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 – Birthday Reflections

“Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble… A person’s days are determined;     you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.” – Job 14:1, 5

Birthday Reflections

I’ve tried not to think about this day for a while.  Age is just a number they say.  But it is a real number. If I don’t say it aloud, maybe it isn’t so. A young delivery man called me “Miss”.  Maybe he needs glasses or maybe he’s from the south.  Since this is a milestone birthday, it is a good time to stop and evaluate. To reflect. To discern.  At this time of life, am I doing those things God desires for me to do? You know – things done and left undone. Is it time to let some things go? If so, which things.  What brings me life?  What does not?

I did not write a meditation last week because I was leaving for the Daughters of the King Retreat.  The retreat is usually a working retreat for me, and although wonderful and fun filled, I didn’t have the time or the space to reflect on these questions. I will probably need to go away for a few days to have that without distractions.

A few old age jokes come to mind.  I might as well laugh.

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” ― Att. Mark Twain

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” ― Ellen DeGeneres (Love this.)

“When I was a boy the Dead Sea was only sick.” ― George Burns

“When I was born, rocks were still soft.” – My husband

And then, though it is not a joke, this quote from Parker Palmer, “Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” So, there it is. Reflection time calling.

God spoke to me in many ways this week.  A birthday week, especially when it’s a mile stone birthday, is a good time to make a sacramental confession.  Confession is healing to the soul and I do that here if my confessor comes. This year she did and I heard the words, “You are forgiven.”  She gave me a sort of penance.  First, she said, “Out of great pain comes great love. You embody this.”   I know it is true – that from brokenness comes the gift of love – but I don’t always see it in me.  Then she said to look for happy things to do, because she thinks I am depressed.  Really?? I wonder what gave her that idea.  She reads my writings, maybe that’s it.  Or maybe it was the tears. What kind of penance is that, anyway?

Happy things. I think I’ve forgotten how to do happy things.  Recently, there has been too many disappointments, too much pain, too much sadness, etc. It wears me out.  I already had a lighter feeling, and I started to pay attention.  God provided some moments.

One woman said that if I lived closer, she would recruit me for her singing group.  I don’t and I’m not sure how much longer I will be able to sing, anyway, but that was fun and encouraging.

One woman said she liked my shoes and they look like dancing shoes. They do.  I like them, too.

Our group stopped for lunch on the way home.  While waiting for the food, I went to the restroom.  The music that was being played, I think, was by Neil Diamond.  I have no idea now what song it was but It made me happy.  Maybe, I was dancing on the way back to the table, I don’t know, but my eye caught the eye of a young man sitting at a table.  He was about 21, I guess, because he was drinking a beer with his meal.  I doubt he was much older and he was singing the same song under his breath.  As our eyes met, he smiled and nodded his head.  I gave him thumbs up.  A strange connection happened as we responded to the song.  It was spontaneous and delightful.

My birthday week is over, but I still need to take time for discernment and reflection.  I will try to pay attention to happy things and seek happy things to do. Are the times of darkness and pain worth it?  Yes. They are, but only if I look for the gifts of love and growth that come from them.

In the beginning O God you shaped my soul and set its weave.

You formed my body and gave it breath.

Renew me this day in the image of your love.

O great God, grant me your light.

O great God, grant me your grace.

O great God, grant me your joy this day.

And let me be made pure in the well of your health.

~ Celtic Prayers from Iona – J. Phillip Newell

 

A FRIDAY MEDITATION – Sounds of Silence

Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee. I asked you to surrender your life.” ~ Eugene Cho

“Pay Attention,” the first element of the Trinity Way of Life, is about prayer. Especially prayer to listen for the voice of God.  As a corporate Lenten discipline, we, if we choose to accept it, are to focus on listening to God through all of the eight elements of the Trinity Way. We are listening specifically for God’s vision for us — His desires for us as a community.

Listening to God can be difficult because we have so many distractions, but it gets somewhat easier the more we practice.  I say somewhat, because there are days, or periods of days, when the distractions take over.  Yet I try. I will most likely say more about this later, but for today, I ran across a meditation that I wrote four years ago during one of these periods.  I decided to send  it again today. Also, I was talking with a couple of friends about being still and quiet this week so it seems appropriate.

By the way, wasn’t the rain last night wonderful? We really needed it. We are grateful.

“Listen to this song: Jesus.  Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.  Jesus.

“I wish you could hear this simple meditative song because I think it is beautiful, but sometimes we can hear with our hearts what we cannot hear with our ears.  There are other verses, I think, “He died….”  “He rose….”  “He lives….”  Maybe that is one of them.  I can’t exactly recall nor do I remember who wrote this.  Maybe you have heard it, too. And maybe you remember.

