Star of Wonder…

One of my favorite Christmas songs since childhood is “We Three Kings of Orient Are” by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.

I recall singing this song as a child from this small book of Christmas Carols.

ChristmasCarolBook

While the book is worn and yellowing from the years, it still brings back memories of peace, joy, and hope from Christmases past; it also brings forth some sadness in the missing of loved ones who have since passed on. Overall, though, I feel grateful for the many blessings along the way. So many of them, especially from my youth, I could only see after the fact and through hindsight.

Now though, as I remember all that has been and look at all that is in front of me, I am better able to see it for what it was, and what it is. By the Light of God, I see, and am touched most deeply by, the heart of the matter; the sentiment behind each gift, each act, each word. While sometimes the sentiment is one that is not of love and goodwill, and may be painful to receive, when I look at the Light, in time, I am able to move through that pain toward peace, hope and joy once more. When I allow the Light to grow and burn more brightly within me, I am better able to cherish each moment with love and care.

In a society that is constantly screaming, “Bigger! Better! More!,” the 12 days of Christmas are such an opportune time to slow down and to take time to reflect…to seek and to find or re-find the light of the Star and follow it.

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light.

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What came before is important to what is now, and what is to come…

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – George Santayana

When I was a teenager learning to drive a car, I attended driving lessons. The instructor talked about the importance of leaving oneself an out. That is, time and space to respond safely to both the expected and the unexpected along the way. He spoke about leaving at least a car length (more when traveling at higher speeds) between one’s car and the car ahead. He also taught about being aware of what is in front of oneself as well as using the side and rearview mirrors. Then, of course, he spoke of the times, when looking back over the shoulder, is necessary.

It seems like navigating the road of life is very similar; best done with a broad spectrum, using both central vision and peripheral vision…And, sometimes, needing to turn around, and look back.

At times looking back and remembering the past can bring a smile to one’s face as people, places, events and things experienced along the way come to mind. However, sometimes looking back can be painful. Either way, recalling yesterdays can be immensely helpful in moving forward in a positive way.

While some may say that history is just that, history, and that it should be left in the past, history can play such an important part in guiding one through the present and into a brighter future. With careful consideration and prayerful reflection, the past can illuminate and open up the road ahead.

“History is a vast early warning system.” – Norman Cousins

History is not only important and essential to reflect on so that I do not repeat past mistakes, but also in keeping perspective and holding onto the truths that I have learned, the truth of who I am, and how I desire and strive to be as I navigate the world. While I certainly do not want to stay, or live, in the past, recalling it and, if necessary, working to be at peace with it is essential to growth and authenticity. I cannot forge ahead with a sense of freedom, peace and openness to being led by the Spirit, if I avoid or recoil from the past and any loose ends that it may hold.

We all have loose ends, things that get in the way or cause us to speak or act in ways that are less than a genuine reflection of who we really are at the core of our being. When these loose ends pop up here or there, how do I respond? Do I push them back down, trying to squash them into the hole from which they sprang? Or, do I spend time with them? Do I try to look more closely and work through them so that their potential for wreaking havoc or causing unrest or anxiety becomes less and less each time they arrive, eventually becoming so minute that it is as if they have faded away or vanished completely? In this way, holding and looking back at the past can lead to it becoming a salve or a balm; helping to heal old wounds so that I do not become stuck along the path that I am currently on in the journey of life.

In addition, history often helps to give greater meaning to our lives. It helps us to know who we are and from where we have come. The past can also help us to appreciate more fully the present as well as to know what to hold on to and of what to let go. Knowing where I come from, what and why I do the things that I do and celebrate the occasions that I celebrate, is important. If I do not recall the history of these things or events every so often, over time, they will lose at least some of their meaning, and eventually they may become lost entirely. For some things that may be a good thing, but for others, it may not, especially if they have anything to do with core values and beliefs that create a sense of peace and unity within myself and flowing out into my daily interactions.

You see, when we lose touch with history, avoid it, or allow it to be erased or re-written, we risk losing touch with Truth, both our own and that of humanity. We also risk drifting away from fully becoming all that we were created to be and all, that deep down, we truly desire to be. When we are focused solely on what lies ahead, we are as George Santayana said, “doomed.”

