Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas Day

This is the irrational season
when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
there’d have been no room for the child.  

Madeleine L’Engle, “After annunciation” in The Irrational Season.

Image Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve

God is our refuge and strength,
   a very present help in trouble.  Psalm 46:1

I finally leave the office store after a complex series of unbelievable but absolutely predictable setbacks. Because of course I am not the only one who waited until today to mail a Christmas package. But rather than feeling overwhelmed, I am buoyed by a sense of ease.

Because somehow or other, we all kept our cool. The man who stepped aside as I was reaching for something on the shelf behind him and apologized if he was in my way. The young woman who patiently explained to me that I had packed my gift into the wrong kind of mailing box. The store manager who waved me into a shorter check-out line, but then missed putting one of the items into my bag and had to perform the transaction all over again. And me. Somehow I did not let anxiety win out.

I feel we are all being gentle with one another. It is as if we all see and acknowledge the stress we are under, and in the face of it each of us has decided to try a little bit harder to be gracious. 

And as I move on into the evening, the grace continues to be manifest. In the man in the parking lot, who smiles and waits until I get into my car before getting out of his. In the driver who slows and nods at me, allowing me merge. In the cashier at the fast food drive-through who gifts me with an unsought compliment. 

It is as if for this evening we each realize how fragile we can all be, and that we need to treat each other tenderly. As if a blanket of grace has fallen over the city like fresh snow, quieting it. As if we have all agreed to be kind to one another. As if we realize our actions actually can make the world a better place.

I am grateful for the gentleness as I prepare to meet the One who is gentleness. Who invites us to bring our heavy burdens, and replace them with refreshment. Who is humble in heart and promises rest for our souls. Who is waiting to be born anew into the world and into our hearts. Who is already present.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,
that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a
mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Amen.     (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 212)

“I can hardly make a little corner in my heart ready for Jesus, much less a mansion,” I comment as my daughter lights the fourth candle on our Advent wreath and leads us in the final Advent collect.

“I’m with you on that,” my husband responds.

A mansion? How have I not heard or heeded those words before? I have lived with the Advent collects for most of my life and we pray them at our dinner table during this season. But now I am caught up short. I have certainly thought about (and even written and preached about) making room in our hearts for Jesus. But clearly my imagination was too small. I hardly envisioned a great expanse of space, beautiful and elegant, clean and carefully tended, exquisitely appointed.

I carry the image with me into the evening somewhat dazed by the revelation. A mansion?  But then, what was I thinking? That Jesus would be content dwelling in a nice cozy corner of my heart?

The Savior of the World will need a much bigger space. 

And there it is. I hear anew the Word who has been speaking love into my core from the beginning. My heart breaks open, exposing a widening landscape allowing for the possibility of more of God than I had ever imagined.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Monday, December 22, 2014

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

Feast of St. Thomas, transferred

The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in,
   from this time forth for evermore.  Psalm 121:8

“Mom’s going to help me bake for German class,” I hear my daughter announce as we enter the house.

We have just returned from a performance of the Messiah, in which she played trumpet in the chamber orchestra. It is 9:45pm. I have no memory of this baking agreement.

“You are the best, mom,” she says as she starts to pull ingredients and utensils out of the cupboards for her recipe that involves, among other steps, making pastry from scratch. And she’s decided on a triple batch.

There is nothing for it but to dive in. Oh, for the enthusiasm and audacity of a teenager who thinks nothing of starting to bake when the rest of us are ready for bed.

I take an advisory role, and then watch with burgeoning awe as she takes it all on. Checking on the recipe, which she has as a photo on her iPhone, she adjusts without a hitch when something needed is not at hand. It is not my kind of preparation. Not at all. I would have set aside a different kind of time, and measured out the steps in a distinctly different fashion. But as she dances from mixing to sautéing to rolling out dough, it all comes together. And in the end, I am along for a glorious ride.

Advent is ending, the hour is late, and there is nothing for it now but to dive in. Others will have prepared the way, made paths straight, where I have been unable or uninspired. And God watches over all, bemused perhaps when I forget our agreed upon plans, or think there is only one way ahead, one path to the manger. And I realize that my unpreparedness is its own kind of readiness. 

Image credit: / 123RF Stock Photo 

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

Praise the Lord with the harp;
  play to him upon the psaltery and lyre.

Sing for him a new song;
   sound a fanfare with all your skill upon the trumpet.  Psalm 33:2-3

As I drive home after a flurry of errands, I decide it is time for some Christmas music. I reach for the radio knowing that one of the local stations plays nothing but holiday tunes this time of year. I hope for a good classic carol as I hit the dial and suddenly I am awash in the Kyrie from Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Glorious.

