Eight Days of Advent: The Shepherd

The Shepherd

It's just what I do.
I travel
Alone, perhaps 
more connected than those 
who never leave home

It's just what I do.
Some people call it a job
I call it my life
Keeping track of
the heart of the matter
and where the matters
of my heart are wandering

It's just what I do.
looking out for the ones given to me
and caring where they are
because they listen for the sound of my voice -
they follow by smell and sound.
I keep watch
over the labyrinth of life

It's just what I do.
the twists and the turns
what's around the next bend
and remembering the way home.
Is it following or leading?
Is it giving or receiving?
Is it my meaning or theirs?
I keep watch
over the labyrinth of hope

It's just what I do.
no compass
no GPS
no cell tower
no commercials
"Can you hear me now?"
"I can hear You now"
I follow the whispers of 
the intellect sheltered in instinct
I hear the heartbeat 
of the Earth
I follow the invitation 
that you only hear
in the silence of 
I keep watch
over the labyrinth of love.

And there,
if you listen...
You will hear what I hear...
the gut that tells 
you which turn to make
the faith that overtakes
the fear
the hope that dispels
the front page despair
the trust to take them
where they do not want 
to go...
they arrive
to exactly where they have 
been longing to be --
what they have been searching for.
I keep watch.

There is room for you
on this labyrinth
of love.

I am the shepherd

Nine Days of Advent: The Donkey

Advent is neither past nor present; Advent is now
Advent is the experience of being here now, 
ready to be open to what is --
not trying to rearrange the facts of now 
to fit our expectation of what should be.

In these last days of Advent, 
I invite you to join me in the midst of an empty stable
and to use nine symbols (one for each day) 
in the spirit of the traditional Novena--
a series of prayers traditionally done for nine days.

In the nine days ahead, 
we will step inside the empty stable of the heart 
and fill it with the gifts given to us in this year -- 
this time --
 this Advent of now.
Let us receive the gifts of love given to us in REAL time:
the donkey, the shepherd, the sheep, the empty manger, 
Mary, the lamb, Joseph, the oxen, the star...

Let the journey begin

The Donkey

You don't think I look like much

Maybe you have run into me
I'm just the ordinary one
You honked at me when you were on vacation
in the Black Hills of South Dakota
and you would never have seen the
bottom of the Grand Canyon without me
But you never even looked at me

I'm just the ordinary one
Not the mystic camel
or the learned oxen
I am not the one who leads the pack
I am the worker
The one who carries the load
and does the job
and is nondescript and invisible
I'm just the ordinary one.

But I am the one chosen
to carry the load
to bear the hope
to steady the fear
to hold the promise
to take a step forward
from where we are
on the road to
where we need to be.

Not the strong-minded thoroughbred
or the cart carrying oxen
I am the one chosen
to take the next right step
to remain undaunted in the face of ambiguity
to carry the hope
through rugged terrain and lonely territory
to be chosen
to carry the load and walk beside.

I have room for you
I will carry
what you cannot hold
I will take you
to the stable
where the new life
waits for you.

I am the donkey.

Third Sunday of Advent: Joy

Third Sunday of Advent -- Around our Wreath
Light one candle for Hope
Hope for those who gather with us
Hope for those without hope
Hope for those alone
Hope for those who battle illness 
of body, mind or spirit
Hope for ourselves that our faith 
might be greater than our fear
Light one candle for Peace
Peace in our hearts
Peace in our homes
Peace in our cities
Peace in our church
Peace in our world
Light one candle for Joy
Joy-hearts open to receive
Joy-hands ready to share 
Joy-bearers ready to be the stained glass
window through whom the Grace-light shines
Joy-holders that we might see the darkness
in another and hold the candle towards the light
Joy-watchers as we await
"God With Us"
Let us wait
for our candle of Love
In this week of Joy
Let us light a candle
for peace
and be the peace
in the lives of others
Let us light a candle
for hope
and bear the hope
in a world yearning
Let us light a candle
for joy
that we might bring
in the 
gifts received..
Good Humor
in the 
gifts given...
Waste Time
Be Real
Bless us, O Lord
and these Thy Advent gifts
which we are about to receive
Amen.  So Be It!

Advent Hands

Every Advent, I seem to make a pilgrimage through and to the “testaments” — both written and sung that have spoken to me in other times of Advent change.  Those past Advents of being ready for the birth of what is yet to come into the present annual trek through the landscape of malls and miles to the Bethlehem of this moment in time.

