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Advent Happens, Love Happens

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I’m happy lately, feeling as if I’m in the zone, using my gifts, and helping people. And you can’t beat that.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve rededicated myself to a regular practice of prayer and meditation over the past few months. Last week, I gave a sermon about “becoming prayer” — prayer not so much as something you do, but as a state of being.

In the interest of practicing what I preach, and having learned that pastoral work is more about being a centered, compassionate human being than it is about book learnin’ and fancy words, I am dedicating myself this Advent to truly reaching for God’s heart, opening myself to that spirit of love that comes only through prayer.

The love that keeps going through the darkness, the love that never folds in on itself even when it hurts to stay open, the love that loves even the unlovely. Especially the unlovely.

The love that breaks down our defenses and cleans out our ego-crap and prepares a place for God in our hearts. Advent love.

In our responsive prayer at church yesterday — the first Sunday in Advent — we used the phrase, “slipping from regular time into Advent.” I love this image of a gentle but certain transition. Advent happens. God happens.

The church of Jesus slips into this ancient-but-new season together, a communal season of the spirit, a season of reflection and celebration. These days everybody talks about their spirituality as if it’s an individual personal growth thing, which it is, but Jesus said that he came to empower us to be One in the spirit of Love, so Christian spirituality is also a community thing. Slipping out of “regular time” and into Advent time is something we do as a spiritual family.

To celebrate the start of Advent, I want to share this lovely but challenging prayer by Howard Thurman, an African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader.

“May the sounds of Advent stir a longing in your people, O God. Come again to set us free from the dullness of routine and the poverty of our imaginations. Break the patterns which bind us to small commitments and to the stale answers we have given to questions of no importance. Let the Advent trumpet blow, let the walls of our defenses crumble, and make a place in our lives for the freshness of your love, well-lived in the Spirit, and still given to all who know their need and dare receive it. Amen.”

May love happen for you this Advent!

Preparing for Advent

Preparing for Advent

Adoration Happens: Advent Eve

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I’m trying to avoid Christmas music until Advent, which starts tomorrow. I don’t have a TV, so it’s not impossible, but it does mean staying out of stores and abstaining from the radio completely. It’s silly, really, my meaningless protest against the extended Christmas season that creeps across the calendar pages, earlier and earlier each autumn, all in the service of greed, consumption, and profit margins.

I stage this rebellion most years, but by the time we reach so-called Black Friday – one of the most abhorrent plagues in America – it’s a fool’s errand, trying to avoid the jingly jangly carols.

This morning as I was driving around the D.C. beltway, I accidentally broke my own abstinence and began warbling, “Oh come let us adore him…”

Adoration happens.

I guess it’s Advent Eve.

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I want to be more mindful of Advent this year, the season during which those who follow Jesus (or say they do) prepare for Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ: the day “love came down,” as we say. I know, I know, it’s not really his “birthday;” we don’t know when that was. But early Christians piggy-backed on a Roman pagan celebration, so there were parties all around: still are.

Anyway, I’m going to write about Advent this month, so prepare yourselves, my non-Jesus-type friends.

Right now, though, I’m off to my fourth celebratory feast of the week. Just wrapping up Thanksgiving before entering Advent.

Tony’s Trials: A Happy Ending

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The first person I encountered today was Tony, our mail carrier. Tony has been delivering my mail for twenty-plus years, and he is a model of what someone in the service sector should be.

Tony is thoughtful and conscientious and kind. Whenever his head bobs past my kitchen window, the Andy of Mayberry theme starts whistling in my head. They just don’t make ’em like Tony anymore. He knows everyone’s names, welcomes us back from vacation, and lets us know when a box has been on a neighbor’s porch for more than a day. He always points out when someone has my address wrong, but still delivers the misaddressed mail. He once alerted me when my next door neighbor’s cat had escaped and was meowing to get back inside the house.

Four years ago, the Postal Service fired Tony, ostensibly for “performance issues,” but we had our doubts. Was it a coincidence that he was approaching the date that his full retirement benefits would kick in? I called the local letter carrier’s union and found out this sort of thing had happened before.