It takes me a moment, then I understand. The sound system is bluetoothed into my phone which is in my pocket. A miracle of technology has accessed the next album on a playlist I had listened to a few days before. I can’t decide which is more stunning—that my phone is playing Bach or the music itself.

I realize that I have turned a corner and am now being carried by the choral momentum headlong into celebration. It is time to sound the fanfare. It is time to announce that someone really important is about to appear and something really fantastic is about to happen. It is time for pomp and flair and flourish. It is time for this miracle. Come Holy Spirit. Come Jesu. Come.

Image: An Angel Playing a Flageolet, Sir Edward Burne Jones
Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

I waited patiently upon the Lord;
   he stooped to me and heard my cry.  Psalm 40:1

I don’t feel very patient, I think, as I look at the three candles lighted on the Advent wreath. Three candles in. Where is the peaceful waiting? Where is the lingering around the Christmas tree with carols playing in the background? Where is the contemplation of the empty manger? I am waiting impatiently. Patiently. Impatiently. Patiently. Impatiently. The chant goes on in my head. Regardless is the waiting. It would be ironic, I think, to say that I am suffering from impatience, as the word patience means to suffer. To tolerate the uncomfortable without becoming anxious. To bear with.

What is it that I have to bear with this season, that is keeping me unsettled even as we enter more deeply into sacred time?

And there is Mary, bearing the discomfort, bearing the waiting, bearing the Christ child.

What do I have to bear? What new life do I have yet to bear?

Image credit and copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken;
   he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.  Psalm 50:1

In the shadows that play against the wall at dawn. In the epiphany that comes as I listen to a colleague who sees something I missed. In my thoughts that meander from water to life to baptism as I attend to the thirsty plant on the kitchen sill. The gift of today is that God keeps showing up and showing me.

In this day, this place, this breath. From the beginning to the end of the earth, both in time and in space. All of the earth, and all of its time, and all that these encompass belong to God. And God keeps showing. Through. Above. Around. Within. Always.

Image Credit : designpics 

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

Remember your word to your servant,
  because you have given me hope.  Psalm 119:49-50

I drive through the late afternoon grayness, the lights of traffic and scattered houses painting the streets with bright splashes of color turned liquid by the rain. The translucent mauve sky flattens the treed horizon, and I feel like I am driving inside the wet rather than through it.

The sky darkens from taupe to brown to blue-black as the bare branched trees trace intricate patterns against the fading light, and I am enveloped by the woods, and water, and wonder. What beauty, God’s creation. What endless possibility of color and light and liquid.

As I wend my way through the twists and turns in gathering darkness and damp, I think of the hope that carries me through the flat places, where God’s beauty and possibility do not breakthrough to my heart.

But the gift is more. Not only can I hold on to this hope when my way seems bereft. I have been handed the possibility, no the certainty, that I might discover God in the leaden times that dull my senses. 

I pray to see God in the awkward moments and in the dull moments and in the flat times ahead as I drive on into the night and the expectation of illumination.

Image credit: andreiuc88 / 123RF Stock Photo 

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

We have waited in silence on your loving kindness, O God,
   in the midst of your temple. Psalm 48:8

I awake early, before the alarm, and move into my morning routine with a certain amount of confidence. Lately, I have been hitting the snooze button. But this morning, I am up and alert and can get a jump on the day. There is plenty of time for prayer, and journaling, and preparing for the tasks ahead. Perhaps I can even get into the office early.

Because that would be a good use of my time, to squeeze more work into a day. But somehow my prayer is not that efficient, and my writing is a chore, and I feel the minutes slipping by. Rather than using the time to sink into the now, to relax, to seek God, I think of how much I can do or accomplish. And I miss the gift. Of silence. Of being still. Of emptying, instead of filling. Of trusting that my time, this time, all time, is in God’s hands.

I have not waited in silence. I have not opened my heart to the loving kindness of God. I have not remembered that I am in the presence of the holy, in the midst of the temple.

Someday, but apparently not today, I will give up on getting ahead. But for now…I wait.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Monday, December 15, 2014

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

If we have forgotten the Name of our God,
   or stretched out our hands to some strange god,

Will not God find out?
   for he knows the secrets of the heart.  Psalm 44:20-21

The cacophony is overwhelming. A garish Christmas tree dominates the lobby, guarded by the silhouettes of huge toy soldiers outlined in bright lights. Video screens booming, barely recognizable carols blaring, people on cell phones complaining or cajoling. Noise of privilege. Noise of false promises. Noise of empty symbols. I have barely entered the fray of the mall and already I feel battered.

