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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tending Your Manger

by Lauren Van Ham

God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity,
but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illuminated by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.

~ Dag Hammarskjold

Do you have childhood memories, like me, of unpacking and creating the nativity scene in your home during the Advent season?  We had a few of them at my house: the one my parents brought back from their visit to Jerusalem, the ones my brother and I made from uncooked macaroni noodles in Sunday School, and the teeny-tiny one with a fake tree and baby Jesus that were irresistible toys for the cats.  “Has anyone seen the baby Jesus?” my Mom would question, her head poking under the chairs and shelves, hoping to repair the fragmented story and invite its anticipated outcome.

Years later, in the home of my spiritual director, I stood dazzled and mesmerized by her nativity, an annual original creation, that covered her entire dining table.  Every animal figurine you can (and can’t) imagine - scorpions, dolphins, emus and dogs, serpents, chickens, and unicorns - were making their way across the loooooooong dining table to see the new baby.  Seeing the scene depicted in this grand and cosmic way, allowed me to expand its scope.  I could find myself in new facets of the story. 

Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart nudged each of us to consider the Christmas story this way when he wrote, “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture?”

The longest night of the year is passed, Christ is born and the Light has returned.  But the events of Advent have only just happened.  If we heed Eckhart’s words, it puts us right about here: we experienced angels, and endured long travel; with anticipation and uncertainty, we arrived in a new place, simple and earthy, inconvenient and unfamiliar.  And there – right there! – Divinity arrived.  In us, for us, through us, beyond us.

How will you bond with this new arrival?  How, in these first, fragile days, will you tend this Child?  What would you like to share about this exciting, tender, joy beginning at this time?

Peace and Blessings to you as the New Year dawns!

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Coffee and Church Stained Glass

by Tom Pappas

If your daily mail looks like mine, a significant portion of it amounts to worthy causes hoping for a year-end monetary gift. I find myself wanting to help most of them. (I also want to adopt every orphaned dog my wife’s nephew posts on Facebook – usually more that one a day.)

This fact hasn’t always been so, but I find myself in a position where disposable income is more than a phrase. I can make some financial choices and do some good.

This morning at our coffee group, Jim fired up his ipad and showed us the two stained glass windows that he and Judy are going to have restored with a donation. He is passionate about stained glass and creates art with it. He knows about it. They sponsored a window last year and he went to the studio and was allowed to clean and prepare some of the hundreds of pieces that had been removed from one of the smaller windows.

Old, beautiful buildings take money to keep up. Our heritage church has lots of windows, all in need of restoration. The whole project exceeds a quarter million dollars. Jim invited us guys to think about joining him and his wife to sponsor a window or part of one.

We had a lively discussion about money,
            and church budgets,
                        and mission,
                                    and priorities,
                                                and passion.

Of course knowing me, I want to do something about the windows. But the question in my mind is – “I have this bit of money and I want to give it where it counts.  Can I make a difference with a gift here?”  I do want the windows to be strong and efficient; and I know I want to give some other places.*

What to do? What to do?

Let’s wrestle together about this giving question. It is clear from Scripture and experience that we are called to a life of lively giving. I truly believe that generosity puts me close to the heart of God. As this year ends, I hope we are able to make decisions that benefit the Kingdom, and we are happy with.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Prayer for Advent: Advent Moon

by Angier Brock


Let the coming of the One
who arranges Orion and the Pleiades                        
begin in darkness.
Let the night be cold, with drifts of snow.
Let there be one lily blooming,
and whispered messages, and kneeling.

The fierce earth spins in expectation              
beneath the long night’s moon. 
Like the restless fox crossing frosted meadows,
the silvered owl in focused, silent flight,                                           
each of us is hungry.
In rooms of untold longing,
we sing our seasoned carols.
We watch. We wait.  

Let the coming of the One
who kindles fires of hope,
whose faithfulness runs far beyond our sight,
be like the coming of a child.
Let there be milk, forgiveness, quiet arms.
Come quickly, Love, our dearest deep
and sweetest dawning.
Come, fill us with your light.

© 2013 Angier Brock
Used by permission.

NOTE: Arranged by British composer Cecilia McDowall as an anthem for organ, SATB, and optional handbells, “Advent Moon” was premiered by the Choirs of Bruton Parish Church, under the direction of Rebecca Davy, on Sunday, December 1, 2013. Oxford University Press is publishing the anthem.