Monthly Archives: December 2011

Waiting and Journeying Day 7

Saturday, Dec. 24:

 

AM Psalm 45, 46; Baruch 4:36—5:9;

Gal. 3:23—4:7; Matt. 1:18-25

T.S. Eliot

 

Excerpts from “Little Gidding”

(No. 4 of Four Quartets)

 

There are three conditions which often look alike

Yet differ completely, flourish in the same hedgerow:

Attachment to self and to things and to persons, detachment

From self and from things and from persons;

and, growing between them, indifference

Which resembles the others as death resembles life,

Being between two lives—unflowering, between

The live and the dead nettle. This is the use of memory:

For liberation—not less of love but expanding

Of love beyond desire, and so liberation

From the future as well as the past. Thus, love of a country

Begins as attachment to our own field of action

And comes to find that action of little importance

Though never indifferent. History may be servitude,

History may be freedom. See, now they vanish,

The faces and places, with the self which, as it could, loved them,

To become renewed, transfigured, in another pattern.

Sin is Behovely, but

All shall be well, and

All manner of thing shall be well.

If I think, again, of this place,

And of people, not wholly commendable,

Of no immediate kin or kindness,

But of some peculiar genius,

All touched by a common genius,

United in the strife which divided them;

If I think of a king at nightfall,

Of three men, and more, on the scaffold

And a few who died forgotten

In other places, here and abroad,

And of one who died blind and quiet

Why should we celebrate

These dead men more than the dying?

It is not to ring the bell backward

Nor is it an incantation

To summon the spectre of a Rose.

We cannot revive old factions

We cannot restore old policies

Or follow an antique drum.

These men, and those who opposed them

And those whom they opposed

Accept the constitution of silence

And are folded in a single party.

Whatever we inherit from the fortunate

We have taken from the defeated

What they had to leave us—a symbol:

A symbol perfected in death.

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

By the purification of the motive

In the ground of our beseeching.

V.

What we call the beginning is often the end

And to make and end is to make a beginning.

The end is where we start from. And every phrase

And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,

Taking its place to support the others,

The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,

An easy commerce of the old and the new,

The common word exact without vulgarity,

The formal word precise but not pedantic,

The complete consort dancing together)

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,

Every poem an epitaph. And any action

Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat

Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

We die with the dying:

See, they depart, and we go with them.

We are born with the dead:

See, they return, and bring us with them.

The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree

Are of equal duration. A people without history

Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern

Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails

On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel

History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this

Calling

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown, unremembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

Quick now, here, now, always—

A condition of complete simplicity

(Costing not less than everything)

And all shall be well and

All manner of thing shall be well

When the tongues of flame are in-folded

Into the crowned knot of fire

And the fire and the rose are one

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Waiting and Journeying Day 6

Friday, Dec. 23:

AM Psalm 93, 96; PM Psalm 148, 150; Baruch 4:21-29;

Gal. 3:15-22; Luke 1:67-80 or Matt. 1:1-17

Laura Watts

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope. (Psalm 130:5)

I will never forget the summer of my 18th year when I moved to the beach to live with my brother in the sleepy little town of Manteo, North Carolina. We occupied a rambling old turn-of-the-century house with cracks and creaks and bats that got in through the woodstove. It was primitive and magical.

My days were spent either on the beach or working at a Christmas shop where I sold ornaments and fine art to tourists from New York.

At 5 pm, however, I’d hop into my little red truck and hurry over the Causeway to the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge. There I would sit alone on a dock in the middle of the marsh, waiting for the sun to go down.

I always took my journal. Sometimes I wrote poetry. Often I would just sit. And watch. And wait.

I remember feeling a tinge of sadness as I cheered the sun to its resting place. The day was now officially over. What had I accomplished? What had I neglect­ed? What did I regret?

You wait, wait, wait, and then—poof! Like those sunsets, the waiting is over and the thing you have waited so long for has either been realized or eluded your grasp.