In her book, Altar to the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, suggests a way of being present to our lives and aware of the journey that opens my Advent heart to a way of both remembering and releasing — holding the hand of the untraveled hand of birth and the hands of knowing that comes with sitting among the well traveled journey of life.  I invite you to join me in what leads my Advent travels today…

It’s really simple.  An Advent practice — just for today.  With tales to tell and hope to hold.

Using a simple marker and a blank sheet of paper, trace around the outside of your hand.  Now, look at the hand that you traced around and fill in the details — the places that life’s journey has left it’s mark.  Be sure to capture each of the knuckles, the nails, the cuticles and lines of wear.  For the hands of time, record the lines that experience has left, the new arrivals of spots of light and dark, and the appearance of the veins that were once taken for granted in their invisibility.

Remember where your hands have taken you — those they have fed, clothed, served, the messages typed and the experiences that have clenched the fists.  Make the image real — notice the hands that now hold Advent — for they, like the prophetess Anna and Simeon (Luke 21), have been shaped by what they have held and what they hold on to.  

Don’t forget the crevices between the thumb and index finger where legend suggests hope is held in the hollow between the thumb that holds the balance of the hand and the finger that points the way.  Giving some meaning, it has been said, to the journey between going forward and holding back — the balance between the push and pull in the tension of both giving and receiving.  Here, we hold the hope of life in open hands — ready to let go and ready to receive.

Hands of marriage and of birth.  Hands of loss and grief.  Hands that have held and hands that have let go.  Hands that have worked the land and those that have remained idle.  Hands that dare to rise up in anger and also applaud the magnificent performance that opens the heart and stirs the imagination.  Hands that have known light and those that have known the depths of the dark.  Hands that begin with tiny lines of birth and end with hands of letting go.  For these, are the hands of Advent.

For these are Advent hands -- the hands of our lives
The ones that have held us and the ones that wait for us

These are Advent hands -- the hands of our lives
The ones that we open to care for another and the ones we close off in fear

These are the Advent hands -- the hands of our lives
The ones that help us to remember that we each need an innkeeper
to open the door and invite us in

These are Advent hands-- the hands of our lives
The ones that invite us to be that innkeeper
who opens the door and invites

These are Advent hands-- the hands of our lives
The ones that invite the wrinkles and hold the hope
the keepers of the flame of love

Today, we give thanks for the Advent
hands that have held us
and the invitation to 
hold Emmanuel 
"God With Us"
in our hands
our hearts
our lives

Second Week of Advent: The Wreath

The wreath was built with evergreens – chosen for their hearty appearance and remembrance of the life that had been and the life that was shared.  Without end and without beginning, each branch was selected and placed upon the great wreath that would be hung from choir loft on the Third Sunday of Advent until Christmas.  This was the week of wreath-making

We trudged through the woods to find the specimens for the wreath.  I had packed my impatience and judgments of habits that reeked of a time gone by – a futile retro style that didn’t fit with new technology and new innovations.  And yet, there was something both invitational and commanding in her voice, announcing we would be doing the branch collection for the wreath.

Into the woods we walked, I followed this small bent-over commandant of love in her blue habit, with a small beeper in a tiny beeper-holder that was held in a pouch and a diagonal sling –the beeper that I reminded her would be ineffective when we left the building and headed for the frozen tundra.  “Be still, so I can listen to the branches” she invoked, and I followed both her example and her footsteps, diligently carrying the over-sized burlap bag that would be the branch-holder of the Advent unto Christmas chapel wreath.

“No two branches are the same” she taught me, with an eye for my softening heart and the tender side exposed and ready for educating.  “If you listen, you will hear the trees talking, and here you will find the One who makes the wind” she continued in Italian-laden English that both lilted with excitement and was just above a whisper.

Through the woods, we listened to the trees calling as she selected the branches from three different kinds of evergreen and the holly bush – each one chosen with intentional precision and a short prayer of gratitude before pruning the branch from its host.  It was as if the branch had been called for some magnificent work and was eager to respond.

I would learn there were four things needed to make the Christmas wreath – and without each, it would be incomplete.  Now, entranced, I held the burlap bag and seemed to befriend each branch and welcomed her to our circle of love.

  • The soft pine branches stood for compassion, opening your hands generously to the person you meet today whose need surpasses your own. 
  • The hard greens for  courage needed to be the integrity in a world of incongruity and inconsistency.
  • The small snips of holly for conscience, with the sharp edges reminiscent of the exacting nature of the need to be who you are – authentic, translucent and ready to make your actions match your words.
  • Tied together with the ribbon of confidence that all shall be well, refusing to succumb to fear, despair or the accumulated inadequacy that blocks right action.

