Advent 2012 (Second Friday)



“When God seems silent and our prayers go unanswered, the overwhelming temptation is to leave the story – to walk out of the desert and attempt to create a normal life. But when we persist in a spiritual vacuum, when we hang in there during ambiguity, we get to know God.”

– Paul E. Miller, A Praying Life


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Advent 2012 (First Friday)

a cup of christmas

“Lots of people these days are seeking recollection, writing books about it, urging us to do it. It seems like a nice idea all right – until you try it. What a lot of the books don’t tell you about is the terror. To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge may mean not knowing much of anything else.

With the peace and quiet of recollection may come the stark edge of fear that this doing nothing, this being, this offering of oneself for God to be the actor, cannot possibly be enough. It all seems so passive. Do something, produce, perform, earn your keep. Don’t just sit there. It may be good and well for Mary to offer space in herself for God to dwell and be born into the world, but few of us possess the radical belief such recollection requires.

What matters in the deeper experience of contemplation is not the doing and accomplishing. What matters is relationship, the being with. We create holy ground and give birth to Christ in our time not by doing but by believing and by loving the mysterious Infinite One who stirs within. This requires trust that something of great and saving importance is growing and kicking its heels in you.”

– from “To Be Virgin” by Loretta Ross-Gotta, Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas


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Book of Quotations: This Story is My Home

a boy in the forest


I love this photograph so much. It’s only a picture of my nephew and his stick at the edge of some woods. I think it is one of those pictures that reveals so much more than the sum of its parts: boy, stick, tree.

I look at this picture, and I see fairy tales. Knights with swords as alive as they are. Wickedness that must be sought out in dark forests. I see adventure stories. Those stories that make sleeping on a bed of leaves and cooking food over an open flame sound like heaven.

This photograph reminds me of all that I love about the very best stories: magic, beauty, goodness. Also, darkness, evil, confusion, until, finally, triumph and victory.

I think that I am a Christian because I believe these stories tell me something true about the world. They also tell me true things about myself and about other people.

I think that I will always be a Christian not because I will always believe exactly the same things, or because I have figured it all out, or even because my questions have all been answered. I think I will always be a Christian because the story of King Jesus is a story in which I can live. Within this story, I can move, and I can breathe.

In Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Lauren Winner shares her friend Julian’s memory of being confirmed as a twelve-year-old. A few days before the service, he panicked and told his father (who was also the minister) that he didn’t know if he believed all the right things and wondered if he could proclaim in front of the church that he was ready to believe them forever. Here is his father’s response:

What you promise when you are confirmed,” said Julian’s father, “is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever.”

Sometimes, faith is like a wrestling match. Like Jacob wrestling all through the dark night with God himself. Jacob always bore the scar of that struggle.

Sometimes, faith is like coming home. Abiding in a place that reveals something of who we truly are.

Faith is not saying, “I know this” and “I am sure of that.”

To have faith is to say, “This is the place where I live.”

Jesus said, “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you.”

John 15:4 (The Message)


Book of Quotations: Notes from a Sickbed


I’ve been sick. For a month. I’m worn out with it.

Worn out enough to have spent the last few days in bed. Worn out enough to have finally called the doctor. Having filled the prescription he gave, I can breathe again. Though I am still tired. And each breath has that ache-y, medicinal twinge suggesting that my body knows it isn’t yet breathing under its own strength.

To be confined to a sickbed feels like the ultimate waste. Productivity ceases. To-do lists are left undone. One can no longer give anything. Confined to bed, receiving is the name of the game.

In other words, it isn’t only the pain of illness that makes it so uncomfortable.

When sick, it is no longer possible to do; the challenge is simply to be. I focus on each breath in and out. At first, this brings fear. Later, comfort. To labor at something which is usually instinctive is to recognize that it has always been, will always be … a gift. Breath. The presence of God. Beyond us and within us.

When we are sick, the world shrinks. I have a book. The view from my bedroom window. A slowly ticking clock. This is life condensed. Which means there is more to notice, more to observe, more to think about in one minute of this life than in an hour of my usual busyness.

And that is a good thing.

Still, I hate the phrase “look on the bright side.” It suggests a yin-yang view of life that I simply can’t accept. I think you know what I mean: every cloud with its silver lining, every light with its shadow. No thank you.

Shadows only make me dream of a world without shadow. Of light without darkness.  Of a day when “the moon will shine like the sun, and the sunlight will be seven times brighter … when the Lord binds up the bruises of his people and heals the wounds he inflicted” (Isaiah 30:26).

But, in the meantime, I do marvel that anything good can emerge from sickness. From brokenness. From darkness. This isn’t to say that “it’s all worthwhile” or “it happened for a reason.” Those are platitudes that do little justice to the utter wrongness of sickness. And brokenness. And darkness.

No, when I acknowledge the good gift I am marveling at the fact that darkness is never all. There is always something more. Something beyond.

For me, now, it is only a few words read in a book in the middle of the afternoon while I lie in bed and listen to the children scream their far-off screams. They are not, in this moment, my responsibility.

And so, released from every responsibility that says do, I lie still and read a description of wolves crying under a full moon in Yellowstone Park. I’ve never heard a wolf’s cry, I don’t know if I ever will, but now, having read these words, I can carry that cry with me for the rest of my life:

          At the same time other wolves joined the first two, and we heard … the full-throated quiver of the pack. It haunted everything it touched, sanctified it. It rolled down the mountains and onto the plains and the bison heard it, the ground squirrels heard it, the crows nesting in the trees heard it. Mary began to tear.

          “We are alive,” the wolves said. “And the world is beautiful.”

(from Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger)


Advent (Day 20)



Waiting is open-ended. Open-ended waiting is hard for us because we tend to wait for something very concrete, for something that we wish to have. Much of our waiting is filled with wishes: ‘I wish that I would have a job. I wish that the weather would be better. I wish that the pain would go.’ We are full of wishes, and our waiting easily gets entangled in those wishes. For this reason, a lot of our waiting is not open-ended. Instead, our waiting is a way of controlling the future. We want the future to go in a very specific direction, and if this does not happen we are disappointed and can even slip into despair. That is why we have such a hard time waiting: we want to do the things that will make the desired events take place. Here we can see how wishes tend to be connected with fears.

But Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary were not filled with wishes. They were filled with hope. Hope is something very different. Hope is trusting that something will be fulfilled, but fulfilled according to the promises and not just according to our wishes. Therefore, hope is always open-ended.”

                    – Henri Nouwen, “A Spirituality of Waiting”


Advent (Day 12)

foot prints ~52/4 'soothing repetition'

The following words can be found in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. I’ve had this small volume on my Amazon wish list for several years, but this is my first season to read it. I should have clicked purchase long ago.


J. B. Phillips on Advent:

“What we are in fact celebrating is the awe-inspiring humility of God, and no amount of familiarity with the trappings of Christmas should ever blind us to its quiet but explosive significance. For Christians believe that so great is God’s love and concern for humanity that he himself became a man. Amid the sparkle and the color and music of the day’s celebration we do well to remember that God’s insertion of himself into human history was achieved with an almost frightening quietness and humility. There was no advertisement, no publicity, no special privilege; in fact the entry of God into his own world was almost heartbreakingly humble. In sober fact there is little romance or beauty in the thought of a young woman looking desperately for a place where she could give birth to her first baby. …

That is why, behind all our fun and games at Christmastime, we should not try to escape a sense of awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done. We must never allow anything to blind us to the true significance of what happened at Bethlehem so long ago. Nothing can alter the fact that we live on a visited planet.”

We live on a visited planet.


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