Thursday, December 28, 2017

Epiphany – original "Star Power"

Artist Unknown
Matthew’s Gospel is the only one that records the story of the Magi. Right from the get-go, this story has the makings of a Hallmark special movie.  It has high drama, a plot which features long journeys, astrologers, a guiding star that is possibly a remnant from an explosion from a Super Nova, a dark force of threatening danger, political intrigue, divine dreaming, holy whisperings, and a vulnerable newborn child.

We recently heard in Luke’s Christmas story that shepherds came to the stable. Shepherds were regarded as unclean and could not take part in Temple worship without undergoing purification. Therefore, his emphasis is on Jesus being God’s revelation to the poor and the rejected.  While in Matthew, the emphasis is on the universality of Jesus’ mission. (A truth that Pope Francis has expressed once again in his writings: “. . . it is vitally important for the Church today to go forth and preach the Gospel to all: to all places, on all occasions, without hesitation, reluctance or fear. The joy of the Gospel is for all people: no one can be excluded....   That is what the angel proclaimed to the shepherds in Bethlehem: ‘Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people.’”)  ~Lk 2:10

Over several hundred years, Christian imagination, legend, and tradition have embellished Matthew’s story – for in his revelation he does not tells us that  the Magi were wise, or men, or kings, or that there were three, or that they were from the Orient, nor does he speak of their mode of transportation, and he certainly misses the mark by not providing names of the Magi  . . . it is not so much the details that are important; it is the meaning of Matthew’s message.

Among Matthew’s Jewish community, they were finding it difficult to accept that God came for all, and not just a few. They were clinging to the idea that if you want to follow Jesus, to be one of his disciples, you had to first be a Jew.  And if you were male, then you had to be circumcised; then if you were to become Christian, you had to continue to fulfill all the rules of the law.  This is why Matthew writes this story . . .this is the mystery, that God is now revealed to all nations, and God has come to transform all of human history, all peoples of all times.

These Magi were Gentiles- (non-Jews –not part of the Chosen People); they were from the Persian priestly class from the East, which is present day Iraq and Iran.  They were star-gazers who observed the movements of the planets and stars.  They were wisdom figures, interpreters of dreams, skilled in medicine, natural science and astrology.  This was condemned by the Jewish religion. 

 In the ancient world, it was believed that the Magi could foretell the future from the stars, and they believed that a person’s destiny was determined by the star under which the person was born.  Scholars do not know which star the Magi saw, but it spoke to them about the entry of a king into the world. 

The Magi represent the whole Gentile world.  According to medieval legends, they were named Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar. Each of them came from a different culture: Melchior was Asian, Balthazar was Persian, and Gaspar was Ethiopian, representing the three races known to the old world at that time.

Author John Shea writes that there is a legend that the Magi were three different ages. Gaspar was a young man, Balthazar in his middle years, and Melchior a senior citizen. When they approached the cave at Bethlehem, they first went in one at a time. Melchior found an old man like himself with whom he was quickly at home. They spoke together of memory and gratitude. The middle-aged Balthazar encountered a teacher of his own years. They talked passionately of leadership and responsibility. When Gaspar entered, a young prophet met him with words of reform and promise.

The three met outside the cave and marveled at how each had gone in to see a newborn child, but each had met someone of his own years. They gathered their gifts in their arms and entered together a second time. In a manger on a bed of straw was a child twelve days old.

The message is that Christ speaks to every stage of the life process – the young hear the call to identity and intimacy, the middle-aged hear the call to generatively and responsibility, and the elders seek to hear the call to integrity and wisdom. We all seek to find the Christ in each stage of our own lives and the gift that is given us is that we find ourselves as well.

The word EPIPHANY comes from the Greek, meaning a manifestation, an awakening, a showing forth, - and in Matthew’s Gospel of the Magi’s visit,  what is made known can be called an “epiphany moment” – there is a sudden spiritual intuitive awareness, a flash of insight that God has come to more than the people of Israel - God is shining forth to all peoples – a display of God’s unconditional love of all people through the smile and laughter of a tender, newborn baby.  The Magi had to trust and follow their limited instincts.  And that is what all of us are invited to do again and again . . . for the mystery of Epiphany is that God is perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed.

After they experience the face of God in this fragile, tender child, there is a newer and deeper awareness that all are welcomed, accepted, and loved into the embrace of this newborn King.  They realize that their encounter with Jesus truly changes them and they will live life differently.  (Richard Rohr: “An epiphany is not an experience that we can create from within, but one that we can only be open to and receive . . .Epiphanies leave us totally out of control, and they always demand that we change.”)

