Saturday, December 23, 2017

The holy now

Saturday of the Third Week of Advent

You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Psalm 139:2

I move my finger along the groves of the wooden labyrinth feeling its smoothness. All is quiet around me, my office empty of people and projects. I sink into the contemplative moment, allowing myself to rest.

I have followed so many different ways to arrive at this moment. And any way forward is full of possibility. I know I travel with the promise that God is with me on the journey and in the resting places. God traces my ways: as in finding me? Or as in sketching out my life? Or as in following along as my finger follows this labyrinth’s path?

I lean into the holy now, sensing God as companion and guide, shield and rock, hiding place and fierce power. I come to the center, lift my finger for a moment, and then begin the journey outward, heading toward the redemption that awaits.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Boundless wonders

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

Great things are they that you have done, O Lord my God!
how great your wonders and your plans for us!
there is none who can be compared with you.
Oh, that I could make them known and tell them!
but they are more than I can count.
Psalm 40:5-6

I begin my morning journaling and almost without thinking start a sentence with, “Thank you for...” and I stop. For the last several years I have been practicing gratitude. Emphasis on the word “practice” because I by no means have this down. I find it so much easier to list for God the things I want help with, the people I am concerned about, and the troubles of the world that worry me.

I often set myself the task when journaling of writing eleven thanksgivings before I do anything else. I choose eleven because reaching past ten reminds me that there are always more. This undertaking compels me review the day before looking for God’s presence and for the many blessings that went unnoticed by me.

The counting is just the primer. Sometimes it is as far as I get. But often it ushers me across a threshold into an intimate encounter with Christ. The sacred opens to me and I am awash in boundless love and know that God’s wonders are more than I can count in a lifetime.

I pick up my pen and continue my conversation with the holy. I smile as I realize I am almost ready. Ready to receive the wondrous gift which is about to be given again.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Living hope

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent
Feast of St. Thomas

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
Psalm 23:1

As I open my prayer book to the text for the day, the familiar words of a much-loved psalm greet me. I am caught by the opening verse and linger there, letting the graciousness it holds wash over me.

God wants goodness for creation, and all of us within it. And I am given the gift of participating in this goodness, not only by enjoying it, but also by sharing it with others. I must not let the voice of the enemy convince me that small kindnesses, modest offerings of relief, simple words of comfort, humble gratitude, gestures of courtesy, and expressions of creativity are ineffectual and worth little. Instead, I must muster these resources so readily at my disposal and stride forward into a living hope.

One step at a time, my savior reminds me in my morning prayer time. Not only because one step is the way to begin many steps and something larger, but because one step can be the journey in and of itself.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Wonder and awe

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

This is my comfort in my trouble,
that your promise gives me life.
Psalm 119:50

We are well into the service of lessons and carols when I realize that somewhere along the way I have been transported. The beauty of it all washes over me. On a Tuesday night in late December, people from a wide community have assembled to hear the ancient story. As voices are lifted, and faces illumined by candlelight, there is no doubt we have gathered in the realm of the sacred.

Rituals are important, because they usher us into the center of it all. The carols, the decorated trees, the manger scenes. The seasonal celebrations and the pauses for solemn awe. How empty these are if they become routine and we cease to allow ourselves to be touched, transfixed, and transformed. We do await the Christ child, as astonishing and momentous an event as any birth. That in and of itself could transport one into wonder. And this is so much more.

This little Babe so few days old
Is come to rifle Satan's fold;
Robert Southwell

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Willingness to seek

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

This God is our God for ever and ever;
and shall be our guide for evermore.
Psalm 48:13

I see the postcard on the floor as I am about to exit the building. A failed delivery notice. I am annoyed because we have been in the office all day. But rather than coming to the main door, whoever brought this notice came to a side door and slipped it through. Clearly this was not brought by our usual mail carrier (who always has a smile and greeting for us).

I am sure the person did not intend to mis-deliver the message. Today, rather than the letter coming to me, I will have to go to the post office and pick it up. What could be a cause of irritation offers the opportunity for reflection. How many times have I failed to communicate, thinking I was clear, but leaving my message at the wrong door? And how many times has someone smoothed the way by coming to me to re-establish a connection? So much can be missed if we are only willing to wait for missives to come to us, and not equally willing to go out to meet them.

God is our guide. And what we make of the spiritual journey depends on our participation in it. Sometimes we are called to wait. Sometimes we are called to seek. Always we are called into relationship.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Tender attention

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.
Psalm 52:8

I start the oven at 6:00am, not because I am about to set something for an all-day roast, but because I am preparing my lunches for the week and I didn’t get to it last night. In my effort to eat better and pay attention to my health, I am trying to avoid grabbing food on the go.

