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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Have You Had Your Holiday Meltdown Yet?

It was the towel bar that did me in.  My parents were arriving the next day, and the bathroom that they would be using was still not ready.  After a day of frustrating projects and pre Christmas frenzy, I was locked in a life or death struggle with the towel bar. Due to poor design and my staggering ineptitude, I had been brought to my knees. (Imagine if you will, finally getting all the support brackets in place only to find that your measurements are off by a measly half a foot.)

I was snapping at my wife, the kids, the cats, and anything or anyone that crossed my path.  I was Scrooge and the Ghost of Cranky Christmas all wrapped up in one dark holiday package.

The next day I woke up just as angry.  Along with the dangling towel bar, I had to drive an hour and a half to New Hampshire for a staff meeting.  Bah Humbug!

As it turned out, the time alone in the car was exactly the Christmas gift I needed. I clicked off the radio, and tried to open myself to God.  I was given a much needed time of reflection.  I have noticed lately that often what you see in a time of reflection is your own reflection.  Which is probably why we resist it so often.

In this case I was able to look in the mirror and see how insane I had been acting the past 24 hours. I was able to remember the memorial service for a friend just a few days ago, where we were all reminded what was important and what isn’t. (Towel bars are pretty far down the list.) I was able to pick up my cell phone and make the apology I needed to make.  I looked out the car window and for the first time noticed the beauty of a clear winter day.

Mary and Joseph had a much tougher road trip than my trip to New Hampshire.   Much is made of the challenges they faced on that arduous journey to Bethlehem, and with good reason.  But I wonder if it didn’t also help.  I wonder if it didn’t provide much needed reflection time, time to talk or just stare at the countryside.  Time to think and pray about the chaotic and confusing events of life.   Time to look in the mirror and reflect on the kind of person you have been and the kind of person you want to be. Could it be that even the blessed virgin had a holiday meltdown?  I have to believe that even Mary had some thoughts, conversations, and actions she wanted to take back.  

Finding time for reflection can be challenging in these high velocity days leading up to Christmas.  There are towel bars to hang after all.  It simply may not be possible to get the quiet time you need.  But remember:  Joseph and Mary had to go to Bethlehem.  I had to go to New Hampshire.

Is there something you have to do, someplace you have to go, that might provide an opportunity for reflection?  How might you work with the reality of your schedule to find time to look in the mirror?

And from the Board and Staff of Lumunos, blessings for a sacred and meltdown-free Christmas.  

PS:  Make a year end donation to Lumunos, and we will send you a gift towel bar with the words “Breath” inscribed on it.  Maybe.

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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Friday, December 17, 2010

Who Would You Be?

If you could play any part in the story of Jesus birth, what would it be? I am not talking about donning a striped bathrobe and Burger King crown to be a Wise Man traveling from the east in the Sunday School pageant. I am talking about taking a time machine back, and actually being one of the characters.

(If you are of a faith tradition other than Christian or no tradition at all, humor me. I will be happy to do the same imaginary exercise with your customs.)

I would not choose what is called “The Annunciation,” where the angel announces to Mary that she is going to bear a child. That would have scared me to death. Let’s just say that “Let it be with me according to your word” would not have been my response. Wouldn’t want to be Joseph. The agony of feeling betrayed by Mary, then totally confused with what was going on sounds agonizing. Wise Men? Nope—don’t like to travel this time of year.

No, I would want to be Mary in the months she spent together with her cousin and friend Elizabeth. Through the brief account of their time together, and my imagination, I see two good friends thrown together in a time of crisis and anticipation. Almost like the bond that develops between friends in the military, or some other type of “war.” They needed one another badly, and trusted each other fully. They shared the experience of pregnancy, but probably each in her own way. There is no way Mary and Elizabeth could have understood all that was going on, but they had a deep sense that they were a part of something very important happening in the world. All this in a safe place far from the gossip and icy stares of Mary’s friends back home.

