No Forced Merrymaking….

I missed a day, didn’t I? I missed posting a poem or two. Missed the moments of pause to take in Advent and to breathe the joy in. Missed a few of the steps in the walk toward Christmas morning.

I am always amazed at the busyness of life. I’m not sure why, because life has been busy for ages for us, and yet it still confounds me. Still frustrates me that I cannot slow things down and still embrace all the activities that are necessary and enjoyable.

Sometimes I stumble upon something, however, which infuses life again into the busyness. Something which makes the heart beat with anticipation and joy.

Joy.

 

Advent.

They go hand-in-hand, don’t they? Joy is slippery, though…we always struggle to define that elusive quality. We know it when it wells up within us, though. We know when our hearts are caught in trying to expand to contain the touch of heaven…

“I do think that while we are in this “valley of tears,” cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous. . . . It is only in our “hours-off,” only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy [to the joys of heaven]. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for “down here” is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends.  Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” – C.S. Lewis 

Necessary frivolity. Those moments of rest. And for those who help to usher in that ‘frivolity’ it is far more than game and festivity. Hours of discipline and study and inspiration come together to provide what may be rest or escape for the rest of us.

Like last night. In a home, the North Wind Manor, which also offers itself as the headquarters for the Rabbit Room activities, we were treated to a simplicity and frivolity that ushered in the joy of the season.

Make no mistake: it was not unimportant. It was necessary, and yet it was gift.

Chesterton on joy:

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the Pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume [Orthodoxy], I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation.

“This tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall.

“His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud, proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something . . 

“Solemn Supermen and Imperial Diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down from the steps of the Temple and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something . . .

“I say it with reverence — there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness.

“There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray.

“There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.

“There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth, and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”

If God did restrain the joy of heaven…He did at least give us glimpses. Last night we caught another:

and this…

Oh, this post is getting long, isn’t it? Difficult for me to be concise with words when joy is still so present. Eager for worship this morning as another step toward Christmas morning is taken. Hope. Peace. Love. Joy.

Let’s not let our hearts grow colder…let’s make room for the presence of joy this season.  I didn’t forget, I still have a poem for today:

The Birth of Wonder
by Madeleine L’Engle

As I grow older
I get surer
Man’s heart is colder,
His life no purer.
As I grow steadily
More austere
I come less readily
To Christmas each year.
I can’t keep taking
Without a thought
Forced merrymaking
And presents bought
In crowds and jostling.
Alas, there’s naught
In empty wassailing
Where oblivion’s sought.
Oh, I’d be waiting
With quiet fasting
Anticipating
A joy more lasting.
And so I rhyme
With no apology
During this time
Of eschatology:
Judgment and warning
Come like thunder.
But now is the hour
When I remember
An infant’s power
On a cold December.
Midnight is dawning
And the birth of wonder.

No forced merrymaking here…thankful to Michael Card, Jeff Taylor and Buddy Greene for helping usher in a joy more lasting:

(By the way…these three are doing this concert in a few places. Kansas City on Dec 14, Dallas on Dec 18,  Prosper, Tx on Dec 19.  If you are anywhere near these places make sure you go!)

Our Homes Are Under Miraculous Skies…

I don’t know about you, but today has been a long day. Sometimes, on days like this especially, simplicity is the kindest thing for the soul.

 

No need to elaborate tonight…simply refreshment from the poetry of G.K. Chesterton:

Christmas Poem

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wife’s tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

The Lingering Gaze that finds Hope

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This picture is on my street. Sunrise. Non-filtered.

I sit outside early in the mornings and read. Lately a lot of George MacDonald and Frederick Buechner.  I love the morning light, and love watching the day begin. The morning I walked outside and saw this sunrise, just a few weeks ago, I had to run back inside and grab my good camera. Not the phone. I needed something able to look a little more deeply, something that could be more true to what I was seeing. The camera phones are great for the quick snaps…but sometimes we need something sturdier. Something that shows depth.

Sometimes life is that way. The wonder around us requires us to look more deeply and not just glance. Requires us to hold our gaze long enough to see that there is hope in the midst of whatever circumstances we have.

Other times, the wonder takes our breath away and we have no choice but to recognize that something remarkable has happened. The birth of children…staggering.  Music that moves you beyond yourself and elevates your gaze, makes you yearn for something more. Paintings and art that capture the Creation in a way that moves your soul immediately, reflexively.

