Reflecting the Light

18 Dec
via Flickr user Amanda Slater

via Flickr user Amanda Slater

We are waiting for our Savior. We are waiting for the light.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. –John 1:6-8

Our world needs a little light right now, and it is easy to make the mistake of feeling like we have to produce that light. We look out to see poverty, Ebola, torture, Ferguson, and Gaza, and get overwhelmed and burned out trying to create light. But we can fire ourselves from that unachievable job. God is the light, God can bring light out of darkness. We don’t need to create the light, but we do need to recognize it and multiply it by reflecting it out into the world, into the dark corners of our hearts and our lives.

We are not the light, but are called to bear witness to the light. So this Advent I’m asking myself, “How, in the quiet waiting of Advent, can I prepare myself to reflect the light?” What does active waiting look like?

My newborn is especially attracted to light right now. He stares at the contrast of window blinds and stares contentedly toward any light that is on. He himself emits light through his innocent goodness. I get lost in the deep well of beautiful light coming from his eyes. I watch him be a witness to the light and reflect that light effortlessly every day. How can I do the same light reflection and sharing as naturally as he does?

This year my spouse and I bought a solar lamp, which is supposed to help combat seasonal depression in the dark, dreary winter season. I sit in front of the light box for about 30 minutes every morning while I sip coffee and start my work. I love my light therapy. I look forward to getting out of bed, knowing that coffee and light await me. This Advent, I have taken that time in the morning to pray in front of the light and intentionally feel my body soaking in the rays. I imagine the light welling up inside of me so that I can glow for the rest of the day and share that light with others. When the time is up and I switch the light off, I feel energized and at peace. I’m warm, open, and looking for light in the rest of my day. It is a small spiritual exercise, but it is making a change in my heart.

For me, I’m taking the charge to bear witness to the light this Advent quite literally. I seek out light daily in hopes of being more warm, open and ready to receive and reflect that light that is Christ. How are you preparing to bear witness to the light?

Gospel Reflection for December 21, 2014, 4th Sunday of Advent

16 Dec

Sunday Readings: 2 Samuel 7.1-5, 8-12, 14-16; Romans 16.25-27; Luke 1.26-38

“The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph of the house of David. The girl’s name was Mary.”

Luke 1.26-27

In Mary, the Most High will overshadow and dwell in a human person, intensifying God’s presence among us. No longer will God only tent among Israel’s tents and dwell in a house among Israel’s homes, but God will become human incarnate, one of us and one with us. How can this be? This same God who created all that is will make the impossible come to be in Mary.

The becoming human will happen in Mary’s womb. She will feel the first stirrings of salvation within her own body. God’s Son will look like her. She will nurse and rock him after he is born.

How is Mary’s call like the call of every Christian?

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Our Lady of Guadalupe

12 Dec
via Flickr user Angelofsweetbitter2009

via Flickr user Angelofsweetbitter2009

In Central and South America the conquering Spanish brought both armies and disease in the 1500s that caused 90% of the native peoples to die. With the Spanish came missionaries that preached the gospels to surviving people such as Juan Diego, on whose tilma we see the image of the holy woman he encounters on a hill where Mexico City is today. In her role as Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary, Jesus’ mother, appears as one of the poor. Our Lady of Guadalupe promises to hear the prayers of poor and nearly destroyed Indian peoples like Juan. The tradition of enacting the story of Juan meeting the Lady takes place in Hispanic parishes every December 12th.

You are the mother
of the dark and the light
the rich and the poor
the humble and proud.

You are the mother
of the young and the old
the strong and the weak
of those who rejoice
of those who weep.

You are the mother
of woman and man
of small and of great
of broken and whole.
You are the mother who art.

“Our Mother Who Art” by Sister Ansgar Holmberg. CSJ

Practicing Compassion

10 Dec

My spouse took a week of vacation from work when our son was born. When added with a few weekends and the Thanksgiving holiday, the three of us had a decadent twelve straight days together at home. We nested, spending hours staring at each other, learning each other, getting used to new sounds– coos, cries, grunts and mini sneezes– activities– breast-feeding, diaper changing, and rocking– and gear– blankets, bassinets, car seats, and slings. We took turns holding the baby, cooking, showering and napping. We bathed him and changed him together. It was lovely.

