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Practicing Advent, Free of Fear

16 Dec
Photo via Flickr user Joathina

Photo via Flickr user Joathina

A dear friend of mine is a pediatrician who specializes in palliative care. That means, essentially, she helps children die well. It’s vocational work that is demanding of her body, mind and spirit. Because of the grueling hours and the deep sadness, she needed to find a hobby that would encourage her to sit still and rest in her time off. She started knitting. Specifically, she started knitting warm, beautiful sweaters for all the babies being born in her life. My son has one of these sweaters, and another will come soon once my second is born. At first she saw her knitting as a way to trick her body into being still and resting while still feeling productive. Creating something tangible also soothed her mind. Now, she realizes that, maybe most importantly, it is a spiritual practice. When she is not at work with children who are dying, she needs to be celebrating the children in her life who are healthy and thriving, welcoming them into the world. The knitting brings her balance and hope, one stitch at a time. It keeps her from slipping into fear and becoming paralyzed. It helps her show back up at work to sit with people in their sorrow.

Many people are speaking to the palpable fear washing over our society. Fear separates us from God and has the toxic ability to paralyze us. When I hear talk of this fear, I think of my friend, quietly knitting, creating, claiming hope, subversively choosing light over fear while continuing to work in the center of sorrow. She is practicing Advent.

We read in our Advent Scriptures the angels saying over and over again, “Fear not!” As I marvel at my friend’s courage and strength, we marvel at Mary’s ability to nod and courageously let go of fear and accept light and life.

Fear not, for a child is coming. Babies are precious and sacred in their ability to offer love and beauty, hope and life without asking for anything in return. They are fresh and new, full of possibilities we don’t even know. They help us dream, they invite us to wonder. Who are you little baby? The world is better because you are here!

God decided to become a baby. We often think of God as big and powerful and strong. God saw that more than big power we needed simple love. We need hope and light. God wants us to dream and wonder and sit in awe of things that are beautiful and precious. God came as baby Jesus, a little, cute, fragile baby that needed people to take care of him, nurture him, and love him to keep him alive. He is a light that starts out as small as a newborn baby and gets as big as we can dream it to be. We celebrate a how clever God is, to come as a baby, so that we know that God wants our attention, adoration and love.

That is what is so tragic about my friend’s work in pediatric palliative care. That is what is so hopeful about her knitting. She lives in the thin space where she experiences both God’s saving power that brings heaven to this place and God’s saving power that offers us life in the place to come. Creating as a knitter and working as a doctor helps her let go of fear and live in the light of Jesus, now and in the time to come. She is practicing Advent, and inviting me to do the same.

Fear not. A child is coming.

Birthing God

9 Dec

The days are getting shorter still. The nights are dark and the days are gray. We bundle up, hunker down, light candles, and wait. Advent is upon us, yet again.

Our bodies signal to us to slow down, turn inward, and hibernate. Yet Rumi, in his poem “The Body is Like Mary,” invites us to resist the urge to shut down altogether. He asks us to acknowledge that we, along with Mary, are in holy labor. There is work to be done. There is beauty to share. There is life and love to offer. There is a God within who needs to be born:

The body is like Mary, and each of us has a Jesus inside…

God is really there within, so innocently drawing life from us with Her umbilical universe–infinite existence…

though also needing to be born. Yes, God also needs to be born!

I will have a child in the next few weeks. I will, once again, go through the painful and sacred process of labor to bring life into this world. Yet even while I wait, there is other birthing to be done in the twilight of Advent. In the quiet darkness, we can tap into the desire to create beauty through a loving touch, a simple gift, a safe space of active listening, or a piece of art.

Christ is in all of us. We are co-creators, offering God’s light to the world around us. In these moments of Advent, when quiet reflection leads to a gentle birthing, sprinkling love and light, we know that yes, Jesus is coming and yet yes, Jesus dwells within.