Rescued from the cold in her workbench at the north end of the boiler house, the wreath was constructed with the gifts that would be needed by those who came into the chapel: compassion, courage, conscience and confidence – all held together by the child of love.

It’s never looked like just a wreath to me since our annual trek through the Advent woods – the Advent wreath — of compassion, of courage, of conscience with confidence.

may we be a bit more compassionate 
towards those whose need is greater than ours

                       Find more courage to make the “next right choice’
Choose to let conscience be the cutting edge of experience
And walk with confidence in the labyrinth of life
For we are held by the wreath of love

Keep your eyes open for the "WREATH"
made with love
for you

A visit to the Monastery for Advent

I'm stopping here
on this bench
and I'm going to see if I see you

I'm going to refuse the anonymity
of being lost in the sea of my own agenda
I'm going to sit right here and look
and wait 
because you must be hiding in this monastery
where I keep being called

Wise Ones -- you must be here somewhere with
packages headed for your manger

Shepherds, if I sit here, I bet I will see you
with your sheep following the sound of your voice --
not finding the way by looking, but listening

I hear music, is it the drummer boy?
You must be here in the midst of this 
my Advent monastery...
is that your music I hear?

There are calls to be followed
places to be sent
arrivals that accentuate the needs
in the monastery of patience

For here in this place
there is waiting without control over time
For here in this place
I sit on this bench and wait 
amidst the other seekers

For here in this place
I practice patience
I practice peace
I practice presence

Here, I sit in my Advent monastery
this is where I'm called
to let Advent shape me

the Advent monastery

of the airport

I'm just going to sit on this bench
and watch -- be present
listen to the calls --
 look beyond my judgments of who you are
dissuade my annoyance 
with delay after uncontrollable delay
practice patience with the inconsiderate compatriot 
using three chairs for luggage
stop judging the injustice of zone 6 cattle call
try to love the allure of free baggage 
while practicing peace 
in a gate change migration

is where I am called
in my Advent monastery
of the real

this is Advent
in the middle of things

Second Sunday of Advent-Wreath

Second Sunday of Advent -- Around our Wreath

Light one candle for Hope
Hope for those who gather with us
Hope for those without hope
Hope for those alone
Hope for those who battle illness 
of body, mind or spirit
Hope for ourselves that our faith 
might be greater than our fear

Light one candle for Peace
Peace in our hearts
Peace in our homes
Peace in our cities
Peace in our church
Peace in our world

Let us wait
for our candle of Joy
for our candle of Love

In this week of Peace
Let us be present
to ourselves --
 that we might know the truth of our hearts

Let us be present
to one another -- 
that we can hear with the eyes of the heart

Let us be present
to those in need -- 
that we open our hands to be God's heart

Let us be present
to the world -- 
that we might make peace in our presence

Let us be present
to the whisper of God --
 that we might make space 
in the manger of our hearts

to know truth
to hear with the heart
to open our hands
to make peace
to be.

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

Amen.  So Be It!

Recipe for the Advent Path

Recipe for the Advent Path

a cup of faith in what you feel but cannot see
two heaping teaspoons of spontaneity to redirect your attention
a big chunk of ingenuity to make change nimbly
two cups of kindness blended with compassion
five tablespoons of melted expectations
a dash of joy
one pound of time blended evenly between the inside and the outside
ingredients should be sifted with space to avoid old results that don't work
season lightly with salt of the earth and peppered with patience

Assembly Instructions:
Blend together, with care to fold each ingredient into the base of faith.

Place mixture into the heart

Bake with Grace for best results

Be careful or you will find that your old habits have been destroyed,
your thinking is less concerned with yourself than others
and your expectations for this season have less to do with
presents and more to do with presence.

Expect the unexpected. Yield to the season of miracles
The Advent path will take you where you need to go,
not necessarily where you have been.

Not to worry, there is a star waiting, if you have the time to look,
wait, follow, discover.

Happy First Friday of Advent.

Feast of St. Nicholas: Justice for All

There are those who come into our lives and stretch us by example.  In their presence, we do things that we can’t imagine we ever would.

I experienced this in my early years in Detroit, as my colleague and friend,  Kathy Church, invited (something more like implored) me to join her in the After School Learning Center in Pontiac.  “Just come and help a few kids to do their homework”, she encouraged with her characteristic joy and confidence.  Begrudgingly, I fit it into an already packed teaching schedule.