God whispers to the Magi in their dreams and warns them of the danger they will meet if they return to Herod.  Having been in the presence of God, they discover that they need to let go of old routes of travel, the familiar, the comfortable, and return home – not by the same way they came, but ready to follow new paths, new stars! They depart with a new inner knowing; they are filled with joy and awe and try to hold the meaning and mystery of this personal encounter with the one who is beyond all galaxies, the Prince of Peace!

Today’s feast tells us that for God there are no foreigners, no strangers, no aliens, and no outsiders.  We all belong to our God no matter what external physical or cultural differences there may be between us; we all belong to God no matter what our religious convictions or lifestyle differences may be.  Our God is inclusive, unpredictable, imaginative, compassionate, forgiving, and creative.

This feast means that we are all called to be “epiphany people.”  There is no turning back; just an on-going commitment to “shine forth” with courage, compassion, vision, and hope and to live with a restless Spirit, so as to be intensely engaged with humanity each in our own unique way.

So let us embrace the graces of these readings and this celebration, because it is in this liturgy of joining with one another in the sharing of the Word, and in the breaking of the bread, that we, too, become “epiphany people.”  Here we encounter our God – Holy Mystery– and in this place we are all changed, and we can reflect on the seasons of our own lives when God has shown forth to us and invited us to walk new paths under the guidance of a new star.

Finally let us pray in a poet’s words- Macrina Wiederkehr:
Creator of the Stars; God of Epiphanies
You are the Great Star; You have marked our paths with light
You have filled our sky with stars naming each star
Guiding it until it shines into our hearts
Awakening us to deeper seeing
New revelations
And brighter epiphanies!

Artist Unknown

~ Solemnity of the Mother of God ~ Happy New Year!

Artist Unknown
The story is told that little Alice was captivated with the stories of Jesus – especially the nativity and the eventual death of Jesus on the cross.  And she was overjoyed when she was chosen to be an angel in the school nativity play.  She learned her lines to perfection. 

However, little Alice was known to add her own logic to every situation.
So the nativity play was well under way and when it was Alice’s turn to say her lines to Mary, she said: “Don’t worry, Mary, you will have a lovely baby and you will call him Jesus.” Then she added, “But I wouldn’t’ get too attached to him, ‘cus he’ll be gone by Easter.”

Isn’t it amazing how certain voices keep us grounded in truth and cause us to ponder, reflect, review, or even reframe our lived realities?  Certainly this feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, calls us, like Mary, to ponder all the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of our own lives. And yet, not to get too attached to them because they are only stepping stones that gently move us forward with courage, hope, imagination, new insight and wisdom  into this new year.

In our Gospel we see that Mary and Joseph as transients, equivalent to the homeless of our city streets. In this setting, "Mary, is a young woman in a patriarchal society. She wrapped her child in swaddling clothes, the traditional Palestinian way of securing a newborn, and laid him in a manger.  Mary was very much like the majority of women in the world today; she was a peasant from a village of about 1600 people.  She was poor, exploited by the rich; she had to pay taxes to Caesar, to Herod, and to the temple."  She was persecuted. She was like many people in our world today, especially women in Asia, Africa, in Latin America and all those tiny villages where women work 10 or more hours a day on domestic chores – fetching water, gathering wood for fires, and preparing meals.

The first to hear the message were shepherds who were busy with their flocks.  They were regarded as unclean and of low economic and social rank. They hurried to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the child.  The Gospels tell us there was something very significant about Mary.  It’s what Luke tells us in today’s Gospel - “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

What Luke is telling us is that Mary was someone who throughout her entire life pondered, reflected and listened deeply to God in her life trying to discover how God was present to her in the events that were happening.  And in her pondering, she let go of control, trusted so deeply, and was open to all possibilities.  She allowed God’s love to define and direct her life rather than let her fears fling her into illusions, darkness or lostness!

In the biblical sense, “to ponder is patiently holding inside of one’s soul that which one desires to understand, along with all the tension that it brings.  It means to puzzle out the meaning of the events of our lives; to toss things together until they make sense.”  Mary, experiencing things she did not fully understand, turned them over in her mind and heart.  She pondered in order to fathom the meaning of her experiences and kept on her Gospel path walking by faith having enough light for only the next step. 
Often Mary carried a great tension within her in which she was helpless to resolve the realities of her life and had to simply embrace them as mystery, accept them and believe, and then go on with her life living with these tensions.

It is written that “Tension is necessary – inevitable between what is NOW and what will be tomorrow.  To be human is to live in tension constantly exercising, flexing and releasing spiritual and pastoral muscle.  Tension is good and Godly, vital and virtuous.  Good tension is a response to Divine Disturbance and leads to a deeper commitment to God’s mission.”

