Life is a succession of dyings and risings. At the center of the Eucharist, we proclaim, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.” –Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, November 27, 2022
This morning I saw minuscule buds on my Christmas Cactus.
Last year’s $5.99 Walmart purchase has a long way to go to replace the glorious plant that got me through many winters.
Like you, perhaps, Advent makes me keenly aware of what I used to have and can’t get back– the loss a cold draft that keeps finding its way in no matter how often I close the door.
It’s getting darker in the northern hemisphere but on December 22 there’ll be a little more light, on December 25 even more.
After death comes resurrection.
New buds. Warm breath. Light.
Can I trust the ancient rhythm? Can I trust the Ancient One Who came, is coming, will always come even if I don’t know how or when?
Take a few moments and be with the words and images in today’s blog post.
What have you lost?
What thoughts, feelings and felt senses arise as you welcome or resist this?
Imagine God listening and feeling what you feel. What do you sense God offering you in this moment?
Where have you noticed signs of resurrection?
Credits and References: “Bud developing” by Steven Severinghaus. Used with permission. “Candle 006” by Jonathan Assink. Used with permission. Poem “Trust “by Esther Hizsa, 2022. “The Glory of Dawn” by worldoflard. Used with permission.
I waited for You at the door of words but they were little more than letters on a page undecipherable
my feelings far away. Did I have any?
I fidgeted distracted powerless.
Then, through the locked door, You came.
“Touch my face,” You said
Lost feelings found tears.
Fingers found skin cheek and chin. Yours and You leaned –ever so slightly– into my palm.
In Your face my fingers found my belovedness and then they found every face I longed to touch– one gone one far away one forbidden another entombed and others right here in my everyday life.
I reached out and touched them all.
This gesture so loving, so intimate breaks the rules undoes the hardest heart exposes and meets us. You can’t just touch people’s faces like this. It’s not allowed.
But it’s allowed here in my prayer.
That wonderful wordless touch has the final say on who we are.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. –John 1:14 (NSVCE)
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Advent 1 Reflection
Take a few moments and be with the words and images in today’s blog post.
What are you drawn to?
What thoughts, feelings and felt senses arise?
Imagine God listening and feeling what you feel. What do you sense God offering you in this moment?
What might be your Advent prayer?
Credits and References: Sgt. Brian Prescott, of the New Hampshire National Guard’s 3rd Battalion, 197th Field Artillery, smiles as his nine-month-old son touches his face during a welcome home ceremony at the Manchester armoury on Dec. 20. Prescott, who had last seen his son when he was born, was among the first wave of 3rd Battalion soldiers to return to N.H. after completing a Middle East deployment in support of Operation Spartan Shield. Photo by The National Guard.Used with permission Poem “Touch “by Esther Hizsa, 2022. “Touch” by Sarah Barker. Used with permission. “And they found baby Jesus laying in a manger” by Percita. Used with permission.
I grew up in rural Ontario and attended Wellburn United Church which was part of a three-point charge. I remember the aisle I walked down on my wedding day, the pew where I received my first communion, and where the choir sat. At thirteen, my friend Edith and I were so proud to be the youngest choir members. I recall the back stairs leading down to the basement and the hall where bridal showers and church dinners were held.
In that hall, there was a big framed picture of Jesus—a classic with little children from around the world sitting near Jesus or on his lap. Next to it was a 99-cent poster with the image of a flower growing out of the ground and these words in bold letters: “Bloom Where You Are Planted. ”
Bloom where you are planted.This imperative from long ago invites me to embrace where I am, be who I am, and flourish.
This is a challenge for me when I find myself discontented with where I find myself sometimes. How can I bloom here in this moment, in these circumstances? Yet, I don’t hear God asking me to shove my feelings aside and put on a happy face. I hear possibility. Even in this difficult place, there is joy.
Sometimes, when I was a teenager, I’d ride my bike to the church on a Saturday afternoon. I knew where the key was and let myself in. Alone in this sacred place, I shared my thoughts and feelings with God, I sang and listened to my voice fill the sanctuary.
Now I know that sacred place is not only in my church, but it’s also inside me. At any moment, I can return there–not to escape reality but to see something wonderful in it.
I’ve been doing that lately, and I find myself feeling more settled, more joyful, and a little more like maybe I could bloom right where I am.
If my joy is contingent on circumstances that bring me happiness, my joy will go up and down, and up and down. But joy is a deeper thing. It does not have its source in circumstances that happen to me. It has its source and origin from something within me. –Bishop Micahel Curry, in an interview at the Joy Summit.
This coming Advent season, how might we enter the story again, this age-old familiar story, and allow it to help us pay attention to our stories? How might we be watching for the Light in our ordinary everyday vulnerabilities, and how might we do that with one another?
