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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Be Yourself

by Paul Hettinga

Recently I was visiting my ailing 92 year old mother and as I was getting ready to leave, she grabbed my hand pulling me down close to her face. Staring directly into my eyes she said “Paul, go and be yourself – that’s enough!” With this simple blessing she kissed me and wished me well on my trip back home to Chicago as she has done each time I leave her.

It’s a wonderful blessing to receive and an even more wonderful way to live, yet I find it difficult to embrace this fully for myself.

Be myself – it’s enough. Really? How can it be? Isn’t this an arrogant view of myself that puts me in the center of my world instead of allowing God to be in the center of my world? It seems counter intuitive to allowing God’s presence to fill our lives – shaping us from the inside out. Doesn’t scripture call us to deny ourselves in order to let God’s spirit dwell within us?

Adding to that, I know both the bright and the dark areas of my soul. I know all the doubts, questions and insincerities of my faith journey, my ideas of God, the spiritual life and all that goes with that. Shouldn’t I be trying harder to ‘fix’ all these areas of my life – especially all the sins that so easily entangle me?

My mom’s words suggest otherwise. “Just go and be yourself – it’s enough!” The forgiveness Jesus offers us suggests the same idea to me. Your sins are forgiven, your doubts don’t matter, your fickleness is unimportant to me. Go and live freely, unhampered by that which can so easily hold you down. Go and be yourself and in the middle of being yourself, you’ll find me at the deepest part of yourself. That’s enough!

As I face the new year, it’s my hope, prayer and resolution to live more fully ‘into’ the person God has created and freed me to be and in so doing, to find him at the core of my heart, my mind, my soul and my life. This is my prayer for you as well.

Happy New Year 2015!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Las Posadas

by Doug Wysockey-Johnson

Las Posadas is a tradition celebrated in the days before Christmas in Spanish-speaking countries.  Posada literally means ‘lodging’ or ‘inn.’ Las Posadas then is the re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s journey as they go house to house looking for a place for Mary to give birth to Jesus.  They are turned back a number of times before finally they find room at the inn.  It is all about making space for God.  Las Posadas celebrations happen each year in Mexico, Spain, and other Spanish-speaking countries. 

The last few days I have been carrying out my own little Las Posadas.  Rather than innkeepers, it is the pages of my calendar that have been turning away the Holy Family.  ‘How about today?’ God seems to ask. “Could you find time for me today?  Could you slow down, read something spiritual or pray?  No?  How about tomorrow then? If not then, what about Tuesday or Wednesday?” Each day, my calendar and to-do list shuts the door and says—“No room at the inn.” 

I believe in the love and persistence of God.  I do trust that God will continue knocking at the door, offering the peace and perspective I crave. I hope I find ‘posadas’ for the Holy One soon. Christmas is coming!

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.