Wednesday, December 29, 2010

If You'll Only Go To Sleep

I've had a blog post all written in my mind lately, but tonight this is all that I can think:

IF YOU'LL ONLY GO TO SLEEP


The crimson rose
plucked yesterday,
the fire and cinnamon
of the carnation,

the bread I baked
with anise seed and honey,
and the goldfish
flaming in its bowl.

All these are yours,
baby born of woman,
if you'll only
go to sleep.

A rose!  I say!
And a carnation!
Fruit!  I say!
And honey!

And a sequined goldfish,
and still more I'll give you
if you'll only sleep
till morning.

-Gabriela Mistral


I guess we are all having a difficult time transitioning after such a nice Christmas.  Hopefully I'll have time to write about it before, say, next Christmas . . . sweet dreams to you and a hopeful goodnight!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

 This year our church put together a series of devotionals for Advent, and everyone was invited to contribute. This was my reflection on Christmas:
 We do not understand mercy.  

We live in this world, this realm of logic and reason; highways and alarm clocks and Wal-Mart, among straight lines and taxes and two plus two always equals four, and so we cannot help but fit our religion into a belief that is reasonable as well.  We begin to think that we know what we know, and when we do stop to taste the peach or to bounce a baby, when we dare to look up and marvel that the sky is pink and wonder at the lump that forms in our throat, we must choose to either shake off that sense of longing, or humbly give thanks for a mercy that comes to us in our mess, but that we cannot begin to understand.

Christmas disrupts all of our assumptions about God.  It is the Great Surprise, for who would dare to believe in a mercy this tender- a helpless newborn?  Or so accessible- a stable?  Who would be brave enough to suggest that God became a baby?  Our logic falls short, we cannot understand it, we can hardly believe it.  We use words that attempt to sum up our surprise:  Incarnation.  Trinity.  Word made flesh.  But it all comes down to a mercy so infinitely powerful that it was freely given up to become infinitely small, a fertilized egg.  How can this be?  

It seems so appropriate that the story be given each year to children to enact.  For aren’t we secretly looking to them for insight, asking them to teach us something about these things which we have grown too old to understand?   Children whose belief has not yet been dulled by reason or logic, who gladly accept mercy and affection they have not earned, whose imagination exults in the impossible.   It is only the young or young at heart foolish enough to follow stars or listen to angels, and they are those worthy to lead us to Bethlehem.  

 
Christmas points me to children for wisdom and shames my attempts at earning God’s approval.  It reminds me to leave room in my small understanding for God to surprise me.  I do not understand the incarnation, but like a child, I can rejoice in it.

Each year Christmas, and all that goes along with it- the lights, the gifts, the pageant- tell me again about a mercy so gentle that it cries, and so huge that it lights up the sky.  

Too good to be true, but true.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Cor.9:15)

 Jesus intervened: "Let the children alone, don't prevent them from coming to me. God's kingdom is made up of people like these." (Matt.9:15, the Message)
 
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas celebrating the mystery of the Incarnation- God With Us! 
Peace and Love,
Jess

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stopping by on a Snowy Evening

 Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

by Robert Frost 

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep

I have always loved the imagery of this poem.  It is one we were required to memorize it in school, and ever since just the thought of the Winter Solstice brings this poem to mind along with the urge to find myself in a still, quiet woods watching the snow fall.

 On this darkest evening of the year I am feeling a little this way- a quiet observer, watching. . . listening, and holding out my hands to the soft glitter falling through the air . . .

Eleven days (but who's counting?) and the computer is still in the shop and I have been trying to see this as an opportunity for silence, away from the usual distractions; trying to be still and quiet, even as life keeps moving.

Silence, you know, it's funny.

Not that I am ever really silent, of course.  Even the horse is shaking those harness bells and there is that restless, nervous part of me that avoids silence, thinks there must be some mistake . . .

until slowly, slowly, I choose to become comfortable with quiet ...

the sweep of wind, downy flake . . . I notice . . . and listen and as quietly as snow falling and just as mysterious and just as beautiful and yes, even as certain . . . there is a still small voice . . .

and I hear and I am heard and why do I choose clattering noise over this beauty and mercy falling from the sky?  And prayer settles over me, into me, and it is as simple as breathing, just as basic.  Now things begin to become clear- the path ahead, the miles to go . . . those promises I have made ringing across time.

I am grateful for this period of silence, coinciding with the longest nights of the year- these lovely, dark, deep days- when it seems so appropriate- necessary, even, to be still, and quiet, listening. 

Tonight is the longest night of the year, and in this darkest night we give thanks, for a shaft of sunlight pierces the darkness, and tomorrow we begin our journey to spring.

Hope to be back to blogging soon . . . .

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas gifts? Guilty.

I have a confession to make:  I really like Christmas presents.  Especially giving presents.

More than the presents, I love the surprise.  The secret lists.  The hiding and wrapping and anticipation.  I love thinking about the perfect gift for everyone on my list.  I usually try to add an element of the unexpected- just the perfect thing that they never knew they wanted.


This isn't everybody's approach to gift buying, but I do it anyway.

I really dislike the kind of gift-giving that is based on somebody's list of what they want.  I tend to think, why don't I just give you ten bucks and you can pick out the socks you'd like?  

Or, gift cards.  What is the point?

If I give you a ten dollar gift card and you give me a ten dollar gift card, doesn't that neutralize each other's gift?  And what will I do with the leftover 78 cents on the card?


