Joy! Flashmobs! The Light has Come!

One of my favorite things this time of year is scrolling through YouTube and watching FlashMobs. The one above, in Seoul, I love because of the language barrier. The songs are still familiar, however the language difference allows me to hear afresh. I love the expressions of the people.

This next one, in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, just amazes me. The singer is so talented, along with the musicians, but the words. Oh my soul.

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming
Here come the wise men from Orient land
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger
In all our trials born to be our friend

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.

 

This season, the Word of God, the announcement of God with us…it is sung out in the most unlikely places.

This one, in German, stretches my language again while still the music is familiar. Again, Hallelujah’s ring. Again the announcement that Christ has come.

This Advent business is not simply anticipation for us. We know the end of the story. We know He comes, and we know He changes everything. We know that He brings healing, brings hope, brings wonder. This Advent business is about joy alongside the anticipation. We still need to learn the art and discipline of waiting through this season…of quieting our hearts and being aware of our need.

But…sometimes the joy just has to come out. Because this is good news.

 “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”” Luke 2:8-15

 

 

 

Never let anyone shrink your Advent down to only lighting candles — instead of you breaking into flame, because our God is holy fire and His people ignite light that breaks into a wildfire of change that breaks the captives free.  – Ann Voskamp 

 

This great mystery of the Incarnation. We need the days of Advent to allow the space and time for this truth to soak us again. The reality of God with Us. Emmanuel. In the midst of dark days, in the midst of loneliness…God has come. Rejoice! Find that balance this season of quiet anticipation and joyful exuberance.

The following poem, from Malcolm Guite’s Advent series last year helps me. I keep thinking on the line “O quickened little wick so tightly curled, Be folded with us into time and place, Unfold for us the mystery of grace.”

 

(You may click on the title to hear Malcolm read the poem, and I highly encourage you do so.)

O Emmanuel

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

Red-Eye Reflections

I honestly don’t know if I have ever flown all the way across the country on a red-eye.

Seattle to Philadelphia. It is almost 10:30pm and the lights of Seattle are just fading behind us. Almost five hours ahead. This is a slow process…I know, much quicker than the road trip we just completely…still, a slow process without  the interruption of changing flights and rushing through the airport. 

I like it, I like the hours to process the week that just completed. I am thankful for some uninterrupted time to read a little and to reflect.

I have a tendency to rush. I have a tendency want to move on to the next responsibility or appointment or adventure before the last has had time to settle. Seasons of quiet are always a challenge for me.

I learned something at the end of the week at Regent College that surprised me, something I wasn’t  expecting:

 I learned that poetry makes us slow down. 



The last evening in Vancouver I was able to attend a poetry reading by Luci Shaw and Malcom Guite. I already shared the other day insights I gleaned from Malcolm’s lecture, but this was different.

This was two friends sharing their stories and their hearts through these words they are able to weave with lyrical ingenuity, capturing our attention and our imaginations. Both Luci and Malcolm took us into the woods, took us into doctor’s examination  rooms, took us into their love of poetry itself, and took us into the presence of God.

  

Luci mentioned that poets are God’s gift to the world, and although she said it with a smirk and twinkle in her eye, she spoke the truth.

The poet and the artist are God’s gift to us. They force us to look differently at the mundane and ordinary around us. They force us to listen, through changing the rhythm of our words and drawing out the lyrical rhyme, they catch our ear and slow us down. They open our eyes to look in a new way, using light and color and shadows. They catch our attention, and they make us pause.

I know that I need this. I know that I get caught up in finding the solution, in analyzing and critiquing. The week was spent thinking seriously about Colossians, and that was good. My brain was enlivened and my thinking sparked….but I needed to finish on this note of pause. 

Friday night Luci and Malcolm, and a group of listeners in Vancouver, slowed and listened. The poets interrupted the normal rhythm of a busy week with words gathered to inspire, to enlarge and in the same moment to connect us with one another. 

Suddenly we saw pebbles on the beach and weeds beside the road as holy things. We were witness to their friendship as they laughed and even more as their countenance shone as they spoke of how and why they write, and of those poets they love. 

  

If you have never read Luci Shaw, well, you need to. This is not poetry that inspires fear as we try to understand. This is poetry that connects and gives words to the feelings we recognize. This is poetry made for enlarging our vision, for opening our eyes. This is poetry that reminds us matter matters; that the ordinary things of the world are holy.
Oh, but you think you don’t like poetry or aren’t able to understand? How about this?

Peeling The Onion



There’s not much I don’t know about you – 

yellow, red, sweet—grubbed up roots and all.

Essential for a vigorous cuisine, alerting

the sense—the crackle of your paper brown outer

skin, your translucent inner sheaths like

vegetable undergarments, your pungent heat

rising from sharp steel and cutting board

to my blurred eyes, your precise circles against

the wood, before the sizzle in the buttered pan.




Reluctant to relinquish our intimacy

your sharp essence clings to my fingers, like

a reputation. Hours later, in the dark, you season

the air around my hands, I’ll stud you with

stars of cloves to bury in the belly of the bird

before roasting. Or nestle your pearls

with a stalk of mint among the green peas.

