December 28, 2014

New Year

Happy (Almost) New Year. The last few words and images from Advent led up to welcoming the Infant Lord. The words were “Ask”, “Relate”, “Delight”, “Love”, and “Receive”. As we move into the new year, I hope these images will linger and offer hope in my heart and in yours. Like last week, we can put them together in a sentence that offers a roadmap for the coming year:

We Ask things of God and, like Mary, respond to what he Asks of us. Only in that way can we Relate to one another and Delight in the arrival of the Love we Receive on Christmas Day, which will be with us into 2015!
My images from last this week may not seem like they fit into the holiday spirit. A swirl of koi, a lazy cat, a flower, and a child at Easter seem more summery than Christmas-tide. To me, though, they speak of our journey and arrival at the Manger I spoke of in this blog on Thursday.

The koi begging for a treat remind me that we often ask for things we don’t really need and yet God gives us exactly what we need. The cat dozing in the sun helps me think of resting in and relating to God, as does the beauty of the flower. The child is perfect for Christmas Eve. Many of us go to a Christmas Pageant this time of year and through the Story, told by children, we are reminded that God comes to us in the most unexpected ways. The image from Facebook of the word God speaks to me of hope and faith, as does the photo of the ice designs from the top of my car one day. God can create beauty from anything and everything.
I pray that in the coming year I can have the wisdom and willingness to allow God to take the coldness in me and transform it into beauty. I pray also that you will allow God to transform you into the beloved child you are.

Next week we enter a new year and a new church season. What will we discover in Epiphany when we consider the Manifesting of God to the World?

December 25, 2014

Unto us a Child...

We have arrived at the Manger. A hewn trough for animal food, probably in a cave.

In the midst of all the hectic preparation, decorating, parties, shopping, wrapping, travelling, welcoming, caroling, and all the other things we pack into this month comes the cry of an Infant.
Do you hear Him? Can we hear Him over all the cacophony of the advertisements and clamor?

A young woman has given birth. She rests in a cave amid straw and the rustling of animals large and small. There is nothing remarkable about a birth, except that every birth is remarkable. There is nothing remarkable about the couple. He is a carpenter; she is just barely a woman. They are strangers but no one has taken time to welcome them.
If you speak to them you would immediately know they are foreigners from the north, but that’s not unusual right now. There are lots of visitors in town. If you look at them you would not know that both the man and woman have encountered angels. They will not tell you about that. In fact, both of them are wrapped up in the Babe she holds. Perhaps they are treasuring their anonymity in this moment of birth. Perhaps they are treasuring their privacy as they marvel at the miracle in her arms.

He is a normal baby, mewling and squirming in search of the breast. He has black hair and tiny hands and feet, now carefully swaddled against the chill of the cave. He is unexceptional. Other baby boys were born today. Some in great palaces, others in worse hovels than this cave. Each has a destiny. Each will choose a path. Each is loved by God. Only to this one will the Holy One of Israel say “You are my beloved Son”.
What is that stirring beyond the cave entry? Why are shepherds gathering in a confused cluster? Who do they seek? How did they hear about this birth among all the others? Have you heard the news?

“Unto us a child is born, Unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders and his Name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6) Here the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings the words: from Handel's Messiah. 
Come to the Manger, Come to the Infant, Come to the Quiet, Come to Worship, Come and be Changed.

December 21, 2014

Advent 3: Becoming

This week we are continuing the exercise of creating an Advent calendar filled with images matching words suggested by the Society of St. John daily Advent word. You can sign up to get their meditation in your email inbox each day.

What do the words Expand, Focus, Experience, Become, Beautify, Heal, Thank have in common? At first glance, probably nothing. I remember an exercise that we had to do in school though. Do you recall having to take your spelling words and make sentences, or a sentence, from them? I wonder if teachers still do that today…? This week’s words could make a very inspiring sentence when put together like that.
During Advent we take time to Expand our Focus, in order to Experience God’s love, and Become more fully a person who will Beautify and Heal the world, because we Thank God for all we have and all we are.”

Looking at the images that spoke to me of these words, we might have inspiration from the individual words, too, as we think about them.
The Advent wreath, and especially the candles, is a reminder to me that each week we Expand our expectations wider as we approach Christmas. Each week we light another candle, bringing more and more light into our sphere.

The icon ornament of Mary and the Infant, combined with lectionary readings of Mary’s acceptance of her call to be the Mother of Immanuel is a way to Focus thoughts on the real cost of saying ‘Yes’ to God. Where do I need to say ‘Yes’ more eagerly and with faith?
In the Experience of God’s creation, like the image of the mountains near Taos, we also look beyond ourselves into the wider world and find hope for the future that is promised by the coming Babe.