Today is also World Day of Peace – a day to ponder the new Bethlehems and new Nazareths that are happening in us where the Divine can find a home within us and within our world once again.  Perhaps on this first day of the New Year, we will puzzle over our lives and resolve to commit ourselves to listen as Mary did, and hear God speaking to us through the Scriptures, our prayer,  and through all the events of our everyday lives.
So let us be open to the graces of these Scriptures today:
  • That like Mary, we may risk moving to the margins, and let God direct and guide us as we walk this New Year’s path perhaps finding ourselves humming in the darkness through it all.
  • That God will truly look us full in the face, smile upon our efforts at peace and justice for all, shine upon our world, bless us and keep us.
  • That like Mary, may God grace us in our attempts to hold, keep, treasure, puzzle out , and toss together our ponderings, act on them and give birth to deep peace in our hearts, our homes, our church, our government, and in our world.
  • And that we, like Mary, may not get too attached to comfort, certainty and answers.   May we learn that tension is inevitable between the now and the not yet- and that our God is eternally pondering us and seeking new Bethlehems and new Nazareths within us where the divine mission can be birthed again and again.
So let us ponder the words of the mystic, Meister Eckhart, who reminds us that we all are meant to be Mothers of God.
“What good is it to me
if this eternal birth of the divine Son
takes place unceasingly
but does not take place
within myself?

What good is it to me
for the Creator to give birth to his/her Son
if I do not also give birth to him
in my time and my culture?
This, then, is the fullness of time:
When the Son of God is begotten in us.”

For we are all meant to be Mothers of God.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Angels and John!

When I was in second grade (in the other century) at Brother Dutton school in Beloit, WI, our class put on a Christmas play focusing on the Nativity and the manger scene.  Of course, Kathy K., was chosen to be Mary (probably because she had long blond curls). Tom M., the smallest boy in our class, was selected to be baby Jesus, and I can’t recall who was chosen to be Joseph.  However, the rest of us got to be angels, and we stood on those tiny reading chairs which were arranged in two long rows behind the manger scene. The Star of Bethlehem was covered in aluminum foil and attached to the yardstick that usually leaned against the piano in our room.  So to give the impression of the movement of the star guiding the shepherds to Bethlehem, each child angel was handed the yardstick with the attached shining star, and moved it along from angel to angel down the row until it reached the last angel, who then raised it high so that it would shimmer, sparkle, glow and reflect light upon the face of baby Jesus.  I was the lucky one to be that last angel to stand there with the yardstick and star, and to just shine!   (This was the beginning and ending of my acting career!)

In our Gospel today, I suppose at first glance, we might say that John knows next to nothing about angels or shepherds, stars or magi.  However, the Gospel of John, always looking for deeper meanings in ordinary things, gives us a theological perspective on the Christmas story. 

John’s literary style is more poetic, a higher Christology presented than any other Christian Scripture writer; it is a mystical reflection on the divinity and incarnation of Jesus.  His focus is on the “signs” of Jesus, namely his identity and mission, and the Gospel is filled with lengthy theological discourses.

John begins his Gospel with “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” (John 1:9). The Light was to be incarnate and dwelling among humanity. Translations use the phrase “God pitched his tent” among us; while others remark on “God has tabernacled” among us.  And according to one contemporary author, he writes, “God moved in with us.”  God is present in Jesus and God’s face is revealed to us and to all creation through, with, and in Jesus.  He is to be understood as the “revealed” of God . . . all that Jesus says and does in the Gospel reveals something of the Mystery and the glory of God, and this Mystery challenges us to believe in the One whom God has sent.

It is at this season, with each Christmas card we open, we are invited to reflect on Jesus as the Light entering the darkness of Mary’s womb, becoming incarnate Word, Light, Healer, Compassion, and Love of God.

Also, as we contemplate the reading from Hebrews, we read that God spoke in the past through prophets, and through bright clouds, a burning bush, and a pillar of fire which were signs of God's presence for the people.  Yet, that is no longer needed; no longer enough . . . for now God is doing something New! God speaks God-self to us and to all creation. The Word enters humanity; it is a cosmic union of heaven and earth! 

Jesus was Word Incarnate whose words took flesh as well.  His words were of compassion, healing, encouragement, and empowerment.  Jesus not only spoke of a God of mercy and forgiveness, but also extended that forgiveness to all whom he encountered.  Jesus taught by his way of life - for Jesus was the Word that both stabilized and destabilized; that comforted and discomforted. He was Wonder-Counselor, the Prince of Peace who filled our world with majesty, mystery, and meaning.

At this time, we once again celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ; we celebrate the Promise of Peace.  We celebrate this awesome mystery; an incredible, unfathomable, infinite kind of Love that is difficult to wrap our minds around, much less our hearts!  Our God has truly entered the human condition, a human condition that is not all clean and lovely, warm and welcoming as Christmas cards would have us believe.  Our loving God is committed to living in solidarity with us; to share our joys and pains, and to companion us in all the joyful and sorrowful mysteries of our lives.

