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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Time for Sentimentality

by Tom Pappas

I packed up Nena’s nativity set this morning. Juanita Delbridge was my first wife’s centenarian grandmother who provided her progeny with china, tea sets and every manner of beautifully hand-painted ceramics. I have displayed the nativity faithfully since Fredrena died suddenly in 1999. 

It occurred to me that the line of succession for Fredrena’s things should be to our children directly, with me not slowing it down.  When I mentioned to Christine that I would love to send the set home to Oklahoma with her (where it originated) after this Christmas visit, she was visibly pleased. Here words were, “I’m honored to have this wonderful keepsake.” No mention was made that this was the child who snuck the Big Bird ornament off the tree each year for him to make a guest appearance in the crèche.

Was it symbolic that the larger pieces went into the box first? I tried to make it so in my mind. The camels and magi were at the bottom. Clustered together next were layers of animals, shepherds, angels and the holy family. Does it mean anything significant? To me it says that God is busy visiting this earthy world and blends in with the daily stuff. I know God is the God of all but if there’s a God bias, it’s for the day-to-day. 

 I don’t mind it that the holiday season is a time for tempered and intemperate sentimentality. I hope you had a time to laugh hard with others this season. I hope you had a chance to sing.  I hope you had a chance to wipe tender tears away during a candlelit "Silent Night" or the Muppet Movie. I hope you had a chance to pass on a keepsake, or a needed affirmation, or bit of love.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Prayer at the Dark of the Year

This time of year, I love to “walk the sun down”—that is, to take a walk just as the sun is setting. I love watching the day’s last light swim through bare branches of trees in shades of rose and lavender. Then the sky goes dark and stars become visible. Lights come on in my neighbors’ windows. Something rustles in the shadows of shrubbery—a sparrow settling onto her nest? a rabbit taking cover? Sometimes the dark feels magical. 

Of course, not all darkness is cozy, and particularly during the holiday season, darkness can be a place of loneliness and heartache. Sometimes darkness is not something we can choose to move through quickly. Sometimes it is thrust upon us and we experience it as a period of seemingly endless fear or ferocious pain. Yet even in that kind of darkness, treasures can be found. A brush of kindness. A flutter of hope. A glimmer of light. 

In the deep darkness of this week, as we ponder our own stories either in conversation with others or in solitary reflection, may we each find some treasure, no matter how small or fragile. And may we thus be reminded again that God is with us.  


      The dark, a wonder. The deep. A wonder
      the wait, sitting in silence, watching each breath. 
      Wind, a wonder, winding in and out. And tonight,
      whatever aligned the planets just after sunset.

      All flesh, a wonder. The bitter cramp of wounds.
      The fitful itch of scars where skin pulls tight.
      A habit amended, a wonder. The reach of inner space.
      The drift of time. The marble stance of death.

      Flight, a wonder, the open gates of earth, 
      a childhood friend descending from the stars. 
      A wonder, fire contained in succotash or flaming in a grate. 
      Greens wound into the comfort of a wreath. 

I, a wonder. Whoever God. Whatever shakes 
down snow. A wonder, you. The long night’s 
stories. The dark. The deep. The wait.

Angier Brock © 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Response After the Response

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

When was the last time someone wrote you a $100,000 check at a holiday party?  

A few weeks ago Susan was conflicted about going to a holiday gathering.  Actually she was pretty clear that she didn’t want to go. But there was this inner nudge, this intuition telling her just to show up.  She listened and she prayed.  Then she got dressed and went to the party. 

Backstory:  Susan is a therapist, working with people with eating disorders.  She and a group of others are fundraising to open a new residence house for those struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and other issues.  As a survivor herself, she cares deeply about those in the grip of an eating disorder.  

Long story short, she met a guy at the party whose life had been touched by anorexia.  This guy had a lot of money, and on the spot he wrote her organization a check for $100,000.  

Fun as that story is, this isn’t a blog about eating disorders, fundraising or holiday parties.  What struck me most about Susan’s experience was her willingness to follow her intuition and get past her resistance.  At Lumunos we talk a lot about willing to pause long enough to listen more deeply.  We have to get past the default yes or no. 

Most of us have a quick response to invitations.  The invitation may be to a party, a volunteer opportunity, a potential relationship or anything new.  Sometimes that default response is a yes and sometimes it’s a no, and the reason we have the set response is usually due to a number of factors.  Sometimes the default response is the right one.  But not always.

Around the holidays, there are default yesses and no’s flying all over the place.  “Yes we will buy gifts for the cousins because we always buy gifts for the cousins even though we can’t afford it.”  “Yes we will go to that party even though people drink too much and it is too loud to talk and we would much rather have a quiet evening at home.”  “No, I will not introduce a new tradition into the family even though I have an idea I keep thinking about, because I’m not the kind of person who stirs things up.”

Listening for call means getting beyond the default yes or the default no.  Even if you take just a few moments, it may help you hear a deeper Truth.  As Morton Kelsey writes in The Drama of Christmas, “Sometimes our religious experience needs to displace our conventional human wisdom.  Saints are those who follow their deepest inner promptings, even when they make no worldly sense.” Mary may well have had a default “no” before she pondered the angel’s words in her heart.  We know Joseph had a well deserved “no” on his lips.  The Wise Men had a default route back home until a dream changed their mind.  The Christmas story is a story of people listening deeply, and then having the courage to go beyond the default response. 

What is your default response to something new?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Help from Mary

By Doug Wysockey-Johnson
Here is what is going on this weekend (so far):  Work all day Saturday, Christmas party, greeting at church, teaching Sunday School, ski club meeting, Cub Scouts, getting the Christmas tree, putting up decorations, artists workshop, and three play dates for the kids. This is as of Wednesday. Slowing down to reflect during Advent?  Bah Humbug!

Advent is the perfect time to talk about call.  Because Advent is a lot like life, only more so.  If call has something to do with translating our deepest priorities into the daily calendar, then it is especially important that we listen for call during the holidays.  There is just a lot more going on. 

Ron Farr writes, “God’s call is the basic organizing principle of our lives.  It wells up from our deepest priorities and inspirations, and determines how we manage our time, focus our energies, relate to others, organize our day, and make plans for the future.”  If ever there were a time to focus our energies on the things that matter, Advent would be it. 

I am going to follow Mary’s lead on this one.  I am going to spend a few moments pondering before I say, “Here I am.”  I just want to make sure that each of these commitments is a part of my call today.  Wrestling the kids into the car for church or scouts or school usually doesn’t feel like call at the moment. But if I ponder it for a few seconds, I see the connections.  Parenting is a call, and part of parenting is providing opportunities for my children’s growth.  

There are two things I suspect will happen in the next few days. One is that I will have flashes of frustration, wondering why I am racing all over town, wondering if I am “missing Christmas.” Those moments are not fun.  

But there will also be times of sensing something deeper.  It may happen in a quiet moment at church, or it could happen driving to scouts.  It will be a brief epiphany where I understand that it is into this world, this time, and even into my life that Christ comes again.  Let it be with me according to your word.