Rahab, in this image from another blog, speaks to me of the reality that God doesn’t classify us by religion, or gender, or color. It sometimes seems, when you read the Bible, that God purposely choses those that society might consider less or useless. God chooses outcasts, murderers, youngest sons, prostitutes, and liars to Become the ones chosen to tell the story of Love. Gives hope to you and me, doesn’t it? Despite what we see as failures, God can use us in wonderful ways!
Advent is also a time when we Beautify our homes by putting up decorations. Pausing to take time to Beautify our souls is the goal of the season, too. It is hard to be counter-cultural and take time to do that important work, but it is worth it.

Part of the work of Advent may involve taking time to Heal from the rough times of the past year. Advent is, after all, the church’s new year when we can begin again. This lovely bed says to me, perhaps that healing will take the form of a retreat of some sort, or just taking time to relax.
Finally, we must learn to Thank God for the Love and Grace and overflowing bounty of our lives. Even if we are poor in material things or think we are one of the ‘least’ we can be reassured that we are truly called Beloved by the one who comes as a Baby in a manger.

Putting it all together, we can try to live so that “During Advent we take time to Expand our Focus, in order to Experience God’s love, and Become more fully a person who will Beautify and Heal the world, because we Thank God for all we have and all we are.
Next week we will finish this calendar with a few final images, culminating in the Love we will Receive on Christmas. Blessings to each of you as we move toward the Manger.

December 14, 2014

Second Advent: Show Up

During Advent I have been participating in creating an Advent calendar filled with images matching words suggested by the Society of St. John daily Advent word. You can sign up to get their meditation in your email inbox each day.   

This week the words were “Show Up”, “Respond”, “Encourage”, “Wake Up”, “Breathe”, “Act”, and “Risk”. The first thing that came to my mind in relation to this series is something I heard on a Cursillo weekend many years ago.
One of the priests shared a mantra he used: “Show Up, Tell the Truth, Pay Attention, and Don’t get Attached to the Results”. This saying actually encompasses all of life, but especially the words this week.
We first need to Show up to God and Show up to life. When we are really present we can Respond to one another actively and be available to encourage each other. That’s a way of ‘telling the truth’. When we Wake up and Breathe we find that we can really ‘Pay Attention’ to what’s happening in and around us. We can look for God’s action and presence in the world and in our lives, and in the lives of all those we meet.
Finally, the mantra suggests that we “Don’t get attached to the results”. In other words, we must let go of control and let God take over. Certainly that’s one of the harder aspects of living into this saying. The words Act and Risk which close out the week are reminders that if and when we let God be in charge, we can act without fear and even take risks that we wouldn’t have considered otherwise. We might take on a ministry, or start a new job, or plan a trip that might seem impossible.  

You’ll see that the images I chose this week cover a wide range of things, from goldfish in a pond, to a bouquet of hair ribbons, and standing on the edge of a canyon. For me, these are images that reinforce the idea that God is not just in church, but in every moment of every day. We all need the little reminders of the Holy One. Anything can be what the Celts call a ‘thin place’ where God breaks in. Even a pink Christmas pig in the neighbor’s front yard can signify God’s active presence just as much as the dawn breaking over the horizon. When we can see God in each thing and each moment, it might just be easier to “show up, tell the truth, pay attention, and don’t get attached to the results” because God really IS in charge! 
Next week’s words are: Expand, Focus, Experience, Become, Beautify, Heal, and Thank. As we draw closer to the arrival of the “Long Expected Jesus” we will want to look at, experience, and live into those words and discover images to fit them.

December 7, 2014

Advent, week 1

This first week of Advent has been predictably busy. Taking time to find an image to match the word of the day has helped me pause slightly and think about the word and what it means to me. I wonder if it did the same for you, if you are doing this challenge.

On Sunday, the word was “Look” and as I shared, the image that I thought of was the hawk that recently visited the church garden, because if we are not taking time to Look Up we miss the little surprises God sends. If I had not looked up at just that moment, I’d have missed my visitor.
On Dec. 1, the word was “Remember” and I was drawn to recall my teen age solo of Panis Angelicus not long after I joined the church. It seems a lifetime ago (well maybe it has been). That solo was one of the first times I felt affirmed by a church family.

The image on Dec. 2 is of Canyonlands. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to “Imagine” all the ages that have rolled past that formation. How many animals, storms, people, and changes has that plateau seen?
I asked myself how do we “Thrive” on Dec. 3. The answer is we are planted in the good soil of God’s love and thrive. That’s related to the ducks on Dec. 4, who, like us “Abide” in God’s presence while paddling on the crystal pond. And sometimes like the ducks, we do a lot of paddling below the surface while looking placid on top!

The words for Friday and Saturday: “Notice” and “Watch” are similar. When we watch we notice things and when we notice things, we are apt to watch more closely. However a radiant sunrise always helps me Notice the Glory of God and Watching what is around you can bring surprises like the moose and calf.

Next week the list continues and there will be more images and thoughts about these words. Remember, you can subscribe to the feed or participate by posting photos to the national site.