And I am also pummeled by my own desire. I am hardly immune to the voices that want me to buy just the right gift. That dictate what my husband or teenagers want from me. That guarantee my happiness is available for purchase…and on sale.

It occurs to me that I would not find the mall a gauntlet if I had not given in to these voices before.  

But I do not have to give in to them today. God, who knows my secret desires, and how often I worship at the feet of what’s false, also calls me by name, and invites me into deep joy.

In the midst of the tumult I stretch out my heart to toward true love, and I hear clearly the sweet tones of Emmanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Morning Star, Prince of Peace.

Image Credit: Rast / 123RF Stock Photo 
Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday of the Second Week of Advent

The Lord grants his loving kindness in the daytime;
   in the night season his song is with me,
   a prayer to the God of my life.  Psalm 42:10

It hits me suddenly.  One moment I am sitting in the high school auditorium, and the next I am propelled with a gasp into the glory of God. Certainly an unexpected time and place.

It is difficult for me to unravel and understand the elements that contribute to this translation. The local community, with all its variety, gathered in this large urban high school. A school that still cares to support a music program. The young voices 150 strong, who create transcendence simply by their willingness to sing together. The student orchestra performing, accompanying, supporting with confidence and expertise. The leadership these young adults take on with such poise.

Or perhaps it is simply the beauty of one young woman standing in the aisle next to my seat, voice raised in exquisite tone, who cannot know that I am now praying, thanking God for the gift of Christ breaking in on me and the world once again.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Friday, December 12, 2014

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

Blessed be the Lord!
  For he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city.  Psalm 31:21

I bounce down the steps from my office looking for someone to share the good news with. In a day of flying details, I have finally managed to solve a problem that has vexed me for weeks. In the scheme of things, it is a small victory that perhaps only I will appreciate. 

Only much later do I remember to thank God.

It can be easy to miss small moments of grace in the midst of busyness. Especially when the world today can seem to be a place for the besieged and beleaguered. Too many responsibilities, not enough time or energy or resources. Creativity and kindness can falter in the face of demands for constant availability, immediate response, and measurable results. No time to think, no time to rest, no time to be gracious.

In such a time, my victory may be a small one, but thanking God is never small. Practicing gratitude, praising God who loved us into being, not only draws me closer to the one who is the source of life, but also radiates that love out into the world where it combats the mayhem and lifts up the careworn and harassed.

As I recall my tiny moment of triumph, I allow my vision of it to expand until I can see the hand of God. And opening my eyes and heart further, I become aware of God’s presence interwoven into the entire expanse of my day, my life, the universe.

I pray again that I might see the wonders of God’s love.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Be still before the Lord
   and wait patiently for him.  Psalm 37:7

I mess with the candlewick. I pick up my phone to check the weather. I contemplate adding a coat of polish to my nails. I almost check my email, but pull myself back at the last moment. I return to prayer.

Even after all these years of early morning discipline, even though I crave the pre-dawn quiet, even as I yearn to drop deeply into meditation of the holy, I am challenged by restlessness. I know the blessing of being still before God, but getting still is its own task.

Stillness does not come quickly. It requires surrender, and attention. Sometimes it needs to be carved out of a day. Perhaps I need to mine for stillness, or skillfully scrape my way into its cavern. Or cultivate it like a gardener. 

Or maybe it only requires a moment, a breath.

It is an act of love, I realize. Being still before God is loving God, and taking the chance to be loved by God. Which is hardly a chance at all, but a sure thing. I simply need to be still long enough to know this. Which only takes a moment and a breath and all my life.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

O Lord, you know all my desires,
   and my sighing is not hidden from you.  Psalm 38:9

In the late afternoon I go scrounging for chocolate. I don’t keep it in my office anymore, in an effort to be better about snacking. But I know where the nearest available candy dish resides. I take a small saucer with me as I go, in order to bring some sustenance back to my lair. I still have a lot of work to do.

I find myself selecting the candies by color, choosing the blue ones for the season. I would choose purple if that were an option, as that is my preferred Advent color. I add some red and green ones for good measure, and because there aren’t that many blue ones. Even in my private indulgence, I find a way to mark the season.

