Nov 9 2014

Celtic Advent: 40 Days of Joy, Love and Gratitude

Please see the 2018 updated version of the calendar here.

 Celtic Advent 2014

For each day, from November 15 until Epiphany, I’ve thought of one thing I can do to practice joy and gratitude, and to give love, putting it on a calendar that draws on ancient Advent and Christmas traditions.

In the 6th century, the Celtic Christians celebrated Advent during the 40 days before Christmas, as a mirror to the period of Lent before Easter.  In this age of  blurring of holy-days and consumerism, I like the idea of starting Advent earlier, so that Thanksgiving is included, but also so there can be a longer, more intentional preparation for Christ’s coming.

Another tradition from around the 6th century (and probably earlier) is the “O” antiphons. An antiphon, from the Latin antiphona, meaning sounding against, was a repeated line of scripture used as bookends to the psalms in daily prayer and the Eucharist. The antiphon was a prayer “sound-byte,” capturing the most important aspect of the reading, helping those gathered remember through repetition. The “O” antiphons highlight a scriptural name of Christ and offer a jumping off point for reflection. Most people would recognize a version of these antiphons as the verses of the Advent carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel. They are still prayed in many churches–as they have been for more than 1500 years–from December 17 to December 23.

Finally, Christmas seems to end abruptly on December 26th in our consumer-culture celebration. Another lost tradition marks the Twelve Days from Christmas to Epiphany.  Epiphany means appearance or manifestation and remembers the Magi visiting Jesus; Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan–the public revelation that he is God’s Son; and the first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana.  The period from December 25 to January 6th is an ideal time for reflecting on the Light that has come into the world with the birth of Christ.

Pulling these three traditions together, I’ve created a calendar of ideas for living each day intentionally and joyfully.  Here is a PDF version. Please feel free to make copies and share with your friends and church.

The ability to give and experience love and joy doesn’t just happen, it needs to be stretched and strengthened. And over time, the capacity to love and to joy increases.

Let the Holy Spirit lead!

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(a yearly updated post from the archives)

Nov 22 2013

Deeper Magic

Hungry and tired, she waited for the campus bus, the visible world reduced to the lamp light’s reach. The chill made her burrow deeper into her jacket, the library’s warmth only a memory in the foggy twilight.

Decisions yet to be made pressed in upon her. She worried at all the questions as she worried at her frayed sleeve, plucking threads and watching the fabric unravel. A familiar sting pricked her eyes.

Clenching her teeth, she shoved her hands back into her pockets, roughly setting her thoughts against the ache and her eyes to look for distant headlights.

And there, on the sidewalk, she saw them, just at the edge between sight and obscurity:

Paw prints.

Large paw prints, like some gigantic creature only meant for the wilds had stepped through paint and then sprinted into the darkening fog.

She half-turned away. It was cold. Late. I’ll take a closer look tomorrow, she decided.

Pinpricks of bus lights cut through the fog. Supper and bed beckoned. Warmth and sleep wooed.

Yet her eyes kept finding their way back to the prints. She could just make out more, faintly marking a path into the distance. A little spark of adventure flickered to life in her heart. A little less weariness weighed down her limbs.

She hardly noticed stepping out from the certainty of the stop.

She followed, up and around, down and back, street lamps lighting her way, one moment certain she had lost the trail only to find it again further up and further in, until the paw prints finally stopped.

And she stopped, breathing deep from the chase, hope of a deeper magic rising in her heart.

At the end of the trail, scrawled joyfully on the pavement, were two shimmering words from her childhood, catching her up in the Story, breaking past all her doubts, filling the ache, until her heart spilled over in laughter and tears and laughter again:

ASLAN LIVES!!

 

(And repost from the archives, in honor of the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death, and based on Deborah Smith Douglas’ mention of finding paw prints on Duke University’s campus and following them to the joyful words.  She writes: “I simply, with all my heart, recognized the transforming truth of the affirmation. Aslan is alive. Resurrection happens. Christ is risen.  In a single leap, Aslan had bounded past the watchful dragons of my mind and all the intervening years to return…Because my whole childhood rose up to greet the Lion, my tenuously sophisticated young-adult self had no defenses against the saving “allelujah!” truth of that moment.” –Weavings, Jan/Feb 1997, 21)


Nov 29 2012

The Deeper Magic

Hungry and tired, she waited for the campus bus, the visible world reduced to the lamp light’s reach. The chill made her burrow deeper into her jacket, the library’s warmth only a memory in the foggy twilight.

