of these ways at different times.  Perhaps you have another way. I have more silence, more peace and more of the sense of God’s presence then, and throughout the day, when I regularly practice Centering Prayer.  I try to sit for 20 minutes twice each day. I don’t always make it, but when I do, I know the gift of peace Jesus was talking about and I am less afraid, not just while praying but all day. When I don’t have at least one of these periods, it isn’t long before I feel worried, fearful, anxious and empty.

Today, a prayer came out of the silence. It was this:  Jesus, I’m grateful you have allowed this painful experience(s) in my life. Thank you. It has shown me things I would never have known without it.  Wonderful and terrible things, inner things.  Outer things. Things about myself that I didn’t know.  These have been gifts to me and I am truly grateful. Thank you.”

What?  Where did that prayer come from? I can guess.  Actually I know it was the Presence of God within that gave it. I have more peace, but I probably do need just a bit more silence and gratitude (Ok a lot) to get this attitude to stick. Do I have scars?  Yes.  But the scars are reminders of how God has been with me for healing. We never know what tomorrow, or even the next minute, will bring but we do know who holds tomorrow. This inner Presence of God is what we have to give to our hurting neighbor and bring to a hurting world.

“I will listen to what the LORD God is saying, for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.” ~ Psalm 85:8