Settling in with poetry and scripture and art, join spiritual directors Doug Schroeder and Deb Arndt as they host four evenings on the Advent journey. You only need bring yourself, your longings and your honesty and your beautiful, messy story. We’ll travel again through Advent, then and now. In this quiet contemplative space, let’s watch together for the Light.
DATES: Monday evenings November 28, December 5, 12, 19 on Zoom.
TIMES: 6:30-7:30 PST; 7:30-8:30 MST; 8:30-9:30 CST; 9:30-10:30 EST
Through our God’s heart of mercy, the Sunrise from on high will come upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of shalom. —Luke 1:78-79 (TVL)
I looked out at the vast ocean and up at the big blue sky as Fred and I walked the aptly named Long Beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island. A few minutes later, we stopped to shed another layer of clothing, grateful for the warm sunshine.
“It’s not going to last,” I said.
It didn’t. Two days later, we were grateful for raingear. Instead of leisurely walks on the beach, we sought the shelter of cedar and salal and watched the waves crash on the rocks through viewpoints on the aptly named Wild Pacific Trail.
Weather systems come and go. We open to the sunshine and hunker down in the rain, but we don’t take it personally.
Yet when it comes to emotional weather systems, we take it very personally. But what if we didn’t?
I began to observe my internal weather systems, and here’s what I noticed.
One moment, I feel bad and wonder how to fix what’s wrong with my life. In the next, I feel fine. I love my life. There’s nothing to fix.
When I experience “bad” feelings, I want to get rid of them as quickly as possible, and that’s what I unquestionably set out to do. I was having a lovely life before these feelings showed up, and I want my lovely life back. I assume that bad feelings are telling me I’m doing something wrong.
I also noticed that when I was judged or someone crossed a boundary, I felt hurt, somewhat violated, and angry. I blamed the other person for making me feel this way and fixated on what I’d like to say to them so they don’t do it again. The idea that I had some control over future situations eased my feeling of helplessness, even though it won’t prevent similar situations from happening. I will feel this way again. I can’t prevent myself from feeling hurt, yet I keep trying. Henri Nouwen’s advice to befriend these feelings didn’t even cross my mind.
I was still thinking about weather systems–internal and external ones–on the day we left Ucluelet. That morning, we needed to scrape ice from our car, and snow had collected on the side of the road. We arrived at Departure Bay Ferry terminal in time to get the 10:40 ferry home. However, B.C. Ferries cancelled that sailing and the next due to high winds.
We headed to Duke Point a little farther down the coast and waited with hundreds of others who hoped to get on the 3:15 ferry to the mainland. Would B.C. Ferries cancel this sailing as well?
At 3:20, we watched the car count reach and pass the number that had fit on the previous ferry. Yet, we were signalled on and squeezed in.
I had no control over any of it. I could only choose how I would respond.
Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing. –Father Thomas Keating, The Welcoming Prayer
Credits and References: “Long Beach Vista” by Adam Jones. Used with permission. “Wild Pacific Trail, Ucluelet” by Kim Rollins. Used with permission. Image of washed-up tree in Florencia Bay by Esther Hizsa.
Of all my fears, the fear that I’m not a good mother tops the list. It came up again in a spiritual direction session after I revealed the latest incriminating evidence and added more tissues to the wet pile on my lap.
“What do you hear from God?” my director asked.
I closed my eyes and heard God’s soothing thoughts.
“I’m a mother because I have children,” I replied. “It’s just a label that describes a fact. The qualifiers ‘good’ or ‘bad’ seem meaningless to God. I’m simply a mother who loves her children.”
I felt the relief of those words settling in my body and thought about all the other labels I have: wife, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, writer, churchwarden, sister, friend. What would it be like to let go of measuring how good I am at those roles?
What do I take on to prove my goodness?
How much of my peace relies on being deemed good?
And what would it be like to be freed from the exhausting need to know I haven’t failed God, myself, or my children?
Questioning and measuring my goodness has been a lifelong compulsion. The fiery furnace of experience keeps confirming that I’m not good enough.
Yet, it’s being in the fire of other people’s judgments (or perceived judgments) over time that has begun to melt the hard metals used for or against me. Now I can see what remains is a Love that is only and always for me.
As I held this fresh thought, I recalled an image given to a directee of mine while on retreat. Her head was on Jesus’ lap, and he was stroking her hair and saying softly, “You can be who you are.”
For so long, I couldn’t rest until I was reassured of my goodness. Unconsciously, I believed there are bad people in the world, and I didn’t want to be one of them. I worked hard and took solace in scriptures that declared that all God made is good, and so am I.
Now God is inviting me to let go of self-judgment and the pursuit of finding security in my goodness. Instead, God is stroking my head and letting me know I can relax. Mother God doesn’t see me as a good or bad person. She sees the child she loves.
