Six Days to Wonder

Of Give and Take…

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This Advent, the Innkeeper has been on my mind a good deal– there was no room at the Inn and yet he found some. Likely, with some inconvenience and some criticism.

And, I imagine there were some unrecorded people who helped with the birth — who experienced this young couple in dire straights and whose plans were up-ended and expectations went unmet because there was someone else in need.

It’s what happens in a community — or a family — or in a time when something greater than ourselves re-routes our personal GPS and the inconvenience isn’t calculated because something shifts and it’s almost as if the decision-making disappears. It’s called faith — and sometimes we give it and sometimes we receive it, but in either case, it doesn’t happen alone.

I much prefer to be in the position of giving than in the vulnerability of receiving. I love having the chance to help someone else, especially when it’s invisible to the naked eye. Like the wave in a stadium of disconnected strangers, the infinite becomes possible when we are forced to stop the idolatry of isolation, and trust.

do-not-be-afraidThis Advent, for me, has not been one of filling empty baskets and delivering them to waiting people in need. It has, instead, been the gift of humility found in standing with empty hands — in need.

I love strategic direction. I like process and problem-solving and the clarity of tactical planning. I find it exhilarating to move from brainstorming to goal-setting — but that hasn’t been my journey this Advent.

Instead, I have found myself in need — not in control of the outcome, without a good strategy for Plan B, and finding myself needing to ask for help — with the consequential opening of Pandora’s box of doubt and criticism, but willing to walk the path of uncertainty because something more important hangs in the balance.

I have longed for the hushed tones of Silent Night and instead have felt as if I was in a rock music recording studio with dissonant rhythms and not much space between the notes. With stark clarity, it has been an Advent of knowing that this event that I know as Christmas — the arrival of God’s answer — was not a solitary event, but one that happened because a community decided to listen to the whisper within, to believe in the promise of hope that was inescapably present and to act

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It was regular folks like the innkeeper, and the shepherds, and the hundreds of by-passers who became stoppers-by-to help as they played their small unheralded role, along with the unnamed women who undoubtedly surrounded Mary in her hour of need. It was the men who encouraged Joseph with gifts from afar and small gifts of sheep and companionship that were the seeds of his courage. For it is when need is greatest that our hearts open to receive as well as to give.

I am a great believer in the ‘school of life’ and the lessons that present themselves — and to have found myself in need, I have been given the lesson of being willing to open my heart to be the receiver. For here, in the middle of give and take — of being willing to both give and to receive, God arrives. In the moment of being willing to give life in the profound testimony of love Mary gives and Joseph receives.

And so, with just 6 days to wonder — we will each be given the chance … to receivbethlehem-cave1

Into the empty stable, we place the givers….

the sheep who gave of their warmth that the cold world might know the fire of love

the shepherds who left behind their work so that we can receive the gifts of the work of others

        the innkeeper who found room behind the closed door that we might know the courage in spaces that have been “too full”
         the bearers of gifts that we might have example of how to receive when we want to give
          the women who surrounded Mary without name or notice that we might just make the next right choice as they did
           the angel who refused to let fear override faith

Bless our stable….as we await wonder.

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts
Which we are about to receive

Into the empty stable,
we place the receivers ….

Into the empty stable….we place ourselves

…if there is room

Seven Days to Wonder

wreath-okToday, we lit the fourth candle of the Advent Wreath
And so, I begin my week of reflections, “Seven Days to Wonder” followed by some reflections on the Christmas Season.

For us, the Christmas Season does not begin with Halloween, but in the journey from Christmas Day to Epiphany — from the arrival of the good news in the manger to the arrival of the kings and the beginning of the journey that we know
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“The Seven Days to Wonder”

It was a bleak, cold day on the plains of Nebraska. If you haven’t been there, you wouldn’t know — but the wind sweeps across the road with shrill, stark bitter cold. One minute flakes and the next iced pellets. There was an urgency.

It was the night of the blessing of the empty stable — he would never tell the kids that this night surpassed Santa’s arrival, but it did. With 237 miles to go, there was nothing but road between him and the small living room with too many kids and not enough money, but all that he ever dreamt about wanting. Empty — he knew something about empty and full — not enough and more than you could ever ask for. Bills to pay and no way to see past the next check, but nothing to complain about — just get to the empty stable.

