Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A core of fire

That Tiny Flame

I think of James Clement (in The Love Letters and Certain Women) telling of the making of cider in the winter, when it is put outdoors to freeze. In the center of the frozen apple juice is a tiny core of pure flame that does not freeze. My faith (which I enjoy) is like that tiny flame. Even in the worst of moments it has been there, surrounded by ice, perhaps, but alive.

- Madeleine L'Engle

Many thanks to RevHRod for gifting me with this Madeleine L'Engle poem this morning. Our move to CT brought us within easy driving distance of Madeleine's home in the Litchfield hills, and though we never made the trek to that area while she was living, I do hope to go and see some of what inspired her. Unlike many people who appreciate her writing, I didn't grow up with A Wrinkle in Time; in fact, I'm not sure I've ever read it. (To prove my point, I had to visit another website to clarify the title--I had originally written The Wrinkle in Time!) The only L'Engle book I know without a doubt I've read is Two-Part Invention. From that moment I was captivated.

But I'm straying from the poem and my point, which is simply this: I've seen and experienced that core of flame within me. Access to that core has come only once, though I've glimpsed it or rubbed up against it on other occasions (most notably, when I gave birth to my two children)--and the gift of visualizing that flame, holding that core of fire in my hands, came in the midst of a great hurt. Though I don't come from a religious body that practices shunning, it's the word that best fits what a friend decided she must do to me based on my disclosure of differences between us. My way of being was....is....simply that offensive to her. Never mind the story of those differences--that is a post for another day. What I am remembering this morning, thanks to RevHRod and Madeleine, is the image of that core. Words cannot adequately capture the experience of holding a swirling ball of fire in my hands, fully aware that this is my essence--that this core of fire has always been in me, and always will be in me, and nothing of this world can harm or destroy that essence. As I held the fire in my hands, it was suddenly not only in me and contained by me, but surrounding me as well. And as the hurtful words of shunning from this friend swirled around me, they were dissolved by the flames. The flames surrounding me, mirroring what was in me, could not burn or harm me, but her words were absorbed before they could touch me. I envisioned them slithering around my body, serpent-like, coming ever closer to me and to that core, but as they approached, they were consumed....burned up....gone forever.

Deep in winter, with ice coating each and every branch, I know within me is That Tiny Flame, inextinguishable, everlasting, purely God, purely me, forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Miracle-filled Monday

What would it take for me to have a miracle-filled Monday? Good news from my father's doctor, as our hearts are preparing for something very bad indeed? A positive word from a friend whose parents, too, are waiting on answers? A complete recovery of the child of a friend who lives, suddenly, at the Children's Medical Center after the discovery of a rare and virulent form of brain cancer? Or would it simply be looking at all the day does bring to me with an eye for those miracles?

As I type, I hear my children's feet prancing like reindeer above me as they try to determine if it is morning-enough to rise. Their sound alone is life....the present....the miraculous. How do I cultivate those eyes? And must it rest on an experience of tragic proportions? Why must every hymn that truly moves me come out of the author's encounter with loss so deep as to threaten to shake the ground on which I stand?

I'm struck at the moment that primary teachers of this "the present is all" philosophy are the parents of Elizabeth mentioned above, suffering through the very largest of questions about the purpose of life, the intention for their daughter's time on earth....because as they see very dire numbers put on that time, they are cherishing her more and more and more. Loss is a continual threat and reality. Those of us not experiencing it simply lose sight of this current that runs beneath us.

How can I focus today on cherishing rather than fearing? What can I already see with grateful eyes?

*Saturday's performance of the Black Nativity, my sister's annual Christmas tradition--shared this year with the kids and me. There's a quotation about music reminding us of a truth we cannot yet know that struck me so fully as the swaying singers sashayed past us singing "Go Tell It On the Mountain," the opening piece. Their voices resonated at a place far beyond my mind, and I was living a truth I cannot seem to grasp with my head.

*The rising of the sun, new every morning. Though I'm in full Monday mode, wishing desperately for another day with my family, this day is new--there are discoveries to be made, contributions to offer.

*The warmth of our home--and the kids' valuing of this through our nightly prayers of gratitude. I'm proud to have a child who speaks about the importance of shelter for people, and what we must do to support people who don't have it.

*Lighting the Advent candles yesterday in church. Though in the moment I was too focused on keeping Lucas from kissing the candle and remembering who was reading what, I loved that as a family we were taking part in this honor.

*Baking my mom's candy cane rolls, a tradition that never fails to bring her to life for me each Christmas.

Wishing you a miracle-filled Monday....

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

To what to pay attention, and how?

I've continued rising early, but with insufficient time to blog! Yesterday the kids joined me in sacred pursuits (or I attempted to still find the time sacred in the midst of their early, early morning company!), and today I hit the snooze button for 50 minutes before a shortened quiet time to be followed momentarily by getting ready to depart an hour early for work. It's condensed paying attention--the only kind in which I seem to excel!

This morning I am struck by the continual choices I make in how I see what is before me. My ability yesterday to greet the kids early with true appreciation--seeing their presence as the sacred gift of that day--is not necessarily the way I always greet such an "opportunity." On any given day, I might describe to you a marriage so distinctly different from my descriptions on other days, you might wonder if I'm speaking of the same people. So, too, my work--I choose my words and my outlook for different audiences sometimes....and sometimes I am the only audience, and still my perceptions shift and change.