So what’s to be learned then? Waiting, as difficult as it is, is a time for reflection and preparation.

What am I learning about myself while I wait? Am I content living “in the ten­sion”? Or am I restless? Am I impatient?

Am I wasting today worrying about what might, or might not, happen tomor­row? Am I growing—spiritually, emotionally, creatively—so that, whatever the outcome, I can look back and see my time of waiting as a gift from God?

Once more I find myself in a period of waiting. This time I am determined not to waste the wait. This time I will grasp that moment of beauty just before the sun slips behind the horizon. And I will hold on tight.

At least until a new day dawns.

(Today’s exercise: If you have a chance, watch for the setting of the sun. Stand outside and look. Stand prayerfully, thanking God for whatever he brings to mind. If it’s a cloudy day, say a prayer of thanks as you turn your night light off.)

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Waiting and Journeying Day 5

Thursday, Dec. 22:

AM Psalm 80; PM Psalm 146, 147; 2 Samuel 7:18-29;

Gal. 3:1-14; Luke 1:57-66

Amber Noel

And they had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. Luke 1:7

And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. Luke 1:21

“Thus hath the Lord dealt with me in the days wherein he looked upon me.” Luke 1:25

In the beginning, there is no baby. In the beginning, there is much of what there is now. There is waiting and there is forgetting to wait.

And there are bodies.

There is an old woman, a Jew among pagans and a rheumatic, binding up her hair so she can soak her body in the tub.

Meanwhile, her old husband, a good priest with bad knees, gets struck dumb by an angel. He is righteous. Why this harsh treatment? God disciplines those he loves. But for what? For eyes that had ceased to see, though his hands had not ceased to do God’s work? Was it for not being glad at glad tidings? Or was it for disdaining his old body, and his own wife’s.

Elizabeth would have known exactly why. He talks too much, too prone to ruin a moment with a good point. He would soon find a new voice in listening, though.

But good thing Elizabeth was not there at the time. Then she would have seen the look he would have given her. Those? His eyes would have said to her hips. Ours? And then the finger in the crack of the dam—and Zachariah’s look, and the angel’s frank gaze—and all that river of grief held back might as well have been fire instead. She would be twenty again, all at once, with all that hope again, all at once, and the hope might well near have killed her.

So God makes sure he finds Zechariah in the temple, alone.

Now it is the beginning, and there is both the silence of the one who says too much and the words of the one who, until now, has said too little. “Thus hath the Lord dealt with me!” she shyly sings. At the end of one week she has an old husband’s new kisses, and is soon lotioning her skin that has begun to glow. In an old house, Yahweh is flapping his wings. But it is a hint, and there is much still to pray for.

It is not this baby that is the beginning and the end of all their waiting. It is outside of them, far outside, and yet it is in them, too, they can’t deny it, what God has done to their bodies, and will yet do, and in this impossible thing, they have just begun to taste it.

This is the beginning, and it whispers its unexpected end: Look.

(Today’s exercise: At different points throughout this day, pause and thank God for your body. Thank God for whatever health he has given your body. Offer up to God the parts of your body that are broken or wearied. Offer them up, in hope, as a “living sacrifice.”)

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Prayer Vigil for Patrick Kelly and his Family: Dec 22-24

Please visit this link and sign up for the prayer vigil spanning from December 22 – 24. Sign up for a 30 minute time slot.

In the midst of a difficult, sad time, it is beautiful to think of the people all over the world praying for Patrick. There are folks in both hemispheres, people from various faith traditions, people who knew Patrick as a child and people who have never met him. We are united in our love and hope and grief.

Julie, Patrick and the rest of the Kelly family are so grateful for your prayers.

Here is the link to the BLOG for more information. 

 

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Continue Praying for the Kelly Family – they have received very hard news…

They have received some very very hard news. Click here to read Julie’s latest blog post. 