He gripped the steering wheel with might. The ’58 Chevy had an engine that wouldn’t quit, but the heat left something to be desired. As he was prone to do on days like this, his fingers began to knead the steering wheel and the fox-hole prayer that got him through 17 landings in the South Pacific was counted with the ridges on the back side of the steering wheel. Those Hail Mary’s weren’t passes — they were the scripture of a life lived between harvests teetering between faith and fear.

In the middle of the second decade, and hitting the 149 mile mark, the weather eased a bit and his mind drifted to that empty stable and somewhere close to Lexington he found himself trudging along the gritty road to Bethlehem with nothing but an old worn out donkey and this apparent tragedy that now seemed insignificant. He hardly remembered that moment when he didn’t believe Mary. There was something about the dream that changed him from the inside out — a seismic shift that cant be explained, only lived.

Around about mile 97, it was hard to tell who was who as the two men became interwoven in the experience of believing what cannot be seen — of following the light in the dark — of knowing the path even though no one else believes — of being willing to give your life for this child and the woman who holds your heart. It all becomes one as your learn to live with the judgments of others and the choices that almost don’t seem like choices, because beneath it all there are two things: integrity and love. Between those two is the stuff that eulogies never describe because it’s what happens where real life turns into character.

Somewhere around mile 36, there was a Texaco star that blurred into the message of the angel, “be not afraid” as he filled the tank and felt the warm glow of the blessing of the Empty Stable that would happen right after the Sunday night pot-roast and just before the few short minutes between ending and beginning. He and Joseph would be happy to bless that empty stable because they knew something about being empty — or was it being full?

empty-stable

The Blessing of the Empty Stable
We stand before you
and we empty out the things that don’t belong
so that there is more room for what you will bring

We let go of what hasn’t been, the failures and disappointments
We let go of what couldn’t be, the faulty dreams and idols
We take away the resentments and the despair
We leave behind the “if only’s” and “why’s”
We move out the “this is how we always do it” and repeat performances
We release the “impossible” and the “can’t be done’s”

We bless this empty space of Stable
and we wait — for the possibilities of these seven days
until wonder arrives
with what is possible
what has never been imagined
what can only be
what you would never have thought of
what love looks like

We bless this empty stable and wait for
the arrival …of what is next
in this final time of waiting for
what we believe but cannot see
what we know but cannot describe
what we need but have not awareness
who we are but are too busy to have met up with yet

We bless this empty stable
in wonder, awe, and the in-between time of promise

If only…we believe

we-believe

 

Inside the Snow Globe

 

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Today, we light the third candle of our Advent wreath. In an era gone by, we knew this as Gaudete Sunday (literally, rejoice) — in it’s origin, Advent included the similar practises of Lent, particularly that of fasting — of eliminating some things that might cloud our awareness of who God has called us to be in our best form. These days, I think of the Advent fast as being one of “tuning in” to what is most important and fasting from the illusions that tempt me like a magnetic vortex.

On this third Sunday of Advent, I find myself inside of a snow globe…with falling snow around and the “to do” list gnawing, I find myself drifting back to Gaudete Sundays of the past. Maybe because we have a new member of the next generation, little baby Eileen, born to parents Sarah and Denny, named to honor the women on both sides of our family who have led us with love, courage, action and presence. Eileen’s arrival reminds me again, that from generation to generation, there are stories to share and love to spread. Ours was not done in volumes of presents under the tree or trips around the world…but in stories told in the kitchen and as we respected the fallow time of winter that was demanded for a fertile harvest.snowglobe-2

And so, this week will be my week of Gaudete — rejoicing with the traditions that have given meaning as we craft new memories for the next generation — and for ourselves. In a time that we seem to need the posting of emotion-laden commercials to stir our hearts away from the unanswered questions of the world around us, filling our minds with digital wish lists of new devices that will take us away from the present into a reality that doesn’t require us to act, but only be a spectator.

Living inside the definition of Gaudete Sunday and the third week of Advent is the time of trusting in what we cannot see and believing that the suet pudding crafted in the early days of Advent will be ready by Christmas Eve. It is to trust that there will be enough — that we are enough — that we have what we need. It is to go out in the middle of a snowy Kansas Sunday and find just the right tree. It is to make Lucy rolls for the feast of lights on St. Lucy day and to remember that no one believed that Juan Diego had seen the vision we know as Guadalupe. Gaudete Sunday is time to bless the empty stable and to clear out the clutter within so that we can be ready for God’s answer to apparent chaos. In the midst of it all, God arrives — if there is room in our inn.

