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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

From out of the Chaos, Joy

by Lauren Van Ham
Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.
 - Abbot Columba Marmion
In thy presence is fullness of joy.
 - Psalms 16:11

I live across the street from the police station, in Berkeley, California.  Last week, for a string of nights the, “I Can’t Breathe” demonstrations happening around the city, brought with them helicopters, sirens, beating drums and riot gear.  Quickly I realized this was my empathy training; my turn to peek into the lives of humans around the world whose nervous systems must endure this and so much more. 

Paradoxically, for the same number of days I was attempting to find a steady serenity amidst the tension of the protests, my partner was working near Lake Tahoe, and sending me photos from his surroundings. 

Photo: Valentino’s shot of a walk along the North Shore of Lake Tahoe

The juxtaposition of our different realities was stunning!  How does God inhabit it all?  War zones to new babies; hurricanes to fields resting fallow; bustling factories and traffic jams to houses of worship filled with prayerful souls…and on, and on the list goes.  The late Madeleine L’Engle called Advent, “the irrational season,” and indeed, it is.  And this week, the third week, we light the pink candle, the Joy candle.

It was Joy where I arrived last week, amidst all the soul noise and outward confusion, alongside the photos and contrast of multiple realities.  Joy is large enough to hold it all; in Joy we are filled with the connection to something larger than us all.  Dr Maya Angelou’s poem, Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem, invites us into this place too, and I want to share the piece with you.  Please read it aloud, and please share it with others in the next week or so – with your small group, or at a dinner with dear ones. 

What is your favorite line in the poem?  What image do these words plant in you?  What, from these images, will you carry with you as we walk together toward Christmas?


Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem   
by Dr. Maya Angelou
Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses. Flood waters await us in our avenues.
Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche Over unprotected villages. The sky slips low and grey and threatening.  
We question ourselves. What have we done to so affront nature? We worry God. Are you there? Are you there really? Does the covenant you made with us still hold? 
Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters, Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air. The world is encouraged to come away from rancor, Come the way of friendship. 
It is the Glad Season. Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner. Flood waters recede into memory. Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us As we make our way to higher ground.  
Hope is born again in the faces of children It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets. Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things, Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.  
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper. At first it is too soft. Then only half heard. We listen carefully as it gathers strength. We hear a sweetness. The word is Peace. It is loud now. It is louder. Louder than the explosion of bombs.  
We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence. It is what we have hungered for. Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace. A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.   
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas. We beckon this good season to wait a while with us. We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come. Peace. Come and fill us and our world with your majesty. We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian, Implore you, to stay a while with us. So we may learn by your shimmering light How to look beyond complexion and see community.  
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.  
On this platform of peace, we can create a language To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.  
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ Into the great religions of the world. We jubilate the precious advent of trust. We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope. All the earth's tribes loosen their voices To celebrate the promise of Peace.  
We, Angels and Mortal's, Believers and Non-Believers, Look heavenward and speak the word aloud. Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud. Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother. Peace, My Sister. Peace, My Soul.
About Lauren: Lauren lives in Berkeley, CA.  She serves as Dean at The Chaplaincy Institute (ChI), an interfaith seminary and tends her private practice as a spiritual director.  You can read Lauren’s blog at: http://www.laurenvanham.com/

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Furry Advent Guide

by Tom Pappas

One of our cats, Winnie, is a sunlight square evangelist. There is no mixed message when she wants you to come along to rub her belly while she sprawls in the warm brightness. She also enjoys those patches of sun in feline solitude. (Full disclosure: Winnie often tends to hang out under the love seat near a heat register but that doesn’t allow for a nifty Advent allegory.)

I will be using dear Winnie as reminder this Advent, to go toward, and persist in the light.

In The Message, Peterson translates John 1:1-5 this way:

The Word was first,

  the Word present to God,
  God present to the Word.

The Word was God,
   in readiness for God from day one.

Everything was created through him;
   nothing—not one thing!—
   came into being without him.

What came into existence was Life,
   and the Life was Light to live by.

The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
               the darkness couldn’t put it out. 

Is there something more important this season than moving toward the light of God?

Is there something more compelling than resting in God’s light – at least for a while?

Is there someone you would like there with you?