“This song came to me, yesterday, [and today] when I couldn’t still my mind for even ten seconds in my prayer chair.  There are times when there is too much stuff on my mind and it darts back and forth between things.  Prayer/work/emotions/physical pain/what’s for dinner.  Prayer/work. We struggle with the story of Mary and Martha – between prayer and work.  When Martha complains that Mary isn’t doing her part, Jesus said, ‘…there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’ We have tried to make sense of this.  What does this mean? How would we do this? Why?

“It is all about Jesus. Isn’t it?  We who are apprentices of Jesus know this and yet we also know that we are Jesus’ hands and feet in the world.  It’s Prayer and Service.  And, without “at least” ten seconds of listening prayer, without this conscious connection with Jesus, we might miss what work it is he has for us to do.  We might spin our wheels doing our own thing or what we think Jesus wants us to be doing.  When we listen, when we hear, when we follow, the work that we then do becomes prayer.

“Some days your mind is probably like mine and it won’t be shut up.  Then, how can we be still and listen?  There are ways that may help. This song came to me.  Some focus on their breathing to quiet their minds. Some use prayer beads—rosary or other.   Some use a single word to quiet their minds such as ‘Jesus, Peace, or Love or, …etc.  Others use the Jesus Prayer; ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  Or perhaps the Kyrie ‘Lord, have mercy, Christ, have mercy, Lord have mercy.’ What we choose is repeated until we are still. [I repeat this word in my mind rather than saying it aloud.  Aloud for me is a distraction.]

“The words and melody, ‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus’, started to float in between and around the many thoughts, concerns and feelings darting around in my head.  Soon there was only, ‘Jesus.’ Finally,…  Still.

“’Be still and know that I am God.’—Psalm 46:10

“’Be still and know.’ ‘Be still.’” – (dlw 12 April 2013)

Listen. I hear His voice in the sounds of silence.

A FRIDAY MEDITATION ~ Speak Peace

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” ― John Lennon

A friend posted a meme on Facebook of a stick figure sitting cross legged on the floor in meditation pose.  He has one eye closed and one eye open. The caption reads, “I feel peace. I feel calm. I feel a hole in my sock.” I responded because I understand this problem and he suggested that it might be a meditation subject.  I wasn’t sure how, but it’s true, sometimes my meditation time has so many “holey” distractions, I can’t be still.

A Soul Friend wrote that we might pick a word to help focus us for the year.  That’s a great idea, and I thank her for the reminder. A focus word is very helpful in our prayer and meditation, but it can be helpful in everyday life, as well.  I couldn’t come up with one until yesterday when I picked the word, “PEACE.” I like this word because it helps me with distractions. I speak peace to worries, to pain, to anger, fear and whatever. It helps me quiet my mind and listen to Jesus or to just be present to and with him.

There is another issue into which I need to speak peace. For several years, I have predicted a revolution. There has been a deep-down sense that there would be one.  The world is in turmoil. Our nation is in turmoil.  We have a new president, and you know that up to this time, it has not gone smoothly.  Revolution has already begun and we will see, if we are looking, what God will do with it. Jesus followers are already revolutionaries, and he is our example of what we are to do.  If we need a refresher course, the place to start in the Bible is the book of Matthew.  I looked up “Jesus said…” on Bible Gateway and all but one reference was from Matthew.  The other was from John. As the revolution takes place, we will need to speak peace to many things. As Jesus followers, we may not always be able to be passive. There are times we may need to resist.  It has always been so.  Read and see.

There are at least three scripture passages from the Old Testament that have come to me the last few days.  The first is in Jeremiah 6:16 – “This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”

Joshua 24:15 – “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” 

And Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 

In addition to reading the Book of Matthew, I have been meditating on these verses. They help me with focus. It is in being still to know God that I find the “hole in my sock” distractions so often, lately.  But it is also what I need the most.  How else will I know what my particular marching orders are.  In stillness, I can say, “Lord, what will you have me do?” and, many times, hear an answer.  And it is here that I hear him say, “I love you; you are mine.” But, I may need to speak “peace” repeatedly to all those holes as I wait for stillness to come.

As I have said, today we have a new president – Donald Trump. Jesus followers are to pray for him regularly. See 1 Timothy 2:1-2. Every day is recommended. We are to pray even if he might not have been who we wanted or whether we agree with him. I offer this prayer.

  1. For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to [Donald Trump] the President of the United States, the Governor of this State (or Commonwealth), and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in your fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen. – Book of Common Prayer, p. 820; #19

In peace, we pray to you, O Lord.