But as I contemplate my choice, and the small ritual I have created around this foray, I realize it references a deeper desire. I hunger both for the waiting time and for the result. I am drawn to God’s impending revelation of love into the world, but also to the expectancy itself. I yearn for the in-between, because I have found it a place of trial and testing and hope and faithfulness and trepidation and joy, and I know that the new life that comes next will be strong and sure and surprising.

I stand quietly for another minute. Then, chocolate in hand, I go about my day.

Image Copyright: kalani / 123RF Stock Photo 

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

How priceless is your love, O God!
   your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.  Psalm 36:7

I cannot erase the chill from the back of my neck; rather, despite my wool sweater it creeps further down between my shoulder blades. As my second cup of tea steeps, I stand in front of the kitchen heating vent, greedy for its warmth. The warm spot, my daughters used to call it when they were little.

They would sit on the floor in front of this vent on a cold winter morning and I would serve them breakfast and hot cocoa with a footstool as their table. A place of comfort and refuge from the draftiness of our old house.  That battered stool is in front of me now, and I can’t imagine their bodies ever being small enough to sit beneath it. But they were.

And now I stand here, wishing I were small enough to huddle in front of the vent and let its heat waft over and around me. But another warmth envelops me as I call to mind the wings of love that protect me from the drafts of doubt and discontent. The wings of God that can enfold me even as I stand tall and move into my day. How priceless this refuge that travels with me.

I finish my second cup of tea, and the chill is gone.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

Show me your ways, O Lord,
   and teach me your paths.  Psalm 25:3

As we leave the movie theatre in the cold rain, I try to think of the best route home. We need to pick up our daughter from her friend’s house along the way, and I try to picture the triangle in my head: theater to friend’s to home. But I can’t quite visualize the way, so I reach for my phone, not to call for directions, but to use the map.

How did we come to this, I think, as I contemplate the technology in my hand? When I was my daughter’s age, finding the way would have been such a different story. And when my mother was a girl?

The app on my phone lights up with three possible routes. Of course, why didn’t I think of going that way? It makes so much sense.

And as I drive, it occurs to me that like the highlighted possibilities on my phone, the ways of God are many. There is not one right path to discover and then choose. And in this time and place, finding the way is a different story. But nevertheless, it is a story and a path that traces it’s way from my mother to me and to my daughter. And even farther back, and even farther forward. I travel a way that is ancient and new. 

I drive on into the night and the rain and the endless possibilities of the loving ways of God.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saturday of the First Week of Advent: The Feast of St. Nicholas

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
   laud him, all you peoples.

For his loving-kindness toward us is great,
   and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever. Hallelujah!   Psalm 117

I dig out the shoes from underneath the coat rack and place them by the front door. A pair of combat boots and a pair of canvas sneakers. Into each go a handful of gold-foiled chocolate coins. It is the feast of St. Nicholas.

I had to run out to the store last night to buy the coins because I had forgotten to run the errand earlier. I debated for a moment. Did I want to get up from the warmth of our dinner table and go out into the cold rainy night? My girls are in high school, so perhaps this tradition is no longer necessary. 

When we started this tradition so many years ago, it was a celebration and a teaching. We wanted to give St. Nicholas his own space on his feast day, and so to teach our children about a real person, the Bishop of Myra, who became known across the centuries because he did care for children, and the poor, and he gave out of his bounty and his deep love for Christ. 

And now, as I wait for my teenagers to rise late on a Saturday morning and discover the chocolate treasure, I realize the simple joy this custom brings into our house carries real power. In this culture that celebrates the season with the garish and the sentimental, how significant it is to eke out sacred space. For my girls to receive, but also for me to give. Marking it. Setting it aside. A signpost on the Advent journey pointing to the love of Christ and the enduring faithfulness of God.

Read more about St. Nicholas here.
Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Friday, December 5, 2014

Friday of the First Week of Advent

I give no offense with my mouth as others do;
   I have heeded the words of your lips.   Psalm 17:4

A fine sheen of mist gilds the full moon and gentles the early winter night. It gets dark so early this time of year, I think, as I walk across the parking lot on my way home from work. I pass the men gathered by the church door, waiting for a meal and a place to sleep on this cold night. I nod at them as I move on.

Earlier in the day, in the same parking lot, I had greeted a couple who were bringing in food to prepare for those men. They didn’t know how many guests to plan for. It’s only by word of mouth that the men in need know the church will welcome and shelter them this night. They cannot be reached by text messages or email blasts, nor send in a reservation.

By word of mouth. Isn’t that how any of us know of God’s goodness, of love, of compassion, of hope? And isn’t it also how any of us know of judgment, humiliation, condemnation?