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. –Zephaniah 3:17 ∗ ∗ ∗
Did you notice that just now? That unexpected spaciousness in the midst of everything trying to get through the door at once. A delicious “Ahhhh!” A sense that it’s going to be fine. It is fine.
You keep thinking you need more days with nothing scheduled, more weeks of walking on the beach or puttering in the kitchen as if spaciousness only lives there and not here wedged between computer malfunctions and untimely requests.
You only need to put your mother-hands on your heart or cup your face with your child-hands, take a deep breath and let your heart come down from the ledge your mind notice its thoughts your body remember its wholeness.
All you need at this moment you already have.
Did you hear that just now? That skeptical thought? Don’t shoo it away. Some part of you doesn’t quite believe Me but it wants to.
Hold that part of you in your mother-arms close your eyes and take it with you back into that spaciousness you felt just now.
You calm the roar of the seas and the noise of the waves. –Psalm 65:7 (GNT)
“Befriend your feeling of loneliness. Befriend that loss,” I heard Nouwen say in a recording of a talk he gave to a L’Arche gathering in 1994 entitled “Finding our Sacred Centre. Many years ago, reading Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heartset my heart on pilgrimage. I wrote about this profound experience in the opening chapter of Stories of an Everyday Pilgrim. So I was delighted to discover the Now and Then Podcasts. In these podcasts, Karen Pascal, executive director of the Henri Nouwen Society interviews spiritual writers, thinkers, and leaders who have been influenced by Nouwen such as Sister Joan Chittister, Brian McLaren, and Anne Lamott. There are also recordings of talks Henri Nouwen gave. What a gift.
You can’t change the past or control the future. What is is what is.
Feel your anger. Watch it rise up and look for someone to blame. Even if it is their fault or yours or God’s, it doesn’t change a thing. You’re still here. You still feel trapped, like the bottom has fallen out of your world.
Notice how you go over what happened again and again and again– what went wrong, what could have been done, what you would do next time. All this enlightenment may prevent life from repeating itself but it can’t undo this.
It takes time to make peace with your helplessness. But as you stay present there you discover it threatens but doesn’t kill knocks down but can’t destroy you.
Eventually you feel a softening, shift your weight and find a hidden strength that enables you to thrive right where you are
in the place you least expected to see yourself smiling.
We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed, always carrying around in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. –2 Corinthians 8-10 (NRSVUE)
“Go and make peace with your helplessness,” Alfred Bell told his son, Steve, who was distraught when his father’s cancer returned. As Steve grieved the death of his father, a song came to him that he sang for his audience at Como Lake United Church last Friday. It was good to hear Steve in person again and let the love mischief of his stories and music inspire love mischief in me.
I was the last one to sit down at our table. Our table was in a hall with one hundred and fifty other guests celebrating my niece’s wedding at a YMCA camp at Sturgeon Lake, Minnesota. My place at that table was between a golf enthusiast who doesn’t like to walk and a big steak-loving salesman of something I would never need to buy, and across from a quiet, retired fellow who likes to hunt, fish and follow football. When these men talked–if they talked–they didn’t talk to me.
I felt like a fish out of water and pined for the ocean of home. I was tempted to shut down and just get through. But something in me was determined to connect with my table mates.
I can’t say I was successful in engaging any of them in a meaningful conversation, but I had an affection for each of them. I enjoyed hearing them speak of what they enjoyed. I liked seeing what made them come alive. And I could imagine God enjoying them too.
It seemed like such a small thing, this turning toward instead of away when I encountered people who appear to have little in common with me. It felt inconsequential, and I noticed how much more I enjoyed talking with the woman kitty-corner to me who, just like me, has someone with autism in her life and teared up when we talked about the message the pastor gave at the wedding ceremony.
While waiting to board the plane home, the airport’s internet was down, and I couldn’t read the reports I’d hoped to. So I put on my headphones and listened to Pema Chödrön’s book Welcoming the Unwelcome. She talked about turning toward the uncomfortable instead of turning away.
I heard that when we turn away, we engage in the misbelief that others who don’t share our values or challenge us are not worth our time. Someone who is “not worth our time” has less worth to us than someone who makes us feel good. They are less important, less valuable, and less real.
You can see where this goes. Once a person is judged as “less than,” it’s easy not to care about them or if they are farther away or faceless, condone violence towards them. It all starts with a thought, an untrue thought that they don’t belong to me.
But they do.