Then it was time for my spouse to go back to work. All of a sudden, our shared reality, living so intimately together in the warm womb we had made of our family room, turned into two completely different realities. My days continued to be filled with feeding, cuddling, cooing and diaper changing. His days were filled with meetings, computers, adult conversation, dress clothes and project management. The distance between our realities was vast, and it felt unbalanced. We were each a bit jealous of the other while we were both appreciative of the role the other was playing for our new little family member who is so dependent on us for survival. We were both providing, but it looked so much different.

To help us transition and continue to grow, we decided to borrow a compassion-building trick from a friend. It has helped us continue to be kind and generous with each other despite the distance between our new realities. When Dan is leaving work, he texts me and lets me know he is on his way home. We both spend his commute time imagining how the other’s day may have gone. I picture the good and the bad of an office work day. He imagines the joy and the struggle of a day with a newborn. By the time he walks through the door, we greet each other with warmth, curiosity, and openness. We ask each other about how the day went and are ready to really hear the answer. It has been really good for us to grow in empathy and compassion. We are patient with each other and more in tune with what the other may need in the evening to get up and do it all over again the next day. It is a practice that is simple and profound.

One of my favorite working definitions of compassion is this: Compassion is the ability to withhold judgement long enough to get curious about the story of the other. I’m in love with this simple compassion-building activity Dan and I are practicing. I’m struck by how effective it is. Instead of assuming Dan’s day was easier than mine and shoving the baby at him the second he walks in the door, I withhold judgement and get curious about his experience of the day. It is easy, but important work that works.

As I watch news about protests and racial tension in our country from Staten Island to Ferguson in the comfort of my warm family room, I experience feelings of sadness, confusion, anger and disempowerment. Where do we go from here? What is my role in addressing these two grand jury decisions? Our country is riddled with fragmentation and polarization. I am struck by how badly we all need to practice compassion with each other. We can start at home, and move from there, getting curious about the experience of people whose realities seem miles away. We are living in a season calling for more curiosity, deeper listening, and the commitment to withhold judgement for long enough to build compassion for the other.

Gospel Reflection for December 14, 2014, 3rd Sunday of Advent

8 Dec

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 61.1-2,10-11; 1 Thessalonians 5.16-24; John 1.6-8, 19-28

“Among you stands one whom you do not know.”

John 1.26

John the Baptist refuses to apply people’s expectations of the messiah to himself.  He anticipates one greater than he is coming.  He testifies to the light.  He insists that “Among you stands one whom you do not know.”  The words come down the centuries to haunt and taunt us into recognizing where we see Jesus among us.

Ours is the task of recognizing God at work in the hardest of all places to see–in ourselves, in our passion for justice, in the events of our history, in our own unrelenting efforts to hold our families and communities together.  We live in an unfinished drama and unfolding mystery that is the Spirit of God’s life-giving presence with us.

To what light do you testify in your unrelenting struggles?

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Advent Waiting

5 Dec
via Flickr user Timothy Boocock

via Flickr user Timothy Boocock

A friend of mine always says, “When it gets dark, you can either rush to turn on a light or you can sit still and wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness.” I think of that often during Advent. When we are busy and bustling, it is easy to go to the quick fix of the light switch. It is easy to just get busier as a way to avoid the quiet of the darkness and the voices in the back of our minds. Advent invites us to fight the instinct to get busier or rush to turn on the light. Advent invites us to sit in the dark, waiting, and let our eyes adjust until we realize how much light has always been there waiting for us to notice.

I have always loved Advent. In Minnesota, nature reflects the liturgical season in the most precious of ways. The days are short and darkness prevails. We still wonder at the beauty and hush that comes with each new snowfall. We get out blankets, light fires, make hot chocolate and decorate our houses with white lights that dance on the white snow. We hunker down. February is all about fighting the darkness and bundling up to take the cold head on, but in Advent, we welcome the new chill as an invitation to slow down. We snuggle into the new pace and let our shoulders relax a bit. It feels decadent and womb-like.

This Advent, the process of slowing down and adjusting to the cold and dark is intensified by the birth of my first child on November 23rd, one week before the start of Advent. We are learning each other, spending a lot of time staring at each other and snuggling on the couch. It is a time filled with hushed wonder, overwhelming goodness and abundant love. My to-do list has evaporated, and I am reveling in the moments I can be fully present to this new little person in my life.