The new carriers were surly and uncommunicative, tromped on my flowers, and often mis-delivered the mail — which wasn’t surprising given that they were constantly talking on their cell phones and not paying attention to their jobs.

After a letter-writing campaign to the local paper, a petition drive outside the grocery co-op, and several neighbors testifying at his hearing with the threat of picketing the Post Office, we were able to get Tony reinstated with his full benefits.

Every day I see Tony coming up the sidewalk, I smile. I love a happy ending.

Thanks for the Daily Writing Prompt, WordPress Gods: “Write about the first person you encountered today.”

Who made you smile today?

Seriously? This is Your Thanksgiving Post?

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Re-blogging this perennial favorite. May you be mindful and grateful, whatever you’re eating. Happy Thanksgiving!

Writing with Spirit

Thanksgiving Turkey Thanksgiving Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last time I ate meat was Thanksgiving of 1978. Once each year, I would forsake vegetarianism to make my mother happy. But after I told her I could no longer partake, she always made a huge bowl of special stuffing with no meat juices, and I would obligingly eat the whole thing. (For her sake, of course.)

I don’t think much about being a vegetarian, except around Thanksgiving. Although the day is supposed to be about gratitude, it’s really about eating a huge dead bird and a bunch of carbs. (Also, football and clipping coupons in anticipation of Friday, which is National Greed Day.)

I don’t miss meat, really, although I suppose if I knew I had only one day to live, I might make a big, fat turkey sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce and lettuce and mayo.

Because Thanksgiving is all about…

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Four Ways to Cultivate Gratitude for Thanksgiving

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I like this post from the past, so I’m gifting you with a re-post, and gifting myself with more time to grocery shop, cook, and hang out with friends. Happy Thanksgiving Eve! And remember the wisdom of Meister Eckhart: “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.” Blessings!

Writing with Spirit

A guy told me yesterday that he was jealous of me. Not in the traditional sense of the word, like he didn’t want me talking to other guys. Lord knows, I’ve had enough of that in my life.

No, this guy said he was jealous of me because I “treasure things up” in my heart. We had been at a retreat where a scripture was read about Mary, the mother of Jesus, treasuring and pondering things in her heart.

“You obviously live life in the present moment and pay attention and embrace it,” he said. “You treasure and ponder what’s happening in your life.”

Well, being the imperfect person that I am, my first response was muddied with pride, as if somehow I had something to do with this. I tried to look all humble, while thinking “Yeah, he’s right; I am pretty cool.”

Then reality tapped me on the…

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Three in Italy

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When I think of a trio, I think of the Three Stooges, the three blind mice, or Peter, Paul and Mary. My mind is a curious place. So there’s no telling how this post might have turned out. Fortunately, when I started browsing my photos in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge, “Trio,” I found this beauty, which I think you will agree surpasses Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe.

Jesus statues

 

These gorgeous statues usually stand over the famous “Gates of Paradise” of the Saint John Baptistery in Florence, Italy, but when I took this photograph they were at an exhibit at the Duomo in the center of the city.

The figures depict the Baptism of Christ, and were created by Andrea Sansovino between 1501 and 1503. It must have broken his heart, but he wasn’t able to complete his commission, so Christ and John the Baptist were completed by Vincenzo Danti. The angel wasn’t completed until 1752 by Innocenzo Spinazzi.

Nice, huh?

Click on the Trio photo challenge link above and check out the stunning picture of three redrock formations in the Utah desert.

 

“About Those Refugees,” Says Jesus

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A favorite character from film, theater, or literature with whom I’d like to have a heart-to-heart, and what would I talk about — kudos to the creator of this daily blogging prompt!

It’s hardly an original answer, given that the Bible is the most read book in history, with four billion copies having been sold since I arrived on this planet, but my answer is Jesus. 