 

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Waiting and Journeying Day 4

Wednesday, Dec. 21:

AM Psalm 72; PM Psalm 111, 113; 2 Samuel 7:1-17;

Titus 2:11—3:8a; Luke 1:39-48a(48b-56)

Steve Breedlove

Advent as a time of journeying? Of going somewhere? I thought it was a time of waiting, of sitting more than journeying. A new thought! But it must be right: after all, one iconic image of Advent is a pregnant woman, astride a donkey, with a graying-soon-to-be-first-time father walking alongside. Going somewhere.

“Going somewhere” has always been a significant aspect of our family’s life. In the many places we have lived, we were usually hours, or days, from grandpar­ents; so Sally and I developed a repertoire of road songs. They served the desper­ate moments when books became boring and an argument was about to break out in the back seat. (I still think they’re better than DVDs.)

“Going somewhere” was also significant in the spiritual life of ancient Israel. Pilgrimages to Jerusalem were part of the regular rhythm of worship for faithful Jews; and God provided them with road songs for the journey—the fourteen Songs of Ascent, Psalms 120-134.

I read the Songs of Ascent recently and was struck by the range of experiences they cover. God gave Israel a song for just about anything they might encounter on the journey—threat, hardship, loneliness, joy, family togetherness, peni­tence, happy times around a campfire. The song I’ve been singing on my most recent road trip has been Psalm 123. Here’s my version:

Lord, I lift my eyes up to you – like a servant looks to his master

(for instructions, and for the supplies I need for the task you command),

like a maidservant looks to her mistress,

(I am small, and waiting)

I am looking to you for mercy.

And I will continue to look till you have mercy on me

till you have mercy.

Why? I have had more than enough.

More than enough of unbelief, of mockery, of pride.

More than enough of that foul air, around me and within me.

More than enough.

Lord have mercy.

Reading this, it sounds like this has been a miserable season. Actually it hasn’t. This fall I’ve laughed a lot, loved a lot and been loved a lot. Still, I am pretty constantly aware of my limits.

Recently, while traveling, I woke up too early one morning (not uncommon) and I lay in bed thinking about things I had failed to do and that, by reason of distance, I could not do. About that time I got a text: “Urgent! We need ________! Where are they?” I didn’t have a clue, but the awareness of my smallness was fierce. “Lord, have mercy.” On another recent occasion, I entered into a pressure-packed, intensely difficult conversation, not knowing at all how to set an agenda or manage the process. I had no wisdom or plan. “Lord, I am waiting to be told and waiting to be supplied. Have mercy, Lord.”

Another time, temptation raised its familiar head. I made the right choice in the moment, but the tempter mocked, “You can get away from me this time, but it won’t last: I’ll wear you down. I’ll find your weak spot.”

“Lord, I have had more than enough. Have mercy.”

In 1 Kings 19, an angel told Elijah, “The journey is too great for you.” I am so thankful that I can say to God, “I have had more than enough: have mercy.” If not for that, I would quit walking for sure.

 

(Today’s exercise: At some point today sing out loud. Sing whatever strikes you as most singable. But do sing out loud. And as you sing, remember that day and night “God rejoices over you with singing.”)

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Waiting and Journeying Day 3

Tuesday, Dec. 20:

AM Psalm 66, 67; PM Psalm 116, 117;
1 Samuel 2:1b-10; Titus 2:1-10; Luke 1:26-38

Henri J.M. Nouwen
Bread for the Journey

We walk in a “ravine as dark as death” (Psalm 23:4), and still we have nothing to fear because God is at our side: God’s staff and crook are there to soothe us (see Psalm 23:4). This is not just a consoling idea. It is an experience of the heart that we can trust.