Abide in the light.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Prayer for the Greening Of Love

by Angier Brock

Last summer, a friend who is a composer asked if I would make a new translation for her of a 19th- century Austrian carol, “Still, Still, Still.” Other English translations are readily available; you may know or have recordings of them. However, they typically use only three of the six original verses, and my friend wanted four. Here then is the result of that project, along with a few questions for reflection, perhaps to use on your own or around the dinner table with others, as we move into Advent toward Christmas.  
Still, still, still,
The winter night grows still.
Vesper bells have all finished ringing
Warm in the eaves, birds hush their singing,
Still, still, still,
The winter night grows still.
 Sleep, sleep, sleep,
Sleep well in your mother’s arms.
Stars of the Magi shine high above you.
Angels are singing. Oh, how they love you!
Sleep, sleep, sleep,
Sleep well in your mother’s arms.
 Joy, joy, joy,
Take joy in the greening of Love.
God comes to live our human story,
Comes as a child, relinquishing glory,
Joy, joy, joy,
Take joy in the greening of Love.               
 Dream, dream, dream,
Now dream in the fullness of time.
No need tonight for worry or warning.
Winter’s sun will rise in the morning.
Dream, dream, dream,
Dream now in the fullness of time.
~Angier Brock, translated from the German © 2014

  • What in your life calls you to grow still?
  • Where do you find comfort and security? Who or what makes you feel well loved?
  • Where in your own life do you sense the possibility of a “greening,” a hint of growth, even if it remains, for the moment, out of sight, perhaps underground?
  • What dreams do you have? Is there a step you could take this week or this season that would bring “the fullness of time” more fully into your life or the lives of those around you?

Though there not an exact syllable-for-note correspondence, here’s a lovely piano arrangement of the traditional “Still, Still, Still” tune. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gratitude for the Healers

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

A recent issue of The Atlantic asked the question “What was the Greatest Gift of All Time?”  Not surprisingly, people’s answer to that question was impacted by their experience.  The director of philanthropic giving for The Smithsonian named James Smithson, who gifted his entire estate to ‘found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”  Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation named Edsel Ford’s gift to Detroit of Diego Rivera’s masterpiece Man and Machine.  The columnist Amy Dickinson went big and small:  She writes “God did send his only son to Earth to heal us.  But then there’s the green Spyder bike my mom gave me when I was 8.  I don’t put these gifts on the same level, but that bike was great." (“The Atlantic, December 2014)

Dickinson’s comments struck me in particular.  Partly because I too would name a bike as one of the best gifts I ever received (mine happened to be a Schwinn Sting Ray with banana seat, mag wheel and ‘sissy bar’ in back).  But also because I believe that healing might just be the best gift that God gives.  

Over and over I have seen my own body and psyche heal from small and large hurts.  Usually there is a scar of some sort, but healing as well.  A friend speaks about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child in such a way that others are able to name their pain.  She has healed from the trauma. Then most recently I heard of the death of a family friend.  Her last years were not pleasant ones, as she and her family struggled with her Alzheimer’s.  She was not cured, but she is now whole and healed.

With most of these injuries, there is a perfectly rational, scientific or therapeutic explanation for how recovery happens.  I am grateful for the researchers and practitioners that help bring about healing using the best that science has to offer.  But I also choose to believe that in and around our body and psyche’s natural regeneration is a Healer that I name God.   

This Thanksgiving I am grateful for healing of all sorts.  How about you?  What is the best gift you ever received?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

December's Sky

by Paul Hettinga

Every December sky must lose its faith in leaves; And dream of the spring inside the trees; How heavy the empty heart How light the heart that's full. Sometimes, I have to trust what I can't know…
And so starts Beth Nielsen Chapman’s song “Every December Sky”. It’s a metaphor about death and life, reminding us that in letting go we die to the past giving us the hope of springing forth into new life.

It’s a message that I love in concept but resist in my daily life. I find myself clinging to the old leaves as they continue to wither and die hoping for just a little more, a little longer or thinking that if I just hang on a little longer, it will get better. It isn’t easy to let go for sure! It also isn’t easy to dream of the spring inside the trees when it’s dark, cold, lonely or depressing or even when things are okay, but just not very good.

As the song goes…”Sometimes I have to trust what I can’t know…” It strikes me how little of my life really is turned on trust – relying much more on my intellect, my creativity, my resources, and on my old habits of thinking and doing. Have I lived the last 50 or so of my adult years or instead have I lived 1 year 50 times over? How about my marriage – 42 years or 1 year repeated 42 times? I am learning that I trust most that which I’ve already done, or thought, or believed or previously felt. I trust least in ‘…what I can’t know…”

The cycle of the seasons could teach us much about the nature of our own lives. Nothing is forever and in fact the truth is that too many of our lives are spent in boredom, perhaps because of our fear of letting go, of imagining what could be if only we could let go of that which is actually dying – just not yet.

Take a minute today to ask yourself as I have asked myself; what things do I need to let go of to become all that our creator and Lord imagines us to be?

