Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Ways

I had a thought while reading about the Epiphany. (A mini-epiphany).

I am intrigued by all things surrounding the Magi. Who they were, where they came from, how the gifts were selected, the preparation for the journey, their star gazing activities, how they associated celestial events with kingship, their escape from Herod's plan to use them to destroy the object of their quest. They fascinate me.

What caught my attention today was not the Epiphany of the wise ones to Jesus but their expedient selection of a new way, a new road to travel, once they had found Him.

And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, the magi left for their own country by another way. Matthew 2:12

Finding Christ we too turn aside and travel in a different direction. For us it is along a narrow way leading to eternal life. There is always a redrawing of the map of our life and journeys other than we ourselves would have selected or others would select for us.

An evil king did not get the last word here. The Magi traveled by a way that took Herod off the map for them. So should it be for us. Taking the God road will always take us farther away from those things that steal our hope, joy and usefulness.

Let us allow the Word to warn us, guide us, point the way and make course corrections should we stray.

If you wander off the road to the right or the left, you will hear his voice behind you saying, here is the road. Follow it. Isaiah 30:21

May the approaching new year be filled with ways that take us deeper into Kingdom territory and God's many promises.

Herod who?

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Deep Place of Christmas

Remember the one night that burns all the darkness away
Remember the one peace that dissolves all worry and fear
That light and peace are asleep in the hay
That light and peace are asleep in the boat
That light and peace are deep, deep within
where all is calm and all is bright

Luminous Night by Christina Rogers

It is the day after Christmas. For some there will be an emotional letdown. For others the distress of overspending financial resources and overextending physical resources is just beginning to make itself felt.

Just after Thanksgiving I landed a dreadful cough and cold that slowed me down and drained off much of the energy I would have extended over the Christmas season. The cough kept me up and upright. I couldn't sleep lying down so I spent many nights sleeping (or not) in a chair in the living room.

I read through several devotional blogs I follow, started a new book by Eugene Peterson (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places) and haunted the Psalms, all from my coughing chair. I was tired but inspired. The result was that I slid into Christmas in slow motion this year.

There were no Christmas lights on our house but a candle was burning sweetly in my heart. The stable was swept clean and fresh straw was waiting in my manger-heart. Jesus settled in where He had been made welcome. Peace on the hay.

That peace settled nicely around me on Christmas eve. Midnight Mass has always been a favorite holiday event for me and this year I went with a friend. (John was to preach at the jail on Christmas day so he was home tuning up his message.) We went early to listen to the carols sung before Mass. There was an entire row right in front of the altar, in front of the manger, waiting for us.

The service was lovely, the music beautiful, but then there was the incense. Always my favorite part of High Mass, this evening it was special. There was so much more room in me for it to fill. The priest stood directly in front to us and waved the censer over us. Fragrant sacred incense swirled out and up and around us. We breathed it in and it filled lung and bone and soul.

It is all about making room. That is why the innkeeper is important to the Christmas story. How had I minimized him all these years? There he was hiding in the shadow of the angels and the Magi. Even a little room, a lowly room, is enough room to begin to go from hay to boat to deep, deep within where all is calm, all is bright.

John had given me roses earlier that day. (We were engaged 39 years ago on Christmas eve.) I had brought one with me to Mass-to the stable. As my friend and I went to the car that first hour into Christmas morning, Kim handed me the rose. I took the red rose petals and threw them up into the falling snow right there in the church parking lot.

I am the rose of Sharon...(Songs 2:1)

Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow....(Isaiah 1:18)

Mary expensive perfume...poured it on Jesus’ feet...and the house was filled with the fragrance...(John 12:3)

We wasted that Christmas rose on Jesus then we drove home in the snow with just the faintest hint of incense clinging to our clothes but- with souls richly perfumed.

The snow has ceased falling but I suspect the rose petals have not. It is my prayer that they will drop daily into our lives, into your life, into the the deep, deep places within. Onto Holy ground.

This has been a luminous Christmas I will long treasure as I treasure the friends, the family and the Savior who have enriched my life.

With a deep gratitude.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Midnight Mass

Come midnight we had censers
and Come All Ye Faithful
the manger was full
so were the pews
trumpet, organ and flute
greeted each other
with the sign of peace
and Heaven poured snow
anointing us with glory falling gentle
swirling round us as sacred incense breathed in
filled lungs and cells and bones
God's goodness had come
His beating heart pumping love
through us with every organ pedal and key
Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison
Christmas had come!