If I leave you too long in the pantry, your

patience exhausted, attenuated, soft at the center,

you send up green spears through the mesh bag

that call out chop me, make a salad, I am delicious.


How do I interpret my own

layered membranes, like growth rings?

I try to peel away the layers of my

onion heart, never getting all the way in.



Pause.  Listen well and pay attention. Listen for the rhyme and the lyrical reminders to pause. Don’t rush….find some poetry and listen. Even about the most mundane activities of life….peeling an onion. 
Another? How about this from Malcolm:

Holding and Letting Go


We have a call to live, and oh

A common call to die.

I watched you and my father go

To bid a friend goodbye.

I watched you hold my father’s hand,

How could it not be so?

The gentleness of holding on

Helps in letting go.


For when we feel our frailty

How can we not respond?

And each to hold another’s hand

And feel the common bond?

For then we touch the heights above

And every depth below,

We touch the very quick of love;

Holding and letting go.


I’ve made it across the country. Thankful for a quiet, long flight. Thankful for the forced pause. Back to rushing a bit now, catching the final flight home, but doing so with a brighter eye and a heart full of inspiration. 




There is a Light that Heals

Sitting down with my good cup of coffee this morning, held in a mug which holds memories along with caffeine, I began to read. The world opened before me in the form of Facebook posts and Twitter comments. Instagram photos and news headlines.

Fear. Anger. Outrage. Concern.

A few with encouraging words, with hope of things deeper.

I have not written here in months. There are things I would like to write about, yet they do not seem to come together clearly yet. So I wait. More thoughts about Mom and the toll of Dementia. More thoughts about homeschool and the joys and challenges of that life. More thoughts about kids and faith and creativity and wonder….but they all seem overshadowed now.

In the past I have daily posted poems as we have moved through the Lenten Season. I have fasted from Facebook and other things, sharing the reasons and the results.

This year, Lent has seem swept aside by all the noise and debate and discussion of politics. There is so much there to parse and think about. I have no desire to add my voice to that debate, unless you want to sit with me over a cup of coffee and talk at length. There is not much I could say in 140 characters or a Facebook post that would clarify a candidate or a policy. Plus there are so many already saying so much, I just don’t want to add to the mix.

Instead…can I encourage you?

I needed it this morning. I turned to Malcolm Guite  who faithfully leads us through the seasons of the Church with poetry and insights. I needed this this morning. I needed to be reminded of the rhythm and the truth of a reality beyond politics. Don’t get me wrong…I understand the importance and participate in the responsibility of our elections.

Today though, I needed to be reminded “There is a light that heals, and, where it falls, transfigures and redeems the darkest stain into translucent colour.”

Possibly you needed a reminder as well.  If you click the link you can hear Malcolm read the poem as well.

Through the Gate

Begin the song exactly where you are

For where you are contains where you have been

And holds the vision of your final sphere

 

And do not fear the memory of sin;

There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,

Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

 

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils

And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,

Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

 

The hopeless gate that holds in all the  fears

That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide

And open to the light that finds and fares

 

Through the dark pathways  where you run and  hide,

through all the alleys of your riddled heart,

As pierced and open as His wounded side.

 

Open the map to Him and make a start,

And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark

His light will go before you, let Him chart

 

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache

To him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind

Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

 

And muted gloom in which you cannot find

The love that you once thought worth dying for.

Call Him to all you cannot call to mind

 

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your

Well guarded fortress let His love descend.

The icy ego at your frozen core

 

Can hear His call at last. Will you respond?

Blaze again…

Monday morning comes early, it seems. Technically, it is all the same, but there is something about Monday that brings a solemnity making it a bit more difficult to begin the day. There are those who face a greater stress when Monday finds us; stress from work or school or other obligations. Sometimes it is difficult, for me, to awaken on Monday and think of Advent.

 

Sometimes Monday morning clouds the patient imaginations of Advent. I need help on Monday morning especially.

 

I love the poetry of Malcolm Guite. He helps me, even on Monday morning, to bring my thoughts around. There is a link on the title that will take you to him reading the poem and you can enjoy hearing it with the rich English accent. I needed to hear this morning the cry to blaze again like fire…

 

O Adonai

Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,

Unseeable, you gave yourself away,

The Adonai, the Tetragramaton

Grew by a wayside in the light of day.

O you who dared to be a tribal God,

To own a language, people and a place,

Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,

If so you might be met with face to face,

Come to us here, who would not find you there,

Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,

Who heard no more than thunder in the air,

Who marked the mere events and not the myth.

Touch the bare branches of our unbelief

And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

 

 

The patient waiting of Advent continues. Maybe all the more so we need the discipline of turning our attention toward the incredible reality of the Incarnation. We need to know that the stress of the mundane, the toil that we engage, and all the the responsibilities we carry matter. We need to know on grey Monday mornings that there is a reality which deepens the surface of what we see.

 

We need to know that the Story is true.  We need the breath of that reality on Monday morning to infuse and ignite us.

