December 9, 2018

Advent II: Mary and Elizabeth: Journeying with Family and Friends

During Advent this year, we are following along with the Episcopal Church Way of Love Advent Calendar and curriculum*. Last week we looked at how saying ‘yes’ to God is countercultural. Really saying ‘yes’ and living a Way of Love can change us and our world.

This week, we continue by considering the story of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). We all need companions on the journey, no matter where we are going. The Way of Love curriculum* notes that “Mary set out in haste [to visit Elizabeth]…The life - the Word - that began to grow within her could not be contained. She just had to share her good news with her cousin Elizabeth and set out to the hill country of Judea, a long journey. By going, Mary found out that Elizabeth, too, was on a journey of love.”

She had to share her news and find out if, indeed, Elizabeth also had news to share. When we are faced with something new, we want to share it with someone. We text our friends or call them up. We post on Facebook or Instagram when we discover a new restaurant or recipe. Do we do the same thing when we read an inspiring devotion or learn a new prayer?

Elizabeth exalts, "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." We all know the lovely prayer that Mary offers in response. It is called the Magnificat and many choral settings have been done using her words of celebration and prophecy. "My soul magnifies the Lord," she praises. Her response to the new journey she is on is to join in prayer and praise with Elizabeth. "The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name," she continues.
This image from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Seattle is symbolic of the link between Mary and Elizabeth; and between any friends who share their lives. This can be sharing joys, but also sharing sorrows. We should share both with our friends so they can walk with us.
Is my first response to good news a prayer? Not always, I must admit. Even though I might share the news with someone, I may not remember to thank God as the originator of all good things. I may not even really pause to recognize the blessings.   
The curriculum asks “What good news do you have to share with one another?... How have you experienced your faith or trust in God as a blessing?” 
How often do you share good things with friends to encourage them? Telling one another when blessings happen deepens the joy for both parties. Let's tell our stories

This week, if something good happens consider pausing to say a prayer before moving on. Remember, prayer isn’t fancy words, it is simply a heartfelt meeting with God. Think about what you have to say ‘thank you’ for this week. Share that with a friend and with God. When we pray together, we offer Blessing to each other. When we pray for someone, we are giving them the gift of our heart. In all prayer, we are meeting God and joining in creating a Way of Love.

 Again, we close with the prayer from the curriculum* suggested for use this week: “O God of Elizabeth and Mary, you visited your servants with news of the world’s redemption in the coming of the Savior: Make our hearts leap with joy, and fill our mouths with songs of praise, that we may announce glad tidings of peace and welcome the Christ in our midst. Amen.”

*Way of Love Advent Curriculum; By Jenifer Gamber and Becky Zartman; Copyright © 2018 by The Episcopal Church;

The Episcopal Church/ 815 2nd Ave/New York, NY 10017

December 2, 2018

Advent I: The Annunciation-saying Yes to the Way of Lovve

Last week we started our Advent Journey on the Way of Love with an exploration of what a Rule of Life is and how each individual Rule of Life might assist us in our Journey through Advent. Today is the First Sunday of Advent. This week we will look at how saying ‘yes’ to God and to the journey might change and enrich us.

We are using ideas in the Way of Love curriculum and Advent calendar from the Episcopal Church*. I’ve taken some of those suggestions and incorporated them into the Planner page for this week, along with some other ideas. The planner gives you tips for using the study in an individual way, and the Way of Love curriculum can be used in a group setting.

The Way of Love curriculum encourages us to be specific about their Rule of Life actions in each of the 7 disciplines in the Way of Love. Perhaps Centering Prayer is your Prayer practice and reading a devotional or selected scripture daily is what you do to Learn. Are Sunday church services your Worship? What do you do for the Bless, Turn, Go, and Rest portions? How do each of these practices help you say ‘yes’?

This week’s scripture is the Annunciation story in Luke 1:26-38 (depicted here in Ecce Ancilla Domini! by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1849-50). Mary’s ‘yes’ to God’s call on her life is, as the Way of Love curriculum notes, “a model for our own yes to the Way of Love…one of the most countercultural things we can do today…it may be just as frightening as Mary’s. We may not know the implications of saying yes…We can never be fully prepared for the magnificent journey with Jesus…we are called to say ‘yes’ to this impossibility made possible.”

It is true. If we really LIVE a Way of Love that says ‘yes’ to God, we are being countercultural. Think about all the messages we are bombarded with. Very few of them have anything to do with love. The daily news is full of scary and bad things happening. Social media is crammed with negativity (interspersed with cat videos). There is fear and anger and hatred, seemingly, everywhere. To live as members of the Body of Christ and embody the Way of Love Jesus taught is not an easy response to those people or things that make us afraid or angry.

We must be very intentional about seeking out positive things to focus on. We need tools that will help us react in a loving way rather than in a self-protective, angry, or negative way. The Way of Love disciplines are one way to re-program our minds to look to God first and foremost as we incorporate them into our individual Rule of Life.

During this Advent journey along the Way of Love, we may just discover that by deepening our life in Prayer and Rest, Learning and Worship; and that living by Turning (or re-Turning) and Going out to Bless we can indeed be a countercultural influence in the world.

As the saying goes, “A day hemmed in with prayer won’t unravel”. That’s true. When we keep our hearts fixed on looking for God and saying ‘yes’ to the little and big ways God is calling us to live Love, we will be changed. Just maybe we’ll change the world around us, too. All it takes is saying ‘yes’ to God’s call! That sounds deceptively simple, doesn’t it?

Think about your own life now and leading up to this moment. When have you heard God asking you to say ‘yes’? Where has that taken you? For me, one of the times I heard God asking me to step out was when I sat down to write my first book. And then to publish it. I would never have guessed that the simple act of putting words on paper would change me from an introvert who would prefer not to speak to groups, to someone who leads retreats and chairs committees.

Sometimes it’s not completely clear what God is asking, or where it will lead. There is a recent contemporary Christian song by Hillary Scott. In her song Thy Will, Scott admits, “I’m so confused/ I know I heard You loud and clear/ So, I followed through/ Somehow I ended up here/ I don’t wanna think/ I may never understand/ That my broken heart is a part of Your plan.”

This week’s planner asks us to consider our 'yes' to God by asking what part of Worship fills your heart and why. The planner invites us to really listen to someone else’s point of view, and to do a random act of kindness. We are also called to consider where we might have fallen short and invites us into Rest by doing something that feeds the soul. Each of these is a way to say ‘yes’ to God’s call and invitation to live a Way of Love. We don’t know where that will take us, and being out of control is usually scary.  

As Hillary Scott sings, “Sometimes I gotta stop/ Remember that You’re God/ And I am not…Thy will be done.” Often the best we can do when we are faced with God’s answer to our ‘yes’ is to admit we aren’t God, or in control, and just pray ‘Thy will be done’. We have to trust, with Scott, “I know You hear me, Lord/ Your plans are for me/ Goodness You have in store.”

Whenever we say ‘yes’ to God, we’ll go places we didn’t ever expect. As things change around us, we are can be assured that God is in control, no matter what. As a way of submitting to God, you may want to add this closing prayer from the Way of Love curriculum to your Way of Love prayers this week.

Holy One, who makes the impossible possible, open our ears to hear you calling us to birth new life into the world. Grant us, through the power of the Spirit, the courage of Mary to respond with “yes” so that your Word may dwell in our hearts; through your son Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.*

*Way of Love Advent Curriculum; By Jenifer Gamber and Becky Zartman; Copyright © 2018 by The Episcopal Church;

The Episcopal Church/ 815 2nd Ave/New York, NY 10017