A few days after getting home from the hospital, I got an Advent intention card from my church with the theme and sermon series for Advent. The card has a lone, snowy evergreen sitting in a dark night with one bright star shedding just enough light. It reads, “What if this year you slowed long enough for the God of the Universe to find you…to be with you…to dwell within you?”

The card was a beautiful validation of the shift already taking place in my heart and being. I am going to keep the card visible this Advent as a reminder that there is goodness in just being still. Waiting can be hard. Darkness can be hard. Being still can be hard for us. But if we slow just a bit, maybe the God of the Universe will swell and dwell in each of us. For me, there is comfort in being sought and found by the God who created us and loves us all. And in that slowness, may we find time to recognize the God dwelling in us and be filled with hushed wonder and awe.

Gospel Reflection for December 7, 2014, 2nd Sunday of Advent

1 Dec

Sunday Scripture Readings: Isaiah 40.1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3.8-14; Mark 1.1-8

“One more powerful than I will come after me.”

Mark 1.7

Like the prophet Elijah, John the Baptist haunt the wilderness. Like Elijah, who discovered God speaking not in storms and lightning but in silence, the Baptist in the silence of his wilderness life senses God is coming among the people in a new way. His preaching and baptizing bring people into the wilderness and ready them for this breakthrough. His baptism washes away a past of simply keeping and breaking the law and symbolizes openness to the reviving Spirit of God.

John promises one more powerful than he is coming. He envisions that this coming figure will also baptize but with the Holy Spirit. Baptism in the Holy Spirit will create people anew more wholly than water cleanses and invigorates.

What do you need to wash away to open yourself to God’s reviving Spirit this Advent season?

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Gospel Reflection for November 30, 2014, 1st Sunday of Advent

26 Nov

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 63.16-17,19; 64.2-7; Corinthians 1.3-9; Mark 13.33-37
 
“Stay awake, for you do not know when the owner of the house will come–in the evening, or at midnight, at cockcrow or dawn.”  

Mark 13.35

Jesus’ tiny parable calls us to stay awake throughout the Church year.  There are doorways all the time where we encounter one another and have opportunities to be present.  Our houses and offices have doors.  These are thresholds where we meet and can be awake to one another.

In dark midnight moments our fears can take us over.  The urge is strong to avoid the hard.  Who has not heard the cock crow and recognized I profoundly regret something I never thought I was even capable of doing?  At the heart of our faith is the dawn moments, the hour of resurrection.  In our faith that God raised up Jesus to new life is a spirituality that believes new life can come where relationships are dead or where leaders are asleep to people’s needs.

At what doorways are you watching for God’s coming?

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Thanksgiving Grace

26 Nov
via Flickr user Tengrrl

via Flickr user Tengrrl

We have created a Thanksgiving Grace for you to use at Thanksgiving dinner, or whenever you eat with friends and family.

Thanksgiving Grace

Let us take turns naming the gifts for which we are most thankful this day:

Each person may name a gift in his/her heart or aloud.

For all these gifts, we lift up our hearts and we pray.

All: Thanks be to God.

God blesses each of us around this table. May we bless one another with love and service.

Jesus blesses us with food that satisfies the heart’s hunger. May we make room for all in our human family.

The Holy Spirit stirs within us a desire for human harmony. May we make room for all in our human family.

Thank you this Thanksgiving Day for the people who grow this food, the people who prepare it, and the people who share it here today.

All: Amen. Thanks be to God!

 Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Good Ground Press!

‘Tis the Season

21 Nov
via Flickr user Ed Schipul

via Flickr user Ed Schipul

We are still two weeks from the beginning of Advent, but the holiday decorations are up at Target. The diamond jewelry and red-bow tied car commercials have started. Walmart is gearing up.

The day after we give thanks for what we have, Black Friday focuses on what we don’t.

We are left to figure out how to infuse our holiday season with a sense of the sacred. How do we decide which rituals are life-giving and which are life-draining? How do we shift from fear and scarcity back to trust and abundance? How do we move from feeling not-enough to enough? How do we prioritize relationship over consumption? How do we let go of anxiety and embrace laughter? How do we choose presence over presents? What tangible steps can we take this year to put Christ back at the center of Christmas?

Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” He boldly asks us to trust, to live one day at a time and know that we have enough today.

Jesus comes to us as a baby to show us a different way of being. It is an invitation that is upon us today. May the utter dependence, pure innocence, daring beauty, urgent cry, calming coo, and gentle touch God, come to us as a newborn, direct our hearts and minds this season.

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