So let it be said, Christmas is not the feast of a child born long ago and far away. Christmas is the feast of the God who loved us so much as to take upon our human nature so that God might in that human nature impart to us God-self and thus a share in unending life!

I close with a poetry selection entitled: “The Work of Christmas”— by Howard Thurman, who was a spiritual mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr., and is considered a great mystic of the 20th century.  He writes:

The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,  
To bring peace among all people, and
To make music in the heart.   
Merry Christmas!  

Gospel Jn. 1 1-18

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas eve homily of HOPE!

Five year old Johnny was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup. But he didn't want to go in alone. “It’s dark in there and I’m scared.” She asked again, and he persisted. Finally she said, “It’s OK — Jesus will be in there with you.” Johnny walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said: "Hey, Jesus, if you’re in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?”

These past weeks of Advent began as never before, with a time as individuals, as a faith community, as a religious congregation, as a church, a nation, and inhabitants of this planet earth ~we all were faced with standing in liminality – that in-betweenness – a threshold of disoriented vagueness hoping against hope that God was in the darkness of it all!  Like Johnny, in these times, we, too, need to be courageous and creative and call out to our God to hand us what we need in times of doubt, confusion, apprehension, and fear while walking in this space and time of uncertainty.  

Recall how these past months may have been the best of times and the worst of times.  As members of this planet, we have experienced devastating and destructive wild fires, earthquakes, volcanoes, three major hurricanes, wide-spread flooding, we teeter on the edge of a nuclear war, we observe mass shootings, bombings, terrorist threats and attacks, there are stories of human trafficking (some touching our own families), our children suicide because of cruel bullying, we notice serious evidence of climate change, and we are faced daily as a nation with an opioid drug epidemic, and yet we rise!
We have become first responders, heroes and she-roes performing countless acts of selflessness and kindness, generous with our hands and hearts, our time and talents, our finances, our voices, our spirits, and we rise together courageous in faith and we stand together with an unwavering hope!

However . . . “We are not to lose heart. We were made for these times” as one author writes. “People everywhere are concerned and deeply bewildered about the state of affairs in our world. Ours is not a task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.”

Christmas and beyond is a season that invites us to cross over the threshold from darkness to light, from anxiety to a holy serenity; this crossing turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, confusion into clarity, the unexpected into perfect timing, and bids us to wholeheartedly turn to seek God who is already in the turning!

It is here tonight that we are to look beyond ourselves to the simple manger scene.  For there, within the simple cave, the displaced couple, the manger, and the shepherds came together to form the clear image that our God comes to the world through the poor, the marginalized, the powerless, and the oppressed.  Our God is always awaiting our “advent” – our coming closer to the heart of God to be enfolded in compassion, forgiveness, and unconditional love.

So when we feel confused, anxious, and frightened, or we find ourselves grasping for hope — let us not give in or give up too soon. Let us not lose heart for we were made for these times, for the world needs people of hope.  It is in accepting each other’s pain and vulnerability can our common human strength and courage grow. Then in this accepting, our shared life in God will flow through us, between us, and around us.  Let us hope in one another and in all who work for peace and justice throughout our fragile world.

It is at this Christmas season and beyond, that God is using our lives to bring new hope, joy, peace, and life into the waiting world. Let us then, with our resilient spirits be ready to ask God to just hand us the tomato soup or whatever we may need to be at ease as we walk bravely in this wilderness of uncertainty and vulnerability, no matter how dark life gets. For we know that God always shows up in surprising ways with remarkable graces and gifts that change our lives and the world.

I close with a brief prayer which invites us all to remember that it is in our shared humanity that we can make an enormous difference in bringing hope and healing to the world that is within our reach.

God of history and of our hearts,

so much has happened to us during these whirlwind days:
Help us to believe in beginnings

and in our beginning again,

no matter how often we’ve failed before.

Help us to make beginnings:

to begin going out of our weary minds

into fresh dreams,

daring to make our own bold tracks

in the land of now;

to begin forgiving

that we may experience mercy;

to begin questioning the unquestionable

that we may know truth

to begin sacrificing

that we may make peace;
to begin loving 

that we may realize joy.
Help us to be a beginning to others,

to be a singer to the songless,

a storyteller to the aimless,

a befriender of the friendless;

to become a beginning of hope for the despairing,

of assurance for the doubting,

of reconciliation for the divided;

to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,

of comfort for the sorrowing,

of friendship for the forgotten;

to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,

of sweetness for the soured,

of gentleness for the angry,

of wholeness for the broken,

of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.

Help us to believe in beginnings,

to make a beginning,

to be a beginning,

so that we may not just grow old,

but grow new

each day of this wonderful, amazing life

you call us to live
 . . .

Taken from Guerrillas of Grace                                                     
by Ted Loder

Christmas Light, Peace, Love . . .