How often do I give offense with my mouth, I think, as I get in my car and drive toward home. Even by not speaking. By not welcoming. By not offering a word of compassion or care.

By word of mouth. God’s hope entrusted to our lips.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

I love you, O Lord my strength,
   O Lord my stronghold, my crag and my haven.

My God, my rock in whom I put my trust,
   my shield, the horn of my salvation, any my refuge;
   you are worthy of praise.   Psalm 18:1-2

My shoes are nowhere to be found. This throws off my tightly planned morning, as time to hunt down missing items was not on the agenda. Bedroom, bathroom, by my desk, in the front hallway, under the couch, the closet. Nothing. This is most exasperating because I am the queen of finding things in our house. I have been known locate my daughters’ or husband’s misplaced books, keys, or cell phones without leaving the comfort of my favorite chair. I make the rounds again, and one more time. It becomes a mantra: bedroom, bathroom, desk, hallway, couch, closet. Nothing. 

I consciously clamp down my exasperation before it rises to fury. I make myself choose another pair of shoes. I move on. Missing shoes seems scant reason for upsetting my entire equilibrium, but I am forever tempted to see disaster where there is only disruption.

But today will not be one of those days. Because while I search, another mantra runs through my head: strength, stronghold, crag, haven, rock, shield, refuge. Words from my morning prayer. How can I not rejoice when God offers me so much?

Strength. Stronghold. Crag. Haven. Rock. Shield. Refuge. Love. I choose Strength. I choose Love. I choose God.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

Happy are those whose way is blameless
  who walk in the law of the Lord!  Psalm 119:1

Despite my resolution, I express my irritation at the driver in front of me who cannot seem to make up his mind. Is he stopping, turning, parking? “Turn signals are always welcome,” I say out loud although I am the only one in the car. And then I sigh at myself. I am always promising myself that I will resist ranting at other drivers. And I am always failing at this promise. And I know, all too well, that my outbursts do not result in better driving on the part of others, but rather increased exasperation for myself. Nor am I a faultless driver.

My way is hardly blameless. Ever. It would be nice. And I bet they are happy, those people who are virtuous and guiltless. But who are they? Who is it that can walk in the law of the Lord, perfectly, without straying off the path of righteousness?

And then I remember that the law of the Lord is love and faithfulness. It is not hardship. And I have experienced this love and care. I have run into it in all sorts of unexpected places. Including busy streets on a December afternoon.

The Advent invitation is clear: to step onto the path, to wend our way toward Bethlehem, to look for the highway in the wilderness that is straight and true and even. And to trust in the goodness of God, who prepares for us once and for all, and again and again, the gift of salvation.

Copyright Anne E. Kitch 2014

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
   early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.  Psalm 5:3

We have spent the last several days in a different time zone, and the morning, with its demands of work and school and wakefulness, arrives like an underserved blow.

“It’s like four in the morning,” my sleepy teenager protests as she heads out the door. 

“No, don’t say that,” I advise. I know the power of perception. It will feel less tiring, less of an affront, less ridiculously early if I align myself with the present time zone, with the current reality.

Shifting realities takes energy. Holding onto time that is no longer current can be more exhausting than the lack of sleep such switches bring.

Time. And on this Advent morning, I wonder how to align myself with God’s time. How often have I tired myself by contorting my deeds and expectations into a false sense of urgency? Today, I pray for synchronicity, that I may walk to the gentle rhythm of God’s desires. I pray for the gift of humble watchfulness.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2014

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monday of the First Week of Advent

Feast of St. Andrew, transferred

Sing to the Lord and bless his Name;
  proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.  Psalm 96:2

It remains dark in this desert valley until the mountains tip just enough toward the sun that its light begins to soak into the rugged landscape. With the light comes definition, swathes of grey giving way to crags and gloriously uneven peaks, and I notice it is the shadows that provide contour and explanation. Without their shade, there would be no shape. Nothing to see, nothing to know or understand. This morning, and every morning, the shadows are both revealed and revealing.

I am preparing to leave this western clime to head home. And I am preparing to step on the Advent path, turning my expectations simultaneously to Bethlehem and to the second coming. The immediate anticipation is more easily lived into; do I really know how to hope for Christ coming in glory, for the eschaton, the end of the world?

The revelation of the mountains, the play of the shadows, remind me that day to day the glories of God are unveiled anew. Day to day salvation is at hand. And day to day I am invited to sing and bless and proclaim the advent of this miracle.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2014