His AppleTree

In winter dead, life buried deep in snow
future blessings slumber down below
eye cannot see nor can hands hold
tomorrows daisy, rose or marigold
but Heaven smells the petals yet to form
and stores up fragrance released
when it is warm
my heart is like the barest branch
that longs for apples to appear
and sun to warm my frozen roots
like toes escaping icy boots
CHRIST has come to sit awhile
through all these days both bleak and dark
He tells me stories of the spring
of scented earth and song of lark
of life set free and buzzing bees
and love beneath the apple trees-

I am His apple tree.

By Kat Cavanaugh LaMantia

A word for God's sleeping seed, safe with love coiled around you, "Flourish!"

Saturday, December 24, 2011

God's Glory Sky

Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. Psalm 139:12

God has night vision. He sees just everything. Daylight. Night light. No light. Thick inky blackness. All clear vision to love gone searching.

We can hide behind the thick walls we built brick by brick, sin by sin, offense by offense. We can disguise ourselves with arrogance, false laughter, religious banter. We can wrap ourselves in silence and live hushed as the grave. The Almighty One who sees to the other side of the universe stays locked on. He is not impressed by the elaborateness of our disguise or otherwise, nor is He distressed by the true dark-heart of it.

Shepherds under the dark Bethlehem sky saw the web between this world and the realm of Glory peeled back. Heaven was always there throughout all the long years of looking for the promise and despairing of it ever coming. What made that night different? Jesus was in the world.

There are accounts of people seeing to the other side before that Bethlehem night. Ezekiel saw some heart stopping things.  But this night was different. The One worth seeing, who made everything there was to see, parted the curtain, wrapped Himself in skin like ours and took His place among us.

Christ brought the light with Him. He brought the Father with Him. He would later promise to be with us to the end of the age. That same light is all round us, looking for a way in, looking to let us in. To swallow up our personal darkness in Glory. The utter amazement the shepherds felt is ours the moment we let His grace fill us and burn all else from our vision.

"Too dark" you say? There is no such thing. Jesus is Light itself, love at its best and brightest. Where He is invited there is no unyielding darkness.

He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. Daniel 2:22

It is the eve of Christmas. Time to make Jesus welcome. Time to "Be" the place where light dwells. We are the night skies His Glory longs to fill.

Light shining out of darkness:

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Cupped Places

MAY GOD’S GRACIOUS PRESENCE wrap around and protect you.
May the promise of the holy Christ child
forever rest in the curve of your life.
May the sweet, fearless song of the Holy Spirit
sing you to sleep
and waken you in Advent dawns.
May you, and those you love and serve,
expect the good news,
Immanuel, God-With-Us.

- Pamela C. Hawkins

From page 28 of Behold!: Cultivating Attentiveness in the Season of Advent by Pamela C. Hawkins. Copyright © 2011 by Pamela C. Hawkins. All rights reserved.

" May...Christ...forever rest in the curve of your life." Let it be so Lord! This is more than a lovely poetic line I wish I had written. It is forming itself into a missive my heart is issuing back to me. That Jesus, our beautiful Jesus, lie softly in the cupped places of my life. That He be poured into all the spiritual pools which replenish my made-in-His-image self.

God within.

May His sweetness and goodness drench your last Advent week spilling its wonder into every open place.


(Sonogram of our then unborn grandson. Unborn but not unknown.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Tradition of Gratitude, The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Two of the dearest souls in all this wide world were my grandparents Cavanaugh. They had a tradition that covered Christmas and birthdays. It went like this: Leona bought herself whatever she wanted "from Tom" and Tom received something he already owned which Leona had wrapped up and put a tag on "From Leona". What can I say? They were happy and they made us happy.

Every family has its traditions. They comfort us, delight us, and call to us to remember things too significant to forget. At least they are supposed to accomplish that. Sometimes the significance is lost over time and a ritual is all that remains. Christmas can be like that. We remember presents and forget Presence. We make a gift list but forget God gave and why...maybe even what that gift really was.

The remembering part was always a big deal to God. We are encouraged so often in the scriptures to remember. The events God feels are important to remember are usually important because they are good for us, the ones whom He loves.

Remembering connects us in a sense of community with all of Heaven as well as to believers here on Earth. It says we belong to something, to one another. Those connections are immortal, eternal, love framed and hung in our hearts to be cherished. To be written about and talked about. To be played and painted and sung.

I am asking the Lord to encourage in me a grateful heart this Christmas. To make gratitude my tradition, my way of life. To cause me to remember every kindness, every favor, every mercy, every generous act ever done to me. To reach for the wonders He and others have cast into my life. To allow them do adorn my life and brighten my holiday and to be as gifts opened for the first time.