Light looked down and saw darkness.
“I will go there,” said light.

Peace looked down and saw war.
“I will go there,” said peace.

Love looked down and saw hatred.
“I will go there,” said love.

So God,
The God of Light,
The Prince of Peace,
The King of Love,
came down and crept in beside us.
(Rev. John Bell)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Adventing into Christmas and beyond . . .

God of history and of our hearts,
so much has happened to us during these whirlwind days
Help us to believe in beginnings
and in our beginning again,
no matter how often we’ve failed before.   

Help us to make beginnings
to begin going out of our weary minds
into fresh dreams,
daring to make our own bold tracks
in the land of now;
to begin forgiving
that we may experience mercy;
to begin questioning the unquestionable
that we may know truth
to begin sacrificing
that we may make peace;                                                                                                       
to begin loving
that we may realize joy.     

Help us to be a beginning to others,
to be a singer to the songless,
a storyteller to the aimless,
a befriender of the friendless;
to become a beginning of hope for the despairing,
of assurance for the doubting,
of reconciliation for the divided;
to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
of comfort for the sorrowing,
of friendship for the forgotten;
to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
of sweetness for the soured,
of gentleness for the angry,
of wholeness for the broken,
of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.

Help us to believe in beginnings,
to make a beginning,
to be a beginning,
so that we may not just grow old,
but grow new
each day of this wonderful, amazing life
you call us to live . . .

Taken from Guerrillas of Grace                                                     
by Ted Loder

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

God's wife. . .?

An eye witness account from New York City, on a cold day in December, some years ago: A little boy, about 10-years-old, was standing before a shoe store on the roadway, barefooted, peering through the window, and shivering with cold. A lady approached the young boy and said, “My, but you’re in such deep thought staring in that window!” “I was asking God to give me a pair of shoes,” was the boy’s reply.

The lady took him by the hand, went into the store, and asked the clerk to get half a dozen pairs of socks for the boy. She then asked if he could give her a basin of water and a towel. He quickly brought them to her. She took the little fellow to the back part of the store and, removing her gloves, knelt down, washed his little feet, and dried them with the towel.

By this time, the clerk had returned with the socks. Placing a pair upon the boy’s feet, she purchased him a pair of shoes. She tied up the remaining pairs of socks and gave them to him. She patted him on the head and said, “No doubt, you will be more comfortable now.”

As she turned to go, the astonished kid caught her by the hand, and looking up into her face, with tears in his eyes, asked her, “Are you God’s wife?”
Story attributed to Leo Buscaglia

Monday, December 18, 2017

Solstice Time . . .

A Winter Solstice Prayer

The dark shadow of space leans over us. . . . .
We are mindful that the darkness of greed, exploitation, and hatred
also lengthens its shadow over our small planet Earth.

As our ancestors feared death and evil and all the dark powers of winter,
we fear that the darkness of war, discrimination, and selfishness
may doom us and our planet to an eternal winter.

May we find hope in the lights we have kindled on this sacred night,
hope in one another and in all who form the web-work of peace and justice
that spans the world.

In the heart of every person on this Earth
burns the spark of luminous goodness;
in no heart is there total darkness.

May we who have celebrated this winter solstice,
by our lives and service, by our prayers and love,
call forth from one another the light and the love
that is hidden in every heart.

 Edward Hays from Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim

Photo by SF

Advent Candles . . .Four

The Four Candles burned slowly. Their ambiance was so soft you could hear them speak...

The first candle said, “I Am Peace, but these days, nobody wants to keep me lit." Then Peace's flame slowly diminished and went out completely.

The second candle said, "I Am Faith, but these days, I am no longer indispensable." Then Faith's flame slowly diminished and went out completely.

Sadly the third candle spoke,
"I Am Love and I haven't the strength to stay lit any longer.
People put me aside and don't understand my importance. They even forget to love those who are nearest to them." And waiting no longer, Love went out completely.

Suddenly ... A child entered the room and saw the three candles no longer burning.       The child began to cry, "Why are you not burning? You are supposed to stay lit until the end."

Then the Fourth Candle spoke gently to the little boy, "Don't be afraid, for I Am Hope, and while I still burn, we can re-light the other candles." With shining eyes, the child took the Candle of Hope and lit the other three candles.

Never let the Flame of Hope go out. With Hope in your life, no matter how bad things may be, Peace, Faith and Love may shine brightly once again.

              (~ Author Unknown)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

A Blessing for Winter . . .

A Winter Blessing

Blessed are you, winter, dark season of waiting, you affirm the dark seasons of our lives, forecasting the weather of waiting in hope.

Blessed are you, winter, you faithfully guard a life unseen, calling those who listen deeply to discover winter rest.

Blessed are you, winter, frozen and cold on the outside, within your silent,
nurturing womb you warmly welcome all that longs for renewal.