I’d have a lot to ask and would struggle to shut up and listen to his answers, before posing another question. I’d set aside all the God-sized questions, because the relationship between God and Jesus is no doubt complicated and might monopolize the conversation — that whole Trinity thing and all. So I wouldn’t get into suffering and eternal life and whether there is a hell, etc.

No, I’d start with, “Couldn’t you have been a little more clear, Jesus? Parables are great in their place, but we’ve got a mess on our hands and could use some clear direction. Terrorists, climate change, social injustice, sick people with weapons, corrupt political leaders . . .”

He might answer that except for climate change, they had all that back in his day. Now we just see it on a grander scale because of technology and the media. The problem, he would say, is and always has been the human heart.

“What can we do?” I’d wail.

“I think I suggested that you try loving God with everything you’ve got and then loving your neighbor as yourself. If you start with getting to know God, you will realize how crazy-much God loves you, and then you would learn to love yourself, and it would overflow to your neighbor. Isn’t that clear?”

“Well, it sounds clear,” I would answer. “Kind of. But it’s not practical. I mean loving your neighbor could get out of hand. Look at all these Syrian refugees wandering the globe! There might be terrorists in those masses. We’ve got to think of the safety of our kids. Surely, those people aren’t our neighbors.”

At this point, I would probably have to hand Jesus a tissue, because the Bible tells us that Jesus weeps.

winter 2013 & Jesus pix 045.tear

“How many times did I tell folks back in the day, ‘do not be afraid?’ Like, constantly! Love, don’t fear, I said. Remain in my love, and your joy will be complete, I said. I don’t see enough joy around here lately. All this hate and division? It’s just fear.”

He’s not looking particularly joyful, and grabs another tissue. “I thought I was pretty clear on this, but just in case — I said that if you want to be aligned with God, here’s the deal: I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me. When you do it for anyone, you do it for me. Those Syrians? They’re me. We’re all one.”

“Yeah, but . . .”

“Go do that, and then get back to me.”

Syrian refugee camp

Syrian refugee camp

Photo courtesy: Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief

Sharing My Sadness – Forgive the Language

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I just have to tell this story, although I’d rather not release any more negative energy into the world. It’s weighing on me, though, and it seems I have to share the burden. Please forgive the language.

Last Night:

After two blissful hours wandering amongst the stacks at the public library, I was checking out an armload of books and feeling happy and self-satisfied, having had an unusually productive and enjoyable day.

A cute little pig-tailed girl, maybe five or six years old, hopped up and down while her mother checked out books. Earlier, I had heard the woman spit-whisper at the child, something like, “Shut up and get your ass over here! You are annoying the hell out of me,” and I pondered the fact that probably not everyone should take on parenthood.

Then this, at full volume: “It looks like it’s going to be one of the nights when I whip the shit out of you when we get home.”

I gasped, I think.

The woman looked at me and I looked at her. “Yeah, I said that,” she challenged.

I went back to checking out my books and didn’t speak. There were no words. She moved closer to me and said louder, “Yeah, I said that.”

“I heard you,” I said quietly, and looked her full in the face.

She grabbed the girl’s wrist and headed for the door, throwing over her shoulder, “There are some weird-ass people in this town.”

Of course, I’ve spent the day second-guessing what I should have said or done. Sometimes I feel as if I’m just not meant to live in this world. Even a trip to the library can be gut-kicking painful.

How would you react?

Children are a gift from God

Children are a gift from God

VICTORY!!

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Krista’s blog is about “running miles through the park, the forest, and on hot, dusty gravel roads, thrashing at black flies,” and finally obtaining “victory!” Except for the black flies, her imagery tracks with my reality about as much as the image of Donald Trump in the Oval Office, but just as I’m about to move on to a better waste of my “writing time,” I glance at Krista’s last line: “ . . . focus on the win, the victory — that moment of glory and pride you’ll remember forever.”

This is her WordPress photo challenge this week, and it’s an easy one for me.

The image came immediately to mind.