Decisions yet to be made pressed in upon her. She worried at all the questions as she worried at her frayed sleeve, plucking threads and watching the fabric unravel. A familiar sting pricked her eyes.

Clenching her teeth, she shoved her hands back into her pockets, roughly setting her thoughts against the ache and her eyes to look for distant headlights.

And there, on the sidewalk, she saw them, just at the edge between sight and obscurity:

Paw prints.

Large paw prints, like some gigantic creature only meant for the wilds had stepped through paint and then sprinted into the darkening fog.

She half-turned away. It was cold. Late. I’ll take a closer look tomorrow, she decided.

Pinpricks of bus lights cut through the fog. Supper and bed beckoned. Warmth and sleep wooed.

Yet her eyes kept finding their way back to the prints. Even in the fog, she could just make out more marking a path into the distance. A little spark of adventure flickered to life in her heart. A little less weariness weighed down her limbs.

She hardly noticed stepping out from the certainty of the stop.

She followed, up and around, down and back, street lamps lighting her way, one moment certain she had lost the trail only to find it again further up and further in, until the paw prints finally stopped.

And she stopped; breathing deep from the chase, hope of a deeper magic rising in her heart.

At the end of the trail, scrawled joyfully on the pavement, were two shimmering words from her childhood, catching her up in the Story, breaking past all her doubts, filling the ache, until her heart spilled over in laughter and tears and laughter again:

 

images

ASLAN LIVES!!

 

(And edited repost from the archives, in honor of C.S. Lewis’ birth this day in 1898, and based on Deborah Smith Douglas’ mention of finding paw prints on Duke University’s campus and following them to the joyful words.  She writes: “I simply, with all my heart, recognized the transforming truth of the affirmation. Aslan is alive. Resurrection happens. Christ is risen.  In a single leap, Aslan had bounded past the watchful dragons of my mind and all the intervening years to return…Because my whole childhood rose up to greet the Lion, my tenuously sophisticated young-adult self had no defenses against the saving “allelujah!” truth of that moment.” –Weavings, Jan/Feb 1997, 21)


Jun 12 2012

Practicing Thirst

One of my good friends has a life practice of reading and reflecting for a year on the Isaiah chapter that coincides with her age. I love that idea. Admittedly, I don’t really understand much of Isaiah–oh, there’s awesome parts like the burning coal passage in Isaiah 6 (though, can I just say, Ouch!), or Isaiah 40:31 about eagles and renewing our strength by waiting for God, or the Christ passages in chapter 42, or the calling of the teacher “to sustain the weary with a word” in Isaiah 50:4, or my all time favorite “Ho, everyone who thirsts come to the waters…” of Isaiah 55, or the call to ministry with the poor in Isaiah 58.

Okay. Isaiah is amazing. But I, either from a misperception of the rest of Isaiah (which God will remedy, I’m sure) or a real leading of the Spirit, I decided to meditate each year on the psalm according to my age.

Psalm 42. (And yes, there was a brief instant of, do I really want to put my age out there?)

I made the decision to do this before reading the psalm and was stunned by how perfectly it captured my experience of prayer this year. (A good sign that God pointed me to the psalm.)

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my meat day and night, while they continually say unto me, Where is thy God? When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude, I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance. –Psalm 42:1-5 KJV

I’m using the King James version because the language forces me to stop and think through the text more deeply. It’s also beautiful to read aloud, something that can enliven scripture.

(Try it sometime, if you find scripture uninteresting. Speaking the Word aloud is akin to proclamation and we are promised that “God’s Word does not return void.” Oh, right, that’s another cool Isaiah passage, 55:11.)

Reading between the lines of some of my posts, you may have picked up on the tears, transitions, and general turmoil during these past months as I (and many others) deal with job-hunting and downsizing, alongside discerning some difficult ministry decisions and dissertation writing in a world where higher ed has become a huge question mark.