Blessed are you, winter, your bleak, barren trees preach wordless sermons
about emptiness and solitude.

Blessed are you, winter, you teach us valuable lesson about waiting
in darkness with hope and trust.

Blessed are you, winter, season of blood red sunsets and star-filled,
long, dark nights, faithfully you pour out your beauty.

Blessed are you, winter, when your tiny snowflakes flurry through the air,
You awaken our sleeping souls.

Blessed are you, winter, with your wild and varied moods,
So intent on being yourself, you refuse to be a people-pleaser.

Blessed are you, winter, when ice storms crush our hearts and homes,
You call forth the good in us as we rush to help one another.

Blessed are you, winter, your inconsistent moods often challenge
spring’s arrival, yet how gracefully you step aside when her time has come.

            Author: Joyce Rupp from The Circle of Life       


Thursday, December 14, 2017

Advent ~ Third Week

Slow me down, God . . .
Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind.
Steady my hurried pace. Give me, amidst the day's confusion,
the calmness of the everlasting hills.

Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles
with the soothing music of singing streams
that live in my memory.

Help me to know the magical, restoring power of sleep.
Teach me the art of taking "minute vacations". . .
slowing down to look at a flower,
 to chat with a friend, to read a few lines from a good book.

Remind me
of the fable of the hare and the tortoise;
that the race is not always to the swift;
that there is more to life than measuring its speed.

Let me look up at the branches of the towering oak
and know that . . .  it grew slowly . . .  and well.

Inspire me
to send my own roots down deep . . .
into the soil of life's endearing values . . .
.that I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny.

Slow me down, God.
(~ Wilfred Adrian Peterson)
Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?
~ Lao-tzu, Tao Te Ching

In the name of Jesus Christ,
who was never in a hurry,
we pray, O God,
that You will slow us down,
for we know that we live too fast.
(~ Peter Marshall)

Sandy Hook ~ 5 year remembrance . . .

“Sleep In Heavenly Peace”


As I posted before, a certain culture believes a person can die twice . . . once with their natural death and secondly, when their name is forgotten.  I post here the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook School shootings so that they are not forgotten.
Those killed at the school were 12 girls, eight boys and six female adults. They are listed below by name, date of birth (mm/dd/yy), gender and age.

Charlotte Bacon, 2/22/06, female (age 6)
Daniel Barden, 9/25/05, male (age 7)
Olivia Engel, 7/18/06, female (age 6)
Josephine Gay, 12/11/05, female (age 7)
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 04/04/06, female (age 6)
Dylan Hockley, 03/08/06, male (age 6)
Madeleine F. Hsu, 07/10/06, female (age 6)
Catherine V. Hubbard, 06/08/06, female (age 6)
Chase Kowalski, 10/31/05, male (age 7)
Jesse Lewis, 06/30/06, male (age 6)
James Mattioli, 03/22/06, male (age 6)
Grace McDonnell, 11/04/05, female (age 7)
Emilie Parker, 05/12/06, female (age 6)
Jack Pinto, 05/06/06, male (age 6)
Noah Pozner, 11/20/06, male (age 6)
Caroline Previdi, 09/07/06, female (age 6)
Jessica Rekos, 05/10/06, female (age 6)
Avielle Richman, 10/17/06, female (age 6)
Benjamin Wheeler, 9/12/06, male (age 6)
Allison N. Wyatt, 07/03/06, female (age 6)


Rachel Davino, 7/17/83, female (age 29)
Dawn Hochsprung, 06/28/65, female (age 47)
Anne Marie Murphy, 07/25/60, female (age 52)
Lauren Russeau, 1982, female (age 29)
Mary Sherlach, 02/11/56, female (age 56)
Victoria Soto, 11/04/85, female (age 27

Poem: For a Parent on the Death of a Child by John O’Donohue
No one knows the wonder
Your child awoke in you,
Your heart a perfect cradle
To hold its presence.
Inside and outside became one
As new waves of love
Kept surprising your soul.

Now you sit bereft
Inside a nightmare,
Your eyes numbed
By the sight of a grave
No parent should ever see.

You will wear this absence
Like a secret locket,
 Always wondering why
Such a new soul
Was taken home so soon.

Let the silent tears flow
And when your eyes clear
Perhaps you will glimpse
How your eternal child
Has become the unseen angel
Who parents your heart
And persuades the moon
To send new gifts ashore.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

God of Advent Silence . . .

God is the Friend of Silence

We need to find God,
God cannot be found in noise and restlessness.
God is the friend of silence.

See how nature . . .
Trees, flowers, grass grow in silence.
See the stars, the moon and sun . . .
How they move in silence.

The more we receive in silent prayer,
The more we can give in our active life.

We need silence to be able to touch souls.
The essential thing is not what we say,
But what God says . . . to us and through us.