Gratitude is expansive. It always overwhelms its less desirable neighbors. It cultivates and plants and produces fruit. It makes room for God-stuff. Gratitude, affection, remembrance. These are the wise-hearted Magi gifts I lay at His feet and receive back as grace upon my own life.

Join me.

I will sing of your steadfast love, O LORD, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens. Psalm 89:1-2

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Where Mercy Dwells, The Third Sunday of Advent

A Beam of Sunlight Illuminates an Underwater Cave Photographic Print

God fills my being to the brim

with floods of His immensity.

I drown within a drop of Him

whose sea-bed is infinity.

The Son is never far away from me

for presence is what love compels.

Divinely and incarnately

He draws me where His mercy dwells.

Praise to the Father and the Son

and to the Spirit! May I be,

O Water, Wave and Tide in One,

Thine animate doxology.

By Jessica Powers

"...incarnately He draws me where His mercy dwells." Isn't that just the way of it? You know it is. Consider how He drew you. Out in the channel of His love, current moving, drawing you closer. His Presence reaches out to take hold of you. "Turn in here. Let the journey bring you here. What you seek is here. What seeks you is here."

A tiny king resides in a manger but His Kingdom is vast, infinite.
It is like the sea and all that is in it and below and above.
You cannot know it all but you can know Him.
Reach down and lift this child to yourself.
He smells of straw and Mary's milk.
Tiny fingers curl around your heart.
Newly opened eyes just begin to focus.
Watch you under sleepy lids.
The flutter in your chest tells you He is looking.
He defines you this soft bit of womb-fruit.
He had no equal.
He has become this squirmy bundle to touch you palm to palm.
He has called you to Himself.
You are in the current now.
Like the undersea cave
where moonlight shimmers on the unbroken surface
and sunlight carves a path to the very depth,
His warmth penetrates all your cold darkness
with golden welcome.
You arrive at journey's end fully loved.
Christ is where the mercy dwells.
He dwells in you.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Tornado of God's Goodness

Moses said, "Please. Let me see your Glory." God said, "I will make my Goodness pass right in front of you; I'll call out the name, GOD, right before you..."But you may not see my face. No one can see me and live." God said, "Look, here is a place right beside me. Put yourself on this rock. When my Glory passes by, I'll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I've passed by. Then I'll take my hand away and you'll see my back. But you won't see my face." Exodus 33:19-21

It is well past sundown. The beginning of a new day. Shepherds fill the surrounding hills. It is lambing time. Ewes labor under the stars to bring their young to life on the grass in the soft hours of the first watch of the night.

Not far away a young woman, just a bit of a girl really, squats above the dirt and straw floor of a stable, teeth gritted, captured in labor's vice-like grasp. Wave upon wave comes to finally cast her up, exhausted, upon motherhood's shore.

A working man's rough hands clean the child and put him swiftly to his mother's breast. God's Lamb and the world have come face to face. The lethal glory from which the hand of God shielded Moses is out in the open and looking upon the world...and the world is looking back.

Soon shepherds will peer into the birth chamber of the One who rode upon the wings of the wind, who opened the doors of the morning and entered the storehouse of the snow...and they will live and not die. God and man will now love each other face to face. God has made His goodness a bed in a stable.

God's destination was always the hearts of men. My heart. Yours. When He comes, His goodness comes also. Christ was the perfect gift that came down from the Father of Lights. Heaven's goodness on display. Jesus still looks out upon this world's harsh landscape but He looks through our eyes and handles men with our hands and loves the lost through our manger-hearts.

I have a young friend who made a special card for me which I received today. There was an unusual v-shaped cut out on the border. When the card was opened it formed a larger diamond shape. It was labeled The Tornado of God's Goodness. A child's imagination caught God perfectly.

Moses huddled in the crack of a rock and hid his face as that fierce tornado passed by. You and I are pursued by it's more benevolent intent. Christmas changed everything. Heaven opened Mary's womb and goodness spilled out like a flood into the darkness.

Today I wish for you Asa's vision. The goodness of God in your hands, looking you in the face as your friend. Your own Tornado of God's Goodness flooding this Season with light. The card opened reveals the mystery:

Love's open faces.

Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23:6

(Dedicated to Bob Collins on the occasion of his birthday which was a fortunate event for this world and for these two friends and also to Asa whose art work and friendship inspired this post. Blessings Kat and John)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Wishing Pears

The shinny red ones are the best.
Not too soft.
Not too firm.
No bruises.
Stem still attached.
Red pears are for wishing.