God isn’t interested in the past of our lives. In fact, I think God can’t even remember it, but we do, and we cling to it, and for too many of us, we die with it both figuratively and finally. Sound a little heavy? Perhaps. But, if you’re at all like me, I pray that we can both have a memory loss for all that plagues us, weighs us down and keeps us from becoming the ‘spring inside the tree’s’ that Beth sings about and that God hopes for us.

Take a minute to watch this You Tube video of “Every December Sky” by Beth Nielsen Chapman and let the message of letting go bring the hope of new life within you. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What About Bob?

by Tom Pappas

When I was climbing up the front range of this adventure we call our lifetime, I remember several points where changes were imminent; and I clearly recall saying, “Change is invigorating.” A household move, a change of teaching assignment, the birth of a child, each brought new opportunities and challenges decorated with a sense of adventure.

I am solidly on the back range and sometimes I feel like the “decoration of adventure” is better described as residue. And what I write today isn’t just about me; I am especially hurting for my friend, Bob.

I am one of those graybeards at the big table in the coffee shop that are waiting for tee times or PT appointments that meet for a cuppa once each week. We worship at the same church so we have that among other topics on which to impart wisdom.

Bob is the oldest of our group and most educated. He is dignified and polite. Bob is clever and funny, if you’re smart enough for his wit. He is full of pertinent stories and insights and we all benefit when he talks. Bob is hard to hear because he is becoming frail, his voice is naturally soft, and the barista staff conspires and waits to make their loudest grinding and swooshing noises until they see us leaning in to hear him.

Bob is diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Rarely is it an inconvenience to him or us. But last week it was an issue. 

Bob lives less than a mile from our coffee rendezvous. He drove last week and came in with his cane, fairly bent over and terribly wobbly. During our hour together his physical control deteriorated. Some of us helped him home, of course.

Today Bob spoke to us about gratitude and the importance of friendships. He talked about making decisions about his future and independence that he didn’t want to encounter so soon. It was our concern for his and others’ safety that brought forward as his number one agenda item.

This good man is further down the back range than I am, and he makes a fine example of dealing with change. Being a person of faith, I see Bob being mindful of God’s companionship as he weighs his options. It’s a different way to define invigoration.

As a tribute to Bob, it is my intent to put down the front-range equipment that God gave me to navigate the first half and trust God to show me new tools for the rest of the way. Now, that’s kind of invigorating.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Prayer for Being Other Than Successful

by Angier Brock

What this world needs is not more people who are successful but more people who are peacemakers, poets, lovers of all things.”

Someone said that last week at a conference in the mountains of Virginia. Though I cannot remember which of several speakers is due credit for the words, the thought has stayed with me, and I carried it into the weekend, especially into Sunday’s Celebration of All Saints and All Souls at my church in Yorktown. As parishioners entered the sanctuary, they wrote down names of loved ones who have died. Later, as the congregation made its way to the altar for communion, those names were read aloud. Many of the people mentioned probably had been “successful” in their lives in a worldly way—but success by that definition was not what put them on the list. I thought about the people I had named. Lida, my mother, a stay-at-home mom, Girl Scout leader, pediatric ward volunteer. Bill, my father, a high school principal, gardener, visitor of shut-ins. Joe, an English professor, close listener, poet. Mabs, a college friend, gracious host, cancer fighter.

After the service, I began thinking about other kinds of people the world could use more of. Bird watchers, water conservers, and recyclers. Grandparents (not just biological ones) and godparents (not just ones assigned at baptism). Farmers and organizers of farmers’ markets. Bicyclists and bicycle repair shop keepers. Therapy dog trainers. Artists, dreamers, and dream interpreters. Bridge builders, both literal and figurative. Road workers, and drivers who slow down for road workers. Prayer bead makers, prayer rug makers, and those who pray. Medical researchers and hospice volunteers. Native plant cultivators and people who buy and plant native plants in their yards. Trash collectors, both those who get paid for their work and those who pick up litter simply because they can whenever they are out walking. People who smile when they check out and bag groceries, and people who smile at the ones doing the checking out and bagging (whether the checkers and baggers are smiling back or not). Bell ringers. Storytellers. People who love to sing rounds. And yes, in this week of elections, polling place workers and polling place watchers, the former to ensure that voting equipment is up and running and the latter to ensure that all voters get a fair chance to use it. And oh, yes, politicians willing to work for the common good, and voters to elect and support them.

Those are some of my ideas. Those kinds of people give the world more of what it needs, not by being “successful” but by increasing the pool of faith and light available to the rest of us on our journey. Who would you add to the list?

What this world needs is not more people who are successful but more people who are peacemakers, poets, lovers of all things. Here’s the deal: We are all called to give the world more of what it needs. May we each find ways of answering that call.

© Angier Brock