“Prayer is listening to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. It is to constantly go back to the Truth of who we are and claim it for ourselves. I’m not what I do. I’m not what people say about me. I’m not what I have. My life is not rooted in the world, the things the world gives me. My life is rooted in the truth of my spiritual identity. Whatever we do — we have to go back regularly to that place of core identity.” – Henri Nouwen

The Eye of the Beholder…

UpsideDownIMG_1486      RightSideUpIMG_1486

Sometimes right side up or upside down does not matter. Sometimes either way can make sense or be beautiful…either way can be a good thing.

I wonder how often people are discouraged, turned away or dismissed as not having the “right stuff” simply because of another’s inability to look beyond a piece(s) of the entire picture.

There is a saying about not judging a person by their appearance, but in this Year of Mercy, what about not judging a person, period? The thing is that no matter what I see in someone, or know of someone, I am not them. I do not know every step they have walked and what those steps have been like, and most importantly, I do not know what is in their hearts.

In addition, no matter how much I think I might know, the fact of the matter is, that I (we) very rarely have the whole picture. Without that, without taking the time to inquire and to look more closely, all we really have are assumptions and judgments, and all they do is limit the openness we have to another and the gifts he or she brings to this world. For all we know, we are holding each other back from being all we can be, and certainly, that must have a collective effect.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Imagine a world where everyone replaced time spent judging, assessing and competing with one another with time spent encouraging, helping one another and sharing our gifts, talents, time, and treasure…our faith, hope, and love. The times in which we live would be drastically different. The world would be on fire!

While one may think, “Fantasy!” They may be right. It may seem, and probably is, too idealistic and highly unlikely for such a change to occur throughout the world, by what seems like the hands of a few. However, it is not impossible.

It all starts with faith…faith in God, in oneself and in each other. We are created in God’s image. Surely, God’s grace rests upon us and is within us. It enables us to see clearly…to see the whole picture and makes us capable of having hearts that are wide like God’s mercy.

Lord, in this Year of Mercy, and beyond, help us to set the world on fire with hearts more deeply rooted in You.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.

There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than in heaven;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kind judgment given.

There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.

For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more faithful,
we should take him at his word;
and our life would be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.

Frederick William Faber

 

 

 

 

Hope and Light in Darkness…

This week I had the opportunity to share in an experience called an Advent spiral walk. The evening started with hot cider and light fare followed by song, beautifully led by acoustic guitar and, at first by the voice of one singing, and then several. As it progressed, and we bundled up and walked outside, into the evening, it only got better.

In the cold air and in darkness, guided only by candlelight, we proceeded to reflect on Advent, a time of waiting…waiting in darkness…but also in hope. As we sat around the spiral, singing, “In the Advent Garden, Dark the night below, Earth is waiting, waiting, waiting for the stars to glow…oh,” and as I listened to the guitar chords and the voices, I found myself so taken with the beauty of it all. One by one, each person…each pilgrim…stood up and prayerfully walked the spiral to the center. Once there, he or she, paused, lit their candle, and then placed it along the path on the walk back out from the center.

As I looked up at the stars above, and then back to the group and the spiral, looking at the area that was once dark now becoming lighter, I found myself filled with hope and joy. As I reflected on the words spoken earlier, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (from John 1:5), I found myself feeling grateful to God for the light placed within each of us and for each person in my life, and along my journey, who has shared their light with me and others.

How wonderful! Even in the darkness, there is light. Advent…waiting with hope and in hope…it is not just this time of year, but also throughout the year. Sometimes I wonder, am I waiting for God or, is it God who is waiting for me? Sometimes, I think it is both.

Either way, whether I am waiting for God or God is waiting for me…the sun always returns, and the light returns, as we wait together.

“Thus says the Lord GOD,
the Holy One of Israel:
O people of Zion, who dwell in Jerusalem,
no more will you weep;
He will be gracious to you when you cry out,
as soon as he hears he will answer you.
The Lord will give you the bread you need
and the water for which you thirst.
No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher,
While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears:
‘This is the way; walk in it,’
when you would turn to the right or to the left.”  – Is 30:19-21