It was transformative.  Together with students, colleagues, friends and women of the neighborhood, it changed my way of understanding my mission as a Sacred Heart educator:  building bridges of relationship between people of difference in pursuit of equal access to education.  It wasn’t about giving — it was about receiving.  I was the lucky one.  I was the one whose life was changed and whose heart was opened.  All because someone did what St. Nicholas did…gave from the heart and inspired others to do it with him.

The Feast of St. Nicholas is the contagious presence of another who invites us to be Nicholas-Gnomes — those who guard the treasure of inspiring us to give from the heart because it’s all that matters.  Those people in our lives who both inspire us and walk beside us as we open our hearts, make the time, share what we have been storing away, forgive the hurt, reconcile the past, bake cookies for the cranky neighbor, refuse the rage, put on the apron at the soup kitchen and cut the vegetables.

Giving together is contagious and makes the Spirit of this historical man present in the same way that Jesus was on the Road to Emmaus  (Luke 24).  Thereour hearts are opened to what matters — and we are broken open by our desire to do as Nicholas did — to generously know the deepest need of another and to invisibly respond — a contagion of goodness which is “caught, not taught” in the unbreakable cycle of God’s  action.  Such is the Feast we celebrate today

I recall my greatest Nicholas-Gnome teaching moment, just after my father had died, when my two nieces who had cared for my parents for more than a decade were being applauded by a family friend for their generous service.  One of them (on behalf of both), without missing a moment, retorted with clarity and definitive proclamation, “No applause.  this is just what we do.”  It was one my most profound spiritual teachings about what generous love looks like. That’s what the Feast of St. Nicholas is about — invisible and contagious goodness in the face of a time when we believe that only violence and evil permeates.

So, today, let’s celebrate Nicholas — let’s be those goodness Gnomes of Nick who  generously and invisibly respond to what comes our way.  Perhaps not the lofty visions and actions worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize, but the things that change lives — at least that have changed mine.

Thank you Gnomes of Nick — those of you who have taught me how to break open my heart, stop counting the cost or the time, refusing to give way to cynicism and criticism of effectiveness — who have taught me to be like St. Nick — to make “justice for all” the way of miracles made by people like us.

Happy Feast!

First Week of Advent: To WREST in the dark, unto rest

To WREST — the battle in the middle of the night — when meaning is the match that hits the flint of our darkest fears, greatest regrets and biggest sufferings.  That still small voice in the middle of the night that flips me from one side to the next, both internally and externally and I feel piercingly alone with the unrelenting force.

To WREST:  ” to pull, force or move by violent wringing or twisting” (Merriam-Webster)— which feels like a magnetic field that carries me backwards and towards a dark hole in isolation.  Jacob was there — in the hold of the angel of WREST — and it left him with a limp (Genesis 32) — one is never the same when it’s the heart of our lives that is at stake.  Pharaoh found himself in a similar situation, plagued in the middle of the night with a WREST that kept him awake and plagued by fear, doubt, and truth and summoned the young Joseph to unravel the mess of his life(Genesis 25) — and then there was another Joseph who found himself held in the grip of WREST as he knew a truth which made no sense and which would undoubtedly change his life, but without diving into the center of the dark, left alone to WREST with truth, there would be no other rest.

I know that feeling.  The rest that won’t come, irregardless of the number of hours of sleep recorded by my tracking device.  It misses the point.  There is an obstacle that won’t rest until we wrest.

It’s easy to see the glamour of the season — the Hallmark channel version of life, where every obstacle has meaning and the story ultimately ends with a tissue box of joy.  But, it’s not God’s message — it’s ours.  To believe — To Advent, is to WREST — to dive into the truth like Joseph did, and Mary, and the Innkeeper, and the wise-ones — they were people who dove into the darkness, grappled with truth and only then could rest.  The connection is unmistakable.

In the face of persecution, hunger, displacement, unjust actions by those in authority, misunderstanding, judgement and fear — they couldn’t escape the need to WREST with the real. And, neither can we.  Ultimately, no amount of digital distraction keeps us numb long enough to escape the work of Advent — to WREST.

There are few things of which I am certain, but I know for sure that when we face “it” (whatever the definition) and WREST –– in the middle of the mess, the chaos, the fear, and the questions…there, like Jacob, we see God face to face — and then, we rest.  This is the journey of Advent.  To inhale the Grace to Wrest and then to Rest.

So, in the midst of the Silent Night, Holy Night — let us Wrest with confidence that we are not alone as we might think, but are instead being led into the Advent light — for the star appears in the dark — and there, we find rest.

Let us WREST with what really matters
To follow the pathway before us
Letting go of the fear, long enough to listen
Trusting that to move through the darkness,
There is light
There is rest.

With you on the journey.