Just like me, my brother-in-law Claude (who loves me, for sure) enjoys a cappuccino and always wants to help. Just like me, my brother Ron’s neighbour Vern delighted in a grouse that kept following him around one day when he was out in the woods. Just like me, Ron’s other neighbour Mike got up and danced because he loves his wife and she loves to dance. Just like me, these men love Ron and his wife and want the best for the bride and groom. Just like me, being who they are is making the world a better place.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. –-John 14:20 (NIV)
In her book Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön explains a prayer practice you can do anywhere called “Just Like Me.” Pema writes, “When we find ourselves in an unwelcome situation, for example, stuck in a waiting room or a traffic jam, we should look around us not to see the obstacles or causes of our frustration but our common humanity.
“Just like me, these people have somewhere to go.”
“Just like me, they feel trapped and frustrated.”
“Just like me, that person doesn’t want to suffer.”
“Just like me, she doesn’t want hatred coming towards her.”
Pema goes on to say, “I do this sort of thing in all kinds of situations—at the breakfast table, in the meditation hall, at the dentist’s office. Standing in the checkout line at the market, I might notice the defiant teenager in front of me and make the aspiration, ‘May he be free of suffering and its causes.’ In the elevator with a stranger, I might notice her shoes, her hands, the expression on her face. I contemplate that just like me she doesn’t want stress in her life. Just like me she has worries. Through our hopes and fears, our pleasures and pains, we are deeply interconnected.” (source: Mindful Spot)
On Hints of Gladness, spiritual director and coach Rod Janz interviewed a number of spiritual directors about contemplation. I was thankful to be one of them.
In our conversation, Rod asked what contemplation means to me and what it looks like in my life. I talked about a few pivotal moments and how writing this blog has become a life-giving spiritual practice.
I enjoyed sharing my journey with Rod who was in the same cohort as me in our spiritual direction training with SoulStream fifteen years ago. I was also grateful to have the opportunity to lead him and our listeners in an Ignatian Prayer of Imagination with the story of Zacchaeus.
“Just sit there and let me love you,” Esther heard God say to her in silence many years ago. “That invitation anchors me to this day, and I hope that in my writing and in spiritual direction and retreats, others will hear God’s loving invitation too.”
Esther is a writer, spiritual director (trained through (SoulStream) and co-facilitator of SoulStream’s Living from the Heart course. She is also a mother, grandmother and wife married for 43 years to her husband, Fred. She and Fred live in Burnaby and love the outdoors, spending as much time as they can hiking in the mountains, biking in wide open spaces, and walking in the woods or by the sea. Esther is the author of three books and a blog, An Everyday Pilgrim.
When I first talked about hurtful experiences in my past, the pain of it was so great, it would swallow me whole.
Over the years, good friends, counsellors and spiritual directors listened and validated how awful those moments were. Their compassion enabled me to grieve my past and see how those events seeded the belief that I was unlovable and unwanted. Seeing that freed me from the prison of those false beliefs.
Freedom comes in naming truth without justifying, excusing, explaining, or minimizing it.
Until I could acknowledge that what happened to me was awful and damaging, I was locked in a dark place of confusion, self-protection and self-disgust. I looked at life through a narrow lens of fear.
Truth and compassion unlocked me from that dark cell and allowed me to see a bigger picture. I found compassion for those who hurt me and forgave them. I forgave myself for not snapping out of the effects of trauma.
Now I can say that some things that happened to me as a child were awful and painful AND there’s more to the story. I can say that now. When people expressed something like that to me when I was still locked away, I stayed locked away. I felt unheard. It validated my fear, not my reality.
Naming the truth opened me to reconcile with those who hurt me in the past. It unlocked my view of them, and I began to see their hearts and good intentions. Now, I’m more able to believe it when they express their love and care for me.
That said, some people who have hurt us have not changed. If the abuse continues, opening ourselves vulnerably to them or having a relationship with them is not safe or wise.
However, in this place of freedom, whether people have changed or not, we can forgive. We need to forgive, for our sakes more than theirs. Unforgiveness keeps us stuck in the past.
Yet, forgiveness is a process not done easily or quickly. It requires desire, intention, and openness to respond to what is unfolding. That is all it requires. I can’t make myself forgive sooner or more deeply than I’ve been given the capacity for. Like grief, forgiveness finds its own path.
Naming truth, having it validated by others, and opening to forgiveness make reconciliation possible. But what that reconciliation looks like may not be revealed until I’m ready to receive it. Meanwhile, I can trust that God is at work here doing more than I can hope for or even imagine.
One thing I know for sure on this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation is that seeking truth and reconciliation with our indigenous sisters and brothers begins with telling the truth about our own past.
For God was pleased to have all God’s fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile all things. –Colossians 1:19-20 NIV (adapted)
On this National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, I offer the promise found in scripture that we can be “afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed” because we all carry God in us like a treasure in clay jars. I also want to offer you the love mischief of Maya Angelou.