All our words will be useless,
Unless they come from within.
Words which do not give the Light of Christ . . .
Increase the darkness.

 (~ Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

The Student Santa . . .

The students were having their briefing about how to be a good ‘Santa Claus’. The Christmas season was gearing up in the department store, and Alex was here on his first day as a ‘holiday-job Santa.’

‘Whatever you do, don’t frighten the children,’ the manager told them sternly. ‘Not even if the parents want you to!’

Armed with this advice, Alex started his first day.  The very first child that arrived, parents in tow, screamed blue murder the moment he set eyes on Alex’s fine new Santa outfit and long white beard. Nothing would pacify him. Not the parents’ admonitions to ‘be a brave little boy’, and not Alex’s own attempts to console the crying child.

Eventually, in despair, Alex hit on an idea. He began to peel off his ‘uniform’, bit by bit, starting with the white beard. The child stopped crying, and watched him, fascinated.  The red hood was removed, and a young and rather embarrassed face came to light. The glasses were removed, and two twinkling, youthful, blue eyes appeared. The red robe was discarded, and underneath it was an ordinary young man in blue jeans and sweatshirt.  The child looked on in amazement, until he was soon laughing and relaxed.

Once the relationship between them had been established, Alex started to put the ‘uniform’ back on again, and as he did so, he told the little boy a story of how, a very long time ago, God had come to live on earth with us, and so that no one would be frightened, God had come in very ordinary clothes and lived the life of a very ordinary child.  The boy listened, wide-eyed.

Soon, it was time to move on. The next ‘customer’; was waiting. The boy‘s parents moved away, rather disgruntled. ‘What a shame,’ they said. ‘It spoiled all the magic.’
‘The end of the magic, perhaps,’ mused Alex, ‘but the beginning of the wonder.’

Source Unknown
(previously posted)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hands of Advent . . .

Advent Hands
Catherine Alder

I see the hands of Joseph.
Back and forth along bare wood they move.
There is worry in those working hands,
sorting out confusing thoughts with every stroke.
“How can this be, my beautiful Mary now with child

Rough with deep splinters, these hands,
small, painful splinters like tiny crosses
embedded deeply in this choice to stay with her.
He could have closed his hands to her,
said, “No” and let her go to stoning.

But, dear Joseph opened both his heart and hands
to this mother and her child.
Preparing in these days before
with working hands
and wood pressed tight between them.

It is these rough hands that will open
and be the first to hold the Child.

I see the hands of John,
worn from desert raging storms
and plucking locusts from sand ripped rocks
beneath the remnant of a Bethlehem star.

A howling wind like some lost wolf cries out beneath the moon,
or was that John?
This loneliness,
enough to make a grown man mad.
He’s waiting for this, God’s whisper.
“Go now. He is coming.
You have prepared your hands enough. Go. He needs your servant hands,
your cupping hands to lift the water,
and place his feet upon the path to service and to death.
Go now, John, and open your hands to him.

It is time.”
I see a fist held tight and fingers blanched to white.
Prying is no easy task.
These fingers find a way of pulling back to old positions,
protecting all that was and is.
Blanched to white. No openness. All fright.
But then the Spirit comes.
A holy Christmas dance begins
and blows between the twisted paths.
This fist opens
the twisted fingers letting go.
Their rock-solid place in line has eased.
And one by one the fingers lift
True color is returned

And through the deepest of mysteries,
The holiest of holies,
O longing of longings
Beyond all human imagining this fist,
as if awakened from Lazarus’ cold stone dream
reaches out to hold the tiny newborn hand of God.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

An Advent Poem . . .

There Was a Time: An Advent Poem

There was a time when there was no time,
When darkness reigned as king,
When a formless void was all that there was
in the nothingness of eternity,
When it was night.
But over the void and over the night Love watched.
There was a time when time began.
It began when Love spoke.

Time began for light and life, for splendor and grandeur.
Time began for seas and mountains, for flowers and birds.
Time began for the valleys to ring with the songs of life,
and for the wilderness to echo with the wailing of wind
and howling of animals.
And over the earth, Love watched.

There was a time when time began to be recorded.
A time when Love breathed and a new creature came to life.
A new creature so special that it was in the image and likeness of Love
Of Love who is God.
And so humanity was born and the dawn of a new day shone on the world.
And over humanity, Love watched.

But there came a time when the new day faded.
A time when humanity who was like God tried to be God.
A time when the creature challenged the creator.
A time when humanity preferred death to life and darkness to light.
And so the new day settled into twilight.
And over the darkness, Love watched.

There was a time of waiting in the darkness.
A time when humanity waited in the shadows,
And all creation groaned in sadness.
There was waiting for Love to speak again--for Love to breathe again.
And kings and nations and empires rose and faded in the shadows.
And Love waited and watched.

