(thanks to Kimberly Parker for this picture)
Growing up at Girl Scout camp in central Indiana every summer taught my sisters and me so much about life. There we learned to swim, canoe and sail. We learned the beauty and joy of singing rounds. There the seeds were planted in us to love walking – anytime, everywhere. There we learned to pitch tents, build fires, and cook outside. It was there that I came to love and appreciate nature.
When we would go away on 3- or 4-day canoe trips we would find a spot under a tree and build fires at night. I remember one time when I was 12 or 13, I started making a clearing under a big, old elm tree. One of the counselors told me that I was way too close to the tree. I remember wondering what difference that made. She said that a tree’s roots stretch out as far as her branches. If we built the fire where I was setting up, the fire's heat could hurt the roots. I remember stepping back, back, back away from the tree, trying to see that old tree and get my head around what she said. When I finally was back as far as the branches were out, I looked down at the ground and imagined seeing the roots stretching out just as far. It was an 'ah-ha' moment for me then and I carry it still. That might have been one of the first times in my life that I realized that life was happening all around me (below and above) in ways that I couldn’t always see.
So it is with faith. If you asked me these days what I believe, my answer would be slow in coming. For me, I find comfort and strength in that old lesson from building fires outdoors. What you can see is true, but what is also true is what you cannot (yet) see.
It would be difficult for me to stand up in front of a room of people and give a lecture using book-smarts about faith. But ask me to tell you about my faith using stories, and I could fill up the time - and then some. Stories hold the past and the present in the same moment. It's as though (somehow) we can be in two time zones in the same instant. I am here, but in my heart I am back where the story was taking place. Stories of life-lessons like this one when my counselor showed me how to see a tree's roots by looking at her branches. Stories of times with people who have been my companions and guides. Stories of hits and misses. Stories of moments when time stood still. Stories that have held me, and God-willing, will continue to teach me and lead me on. Stories that remind us that there's so much more to life than what we can see just yet. There they are...stretching way-out and on up ahead.
Waiting is never a passive act. Waiting (I believe) does not happen in isolation. Waiting is measured in time that is not known as chronos, but instead measured in kairos time. Chronos time is one that can be measured. It's the moments we keep looking at our watches, crossing off days on calendars. One way of understanding kairos time is when a seed is planted in the ground and nourished. The exact moment that the sprout comes up through the ground cannot be timed but happens nonetheless. Waiting is kairos time because when we are in it, time seems to fall away. Too slow. Too fast. No longer watch or calendar - measurable, instead measured by our hearts.
Called or not called God is present.
There are times of hopeful waiting and there are times of desperate waiting. There are times of private waiting and times of communal waiting. There is waiting that happens in silence and waiting that happens in chaos. In all of it, each moment of it, God is with us, God is present.
One of the things I do at the hospital where I work is to give tours of the cardiac floor to parents and families who are waiting during their child’s time in surgery. I show them where they can get snacks and where the bathrooms are. I walk them through the ICU. I show them the library. And most every time I talk with them about some of the best waiting places. “If you’re a pacer,” I say to them, “then this is the best hallway.” “If you need to sit in quiet,” I tell them, “then this is a good one, one of the most hidden corners of the hospital.” I tell them all about the garden, “It’s a circle,“ I say, “you can’t get lost. And in this garden, look around. You can find beauty in most every corner.” Most everybody seems grateful to hear about these places and to keep them in their back pockets if they ever need them.
Called or not called God is present.
Tonight is the night of the New Moon. As with so many things new, the new moon can't yet be seen. The new moon is there even when/especially when it can't be seen. New things happen often in the dark. New things can't be seen by many and sometimes just by one or possibly not seen at all. The new moon is much like this. On nights of the new moon, it seems as though we are in total darkness. And yet, and yet we know that the moon is there. Even in what appears to be total darkness, there is light. For this time it is hidden, but it is still there. Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit.
(thanks Susie Gentry for this picture)
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
~ Jeremiah 33:14
Look around, look around...Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical, "Hamilton" has a song that beckons one partner to another: we cannot miss the life that is here, now; we cannot miss what is good all around us. "Look around, look around," she encourages, "how lucky we are to be alive right now." As we begin our 2018 Advent season, it is important to begin by continuing her encouragement: how lucky we are to be alive. In the midst and mess of our hurrying and scurrying, there is life around us, there is kindness around us, there is hope, great and small hope - all around us. Advent comes to us today: look around, look around....Advent, the autumn-into-winter time, the season of waiting, the not yet time is all around us. In these days we mark with intention the coming of God's promise. This is our time to light candles, to pray, sing, to believe our way into what is not yet, but surely coming.
You and I, we have been given this one precious life. Each day, a new gift. Each day, a new start, a new possibility. That doesn't mean life is easy, or without hardships. For some of us, it surely is. But what matters and what I take from this song's invitation is that we are here - now. We are alive - now. What we weep and lament, what we taste and smell and hear and shout and sing, is our story being lived out. We have not been promised an easy life. But I believe that we have been promised the love of Emmanuel, God-with-us. Advent every year reminds us of the promise of this, of the comfort and joy of this. Advent promises the light, hope, love of this.