I learned a long time ago that you could wish on a red pear then eat it. The wish would lie inside of you among the sweet pear goodness and grow until its seeds sprouted roots that wrapped themselves around heart and soul...until you believed. (You never heard this?)

The right word dropped into a life is like that. You may be seeding someone else's life or your own. While you can't always avoid it, try words without bruises. They are sometimes the best for growing things worth having. And remember believing is seeing, not the other way around.*

I may have made a story up once upon time to get a little boy to eat his fruit but all that aside, we are in a season of wishing, of hoping, of looking forward to something.

As Christ-lovers, for us it is not so much about finding a package under the tree but of becoming that package. To secure the ground He paid for. To work the works He did. To have a well lived life to offer Him. To hold within ourselves an exquisite treasure. We can do all He has ordained but it's first the treasure then the wishing.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7

May you find a wishing pear (lots of them) as you journey toward Christmas.


*Faith is the very first thing you should pack in a hope chest. (Sarah Ban Breathnach)

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Soft Night For A Lullaby

It makes one thoughtful having a person growing under your heart. I would place hand to belly and try to read my son's thoughts. I would will him to read mine. I counted the months then days of his coming. I wanted to fasten my eyes on this one who changed life for me forever. Still...he was safe inside. Part of me wished it would remain so.

What were Mary's thoughts? Amazement, surely. Terror, maybe. Wonder, absolutely. Mary had a baby and one day He would save her but in that season before she would follow Him to His cross, He was hers to keep by. To keep safe.

There is a piece of music based on a poem by Kipling, The Seal Lullaby. Creation sings her babies to sleep no matter whose babies they are. This lovely piece of music finds a mama seal singing of sleep and safety.

Oh! hush thee, my baby,
The night is behind us,
And black are the waters
That sparkled so green.
The moon, o'er the wave curls,
Looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows
That rustle between.

Where billow meets billow,
Then soft by thy pillow;
Ah, weary wee flipperling,
Curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee,
Nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms
Of the slow-swinging seas.

One day Mary would look into the ravaged face of her sweet boy and think of the now dark waters that once sparkled so green. She would wait as his life ebbed away and then receive Him back into her aching arms. He had been hers to love and protect and give up. That day is coming but for now He will stay where she puts Him. He will not touch lepers or corpses or prostitutes. He will not sleep in a field and eat corn from the stalk. He will not be mocked.

Now He is wrapped tight in her love. Her heart is filling along with her breasts. Joseph, the good man, stands on guard. Donkey, cow and sheep warm the stable. God, His Father, has lighted a lamp and placed it high in the night sky. Trouble is for another day, another far away night. Tonight is a soft night just made for a lullaby.

"He has filled the hungry with good things...He has remembered His promise of mercy." Mary's Song.

Link offered to The Seal Lullaby. A thoughtful and tender place to sit in His Presence while we prepare our hearts in this season.

(Photo from a site I do not have a link to. It was of photos that spoke of the wonder of God in Creation.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Baby Steps, The Second Sunday of Advent

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly,
that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul,
to the deep emotional self
and the wounds to the soul take a long long time,
only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance,
long, difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake,
and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

D.H. Lawrence

Our bodies do heal quickly compared to our souls which possess frighteningly long memories. I am convinced, however, that Christ is a soul healer as well as possessing many other skills and titles.

You can trust Him with your wounds. You can trust a God who as been wounded. He is inviting you into His life, His peace, His healing. He is in this life with you for as long as it takes for you to be OK.

You may not be able to free yourself from those things that cast your life in the gray dawn of winter's colors but for such times we have Jesus. The two of you can do together what you cannot do alone.

Come closer. Look long into the stable. A good place to begin. This God understands baby steps. Glory often begins smaller than a pinpoint of light or a single cell. Come along. If we could have done it alone, He need not have come. But Christ did come. He will show you how the journey home begins.

This is the kind of life you've been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step. He never did one thing wrong, Not once said anything amiss...He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you're named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls. 1 Peter 2 The Message

(A Bethel Christmas, Photo and table setting by Jane Malnoske)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Keeping Space of Silence

needs a keeping space of silence and of darkness nearing down,
Someplace where all that can be still is stilled
And everything but hope...(is) gone,
Where there is less of me and more of grace.
There in the waiting moments you have willed
Lies healing for an often-wounded soul,
The deep recovery of who I am
Where every whispered longing to be whole
I ever breathed is finally fulfilled.

- Jennifer Lynn Woodruff

Just in case I am not the only one who needs this past year and the one ahead to receive, "Peace. Be still."

Blessings of the Season,

(Sue Blackshear Oil)