When I was a little girl, I thought Christmas should always be on a Sunday. It seemed right to go to church for Christmas, to sing carols, to hear “Merry Christmas” from friends who gathered there. For the last 25 years, we have loved being in a church that celebrates Advent and also always has a Christmas eve communion and candle service. Any day of the week Christmas comes, the gift of Christ’s coming burns in my heart beyond all the gathering and cooking and gifting. This year the calendar said Christmas Eve on Sunday, timing I loved. Today is the 26th. It is quiet. I see some Christmas trees already out for trash and some are already removing lights and decorations.
I will keep Christmas. Decorations and lights will stay for awhile, but I will keep Christmas. The spark that is lit with the candles and carols must light something within me that stays. It will never be something I can clear away and put in a box. So like Mary, I treasure the gift and mystery of Christ’s coming – my Christmas ponders.
But Mary treasured up all these words and pondered them in her heart” Luke 2:19
First Baptist Church, Richmond, TX December 8, 2017
A few days ago, a rare (for this area) snowfall briefly covered our homes, our gardens, and our church. Young and old rushed to the windows to watch as flakes began to drift down. Later, the rushing was to go outside, to lift faces and palms to the wonder. I often think just when I need the sense of wonder quickened, a gift like this comes to do just that. Wonder at snowfall or the tiniest dewdrop glistening on a rose petal is a nudge to be open, to remain open-eyed, to be receptive to the fullness and expectancy of Advent.
Wonder is the only adequate launching pad for exploring this fullness, this wholeness, of human life. Once a year, each Christmas, for a few days at least, we and millions of our neighbors turn aside from our preoccupations with life reduced to biology or economics or psychology and join together in a community of wonder.The wonder keeps us open-eyed and exceeds our calculations, that is always beyond anything we can make. ~ Eugene Peterson
November has been a month of spectacular sunsets. This one was changing so quickly that my husband pulled into a pharmacy parking lot for us to capture part of it before it began to fade. I will always remember this sunset, given on November 6, 2017 – a day that an armed gunman walked into a small church during a worship service in Sutherland Springs, TX – a small town less than 2 hours from our home and killed 26 people, including children, a pregnant mother and the baby she carried. The tiny congregation is decimated and the building itself will be demolished. I heard the awful news after we left our own beloved house of worship that Sunday morning. I was filled with grief at the time I saw this sunset. It seemed to me a needed reminder that God is still present even in the presence of evil.
A week later a memorial service was held by the church’s pastor, who lost his own teenage daughter in the massacre. I wept when I heard that volunteers had gone into the riddled church building, cleared and cleaned the space, covering bullet holes and painting the whole space white. Twenty-six white chairs, each containing a rose, were set into the space, which people could visit during the day. Now the building will be entirely removed, replaced by a memorial prayer garden. As my own family gathered for Thanksgiving, and this week as we pulled out old familiar ornaments to decorate our Christmas tree, I am reminded of those families who will have empty places at the table and who will not have family members there for celebrating this Advent and Christmas. There may be some who, like me, begin to shop early and already have gifts for a child or parent who won’t receive them.
I would rather have simply written a poem about the beauty of a November sunset. Instead, I offer my remembering and my prayers in this season of gratitude and beginning again of Advent expectancy. Lament has always been a part of its story.
Recently I found this large bald cypress bathed in morning sunlight. Every ferny leaf seemed to glow. I wanted to capture that luminous image before the light changed. It is a birthday week for me so I have spent time considering what I have learned in these 77 years and ways I want to spend the time ahead.
I am grateful for light and the ways it touches and changes. I thank God each morning for the new light another day brings. I am grateful for being able to see this, grateful for grace to know that as light changes, new ways of finding and seeing it will remain.
“Defend me against the chances and changes of this life, not that I may escape them but that I may meet them with firm resolve; not that I may be saved from them but that I may come unscathed through them.
Defend me from discouragement in difficulty and from despair in failure, from pride in success, and from forgetting you in the day of prosperity.
Help me to remember that there is no time when you will fail me and no moment when I do not need you.
Grant me this desire: that guided by your light and defended by your grace, I may come in safety and bring honor to my journey’s end…” ~ Norman Shawchuck
hangs a star on my fence,
speaking grace into dark night
Feather on the Breath of God
pay attention, be astonished writes Mary Oliver.
be still and know says a Psalm poem
what will surprise me today?
am I ready to receive that gift?
I did not take this photograph; I do not know where it was taken. It found me. I kept returning to it to think of its story. How many hymns were sung by the faithful in this country chapel? How many wedding vows repeated as families began? How does the color of the glass glow when lit from inside at twilight?
I am grateful for those stories, the message of endurance told by weathered wood and stained glass.
in shade under pine trees
stepping slowly through pine needles
careful in this dark corner
I laughed to find
one bright spot
Grandma called them Old Maids.
Grown by her back porch,
coming inside to bunch in a Mason jar
or dry for next year’s seeds.
She let me pick the ones I wanted.
I loved them because they were pretty.
In our back yard is a row of tiny ones,
smaller than Grandma’s Old Maids,
more color in our flowers than our leaves
in South Texas Autumn.
Nora picks this one for me.
She loves it because it is pretty
here Fall brings no leaf peeper
for leaves with scarlet and amber
but there is change in the way light brushes leaves
the slightest shift in angle, a beckoning gentleness
my heart is dappled with the touch of autumn light