Finally, there came a time when Love spoke again.
A Word from eternity--a Word
Spoken to a girl who belonged to a people not known by the world
Spoken to a girl who belonged to a family not known by her people
To a girl named Mary.
And all creation waited in hushed silence for the girl's answer.
And Mary spoke her yes.
And Love watched over Mary.

And so there came a time when Love breathed again
When Love breathed new life into Mary's yes.
And a new day dawned for the World
A day when light returned to darkness, when life returned to dispel death
And so a day came when Love became human --a mother bore a child.
And Love watched over Love—

And, lastly, there came a time when you and I became a part of time.
Now is the time that you and I wait.
Now we wait to celebrate what the world waited for.
And as we wait to celebrate what was at one time, we become a part of that time
A time when a new dawn and a new dream and a new creation began for humanity.
And as a part of time, Love waits and Love watches over us.

Fr. Joseph Breighner (adapted)1980
The Catholic Review, 11-28-80

Monday, December 4, 2017

Waiting Advently, Part Two . . .

Artist Unknown

"So in our culture, waiting sometimes bores and often irritates us, however we may find that at every stage of our lives some new forms of waiting are involved.  The Scriptures teach us that if we approach waiting in the right spirit, waiting is a creative moment when we grow spiritually.  When we wait, we are in touch with an essential aspect of our humanity which is that we are dependent on God and on one another. It is also an act of love since, by waiting for others; we pay them the respect of letting them be free.
 Waiting is a mystery – God waits and nature waits – so that when we as individuals wait we go beyond ourselves and enter into sacred life-giving process, experiencing that we are made in the image and likeness of God. This is why Advent is a time of celebration.

Advent is the season when we remember with gratitude creative experiences of waiting in our lives or the lives of people we have known, the people who have waited for us at one time or another.  We also remember the great waiting experiences in human history, in the Scriptures, and especially in the life Jesus.

Today, we have come to reflect on faithful waiting.  Henry Nouwen writes that, Faithful waiting is the antidote to fear and self-doubt.  It is believing God can accomplish in us something greater than our imaginings.

Waiting teaches us to live life in increments, in small pieces rather than large chunks. Waiting teaches us to measure our progress slowly. It is hard to trust in God’s time - Kyros time – God’s slow unfolding time.  God’s time is different from our time - Chronos time- time of clocks and calendars.  On God’s time, we are often waiting for the bigger picture but must be content with each small piece.  When we are waiting, we put one foot in front of the other every morning and evening.   Henri Nouwen says that sometimes we have enough light only for the next step.  Faithful waiting teaches us patience."
(Adapted from Original Writings . . .)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Waiting . . .Advently!

Artist Unknown
We are not restful people who occasionally become restless.  But we are restless people who occasionally become restful.” (Henri Nouwen)

Advent is the liturgical season when we pay special attention to the mystery of waiting.  In our culture, we have a real problem because most of us Americans don’t like waiting, and we certainly don’t see waiting as something to celebrate. We live in a culture that cooks its food in microwaves, or we can choose the “drive thru,” and we measure time in microseconds or even nano-seconds. It’s not that we do not wait.  We may spend hours waiting in lines at airports, at a doctor’s office, on the highway in traffic, at the grocery store checks-outs – we even have to wait in the Self-serve check-out!  Recently, I saw a clip that bank tellers may be eliminated with some type of digital technology!  So no waiting would be needed.  “Everyone knows that Americans hate to stand in line. It’s contrary to the basic American values of independence and self-determination. While standing in line may not threaten life, it certain threatens liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (T. Stawar)

I invite you to just lean back in your memory of your everyday experiences and recall where you wait:  for your medicine, or for it to take effect, for your meals, for a phone call, a visit, or a letter.  Or you wait for the result of your tests, or for healing.  (Pause) Think of a time you waited and how you felt.
Turn and tell someone where you have waited – share how you felt.

We wait because we have to – sometimes we have no choice but to wait.   And we may wait impatiently, looking at our clocks, calendars, watches – or maybe we even find ourselves complaining – if not verbally, then we may hold it in and do some “internal global whining.” 

Our culture tends to view waiting as an inconvenient necessity or as an outright injustice that stems from a variety of factors, for example:
• We see time as a resource to be controlled and allocated for our own personal gain and convenience.
• We allow time to run our lives, hurrying to and from scheduled appointments and on to the next appointment.
• We see waiting as a certain sign that something is wrong that should have been fixed but was not.
• Our entertainment, from television, to radio talk shows, to movies has created an illusion that all problems are resolvable in something less than two hours or even less than that.
• Our culture tends to prize action more than meditation, speed rather than slow progress and arriving rather than the journey.

(This is not the end of the reflection. Can you wait for it? Stay tuned.)