Hope. For me, it is tied to wonder. The fact that God created in a way that inspires us, in a way that stirs us and catches our breath, tells me that He is concerned with more than just practicality. He is concerned with more than efficiency. That means that sometimes He be will hard to figure out. Sometimes it will seem He is not being efficient in solving the issues that plague me.

Sometimes I have to look a little harder to find the hope. Sometimes hope requires faith that there is more happening than what we see.

“For Christians, hope is ultimately hope in Christ. The hope that he really is what for centuries we have been claiming he is. The hope that despite the fact that sin and death still rule the world, he somehow conquered them. The hope that in him and through him all of us stand a chance of somehow conquering them too. The hope that at some unforeseeable time and in some unimaginable way he will return with healing in his wings.” 

Frederick Buechner

He came once. There is promise in that…the fact that He came secures our hope. He came and He made Himself known to us. He humbled Himself…came in a way that we could grasp with even a glance. A baby. Understanding the implications takes a look that finds the depth and all the nuances.

He came, and brought hope and the promise that healing will come.

“Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;
    his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
    as the spring rains that water the earth.”

Micah 6:3

Advent. The perfect time for seeing a little more deeply, for looking with a lens that allows more color and more reality to come through. Not the glances of business as usual. The lingering gaze that is caught up in wonder. Hope tends to find its way through in those moments.

Malcolm Guite provides wonderful poetry through the Advent season, paired with images and audio. Take some time, if you have not discovered him, to read through his pages. For now, here is one of his sonnets:

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,

Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

I cannot teach except as I am taught,

Or break the bread except as I am broken.

O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

O Light within the light by which I see,

O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

O Memory of time, reminding me,

My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

Come to me now, disguised as everything.

Advent. Catching me by surprise yet again….

Every year I try to post some Advent poetry, along with some thoughts on Advent. This year, with Advent beginning right on the heels of Thanksgiving, I find myself spinning a little. We spent the past few days celebrating Thanksgiving, changing rooms around (which includes disassembling and reassembling bunkbeds ) and cleaning out closets. Plus the annual trip to the Christmas Tree farm and bringing home a very large Christmas tree!

It was busy.

It was not conducive to contemplation and the hush that accompanies Advent for me.

Beyond that, the last few weeks have been spent listening to many voices talking about Ferguson. Talking about tension and fear and frustration and anger. Both sides.

Then there was the beheading of Peter Kassig just a couple weeks ago.

And there is Pastor Saeed who is still in prison.

So many more stories I could list…so much weariness and pain, so much anger and fear. So many without hope.

And now Advent.

It constantly sneaks up on me. Even when I am looking, even when I am preparing, I am still caught by the beginning of the season. The reality of the season.

There is so much pain…and there is an answer. There is hope. There is redemption. It is not fairy tale, and in the midst of the pain and wild we need to hear all the more the Truth.

God with man came to abide. He did not abandon us, He did not forget. He still has not.

Remember the story afresh. Pause. Listen. Do not rush through the Advent season…let the hush catch you and hear the increasing intensity of the wonder as we march toward Christmas morning.

Tomorrow…Hope. You have to wait until tomorrow.

For now….

The Glory

 Madeleine L’Engle

Without any rhyme
without any reason
…my heart lifts to light
in this bleak season

Believer and wanderer
caught by salvation
stumbler and blunderer
into Creation

In this cold blight
where marrow is frozen
it is God’s time
my heart has chosen

In paradox and story
parable and laughter
find I the glory
here in hereafter

Monday Inspiration…a little light for the start of the week.

I am working toward shutting of FaceBook through the Advent season, and yet something caught me today. I came across two videos that touched me. Two videos which were more than kittens or silliness…two videos that brought joy to me and a bit of stirring to make the day something more.

 

I am able to waste an amazing amount of time on the internet. We have all bemoaned the abundance of nonsense we can find on the great world-wide-web. We have all most likely been touched by stories we have come across as well. Like most everything in life, it takes a sense of discipline to weed out the good and ignore the bad.

 

I am not always the best about being disciplined.

 

I look forward to a season of some silence from what can be noise on FB and social media. I look forward to setting it aside for a bit and listening to quieter voices, and yet I also know that in this season some great things bounce around the internet. Some go viral, some just touch a handful of folks. Sometimes, especially on a Monday morning, it is nice to have some inspiration. Even some videos of kittens.

 

So, I thought through Advent I might take Mondays to cull a few things from the internet and offer them up as moments of laughter, of joy, of inspiration or of nudging.