Our lives are full of suffering, pain, disillusions, losses and grief, but they are also marked by visions of the coming of the Son of Man “like lightning striking in the east and flashing far into west” (Matthew 24:27). These moments in which we see clearly, hear loudly, and feel deeply that God is with us on the journey make us shine as a light into the darkness. Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. Your light must shine in people’s sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

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Waiting and Journeying Day 2

Monday, Dec. 19:

AM Psalm 61, 62; PM Psalm 112, 115;

Zeph. 3:14-20; Titus 1:1-16; Luke 1:1-25

Sally Breedlove

The past six months, I have had too much of traveling—to California and to Virginia, to Boston, to Calgary, to Montgomery and to Connecticut and three times to western North Carolina. There have been too many strange beds, too much of fishing clothes out of a suitcase, too many nights without my husband. I wake up in unfamiliar places and I long for the way the sun rises over the oaks in my own front yard. I desire the feel of my favorite mug in my hands as I enjoy that first taste of morning coffee. A North Carolina potter made the cup, and its earthy reddish tones remind me of the red clay dirt of Alabama where I grew up.

North Carolina and Alabama: the two places my soul most calls home.

By the time of Advent I will be home. But I know full well that as I settle in and prepare for the arrival of family, and for a family wedding that is already brimming with gladness, my yearning for home will not be assuaged.

I will get out decorations that I have enjoyed, and then repacked, for almost forty years. Some are older than I: a paper angel from my mother, some strangely appealing gold-sprayed-plastic-stars and a carved wooden Swiss music box from my grandmother. Every year as I unwrap them I am reminded again. As a child I belonged to a place and to people where someone else was the “real adult”. In those moments the ache surfaces for something beyond 704 Greenwood, a place where someone older than I am makes the home and I simply enter in and receive.

So it’s not just about the travel. Or the places I have lived or the places I have left. This desire for home persists, regardless of geography. Advent provokes me to submit to the out-of-jointness of my soul. I am meant to lean into the dark­ening of winter, towards the light that will rise in the east.

The young family in the Advent story speak of places that are not home and of waiting: a girl on a donkey, heading away from family just a few weeks before her baby is due. She will have no familiar faces to look into, no mother’s or sis­ter’s hands to hold as the pain of labor drags her into its fury. No familiar room to labor in, just shared space with animals.

That displacement doesn’t end once the baby arrives. The labor room of a cave-barn and then the borrowed house in Bethlehem lead not to home but to exile in Egypt. But even when they return to Nazareth, they will live with unsettled hearts. They have a prophetic word. This child will bring both joy and sorrow.

A sword will pierce Mary’s heart. Nazareth will not be home enough. Their lives have been disrupted—for good.

Mary’s child will also know the pain of not belonging. As he grows up, he speaks often of the Father who sent him, the Father to whom he will return. He asks his Father to bring those he loves to be with him in the Father’s house. He promises his friends that one day they will have a home with him and his Father. But they must wait.

I need the reminder that for the rest of this life I am to yearn for what lies ahead. I need to learn the endurance that turns waiting into hope. Waiting is good for my heart. If I listen, I will hear the truth: I’m part of the exile, a woman headed home. Advent coaches me to wait expectantly, and perhaps even to glimpse, what lies ahead.

(Today’s exercise: Take a moment to thank God for your house. Thank him for the particularly good things about your house. Recall to mind all the places that you have felt “at home” in your life and ask God to give you the grace, in Christ, to be “home” for others.)

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Waiting and Journeying

Sunday, Dec. 18:

AM Psalm 24, 29; PM Psalm 8, 84;

Gen 3:18-15; Rev. 12:1-10; John 3:16-21


I’ve always been a counter. It helps me make sense of my life.

Sixteen. That’s how many beds I slept in during our first ten months in Asia, some softer and cleaner than others.

Six. Those sixteen beds were in six cities.

Eleven. That’s the number of years that passed between leaving Asia for the first time and returning here to live.