Advent is not a time of passive waiting. Advent is not the time to be in the audience docilely watching. Instead it is a time to enter in. As we move through this season we will move from autumn into winter. As we journey through these December days, we will experience our days growing shorter and our nights growing longer and the darkness greater. We can feel the cold is settling in. Some of us can feel it settling in our bones, and some of us feel it settling in our spirits. For many of us, these have been difficult times and some of us are yearning for a light to shine in the darkness. Look around, look around...
And so we begin this ancient journey of Advent. Those of us weary-hearted and those with joyful anticipation, those of us who know this season well and those of us who have never really paid attention. We come, pilgrims all, to journey to Bethlehem. For hundreds of years Christians have celebrated Advent. These four Sundays proceeding Christmas hold markers for us as we move through these nights and days of intentionally waiting. What are do you feel you are waiting for this Advent? What is Not Yet here now for you? Nearly four weeks of preparing, of anticipating, of making a space for the Holy.
How are we then, suppose to do Advent? How are we to wait? Exactly? Are we supposed to know what we’re waiting for? Is there a manual to follow? Sure, there are lots of them. Hopefully this blog will be a space for you to come and wait as we move through these December days. Each week we will reflect on scriptures and words from familiar hymns. Each week will have a theme. I’ve chosen four images to companion us as we are reminded to look around and be mindful of just how lucky we are to be alive right now: Waiting, Roots, Nature's Signs, and Light.
Jeremiah’s words resound into the darkness: the days are surely coming when I will fulfill my promise. This Advent I am yearning for God's lovingkindness for our world. I am longing for God’s promise to be fulfilled – for feelings of despair and darkness to be surrounded by light; for broken places to be held in grace. I am longing for our fears to be met with love. Advent's message of Emmanuel, God with us will come in human form to show us how to love one another and the Holy One. Surely the days are coming… Look around, look around...
Gracious and loving God,
Advent in us this day, we pray.
Gather us in, so that as we
begin our journey to Bethlehem,
we begin with open and grateful hearts.
May we be inspired by your light, hope,
joy and love that journeys with us. Guide
our steps, we pray. May this journey bring us
home again to you. Amen
Son Sam’s time in Decatur High School’s marching band has taught him – and so, us – a lot about marking time.
As a mellophone player in the band Sam has to learn and memorize his music – and that’s only the beginning. Next comes the marching. A lot of that is moving from one place to the next. Lock-step. In rhythm and in time. It's an amazing thing to see, there appears to be a "combined knowing." As I’ve gotten to watch the practices as well as the halftime shows, I’ve become aware of how much of the show is also spent marking time. This time of not moving, and at the same time not standing still. Always connected, always paying attention and anticipating, always being ready to step into what is next.
And that can be said for these Advent days.
Waiting is counter-cultural to the fast-paced tempo of our days. These days we are expected to know and respond instantaneously to our world as well as our own personal events. News, good and bad is delivered immediately – and too often our hearts are left with no time to comprehend or process or even begin to feel. Our days are packed with little or no time to stop and catch our collective breath. In this non-stop time, how are we then to wait?
Perhaps it is most important in these busy-running-around-being-busy-running-around-being-busy days that we be mindful of our waiting. Each year we are given the gift of these Advent days. This year again we are given the intentional time of meaning-making. Even in this season of not yet, we are here, now, in this moment, in this place. Look around, look around....This time that feels so much like marking time is not to be overlooked, not to be wasted. Just like Sam and his marching band, we are to remain connected, we are to pay attention and anticipate, and always be ready to take our next steps. These can be our time of making room, time of preparing.
As I’ve watched Sam participate in the marching band, I’ve been aware of how connected he is. For that measured, focused, intentional time his total self – mind, body and spirit – is connected to the leader, to the music, to moment that holds them. Sam and each member are breathing, playing, moving as one. Even when, especially when appearing to be waiting in place, marking time each member is focused on what is next. Watching them I am aware of an energy and focus that is forward, moving forward. Together. The director will lead, the music will hold them. Left foot, right foot.
As the nights grow darker and a new chill comes right alongside, I sometimes feel lost as I make my way. Left foot, right foot. It feels like the darkness is holding me. I feel it creeping in all around me. Left foot, right foot. Even in familiar territory I sometimes feel lost in these early December days. Left foot, right foot.
Alleluias aren't promised to us. On our most wise days, we know that deep in our souls. Alleluias aren't earned or acquired. An alleluia is a gift, a grace. More often than not these days come to us, as an unexpected and wonderful, just-in-time surprise. Alleluia. Alleluia.
Throughout my life, Advent has been the season of Alleluias. I've heard it sung in old, familiar carols. I've seen it in the twinkling eyes and on the faces of folks being kind and generous with one another. I've felt it in a gentle touch, or a long and welcome hug. Alleluias heard and seen.
Especially this year, I am awaiting the coming of an alleluia. awaiting one that can bring my spirit back and reconnect me with the deep promise of the season. Emmanuel. God-with-us. Love is greater than hate. Be not afraid. All these words I've heard my whole life, I'm waiting this Advent. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
So I'll keep walking and looking and listening - even in the growing-darker days. Especially in these days. Left foot, right foot.
Holy One, you are creating in and for each of us an Alleluia. In the big and small places around us, there is an alleluia ready to be sung. In this season, as we make our way toward Bethlehem may our hearts stay open for what is not yet, for what is coming. Alleluia and Amen.