Keeping Christmas

Maddie, SkyeJune11,12 001In a world that seems not only to be changing, but even to be dissolving, there are some tens of millions of us who want Christmas to be the same…with the same old greeting “Merry Christmas” and no other.

We long for the abiding love among men of good will which the season brings…

believeing in this ancient miracle of Christmas with its softening, sweetening influences to tug at our heart strings once again. We want to hold on to the old customs and traditions because they strengthen our family ties,

bind us to our friends,

make us one with all mankind

for whom the Child was born, and bring us back again to the God Who gave His only begotten Son, that “whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

So we will not “spend” Christmas…

nor “observe’ Christmas.

We will “keep” Christmas – keep it as it is…

in all the loveliness of its ancient traditions.

May we keep it in our hearts,

that we may be kept in its hope.”

from a sermon by Peter Marshall  “Let’s Keep Christmas”

Light One Candle

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Last night we attended a Christmas concert at our 11 year old granddaughter’s school.  As one of the older children, she walked tall and proud to her seat to play her flute in a medley of Christmas music and we loved it.  Soon the stage was filled many smaller children who sang and jingled their bells.  One of their songs stuck in my head, and I have hummed it all day. A  a simple song, “Light One Candle” by Natalie Sleeth.
Light one candle for hope,
One bright candle for hope.
He brings hope to everyone.
He comes. He comes.
Verses 2, 3 and-4 replace hope with peace, joy, and love.
As we light the candles in our Advent wreaths and welcome His coming, may our song be the same. He comes. He comes.
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Let Christmas Unfold

008In our garden we plant host plants like Milkweed, fennel,dill and parsley  for butterflies. Once the larvae ravenously feed on these and undergo the change to chrysalis, nothing much seems to be happening until, metamorphosis complete, the limp wet wings begin to emerge and struggle to unfurl.  During this process if there is any attempt to help or rush the struggle, averting the necessary conditions for growth and transformation, the butterfly will not fly or live.

In many ways, Advent is a similar process of waiting and transformation. We may be tempted to rush the slow but steady journey but we need to take the time to live and lean into the meaning and experience of the coming of Christ.  It is not yet Christmas.  It is Advent, a time to anticipate the story and meaning.  In her book Simply Wait, Pamela Hawkins suggests that we take a walk through our home, room by room, and say a short blessing in each space.  “Take your time, imagine how you will live in this time and place over the next few weeks in ways that could help you not to hurry Christmas.”

What other ways help you be present to this Advent day and let Christmas unfold?

Unbroken Peace

 

 

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Two of our granddaughters have been with us this week.   Maddie and Jordann fill the house and our hearts with energy and laughter.  They love playing with their cousin Skye,  being in our garden, feeding the fish, gathering herbs, picking flowers, and tending plants.  Maddie helped me make pumpkin waffles. Jordann drew everyone’s picture.  We sang songs from The Sound of Music and then watched the movie.  They love to play board games with Joe and me.  They like to take out the Story Cube box and make up stories from the picture cubes.  But they didn’t even know what a powerful story they were telling when I took these photographs.  They asked to visit our church’s prayer garden, so we did.  In one corner of that garden is a bench and a sandy area that contains 12 smooth stones and a clay marker engraved with the word “Peace.”  When we arrived on this afternoon, one of the first things they saw and exclaimed about was that the marker was broken.

As I watched, Maddie put the pieces back together and smiled as she read “peace.” Then they began picking up the river stones and trying to dust the sand and gravel off, but decided to take them over to the small stream nearby and dip them in the flowing water. One at a time, the stones were washed and brought to put in a circle around the Peace marker.

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When all 12 stones were clean and in place, I asked them if they would like to use the stones to help them say what they are thankful for.  Without a moment’s hesitation, each girl walked the circle, saying, “I am thankful for…”  They named each other,  their Daddy and Mommy, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, their cat and dog and home, the trees and flowers.

Their story is fresh and new, because they are. But it is also an ancient story, one that speaks of acknowledging brokenness, restoration, transformation, and redemption.  And that this prompts deep gratitude.

I am thankful for unbroken peace.   And Maddie and Jordann.

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Prayer

Grace

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life

~ attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

Sitting in the Garden

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“Sitting in your garden is a feat to be worked at with unflagging determination and single-mindedness – for what gardener worth his salt sits down. I am deeply committed to sitting in the garden.”       – Mirabel Osler

Sitting still is necessary for so many things: I listen better when I sit still.  I hear things unheard when I am crunching on the gravel or digging or clipping.  The butterflies and hummingbirds come closer when I am still.  The cardinal pair lingers longer on the fence.  Appreciation and savoring of beauty may run after me when I am on the move but they settle around my shoulders like a soft cover when I sit still.  And in the stillness I begin to settle – the cloudy debris of things which can fret and hurt begin to drift to the bottom, leaving pure, clear knowing.  Holy moments can happen when I sit in my garden.

Blessing of Light

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They can be like a sun, words.

They can do for the heart

what light can for a field.

-St. John of the Cross, Love Poems from God (trans. Daniel Ladinsky)

This weather worn garden sign is propped on the fence behind my cucumber vines.  When I gathered my small harvest, I thought of these words.  The blessing of light, along with soil and moisture produced something good and nourishing.  The word Peace reminds me that my words have that potential when I use them to bless and encourage.

Sadly, the opposite can also be true.  Words spoken in haste or frustration may damage growth and wither relationship. I can choose to speak light and blessing.  I pray to speak Peace.

Peace

Pewter skies and gentle rains yesterday gathered into thunder clouds and stormy weather today, so I stay inside, grateful for the morning last week when I took my camera into the morning light to receive the gifts of beauty offered by this climbing Noisette rose, whose name is Crepuscule. I don’t think the name is a lovely one, sounding harsh to my ears, but the word means twilight, that time of day just after sunset, and the flowers hold the memory of sunset in its unfurling petals. The loosely double blooms open nearly orange, fading to a rich apricot, peach, and yellow. The sprawling canes have light green leaves with rosy new growth. This rose has few thorns so reaches for me only with fragrance when I brush past it as I walk through the arbor, bringing me the “peace of wild things.”

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THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~ Wendell Berry

Smooth Stones

I keep a small basket of smooth stones, each marked with a word,  on the back porch which I use like prayer beads. Somehow, as I lift a stone and place it beside me with a prayer for each thing the word I have written there represents, I am able to focus more sharply and receive these gifts.  I keep the same list by the coffee pot in the kitchen and can cover it with the palm of my hand in my petition.  Laying the stones down is a random process, so I am drawn to the pattern on this particular day when I look at all of them together.   I begin with seeking Light and the progression leads me to the most important request, “Thyself.”  I realize that if I could have only one request it must be that, for it is in the presence of God I find the all the rest.

The poetry of John O Donahue helps me imagine he might have had a basket of stones, too.

May I live this day

Compassionate of heart,

Clear in word,

Gracious in awareness,

Courageous in thought,

Generous in LOVE.

– John O’Donohue