January 6, 2009

The Epiphany--12th Day of Christmas

O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the Peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

We’ve reached the end of our 12 Days of Christmas meditations. Today is the Feast of the Epiphany—when we remember the arrival of the Wise Men (Magi) in Bethlehem.

The 12th day is reserved for the 12 articles of the Apostle’s Creed. I have to admit I didn’t know that there were 12 sections or articles:
1. I believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
2. And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord:
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
5. He descended into Hell; on the third day He rose from the dead.
6. He ascended into Heaven, sitteth at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
7. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
8. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
9. The Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints,
10. The forgiveness of sins,
11. The resurrection of the body,
12. And life everlasting. Amen

I think it is a good way to end these days, with drums announcing that the Lord had been born and that we are saved because of our belief in Jesus Christ’s life and ministry. Drummers are important in bands to keep the beat and by their steady pounding, can be like the heartbeat of a song. One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Little Drummer Boy” because he brings what he has—his gift of music. That is what we should each offer—the best gift we have, when we come to the newborn King.

There are many traditions associated with Epiphany. One of them is the Three Kings Cake. Three Kings Cake can also be made as a yeast bread and many recipes for it can be found online. Often a bean and pea are baked inside the cake. The lucky person to find the tokens is the king or queen for the day.You can find other fun Epiphany customs at: http://fullhomelydivinity.org/articles/Epiphanyfullpage.htm. This is the one I developed to use in my January Footprints Newsletter. (You can read the newsletter here, if you want. http://cynthiadavisauthor.com/newsletter0109.pdf).

Three Kings Cake
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup raisins, currants, and/or chopped dates
1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
Honey, cherries & nuts for garnish
Cream together butter, sugar and eggs. Mix flour and spices. Add with milk to butter mixture. Fold in fruits. Pour into greased and floured pan. Bake at 300o for approximately 2 hours. Cool slightly, turn out of pan. Cool completely. Drizzle with honey and decorate with chopped cherries and nuts.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords-a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids-a-milking, seven swans-a-swimming, six geese-a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
Whether the song (Twelve Days of Christmas) was ever used as a memorization aid for teaching children the precepts of faith, I hope you have been enriched by exploring the symbolism assigned to each day and that you have had your own epiphany (the sudden realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something) about the meaning of this often forgotten time right after Christmas. I have certainly gained a new appreciation for the beauty of the song and the meaning of this Holy Season. It is sort of like looking at this art depicting the Last Supper at Peace Lutheran in Las Cruces, NM. The more you look at it, the more depth and meaning you see.
Blessings to you in this Epiphany season. I’ll be offering Lenten meditations starting on Ash Wednesday (February 25). Hope you will check back then.

January 5, 2009

Eleventh Day of Christmas

As we come closer to the end of these 12 days, we are asked to consider the Eleven Pipers Piping, meaning the eleven faithful apostles [Simon Peter, James (the Great), John, Simon (the Zealot), Jude (Thaddeus), Andrew, James (the Less), Matthew, Phillip, Bartholomew, and Thomas].

I am reminded of bagpipers who led Scottish troops to battle for generations and even now accompany Scottish regiments. It was the pipers who inspired the clans to victory. Somehow it is fitting that the 11 faithful apostles are linked to pipers who are leaders, not just of military endeavors, but of dances and other events as well.
Each of the disciples were called by the Lord to leave the lives they knew to become His followers. At the Last Supper they were commissioned to “love one another as I have loved you.” After His Resurrection, Jesus sent the 11 disciples into the world to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always to the close of the age.” (Mt. 28:19-20)

We are heirs of that commission and the Great Commandment. Yesterday we looked at the 10 Commandments, summed up by Christ into just one “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength—and Love your neighbor as yourself.”

How better can we be Pipers and lead the world to Christ than by loving God and loving our neighbor?

January 4, 2009

Second Sunday and Tenth Day of Christmas

O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This prayer for the second Sunday of Christmas is from the Book of Common Prayer for today.The prayer for today is full of great beauty and a reminder of the astonishing gift of God who gave God (as Infant Son) to restore the dignity and right relationship of humanity to God!

On this 10th Day of Christmas we look at the Ten Commandments (the 10 Lords a Leaping). The commandments were given to help us live in righteousness. However, even from the beginning, we men and women were unable to live up to these Ten Commandments of relationship between one another and with God.

1. I am the Lord your God; you shall not have other gods before me.
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
3. Remember to you keep holy the Sabbath day.
4. Honor your father and mother.
5. You shall not kill.
6. You shall not commit adultery.
7. You shall not steal.
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
9. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor's goods.

While looking for an image to accompany this meditation I came across this Ignatian method of prayer that uses the Ten Commandments. (http://beunos.com/methodsofprayer.htm) A friend of mine has taken on the discipline of a Morning Watch (setting aside a certain amount of time each morning, before starting anything else to be with God). Some people might do 10 minutes, others 30 minutes or even an hour of quiet time. This might be an interesting exercise to try for this time.

1. Begin by becoming quiet, perhaps using a stilling exercise* and dedicate the time to God. (Interestingly Ignatius in the Exercises suggest this prayer could be made seated or walking. Maybe it could be used in the gym, jogging or on the train to work.)
2. Ask for what you desire: this could be the grace to know your failings with regards the 10 Commandments and the grace to better live them in the future.
3. Begin by considering each Commandment in turn and how you have managed to fulfill it. Then consider how you might have failed. Go through each of the Commandments. However, if a particular Commandment doesn't trouble you, move on.
4. When you come across any faults, ask for forgiveness from God and say the 'Our Father' or other prayer.
5. At the end of the consideration of the 10 Commandments, have an conversation with the Lord about what you have just pondered.
*One way to still yourself is to breathe slowly and evenly, inhale slowly and then exhale slowly until your mind stills. You can repeat something like “Jesus Christ Son of God” (while inhaling) and “Have mercy on me a sinner” (while exhaling).