There's a wonderful quotation about either seeing miracles nowhere or everywhere. I know what it is to swing wildly from seeing God at every turn to feeling God is absent from me....and in each state, it is easy to feel I will never shift and be in the other state. Today, when the absence is more palpable--when the frustrations and sadness and longing are overshadowing joy and possibility and hope, I'm going to try to quietly wait for the space to choose miracles once again.

Monday, December 3, 2007

To those who have time to hear

While I'd like to claim that "paying attention," the theme of yesterday's sermon and blog, is quite possible at night--perhaps even that night is the superior time for soaking up truth, there is a continual Biblical theme that puts morning as the time to greet the day and God. I'd rather night because I'm more naturally a night person--I can easily stretch one hour into two into three with a good book or a movie we've been desperate to watch. Just as easily, I slap the snooze button a half dozen times each morning. On many a day we are chastising our kids for not moving more quickly toward the door for school, but we are equally to blame. We just do not want to get up in time to move through the morning with ease.

I remember a time when I woke early on a regular basis. It was pre-children, I was frustrated with my work situation, and I needed a space to set my soul to a new dimension each day. I would rise in the darkness of the morning, put on the tea kettle, grab my journal and a devotional book, and sometimes even squeeze in a run before all this began. (Yes, running is also something long since fallen off the "to do" list--I could blame the kids, but the choices made are mine!) Though it was a stressful time in my life, a time filled with questions of whether or not I had a purpose, whether I would find contentment in work, whether I was bound to a life of perpetual restlessness and dissatisfaction, my primary memories are of the mornings--the stillness, the peace, the quiet. This Advent, I'm going to find my way back to mornings and see if once again I can experience some of the peace of that time.

I set the alarm for 6am--just enough time to get in a short reading and prayer--enough to claim that I was UP! See me, I'm UP! But God had other ideas. Lucas cried out at 5am, unable to get himself fully nestled back into his cocoon of covers. I went back to bed, grateful for one more hour of sleep, but I could not settle. Finally, after 20 minutes, I got up. I'm not one to rush into prayer, you'll see. I went to the basement, emptied the ashes from the woodstove, folded a load of laundry, hopped on the Cardioglide for a few minutes, and only then did I come upstairs for my cup of tea. I opened a copy of Max Lucado's "God Came Near"--I have wonderful memories of sitting with my suitemates in my first year of college, surrounding a contraband candle as we read aloud from this book about the miraculous arrival of Jesus. Given that I've been in a mind (rather than heart and soul)-driven place of questions about the audacity of believing in such a person....such a story....such a possibility, this book seems right.

And indeed it is. Hear the words of yesterday's blog, and then hear the message waiting for me this morning. "Off to one side sit a group of shepherds. They sit silently on the floor, perhaps perplexed, perhaps in awe, no doubt in amazement. Their night watch had been interrupted by an explosion of light from heaven and a symphony of angels. God goes to those who have time to hear him. . . Those who missed His Majesty's arrival that night missed it not because of evil acts or malice; no, they missed it because they simply weren't looking." (God Came Near, Max Lucado)

This Advent, I'm going to make time....I'm going to try to make time to hear God's arrival.....to see God's arrival. I'm already feeling rewarded.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Pay attention

Our senior pastor has been on sabbatical for two months. He's returned for Advent and Christmas, and then will depart again for another two months. It's a model created of necessity, but one that has some real advantages. We get to peer into his thinking, and we have him for this very fresh, alive month--none of that, "I can't believe I'm back here already," energy. Instead we have, "I can't believe I get to head off once again in a month!" I suppose it's as though I went to work on Monday, and by Monday evening was back off for the rest of the week.

His sermon today was entitled, "Pay attention," and was about the seemingly-apocalyptic Matthew passage, the chapter and verse alluding me at the moment. The sermon was an urging to keep our eyes tuned to what is immediately before us--to be living so fully in this moment that we do not miss God's whisper of an arrival. It was a far cry from the "You've Been Left Behind" video series we used to watch as comedy amongst liberal-leaning friends at my Christian college. The message was in essence this--it is not so much that we will literally be left in the field as another is whisked away beside us, but rather than we will simply miss the opportunity to see what is truly there to see. We stand side by side with someone looking through a different lens, and they see, live and experience--and we miss the forest for the trees....or more appropriately given his message, we miss the trees for the forest.

This message was on my mind as we raked sodden piles of leaves in anticipation of tonight's snow. The sky was gray, spitting sleet periodically, and the still air felt anticipatory--there's something about to happen. I set the rake down for a moment, settled onto the edge of our back porch, and looked to the spindly, black branches of the trees reaching toward the sky. I was waiting--trying to pay attention. But while my eyes were pinned on the sky, it was beneath me that I could feel the hum of the universe. The energy of our collective existence was suddenly so palpable, I envisioned those giant trees crashing to the ground as the hum continued steadily on. As almost always happens when I am still, I was not only aware of the vibrations of energy below me and all around me, I was aware that I was in a dance with these vibrations--I was a part of the vibration myself.

With Tom's suggestion before me, I aim to pay attention this Advent. I am to wake early, brew a pot of tea, read wise words from people who stir me, and know that God is forever entering...forever arriving...forever wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. I will celebrate not only being witness to the energy of God's presence and arrival; I will celebrate being part of it. Amen.