Gaudete Sunday
The desert and the parched land will exult;
the splendor of our God will
Strengthen the hands that are feeble
Make firm the knees that are weak
say to those who are frightened, “Be strong, fear not!”
Here is your God who comes
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
the ears of the deaf will hear
Then will the lame leap like a stag
Then the tongue of the mute will sing
Isaiah 35

We have God’s promise…and we think we need so much more — Go find the stable…clear it out and get ready to bless the empty space so that those who could see what was invisible to those who could not see can arrive again in our stable at the foot of our Tree of Hope.

Listening Beneath the Whistle

I was 16. It was clear to me that the generation before me had operated without the infallible wisdom of our cohort. We were ready to right the wrongs of those before us. Just fresh from a political rally, I walked into the house and heard the whistling from the kitchen. Bing Crosby — another symbol of the hypocrisy that was a demonstration of all that led to Watergate. I preferred the gospel according to Bruce Springsteen and the lessons of the Rolling Stones.firecracker

Having inherited my father’s quick tongue and tempered firebrand, I could feel my desire to explain why it was necessary for me to refuse to engage in the domestic role of the past to assume my ascent into the new position of women. We were simultaneously best of friends and greatest of irritants to one another, but I knew that whistling had nothing to do with music…it was a way to keep from crying or despairing or saying something that would hurt someone else’s spirit. I knew her from the inside out, and the tone of her whistle cracked the shell of my self-righteous indignation at all that was wrong with the world, and love was the plowshare that tilled the possibility of just being present.

Instead of telling my Mother why I was refusing to follow in her footsteps, I washed my hands and saw a tear rolling down her cheek, but I knew better than to ask what was wrong — she was of the generation of farm women who said “I love you” in action more often than words. Her way of loving was to feed us — in more ways than the body.

open heart

I knew the routine, I had been doing it since I was old enough to pull up a chair to the counter. The first week of Advent — roll the refrigerator cookies until the roll was about 12″ long and 2″ wide — a roll of butter, egg, sugar and remembrance. With two layers of waxed paper and one of aluminum foil, the roll would remain in the back of the ‘fridge’ until the third week of Advent. The first week was all about preparation — it was the third week that a hint of joy could crop in. This was a serious week of preparation. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the pan and something in me melted as I felt the gleam of “all is right with the world.” The suet bucket.

Maybe a bit of Christmas magic or the angel of my grandmother sitting on my shoulder. I asked her to tell me the story of the suet pudding — the real story — we never stopped working, but for some reason my heart was open, and instead of hearing about the women who had chosen a life that I wanted to reject as irrelevant, I realized that I had it all backwards. Maybe for the first time, I heard the heart story…hidden in the guise of suet pudding.

It’s the story held in the scripture of life…and in our family, it’s held in the suet pudding pan. As I listened that day, I heard about Bridget Lyons coming across the prairie in the old covered wagon and the pudding recipe that has been made in every generation since then — to remember the journey. In those days, when the wagon journey across the prairies was most rugged, they had to keep hope. “Hope happened in the kitchen of life” my mother explained to me, “because kitchen isn’t a place — it’s an act of love.”homesteading

In every wagon, there was a special pot where the precious commodities of dried fruit were collected and valued like gold with the intention of saving it for the Advent suet pudding, only eaten on the Feast of Christmas. Collected too were bits of fat (suet), dried and kept to be added for flavor and to preserve the pudding in the four weeks of waiting it would have. And in the combining of the ingredients passed down from generation to generation in the oral tradition of biblical women, there was remembering of the year gone by, those lost in the torrents of challenge and the new ones born to continue to make the pudding and be the love. Suet pudding wasn’t just something we made to mark a holiday, it was a ritual of remembrance that fermented into celebration. Something like the prairie version of the incarnation.

