(Advent)ures Day 21: Holding Your Breath

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“The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton.

In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen.

You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart.

The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.

The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor.

But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of you somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.”

(from Whistling in the Dark by Frederick Buechner)

(Advent)ures Day 20: Miles to Go

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There are few things as life-giving to the body and soul as a walk through the woods.  I encourage you to find some time today, or this weekend, to have a wee dander in wildness and see the sun filtered through old trees.  It will remind you of your place in the order of things, and remind you that, though sometimes the world around us spins and frets this way and that, the life of green things goes on.  It’s a peaceful thought, that.  So, go take a walk of your own today, if you’re able, but in the meantime, here’s a snapshot of a recent walk of mine.

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Lantern at the ready…

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a charming walking companion (Carlos)…

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…and some good boots, and we’re off!

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IMG_7267.JPG(Don’t forget to notice the small things.)

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(And the big things as well.)

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IMG_7283.JPGAnd always, always, allow for some silliness.  That’s equally good for the soul.

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Happy travels, my friends.  Let your feet tell you where the rest of you wants to go, and trust God to show you how to get there.

(Advent)ures Day 19: He Did Not Wait

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He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He died with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

From The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle

(Advent)ures Day 18: Born in Violence

The unbelievable loss of life in Peshawar continues to weigh heavy on me, and so last night at our Session meeting, we opened with this prayer from Walter Brueggemann.  It is titled, “In Violence and Travail” (from his book of prayers Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth).

We give you thanks for the babe born in violence.

We give you thanks for the miracle of Bethlehem,
born into the Jerusalem heritage.

We do not understand why the innocents must be slaughtered;
we know that your kingdom comes in violence and travail.
Our time would be a good time for your kingdom to come,
because we have had enough of violence and travail.

So we wait with eager longing,
and with enormous fear,
because your promises
do not coincide with our favorite injustices.

We pray for the coming of your kingdom on earth
as it is around your heavenly throne.

We are people grown weary of waiting.

We dwell in the midst of cynical people,
and we have settled for what we can control.

We do know that you hold initiative for our lives,
that your love planned our salvation
before we saw the light of day.

And so we wait for your coming,
in your vulnerable baby
in whom all things are made new.

Amen.

(Advent)ures Day 17: Waiting and Wailing

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I came across this image today as I sipped my (heavenly, wonderful) coffee in my warm bed with cheery Christmas lights bringing joy.  The morning outside looks like someone threw cold water in a volcano — fog steams up everything, making only the spindly outline of wintery trees visible against a pinkish cloud of curiosity.  A forlorn train whistles from the tracks in my wee village, and I feel content.  I read these words from Cormac McCarthy, “Between the wish and the thing, the world lies waiting.” and I ponder the significance of these words.  But my sleepy-as-yet-uncaffeinated-eyes can’t quite make out that last word in this picture — waiting or wailing?  Oh, that is the question, isn’t it?

Because while I am feeling myself to be in a fog of contentment, on the other side of the haze of my little worldview, there is troubling news.  A massacre in Peshawar, where at least 126 people, many of them children, have been killed by the Taliban.  Talks of justifying torture to get the bad guys which sounds very much like the rhetoric of extremism to me.  A shooter on the loose in Pennsylvania.  The FBI investigating the hanging death of an African American teenager here in North Carolina.  A local woman complaining that someone keeps stealing wreaths off of her husband’s and her brother’s graves.  And then I think that, yes, between the wish and the thing, the world indeed lies wailing.  Wailing in all of these places and more.  And waiting for the wailing to end.

And somehow, these two worlds merge — the one where I contentedly sip hot coffee made with clean water using my (unnecessary) extra Christmas lights in a heated home with electricity, and the one where mothers wake this morning with wails that children have been lost.  The world where God wails, as our ability to see others as human beings and hold ourselves to the high standards of justice and democracy crumbles in the face of desperation and fear.  The world where a thoughtless prank stirs up old wounds and makes grief even heavier in these dark winter days.  If the incarnation means anything, it means God is a part of this world, and so are we.

These worlds merge in the waiting and the wailing, as I dare hope that God will not leave us to our own devices, but will inspire new life, lifting the fog of our self-focus long enough for us to see who’s on the other side, desperate for news of a better world.  So, I pray:

Lift the fog, O God, between us and them.  Help us to hold the waiting and the wailing together, until you come and wipe every tear from our eyes, watering instead a tree of life with leaves that will heal the nations.  Forgive us if we have waited in such a way that silences the wails of others.  Forgive us if we have wailed without the hope that you will never abandon us.  And come, Lord Jesus, come.  Amen.

(Advent)ures Day 15: Samba Incarnation

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And now for something hot off the presses: this thought comes from a Christmas letter I received today from the lovely McGeown’s in Belfast.  They’re a delightful family and they shared such wisdom in this final paragraph of their (hilariously witty) letter.  (Be it known that this Presbyterian loves to dance!)

The puritans had a lot of good points, I’m sure, but I think they really missed the point when they banned Christmas, even if it was often used as an excuse for excess, then as now. Still, some things deserve to be celebrated. Presbyterians have always struggled a bit with celebration. We are a little uncertain about rejoicing, which always seems a rather extrovert thing to do, a bit like dancing. Our self-consciousness reserve holds us back from anything approaching the flamboyant. And yet God’s coming to us, to be with us in all our struggles, surely deserves some exuberance. The response to incarnation should have more of the samba beat about it than the dirge. The needs of a suffering world don’t go away but we are called to remind ourselves that the burden is not ours alone to bear. Christ stands with us. That’s what we celebrate in Christmas. So let your hair down!