Henri Nouwen wrote about this time:

Waiting is active. Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands. The bus is late? You cannot do anything about it, so you have to sit there and just wait. It is not difficult to understand the irritation people feel when somebody says, “Just wait.”’ Words like that seem to push us into passivity.

But there is none of this passivity in scripture. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. That’s the secret. The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it. A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment. ….A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.
                                                            Henri Nouwen, A Spirituality of Waiting

That is why I would choose to be Mary in her time with Elizabeth. I want to be that alert, that expectant, that present to what is happening around me. I want to rely on friends, and experience life together. I want to trust that something new is happening in the world, and I have a part to play. And I want to laugh as much as I think Mary and Elizabeth laughed.

How about you? Which part of the nativity would you want to experience? And what does it say about what is going on in your life right now?

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Gospel of Saturday Night Live

Are you spending money you don’t have this holiday season?

In a recent cover story entitled “The Urge to Splurge,”, Newsweek reports that “the new frugality” is already over and people are spending money they don’t have.  Even though 89% of Americans tell Gallup they’re watching their expenditures very closely, spending is heading back up anyway.

Which leads us to the gospel of Saturday Night Live.  In this clip featuring Steve Martin and Amy Poehler, we see a couple struggling to grasp the concept of not buying something unless they can afford it.  It is very funny and a little painful.

Last week I invited you to use our Advent Reflections to slow down during this holiday season.  In week one, I was struck by the inclusion of these ancient words from the book of Proverbs:  “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold.”

This “Lady Wisdom” from the Old Testament is no shy, retiring figure.  Listen to her bellow in this translation of Proverbs 8 from The Message.  Pretend someone asked her if they should buy stuff they can't afford.

Do you hear Lady Wisdom calling?  Can you hear Madame Insight raising her voice?  She’s taken her stand at First and Main, at the busiest intersection.
Right in the city square
Where the traffic is thickest, she shouts,
“You—I’m talking to all of you, everyone out here on the streets!
Listen, you idiots—learn good sense!
You blockheads—shape up!
Don’t miss a word of this—I’m telling you how to live well,
I’m telling you how to live at your best.
My mouth chews and savors and relishes truth—I can’t stand the taste of evil!
You’ll only hear true and right words from my mouth
Proverbs 8, The Message

This advent season Lady Wisdom provides a not so subtle reminder that this season is not about what we spend.  Focus instead on relationships; justice; spiritual life, beauty and joy. Be willing to pause to listen for this instruction and guidance.

“O come, thou Wisdom from on high, who orders all things far and nigh; to us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.”

If you would like to tap into this Wisdom, take some time with the Lumunos Advent Reflections in the next week. Let us know what you are discovering.

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Meaning of the Music

As long as we are going to hear this holiday music 500 times between now and January 1, wouldn’t it be nice to get something out of it?

Here I am not talking about Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  It is a snappy little Christmas ditty, but I don’t think it is going to help me find meaning and purpose.

But what about an ancient classic like O Come O Come Emmanuel?  (If you have spent any time in churches during Christmas, you have heard this hymn.  But it is also one of those cross over songs that shows up on the holiday albums of Brittany Spears and Foghat.  If you are still drawing a blank, listen here and see if you don’t recognize it.)

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer I could probably figure out on my own. With O Come O Come Emmanuel I’ll need some help.  Thankfully, Lumunos writer Angier Brock has written a series of four reflections on this ancient piece of music.  With her thoughts and questions, I’m hoping O Come O Come Emmanuel will be more than a beautiful piece of music. I’m hoping it will help me navigate the landmines of this season.  I’m hoping it will help me quiet down rather than amp up; simplify rather than add debt; pay attention to important relationships rather than ignore them; and uncover some of the deeper meanings of this time of year that reside below the surface mayhem.  It is a lot to ask of a piece of music I know.  More than anything I think it is the willingness to stop and reflect that does it.

If you care to join me, you can find the reflections here.  There is one for every week leading up to Christmas.  Let me know what you discover, and I’ll do the same.

Doug Wysockey-Johnson
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