Gospel Reflection for December 11, 2016, 3rd Sunday Advent

6 Dec

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 35.1-6,10; James 5.7-10; Matthew 11.2-11

John the Baptist sends messengers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one to come or should we expect someone else?” Jesus answers, “Tell John what you hear and see: the blind can see; the lame can walk; lepers are cured; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life, and the poor have the good news preached to them.” – Matthew 11.3-5

In Sunday’s first reading the prophet Isaiah imagines the desert greening wherever God steps. The Israelite captives’ return from exile in Babylon brought healing joy and a new experience of God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel. In his ministry Jesus gives life: sight, hearing, healing that reveals God as the giver of life and the lover of us all, again making Isaiah’s prophecy come true in his time. It’s Sunday’s first reading. God is faithful and keeps on giving life.

In the first week of Advent I visited my brother at the University of Minnesota Hospital. It’s where he got a living donor liver transplant from his son. It’s where my mother died of the same liver disease that damaged that vital organ in my brother. Mother was part of the research that in three years initiated transplants. Doctors and nurses are helping Isaiah’s vision keep coming true. We take part in giving life in many ways–giving birth, nurturing our children, caring for our planet, being good news for people living on the edge of sustenance. Like our Christmas trees God is ever-green, the encircling, sustaining life, and holy mystery in which we live.

As one of our local priests often started Mass, “In the name of our ever-living, all-loving, unfolding God.”

What do we hear and see around us that makes the words of the prophet Isaiah that Jesus quotes keep coming true? 

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Spices from Heaven

2 Dec
Photo via Flicker user Mark Skrobola

Photo via Flicker user Mark Skrobola

Invisible spices are falling from heaven all the time. If your eye is not holding its hand out, or your mouth or heart not open, how will you ever get a full taste of something that will cure you of many things? –Rumi

Advent is a time when invisible spices fall from heaven. It is a mistake, then, to simply wait passively for Christ to come. Advent is a season of actively waiting, of intentional preparation. As we open our Advent calendars, hang our stockings, bake our cookies, light our candles, we are asking the Lord to come near. If our eyes hold their hands out, if we keep our mouths and hearts open, we will get a taste of what is to come.

Advent is an invitation to change our outlook and posturing, to get quiet but also get moving. To acknowledge that things are going fine, life is predictable and familiar, but deep down we yearn for God to show up. If our eyes, mouths and hearts are open, we can choose to see things like the wisdom of small children, snow days, unexpected invitations, or a needed connection with a friend as divine intrusion.

We need God to intrude into the ordinary, to become one of us. We didn’t ask for this. We didn’t know we needed it, until he came. And we need him to come again. Please, Lord, intrude again with your divinity. There are so many hurting, mourning, captive, broken-hearted. Jesus is coming to bring comfort and freedom. There is much we can do to prepare the way.

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. -Ish 61:1-3

We are preparing for Jesus, God with us, to come. Jesus comes as a baby, but we know what is at the end of the line for him. He is coming to die. Christ the king is not about power, but love. How do you make room for more love during Advent? How do you wait actively, to prepare? How do you hold the hand of your eyes open to catch spices from heaven?

Come Lord Jesus. We need you now.

Gospel Reflection for December 4, 2016, 2nd Sunday of Advent

30 Nov
Photo via Flickr User Karen Thurmond

Photo via Flickr User Karen Thurmond

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 11.1-10; Romans 15.4-9; Matthew 3.1-12

Two family trees figure in Sunday’s readings: the children of Abraham and Sarah hear God’s call, go to a new land, and await a child who will be the first of descendants as countless as the stars. Faith in God’s promise is their DNA.

The descendants of Jesse becomes the Kings of Israel. God promises Jesse’s son David that his throne will stand forever. Faith and repentance are in David’s DNA.

John the Baptist calls his contemporaries, who are children of Abraham and Sarah by blood, to become children by active faith. Fierce and holy like the prophet Elijah, John the Baptist is a lone voice in the wilderness, calling people to repent and prepare for one who will baptize them in Spirit and fire. Repentance is the true inheritance of Israel, John insists. The fruitful tree symbolizes the repentant person.

What spiritual values are in your DNA?

If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.

O Anthiphons

14 Oct

 

o-antiphones-calendar-3

The O Antiphons are the Church’s prayer for the last days of Advent. Beautifully illustrated by Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ, each card has a visual and a prayer poem by Joan Mitchell, CSJ. The original antiphon and its scriptural sources on the back. Click here to view a sample.

Only $15.00 per set (price includes shipping!).
Order online today!

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