The line “My tears have been my meat” made me laugh and cry at the same time when I first read it because it captured my experience so completely. I felt God saying, See, I do listen.

As I continued to read, the old praise chorus played in my mind, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my so longeth after thee O God.” When I glibly sang it in my twenties, I didn’t understand.  Longing for God seemed so romantic and epic, and fit my long-skirts, long-contemplative-walks all-for-God persona. I had zero compassion for the deer.

Reading it now, it hit me painfully:  Panting is unpleasant. Thirsting, even in KJV language, is not epic, it’s uncomfortable.

I feel sorry for the deer. Imagine the last time you were parched on a hot day and knew water was not readily available.

I think of West Texas in the summer, where my parents live, with temperatures over 100 degrees and a horizontal hair-dryer wind. After a few moments of walking in that sun, this Seattleite wilts. Dusty mouth. Dry eyes. Weary limbs. My usual dislike of water transforms into desperate need.

At the beginning of this year, I begged for a sense of God’s presence. I remembered how it used to be years ago, as the psalmist does in verse 4, how prayer and worship was easier and more joyful back in the day (whenever that was). I wanted that again. Now.

God used this psalm to reveal that, first, I was thirsty, desperately so, and that all my tears and nostalgia prayers were an expression of that thirst.

And second, he revealed that I needed to stay thirsty for awhile. God was not going to take it away, at least not immediately, and then never completely, this side of heaven.

It is so easy to reach for distraction–media, internet, smartphone, facebook, work, relationships, even worship, when it’s focused more on the experience, not on God.  We often expect all our interactions with God to be sweet and peaceful, and take away any discomfort. But the danger is that we stop looking to God as the Lord and Almighty Other with whom we are in relationship, but a good-feelings vending machine. We can forget that we are travelers and that this current experience of life cannot be completely satisfying.

Thirsting for God is only quenched by one thing–one Person–God himself, and everything else that offers to quench that thirst, as good as it may be, will only make the heart sick if it’s put in God’s place.

It’s like a dehydrated person drinking only salt water.

Staying with the thirst helps us discern what’s really going on. It reveals our coping mechanisms.  It’s teaches patience and grace with our human relationships and circumstances. It helps us to not react unwisely in an effort to find relief. It inspires compassion for the thirstiness of those around us and around the globe.

But just as our bodies need water, so do our spirits.

Thirst invites us to follow our thirst back to God and allow God to quench our thirst.

The choices involved in my moving, taking on a new ministry responsibility and saying no to others, trusting God for job, living situation, and finances, and focusing on the writing, brought me to a place where I asked myself verse 3’s question, Where is your God? I realized I couldn’t do it on my own, that I needed–thirsted–for God to show up, any way He wanted. I wasn’t going to dictate how anymore, in nostalgia for the good ol’ days, that worship would be a great experience, that prayer would be renewing, that I’d enjoy writing.

Just show up, God. Please.

And oh my, He has!

The promise: God is the living water and all our thirsts will be quenched in him.

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!” (Isaiah, of course, 55:1)

What are you thirsting for? Stay with it and look for God to show up.


Nov 22 2011

The Deeper Magic

Hungry and tired, she waited for the campus bus, the visible world reduced to the lamp light’s reach. The chill made her burrow deeper into her jacket, the library’s warmth only a memory in the foggy twilight.

Decisions yet to be made pressed in upon her. She worried at all the questions as she worried at her frayed sleeve, plucking threads and watching the fabric unravel. A familiar sting pricked her eyes.

Clenching her teeth, she shoved her hands back into her pockets, roughly setting her thoughts against the ache and her eyes to look for distant headlights.

And there, on the sidewalk, she saw them, just at the edge between sight and obscurity:

Paw prints.

Large paw prints, like some gigantic creature only meant for the wilds had stepped through paint and then sprinted into the darkening fog.

She half-turned away. It was cold. Late. I’ll take a closer look tomorrow, she decided. 

Pinpricks of bus lights cut through the fog. Supper and bed beckoned. Warmth and sleep wooed.

Yet her eyes kept finding their way back to the prints. Even in the fog, she could just make out more marking a path into the distance. A little spark of adventure flickered to life in her heart. A little less weariness weighed down her limbs.