And I remember that I am under God’s care as well, a green olive tree being nurtured. Although today I feel less like a tree and more like a shoot. Even after more than half a century of relationship with God, I see I have so much to learn, so many ways to grow. My spiritual life needs tender attention as well as my body. My formation into the person God has created me to be is not one long slow season of steady development. Rather it is cyclical—planted seed, delicate shoot, robust maturity, decline and the need to let go—being repeated over and over. Yet, not without change. Each season recalls the one past and reaches forward in hope.

The comfort I find in remembering this enables me to be at ease. To celebrate my vulnerability and embrace this time of renewal. Even as I await with welcome anticipation the tender life of the Christ child.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sacred song

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 is late, long past dinner time, when we gather around the dinner table for a festive treat. We are welcoming one daughter home from college and celebrating the other’s acceptance to the college of her choice. My husband and I also lay our thanksgivings on the table for accomplishments in our work places. And even though we have not come together for a meal, I light the two Advent candles and we reach our hands to one another for prayer, saying grace.

I think of the dinner table as a sacred place in our home. For many years, the two and then the three and then the four of us have gathered here for food and camaraderie. Here we share laughter, we tell each other about our days, and like collected treasure we lay on the table our triumphs, dreams, aspirations. We discuss politics, theology and the best strategies for fantasy football. And here, we sometimes fail one another, forgetting to listen, or harboring resentment, or just being cranky.

But it is the love that prevails. The ritual of lighted candles and hands held in prayer and partaking of one another draws us together and at the same time transports us into the sacred song being sung all around us.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Seeing love

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

The competent and caring nurse practitioner who treated me. The courteous and capable pharmacy tech who provided my meds.  My considerate husband who shoveled our walk before leaving for an early morning meeting. The friendly clerk at the grocery store who smiled as she rang up my purchase. The thoughtful driver of the other car who gave me room to merge.

As I prepare for the day ahead in prayer, I also examine the day before, and consider where and when I experienced God’s presence.  Looking back, I am reminded of the many kindnesses shown to me. It can be easy for me to overlook these humble acts of respect and humanity. I can neglect to honor the loving hand of God at work in the world around me.

Advent is the beginning of the church year. As with any beginning, it offers the opportunity to seek renewal, recharging, a fresh start, a new commitment to engage the days and work ahead with energy, creativity, enthusiasm, openness, and expectation. Today brightens with the invitation to encounter the holy and to participate in love.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wrapped in prayer

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

Make haste to help me,
O Lord of my salvation.
Psalm 38:22

I wrap an extra scarf around my neck before I step out into the bitter morning, made colder by the fierce wind that pushes people along the street. Even from within my car I can feel its force.

While I don’t like to be cold, I do enjoy winter. I find comfort in wool sweaters and thick blankets and burrowing in with a cup of hot tea. I experience a certain satisfaction in wrapping myself up and feeling protected from the elements.

In the early morning I also wrap myself in prayer, finding comfort in the poetry of the psalms and familiar passages of scripture and sinking into the presence of the holy. I offer my thanksgivings to God and also seek help for the complexity of the day ahead, discovering consolation as I place myself in the care of the one who saves.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Scent of hope

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

And now, what is my hope?
O Lord, my hope is in you.
Psalm 39:8

I set the onions to simmer and their pungent aroma begins to fill the kitchen. What is it, I wonder, about the smell of sautéing onions that is so satisfying? Their tang brings to mind warmth and comfort and the gratifying familiarity of the family gathered around the table to enjoy a meal. Taking my time, I add chopped carrots and marjoram and thyme, the mixture on its way to becoming lentil soup for a cold winter night.

I marvel that a simple smell can contain the essence of hope. At times, it is difficult to believe or remember the impact of small gestures. Yet I know the uplifting of being on the receiving end of a gentle word, a moment of listening, a burst of laughter. Small acts of hope can carry us through. They are icons of the One in whose hands our souls are held.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Creating a way

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. 
Psalm 25:9

Yesterday, the early morning sun disclosed an unbroken sheet of snow covering the back yard. It reminded me of my childhood, when such a sight would have thrilled me with its invitation to create on a blank page. I would spend hours outside in the cold crafting tracks in the snow, pathways, mazes, games. If I had known then the shape of a labyrinth, surely I would have made such a path.

This morning, I see the remnant of the single path I created walking across the yard to retrieve the snow shovel from the shed, the endless possibilities seemingly vanished.