When I went to sleep on August 17th, it was my sixteenth bed in my sixth city in ten months in Asia, after eleven years of waiting. But it was the first home here that I could call mine. I had arrived. It was time to unpack, hang some pictures on the walls, arrange the furniture, and settle down. Finally, after all of those years, my journey was over. I was ready to make order and enjoy some rest.

But here I am, several months into this new home, and I find myself still count­ing.

Fifteen. We have fifteen months until we step foot on North Carolina soil once again.

Three. It takes most parents with small children three years to learn this lan­guage well.

Four. We committed to a four-year term to begin with, and I wonder where that is leading.

Because there is always one more event to wait for, one more moment to count down to, one more goal to reach when everything will finally be in order.

Did Abraham ever count? I don’t even know how many places he laid his head, how many cities he visited, how many years he waited for his journey to end. And he never even had a home where he could hang up some pictures. Did he ever think, “Just ten more miles and we can finally rest. This will surely be the place where God tells us to settle and the whole ‘numerous as the stars’ bit starts to make sense.” Because surely if Abraham counted, he realized it would take awhile to get from one son to that many descendants.

I think of Abraham, who “died in faith, not having received the things prom­ised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (Hebrews 11:13), and I wonder at how small my faith is. My counting is so small—hours, days, weeks, months. Abraham looked ahead generations and into eternity. It’s not that he didn’t wait, didn’t count the steps on his journey, didn’t anticipate the day when it would all make sense. It’s that he waited for something greater, “something better…that apart from us he should not be made perfect.”

Maybe he didn’t even know that he was waiting for the one son, the other Son, who would fulfill what God had promised in ways greater than Abraham ever imagined. He came, and for those of us on this side of His birth, we wait for Him to come again.

And sometimes, when I am counting, I just need to stop and remember that one day it will all make sense. One day I will lay my head down in a place that is truly my home. In the meantime, it’s anyone’s guess what number bed that will be.

(Today’s exercise: Take a moment today and count on the ten fingers of your hands ten things for which you are grateful. If you have a chance, share those ten things with a friend.)

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Joy and Sorrow Day 6

Saturday, Dec. 17:

AM Psalm 55; PM Psalm 138, 139:1-17(18-23);
Zech. 8:9-17; Rev. 6:1-17; Matt. 25:31-46

Nicholas Wolterstorff
Lament for a Son

Elements of the gospel which I had always thought would console did not. They did something else, something important, but not that. It did not console me to be reminded of the hope of resurrection. If I had forgotten that hope, then it would indeed have brought light into my life to be reminded of it. But I did not think of death as a bottomless pit. I did not grieve as one who has no hope. Yet Eric is gone, here and now he is gone; now I cannot talk with him, now I cannot see him, now I cannot hug him, now I cannot hear of his plans for the future. That is my sorrow. A friend said, “Remember, he’s in good hands.” I was deeply moved. But that reality does not put Eric back in my hands now. That’s my grief. For that grief, what consolation can there be other than having him back?

In our day we have come to see again some dimensions of the Bible overlooked for centuries. We have come to see its affirmation of the goodness of creation. God made us embodied historical creatures and affirmed the goodness of that. We are not to yearn for timeless disembodiment.

But this makes death all the more difficult to live with. When death is no longer seen as release from this miserable materiality into our rightful immateriality, when death is seen rather as the slicing off of what God declared to be, and what all of us feel to be, of great worth then death is—well, not friend but en­emy. Though I shall indeed recall that death is being overcome, my grief is that death still stalks this world and one day knifed down my Eric….”

“God is Love. That is why he suffers. To love our suffering sinful world is to suf­fer. God so suffered for the world that he gave up his only Son to suffering. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love.

So suffering is down at the center of things, deep down where the meaning is. Suffering is the meaning of our world. For Love is the meaning. And Love suf­fers. The tears of God are the meaning of history.

But mystery remains. Why isn’t Love-without-suffering the meaning of things? Why is suffering-Love the meaning? Why does God endure his suffering? Why does he not at once relieve his agony by relieving ours?

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