The 10 Lords a Leaping is a vivid image of the joy that a life lived in right relationship with God can offer. Whether you use the exercise above, I hope you will find a time and way to consider how to more fully live in right relationship with the One who shared our humanity!

January 3, 2009

Ninth Day of Christmas

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing, eight maids-a-milking, seven swans-a-swimming, six geese-a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

The Nine Ladies Dancing are said to represent the nine orders of angels, which are: Angels, Archangels, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim, Seraphim

Don’t you think that is a fitting an lovely image for angels—dancing before and around the throne of God. Angels are not really the little cherubic images we often see on Christmas cards. If you take time to read Ezekiel’s description of his vision of God (Ezek. 1:5-21) and the angels around the throne, I think you will agree that there is a reason for angels to say “Fear not”, whenever they appear to a meager human being.

“In the middle of it was something like four living creatures. This was their appearance: they were of human form. Each had four faces, and each of them had four wings. Their legs were straight, and the soles of their feet were like the sole of a calf’s foot; and they sparkled like burnished bronze. Under their wings on their four sides they had human hands. And the four had their faces and their wings thus: their wings touched one another; each of them moved straight ahead, without turning as they moved. As for the appearance of their faces: the four had the face of a human being, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle; such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went. In the middle of the living creatures there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches moving to and fro among the living creatures; the fire was bright, and lightning issued from the fire. The living creatures darted to and fro, like a flash of lightning. As I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them. As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl; and the four had the same form, their construction being something like a wheel within a wheel. When they moved, they moved in any of the four directions without veering as they moved. Their rims were tall and awesome, for the rims of all four were full of eyes all around. When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them; and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When they moved, the others moved; when they stopped, the others stopped; and when they rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them; for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”

Yet despite their awesome or even fearsome appearance, it is certain that the angels glorify the Lord by their songs and actions. So dancing is appropriate as their symbol.

There are many kinds of dance and your heart can dance to the rhythm of Creation each day even as you get up in the morning. Steve Green has a song, “Awaken” that speaks to that joy: The chorus says: "I will awaken the dawn, be the first voice of praise with a song till the morning joinsin and creation begins to awake to the sound of this song."

How do we glorify our Lord and Creator? Do we sing or dance or do we forget to rejoice in God’s glory because we are so busy with our lives—the working and worrying and other day-to-day things that keep us distracted from the presence of the Living Lord in our midst?
How will you glorify God in this New Year?

January 2, 2009

Eighth Day of Christmas

On the eighth day we move from birds to people. The Maids-a-Milking are said to represent the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12.

"When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Milking is hard work and you have to do it morning and evening. When I think of milking, I usually think of cows. However, I have actually milked both cows and goats. As a little girl, I loved to visit my Grandmother and help in the barn, including milking the cow. I was never able to get much milk because my hands weren’t strong enough. We had milk goats during the 3 years living on a farm in Colorado with 2 (and then 3) young daughters. They never did acquire a taste for the goat’s milk, but I became an expert at disguising it in bread and other foods. Many other animals are used for milk—like sheep and camels. Some give lots of milk and others not as much, but milk is an important food source throughout the world.

Similarly, the Beatitudes are spiritual nourishment that you have to work at in order to get the full benefit of the lessons found there. A cursory reading will give you a sense of well being, but a deeper investigation (milking the words—if you’ll excuse the analogy) will make you think about the real costs of discipleship.

We are all poor in spirit at some time or another and we all mourn. To be reminded that it is the meek and those who hunger for righteousness who will be deeply blessed is to be reminded of Mary’s Magnificat and of the shallowness of the lures of the world’s riches and power.
Our call as disciples is to be merciful and peaceable and to seek to be pure in heart, yet it is that very counter-cultural approach that will inevitably bring us into conflict with the world. The 8th Beatitude is a very strong warning of what will happen when we follow our Lord, but it’s the only way to true blessing. We are in the company of the prophets, like Isaiah, Zechariah, even Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who spoke out strongly against the leadership and failings of their time. Yet, they are remembered precisely because they took a stand and called for change.
What change are you called to in this new year—in yourself or in the world around you?

If you have time, follow this link to a short video that will give you a chance to meditate on the words of the Beatitudes: http://www.interviewwithgod.com/beatitudes/

January 1, 2009

Holy Name Day--Seventh Day of Christmas

The Seventh Day of Christmas is the day the church celebrates the circumcision and naming of Jesus, as Jewish law commanded. “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 1:21

What a special way to begin the New Year, with the naming of the Child who is the Savior of the world. The prayer of the day is, I think, a good way to start off the year as well.

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

If we do indeed accept into our heart the seed of the love of the Savior, wouldn’t the world be a better place? The seed would grow into the fruits of the Spirit, which is what the Seven Swans a-Swimming represent. The Sevenfold Gifts of the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. We don’t have these gifts all at once, they grow in our hearts as we mature and live into our calling as Children of God.

Swans are majestic birds when mature, but they are rather homely as babies (cygnets). This truth is captured in the fable that we all remember from childhood: The Ugly Duckling. You remember how the little swan hatched in a duck’s nest and at first all was fine, but then it was obvious that he was different. The other birds rejected him and it was only after many trials and adventures that he learns that he is really that most royal of birds—a swan.

Now isn’t that just like us? We are strangers in a foreign land until as Paul says in Ephesians 2:13f: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

What can you do this year to help others find their home among the swans of the world?
How can you nurture the Gifts of the Spirit in your heart and in the hearts of those around you?
Happy New Year to you and yours.