It wasn’t a marathon, but it felt like one. The only physical exertion involved was walking back and forth between the metro and the Johns Hopkins campus in D.C., occasionally hefting a beer mug with my fellow students, and typing, typing, typing.

And here is the result: it’s me in December 2013, mailing out my thesis on the last night of class in the Masters of Writing program at Johns Hopkins. I would have been proud of myself in any case, but given that I completed this whole program while taking care of my mentally ill brother who was on his way to the Great Beyond — thank God, unbeknownst to me or I might not have finished my degree — I am even more amazed at myself.

I Rock!

I Rock!

I can’t say I’m a smashing success as a writer (yet), but I’m slowly submitting my essays and collecting rejection letters for smug publication once I’m famous. Since graduating, I’ve closed my brother’s estate, am on the verge of closing my mom’s, did a ton of repairs on my little writing retreat in New Hampshire, and then, through no design of my own, became a pastor. So I’ve been doing some stuff, just not writing much beyond this blog. That’ll change soon, I hope. I’m ready for another shot of victory.

On to that Pulitzer!

Learning To Be Love, That’s All

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LEARNING TO BE LOVE, THAT’S ALL. WordPress offers a writing prompt today, “Write a six-word story about what you think the future holds for you, and then expand on it in a post.” So that’s my story, that’s what my future is, or what I would like it to be. If I don’t get off-track or distracted, that’s the direction I’ll be headed in.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, “I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” I buy that, although I think that movement is overrated. The important thing is which direction we are facing, what are we looking at, pondering, absorbing?

What are you pondering?

What are you pondering?

I also think that pondering the present moment is way more important than pondering the future, which is why it’s such a crying shame that many people who think they are following Jesus are obsessed with figuring out who gets to be in Heaven when this whole show on earth is over, instead of focusing on what God might be doing to bring hope and health and wholeness right here, right now.

But I digress.

My life is not what I thought it would be at this point. When I was growing up, most people – myself included – imagined they would get married and have kids and be happy, unless of course you were gay, in which case you might get married and have kids and be utterly miserable and make your poor heterosexual spouse miserable, too. But I’m not gay, so I was going to get married and have a girl named Annaliese (and Dorothy if I had a second girl) and a boy would be named Griffin, to keep the family name going.

Then I decided I wanted to be an environmental lobbyist and talk sense into policy makers and save the planet, so I did that for twenty-seven years instead of having kids, and then I got tired of smashing my head against that wall, and through no decision of my own ended up being a family caregiver for about ten years, through dementia and mental illness and death. Twice.

Meanwhile, I got my Masters Degree in creative writing, and I’m so, so glad that I did, although I’ve quickly tired of smashing my head against the publication wall, sending out my writing only to be rejected again and again, so I don’t send it out much anymore and of course it doesn’t get published.

Then all of a sudden my church asked me to be a pastor, and here I am. As pastor of Prayer & Healing, I spend a lot of time with people who are in pain. I am learning – slowly – that I can’t save them. I am also learning that most people are in some amount of pain, they just don’t talk about it the way folks do during a crisis. Often, people aren’t even aware of their pain, they are only aware that they work too much, or drink too much, or eat too much, or surf the internet too much, or fill-in-the-blank too much.

To “succeed” in my new role, I began frantically reading about pastoral counseling and spiritual companionship and “grief work” and emergent theology, but am coming to realize that really, I already have what I need. I’ve been through a lot of pain and loss and addiction in my life, and I get it. I know how to be with people in those spaces (whether or not those people know they are occupying those spaces), and as long as I focus on putting my roots deep into God, who is entirely and purely love, I am who I am supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Being

Me, Being

I need to be healthy enough and grounded in the God of Love (not the judgmental, vengeful God of Christian broadcasting) so that I come from a place of abundance, not neediness, and then I am good to go.

I might write a book. I might become a teacher. I might work for another non-profit. Heck, I might get married. Who knows? But I do know the bottom line, and that’s what matters. Learning to be love, that’s all.

The Heart of the Matter

The Heart of the Matter

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