But then, something feels not right about walking into a store and mindlessly searching for "something" just because you are obligated to buy a person some kind of gift.  I don't like giving gifts this way, either.

I really love gift-giving, but every year I feel like it ends up falling into one of these three forms of giving, and then a lot of the fun is taken out of the giving.

But I am not ready to give up on giving gifts entirely, either.

It is becoming increasingly popular to stop giving gifts completely, and I respect people who choose this, I really do.  But I don't see myself giving up on gifts, at least not now.  Maybe someday we will feel that we need to stop, but for now I am holding firmly to tradition.

I think I have some good reasons . . .

Gift giving is a good thing.  It is a good practice to think about what a person might like, to put energy into purchasing it, to show love in a tangible way.  

For some of us, it is our love language- the giving and receiving.  And I think that anyone who's love language is gifts will tell you (I hope?) that the size or price of the gift is irrelevant- it's the thinking, the choosing, the surprise- we love.  I could care less about jewelry.  And spending too much makes my stomach hurt.  The very best gifts may have cost nearly nothing.

And of course we give gifts because God is a giver of gifts, most importantly, His Son. 

At Christmas I think about the many gifts God gave me throughout the year . . . money miraculously saved, the gift of laughter when I needed it most, relationships . . . and some gifts too personal to write about . . . this is one of the ways that I experience God, through these intimate details of his blessings.

Which is why it seems to me that even if you don't give gifts at Christmas, maybe it would be good to find another time of year when you thoughtfully give gifts to people you love.

And yes, Christmas is a time for generosity, for blessing those less fortunate.  Yes, yes, yes.  By all means, keep this priority first at Christmas . . .

And . . . all year long.

I would say that we don't go overboard on gifts at Christmas . .. but it's all relative, isn't it?

This year I had an idea that has made our family's gift exchange a lot of fun.  At least, I think it is . . 

We're calling it our Favorite Things Christmas.  (Yes, in the spirit of Oprah)

We set a $20 limit for the exchange, and each person is buying THEIR favorite thing . . . their favorite coffee, favorite kitchen gadget, favorite book or cd . . . etc.  

This way, we are giving not only a gift, but a passion . .. something that we care about and have some expertise in . . . (I wrote last year about the gift of music my brothers gave my kids).

And, we are each getting to know a little more about each other, as well.

Of course we'll turn it into a game a steal each other's gifts.  And the jokes have already begun about what each other's favorite thing might be . ..


but at least it won't be sweater vests.

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace!
John1:16


Oh, and my gift to you: this must-read post by Misha. You're welcome.

And for Shane Claiborne this is a "Season for mischief and conspiracy . . ."
A suburban congregation wanted to do something for families in our inner city neighborhood. We were all tired of distant acts of charity that do little to address the roots of poverty in a neighborhood like mine where we have a couple hundred thousand jobs in the last 30 years. We were all suspicious of do-gooder volunteerism that can so easily give a handout while pick-pocketing people of their dignity. And yet we were also convinced that inequity breaks God's heart and should break ours, and that we have the power to do something about it. There must be a way to be more creative with giving money away than the corporations
are with getting all of it.

We prayed for imagination.
. . . read about his new take on Christmas charity at the Huffington Post.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"the holy longing"

The longing is good.

This thought comes to mind this morning as I am struggling, and failing once again, to pray.

The habit of daily, focused time with the Lord in prayer and Bible reading is continually evading me in this season of mothering, and it is a discipline that I long for.  Try as I may, time alone in this season is rarely found . . . I'll spare you the play by play.

This morning, though up excrutiatingly early with the baby my hopes for a few quiet moments were fading as the day grew later and I was still on call- kissing heads, answering questions, serving breakfast; frustrated that another day was begun and I'm not ready, I've not had the time to center myself and the day's activities, to place it all at Jesus' feet.

I was feeding the baby her breakfast.  A candle burned on the table.  Behind it, outside the window the first heavy snow was falling.  O Come O Come Emanuel playing on Pandora.   And there is calm, and rest, and one brief moment of worship.

And it occurrs to me that this is Advent- the longing, the waiting, the trying and failing- in the midst of it, Christ comes.

I find myself always waiting for the calm until I can feel ready to receive Christ- when the house is in order and the kids are asleep and I am reverent and worthy- then, maybe, I will find Him . .. but I am never worthy and life is rarely calm.  I find him in the emptiness and mess, the restlessness that says all is not well.  I hope.  Into my mess, Christ comes.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!

This is beautiful: The Habit of Advent, What habits do you have that generate hope?

IN WILLIAM BLAKE’S poem "Jerusalem," he wrote: "I give you the end of a gold string./Only wind it into a ball,/It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate/built in Jerusalem’s wall." 

The followers of The Way in the first century wove together a "gold string" that reached back to the creation of light in the Genesis story and forward to this very Advent. There is a golden thread that sews us together as students of Jesus. Paul calls this thread the "grace of apostleship." It is passed, hand to hand, from one generation to the next. Like kindergartners on a field trip through the big world, we are given a rope and told to hold on. We know that the rope reaches all the way back to the teacher, the anchor, the shepherd. 

Advent is a time to marvel at the golden thread and to make sure that we have not become separated from it. If, by chance, you have become separated from it, do not be afraid. Jesus extends the end of the string to you again. What glistens in your life? What sweetens your days? Your answer is the beginning of the thread. "Only wind it into a ball," my friend, and "it will lead you in at Heaven’s gate."