As I listened again to the story of my namesake who rode the wagons, something shifted in me. The women I had minimized a couple hours before became sages. In our family, it wasn’t our way to dissect the significance or reflect on the experience or even for me to ask what the tear stained cheek was about. Whatever my mother’s suffering had been that day had now become redemptive because we made the pudding and wrapped it in towels to sit until Christmas eve. And in the same way, she blessed my passion for justice and action (as she did throughout our shared life journey) and I was grateful to be blessed. There are certain things for which there are no words…only the silence of being present.

It’s suet pudding time…my brother has the pan…so that a new generation can know what it feels like to have your heart cracked open with “kitchen.” It’s an act of love. It’s Advent

cake-pan

That day…in that kitchen in Springfield, Illinois, my mother’s love looked past my self-righteous adolescent snare and saw in me what others had seen in her. Instead of engaging in debate, we rolled cookies and made suet pudding and remembered.

 

actionIt’s all about presence — being here. Today, my Advent Action is about being present to at least one other person…and instead of convincing them of my truth…I am going to make some suet pudding (without the suet or the pudding or the pan)…the kind of love that happens when I stop being so sure I have the answer and I notice a single tear and decide to just be.

 

 

Action Advent Reflection. Action. Reflection.

“Your actions, much more than your words will be an eloquent message to the world”
Madeleine Sophie Barat

advent

It is in the silence of doing nothing but being present, that I have been shaped into who I am. Sitting every morning on my green cushion, and deciding again to let God be God — the God who is much more capable of running the world than I am (even though I frequently express my opinion) — there God takes out the sandpaper and smooths over some rough edges and creates some new ones because, for me, friction results in growth.

Mine is not the glorious prayer of saints…it is the rough and tumble of just seeking the grace for the next day (or the next hour) and the cultivation of my well-grown skill of needing forgiveness. Sometimes, I wonder if anything has happened in these hours in the darkness of early morning…except that I have a litmus test.

ACTION. I don’t measure the success of my spiritual life on what happens in the lotus positioned silence. Rather, it is what happens when I stand up and greet the world. It is my action that is the litmus test.

Welcome to Action Advent. This Advent, I want to be sure that we are recognized as those who believe in the arrival of God into the world because they see something distinctive — not perfection, but intention. This Advent, for me, is about being deliberate and intentional. So, when you see this little icon, you will know that it’s my Action Advent at work.

action

Here we go…

Remember those Advent Calendars we all had as kids? The door pops open and out springs a single life saver with the countdown from Advent to Christmas. (okay, true confessions, I have one in my office)…

adv-calendar

This year, I am adapting an idea I first heard about on social media “The Reverse Advent Calendar” — instead of receiving something on each day of the Advent Journey, I am going to give something. Here is the original idea that someone sent to me

reverse-advent-calendar

Now, in my case, I have adapted it — consistent with my allergy to comply fully with the pre-set rules — I have my empty Advent calendar- basket and into it, I am placing something every day. By December 24, it will be a basket of Advent Action transformed into a Christmas Basket for someone else. Hopefully, someone that I don’t know. Here’s my rule: It has to be something that I care about and I would like to receive, and hopefully something that I can both do without and will miss a bit. It can be gently used, but it needs to be real.

I have a friend who is doing it with books, and another who is a photographer and is doing it by limiting himself to taking only one picture a day, and still another who is creating a basket of tools for home improvement to Habitat for Humanity. One of our teachers is creating an activity every day to share with a new teacher as a way to give them a real break over Christmas and a CEO of a large company who is creating a collection of what someone new in his line of business would need to start — suits, ties, briefcase, connections, and a daily piece of business wisdom for a newcomer. Reverse-Advent-Calendar-Advent-Action.

I have been thinking these days of the unsung heroes of the Bethlehem story — the shepherds who listened to the voice within and their families who didn’t tell them they were crazy — those who shared food along the way — the women whose names are never recorded who helped at the birth — the courage of an innkeeper to do the right thing — and all those who had nothing to gain by letting their lives be changed and giving away their time, their judgments and their certitudes about what the Savior would look like. I am okay being among them in my own infinitesimally small way —

And then…I am wondering if you are ready to do what needs to be done in the first week of Advent: roll the refrigerator cookies, get the suet pudding ready to sit for three weeks of “settling” (a polite word for fermentation) … and always the stable — devoid of habit-ants because the young family is en route.

Most of all, I will meet you in the morning as I light one candle and let God do what God does before the litmus test.

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