It is tempting on the Advent journey, on any journey with Christ, to think of there being one way, the way, to arrive. Or to believe that a life of faith consists in discovering or uncovering the designated path that God has set before us. But the holy does not abide by such limits. What makes it God’s way is to walk in love and faithfulness.

A new day opens before me. The possibilities have not vanished at all.

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Felicitous mystery

Saturday of the First Week of Advent 

For you will give him everlasting felicity
and will make him glad with the joy of your presence.
Psalm 21:6

I glance out the window and feel a smile begin. It is snowing. I’m not sure when it started and as I hadn’t paid any attention to the weather forecast, I am caught by surprise. And delight.

I know the complications this weather can bring, but nevertheless my overriding response is excitement. To me it announces cheer, it speaks of winter woods and quiet paths, plucky birdsong calling into cold stillness, clean beauty frosting city landscapes.

Simply the anticipation of what these first few flakes may herald calls me into the presence of transcendent joy, the presence of a God who delights, laughs, wants to make our hearts glad. And I am awed that an ordinary water crystal can evoke such reverence.

The flakes become larger, slowing into a steady fall. And I welcome the invitation to revel in the mystery of God’s creation.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Light of laughter

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

You, O Lord, are my lamp;
my God, you make my darkness bright.
Psalm 18:29

The early darkness still catches me by surprise this time of year. Last evening, I wound my way home along illuminated streets yearning for my warm house and thinking that we haven’t even yet arrived at the darkest time of the year, the longest night.

Intentionally, I chose the route that takes me through the historic downtown, where the windows in the buildings along each side of the street display a solitary candle. Something about this simplicity brings me joy each Advent. A reminder that a single flame dispels the darkness.

This morning I enjoy laughter and conversation with colleagues as we talk about sharing hope. This too dispels the darkness. We are lamps to one another, companions along the path, each bearing the light of Christ as we wend our way to the crèche and the salvation of the world.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

In the seeking

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all,
to see is there is any who is wise,
if there is one who seeks after God.
Psalm 14:2

As is often the case with me, it seems to happen in an instant. One moment I am functioning just fine,
and the next I can’t put two thoughts together. It’s time to stop. Breathe. Drink water. Go for a walk.

I honestly think my aging body is my friend in this moment, my lack of stamina a gift. As a younger person, I would have insisted that I should just power through, would have been caught up in the lie that I could power through. Yet even now, I am not immune from the voice that whispers, “inadequate, unreliable, uncaring,” while at the same time telling me I can do it all. This is a snare laid by the enemy. I know it well.

And with the strength to cut through the cords that entangle me, like the sigh of a gentle breeze, another voice sings into the moment, has been signing all along, “remember the source of life, turn toward the light, know you are loved.”

And I remember to seek God.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Opening the door

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

I slip my thumbnail under the flap to gently pry open today’s door on my Advent calendar. It is a retro design, recalling the calendars of my childhood. A winter scene with forest creatures looking over a snow-covered village and a star shining on one particular spot in the distance. Each door reveals a tiny scene of preparation or anticipation of the celebration to come—all enhanced by a light sprinkling of glitter.

I had to hunt to find the right numbered door this morning, and in doing so remembered this as part of the ritual from my youth. How searching for the day’s door carried mystery and delight. How could something so obvious and certain be hidden in plain sight?

In my journey toward Jesus, each day is a door opening to revelation, offering opportunities for the recognition of joy, divine presence, and redemption. Day by day I am reminded that revelations of the holy are hidden in plain sight. Some searching, a bit of attentiveness, a modicum of intention opens the way and the heart to sacred love.

Monday, December 4, 2017


Monday of the First Week of Advent

Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness,
and put on the armor of light, 
now in the time of this mortal life. 
Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, the Book of Common Prayer

I pour the remainder of the dry oatmeal into my bowl and consider the empty container. There was a time when this round cardboard carton with its plastic lid would have been precious. I would have saved it for my daughters simply because with some construction paper and glue and imagination the canister could become a drum. A shaker. A castle tower. The body of a train or a dragon or a robot.

Now that time is past, my daughters, young women. I no longer save the empty paper towel rolls or egg cartons or jelly jars for projects, but recycle them in another way. Nevertheless, as I hold the empty cylinder in my hand, I feel the pull of possibility. I stand in a moment of manifold time.

On this winter morning, time shifts around me in other ways as well. In one world, we hurtle toward the end of the year in frantic busyness. In another, it is the new year, the beginning, the advent. I pray to open myself once again to the fullness of joy which is the coming of Christ, child and savior.

We are each containers of possibility, open to the loving hand of the creator. To be made, remade, unmade, made anew. Now. In this time. In this life.

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