 

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The Lingering Gaze that finds Hope

Novblog10

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.

Be Still. Wait with Anticipation.

advent

Two more days.  Advent begins on Sunday!

I know that I have been harping on this theme. I have been pestering. I have spent far more time on this this year than ever before, and probably more time on this than any other theme on the blog…at least for writing on one theme over several days. Other than maybe the theme of wonder.

There is a reason.

I need the harping and the pestering myself. Even with all this, I still feel slightly unprepared. I fall into a trap fairly often in my parenting: I want to make things perfect. Pinterest worthy. Picture perfect.

Rarely do they work out that way, and often I become stressed.

So, that is part of the harping as well.  Advent is absolutely, non-negotiably, emphatically NOT about being stressed.

Whatever we do, this season is about stilling ourselves so we can listen and we can wait. Wait with anticipation, and wait with hope. Wait with joy.

Advent is about the awareness of our need for a savior, yes. There is in the history of Advent the element of penitence, but it is more I think about this anticipation of the arrival of the Christ child. And that should be filled with wonder and awe.

In the midst of of struggles with jobs and with life and with raising kids and with being tired and with laundry and with family dynamics and with the turmoil around us in the world…and it is great…we need moments when we focus on wonder and when we focus on hope. When we still ourselves and we wait.

So I pester and I harp and I poke you, and myself, to pause over the next four weeks and pay attention. Do something to make this season stand out.

Light candles. Sing songs. Read poetry.

Be still.

How is this going to look in our family? Steve and I decided we would not ask for the technology to be completely shut off, because that would feel more like punishment to the kids. We are, however, pulling it back. We will only have one tv show a day (and one a week for mom), and the tech time is being cut in half…down to just an hour and half a day. And it has to be off by 6pm.  At 6pm we’ll have dinner and light the Advent candles and we’ll talk and sing and be with each other.

Not drastic, but something to make this season stand out. In the midst of the days there will be other activities that draw our attention toward the coming of the Christ child. We will keep pointing and focusing and making room to think about the wonder of Christmas.

And we will pray that God will meet us in this season. That He will enlarge our imagination and He will infuse this season with His Spirit. I hope you will come along with us!

Here are a few more links with ideas and resources…

Ideas for Adults:

I posted a few links Wednesday  here which will help the adults with some devotionals and focus, and I will be posting poetry each day through Advent here on the blog.

Poet and musician Malcolm Guite  last year posted sonnets from his book Sounding the Seasons. Each of the seven sonnets is accompanied by art.

SimpleLiving has a fantastic list of ideas on ways to make your Advent season and Christmas stand out from the commercialized season it has become.

Ideas for Families:

Baby Steps for Celebrating Advent

No Panic Advent – with a bunch of great book suggestions

Simple Kids – Great ideas on how to make Advent simple and kid-friendly

Homeschooled-kids has an $8 printable packet with activities and crafts and lots of ideas.

No Soft God…

the-expulsion-from-the-temple-1

 

 

“Come to your Temple here with liberation

And overturn these tables of exchange

Restore in me my lost imagination

Begin in me for good, the pure change.”

My “Temple” is filled with unclean things. Distractions, motivations that are impure.

Sin.

Clutter.

My imagination is caught up so often in things that draw me away from God rather than toward Him. I am, frankly, weak and lacking in discipline and in focus. I am in need. I am broken by a sinful nature that does me in, and by an enemy who would rejoice in my defeat.

I need not a soft God who is only love and who demands little. A God who would simply bless me in my choices and my way.

I need a God who demands holiness and who knows true justice. I need a God who will clean this temple, and I, in my lack of imagination, need a God I can “see”.  I need something more than a God of wood or stone that I can gaze upon…I need a God who walks and talks and surprises me.

I need Jesus. I need Jesus who touched lepers with tenderness, who wept at His friend’s death. I need Jesus who knows loneliness and pain and suffering, and yet who knows wonder and imagination and love and joy.

This week I am following the posts of Malcolm Guite, and I am thankful for the poet and the artist and the musicians who bring to life the emotions and the words that fail me. Today his post is about the cleansing of the Temple. This is the God in whom I put my faith and my trust…and my need. The God who is willing and able to act justly and to save and to redeem and to cleanse.

The God who will break the barriers.

Cleansing the Temple

 

 

Come to your Temple here with liberation

And overturn these tables of exchange

Restore in me my lost imagination

Begin in me for good, the pure change.

Come as you came, an infant with your mother,

That innocence may cleanse and claim this ground

Come as you came, a boy who sought his father

With questions asked and certain answers found,

Come as you came this day, a man in anger

Unleash the lash that drives a pathway through

Face down for me the fear the shame the danger

Teach me again to whom my love is due.

Break down in me the barricades of death

And tear the veil in two with your last breath.

 

 

As I was writing this I was thinking of the strength of our God, and I came across Steve Green singing A Mighty Fortress. Put on your headphones and turn this up loudly. This is not a soft God who gives us up to our ways. This is a God who faces down the fear the shame and the danger. This is the God who tears the veil in two.