 

God speaks to us in so many ways. Often through pain and through trial He gains our attention with more focus…and yet there is so much of Him in the laughter and the wonder and the rejoicing. So much as we ease into Advent of being caught by music and stories that remind us there is “more”. There are some wonderful things to see and hear that make their way across my FB feed…here are a few to start your week before Advent:

 

This was one of the first videos I saw this morning. Inspiration, yes?

 

Advent Season always means music to me…

And…

Because not all the music has to be about Christmas on these Monday posts…this one is just fun and, well, it has umbrellas. Lots of them:

 

Oh, one more! If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing…start at 5:30. Stuart Duncan, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile:

 

Then there is this…in case you need to have your mind challenged a bit this morning and your imagination stirred.

 

 

I’ll leave you with this one. The nudge….oh to be like this woman, yes?

 

 

So, yes I am trimming down my time on FaceBook. Reading books that demand a slower pace. Listening more carefully and preparing my heart for that explosion of wonder that is Advent. Along the way, it is good to cull a few things that make us smile. Along the way it is good to remember that part of being Image Bearers is our creativity and our joy and our compassion. So thankful for those who live in a way that inspire and stir our hearts….hoping to be more that person every day.

Glimpses of Home

It finally happened.

Throughout this month I have pondered Bethlehem. We’ve looked at poems and listened to music. Suggestions have been made about how to silence the noise and focus on the reality of Incarnation. The Word made Flesh. And…walls have been hit. Sickness has completely thrown schedules askew. Unexpected expenses have added stress.

Oh, and of course, there was hiding out in the bathroom for the tornado warning. In December.

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In the midst, though, the groundwork was laid. Reminders in twinkling lights and candles. Reminders in choruses sung in the assembly of friends and strangers…in an old, old building that seems to hold the echoes of other choruses raised.

The old, old, story. It was laced in between the sickness and the walls, the unexpected expenses and the noise. The old story is strong and does not demand, but when the moment is right it resonates with our hearts.

Then it looked a little more like this:

candlelight

Sodas at dinner, which is a rare treat. Candlelight and twinkling lights. Delight. We didn’t do the Advent readings I had hoped for, although we’ll try to finish  the one book we have been working through. We did not do all the things I envisioned, but we had a moment in the midst of the clamor where we all sat around the table and laughed and talked and were present. For a lengthy, healthy time.

We were home. That is what we long for, and that, my friends is what Advent whispers to us. We have a home, and it is not what we expected. God became homeless to bring us home…

“For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.” -Frederick Buechner

 

The House of Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

-G. K. Chesterton

Stop. Raise Your Head. Hope is here.

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:28

We need the hope of Advent. I cannot imagine what it was like to be in Bethlehem at the time of birth of the Christ. I cannot imagine the waiting for the Messiah, and hope and the anticipation. I just cannot imagine it because I sit in relative comfort and I only know Christ through the fullness of His life, His death, His resurrection and the reality of His deity. I cannot look at the manger without an awareness of all that it holds.

Still. We get comfortable with the Babe in a manger, and we forget, or at least I do, the magnitude of the hope held there. They didn’t know in that moment…they only had an inkling. Mary knew the most, but even she did not know the magnitude. How could they? That not only was this the Son of God, but that He would make us all new.

This Advent season, just like every one past, and probably most to come, has been filled with a mixture of life. I have varied from stress to contemplation, from delight to sorrow. I have been frustrated and on edge, and I have been at peace and joyful. Sometimes all those things in the span of a day.

Advent, though, my friends…it is staggering.

It is hope.

The reality of God made flesh, God dwelling among His people, God redeeming…this reality should raise our eyes.

Look up and raise your heads.

Right now. Stressed? Overwhelmed? Just plain tired and sad?

Look up. Raise your head.

Right now. Depressed? Filled with sorrow and awareness of our brokenness?

Look up. Raise your head.

Stop. Listen again to the reality of God coming to His people. Hear it again, and let it soak into your bones. Raise your head and be filled with wonder. And hope.

Such a true Advent happening now creates something different from the anxious, petty, depressed, feeble Christian spirit that we see again and again, and that again and again wants to make Christianity contemptible. This becomes clear from the two powerful commands that introduce our text: “Look up and raise your heads” (Luke 21:28 RsV). Advent creates people, new people. We too are supposed to become new people in Advent. Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – God Is In the Manger