She hardly noticed stepping out from the certainty of the stop.

She followed, up and around, down and back, street lamps lighting her way, one moment certain she had lost the trail only to find it again further up and further in, until the paw prints finally stopped.

And she stopped; breathing deep from the chase, hope of a deeper magic rising in her heart.

At the end of the trail, scrawled joyfully on the pavement, were two shimmering words from her childhood, catching her up in the Story, breaking past all her doubts, filling the ache, until her heart spilled over in laughter and tears and laughter again:

 

images

ASLAN LIVES!!

 

(And edited repost from the archives, in honor of CS Lewis Day, and based on Deborah Smith Douglas’ mention of finding paw prints on Duke University’s campus and following them to the joyful words.  She writes: “I simply, with all my heart, recognized the transforming truth of the affirmation. Aslan is alive. Resurrection happens. Christ is risen.  In a single leap, Aslan had bounded past the watchful dragons of my mind and all the intervening years to return…Because my whole childhood rose up to greet the Lion, my tenuously sophisticated young-adult self had no defenses against the saving “allelujah!” truth of that moment.” –Weavings, Jan/Feb 1997, 21)

 


Oct 26 2011

{Day 26} The Contemplative Body, Part 3

The third challenge I find to contemplative awareness and the body (mind, heart, spirit) is that we often continue to do things that we know from past experience will lead to discomfort, pain, or other signs that an activity or behavior is hurtful.

This behavior, often called a besetting sin, is something that we feel powerless to fight against, even with awareness of its consequences.

We know it causes ill-being or dis-ease, but we can’t seem to stop.

And often, too, there is a lot of guilt built up over the years. Lots of should and ought and self-contempt, visions of perfection crumbling into the dust.

Guilt is a terrible motivation for transformation.

Transformation will only happen with love.

And it isn’t your love that’s going to do it.

One of my favorite passages of scripture–a passage that stirs my blood (oh, I can feel it stirring even as I type!) is Revelation 12:10-11:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.

(I invite you to read it aloud.)

While I’m normally not a person to talk much about an incarnate evil, I have no doubt it exists when I hear the horrible accusations that often fill my thoughts, or hear the stories from so many men and women of their own accusing voices.

There is an Accuser and it’s sole intent is the dismantling of our hope, beauty,  love, and trust. The voice tells us we are failures, not good enough, not lovable, not capable, powerless, ugly, empty, lacking, and worthless. You probably have your own word that the accuser uses at the worst possible moment.

And I think that often our besetting sins are our way of drowning out that voice. We look for some way, any way, to escape.

But let’s look at the rest of this amazing promise:

The Accuser has been hurled down.

And what did it was not the latest self-improvement project or some act of willpower. Willpower has its place, but only when the focus is off ourselves and the besetting sin.

What hurled the Accuser down was the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ who loved us so much that he walked the path of death to life for us. The first love is not our love, but God’s love for us, and experiencing this love, even in the smallest way, changes everything.

The word of our testimony is our response to this Love: small, ordinary stories about how we’ve experienced the Lamb-who-Loves told to our sisters and brothers, friends, parents, co-workers, neighbors, children, spouses. And especially to ourselves. We tell about the Love who, while the Accuser was hurling its accusations to the throne of God, was willing to become human. We tell about the Love who, while we were yet sinners, was willing to die and be raised to Life for us.

And I bring you to the Love of which all other loves speak, the Love which is joy and beauty, and which you have sought in a thousand streets and for which you have wept and clawed your pillow. –Thomas Howard.

Practice: Extend your contemplative attention to your body–heart, mind, and spirit. What are the accusations you hear? What are your besetting behaviors you know are not life-giving? How might they be connected to the accusations?

I invite and encourage you to set them aside and turn your attention elsewhere. I’m sure that you have confessed them over and over.

How and where do you experience love? Soul-sustaining, creative, hope-full love, without any shoulds or oughts. Follow that feeling in your body–feelings, thoughts, memories, and spirit, and bring it into conversation with Jesus Christ. How is God present in your experience of Love?

I invite you to tell a loved one about one small, ordinary experience you’ve had of Jesus’ love.

Artwork by Sieger Koder

 

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