by Blue Heron
Winter is waning, and we see it in longer days, dew rather than frost on car windshields in the morning, and birds beginning to sing morning melodies. I sighed this morning as I walked out the front door and saw the lawn under cedar tress carpeted in crocuses. More a promise of Spring, because I am sure we will have another cough of winter before it decides to retire.
It is not the cold of winter that I find hard; but the lack of light. Winter has such a limited vocabulary; gray and grayer. I feel a little like the groundhog awakened from his winter nap, squinting in the sunlight. Part of me has been underground for a long time. Spring ushers in a renewal of energy. The sap in me is flowing stronger. I start planning projects for the yard, and even enjoying the morning alarm announcing a new day. I am not so sophisticated. It is foolish for me to thinking myself above other living creatures who are at the mercy o the seasons. We are all together cradled in a rhythm of season that touches our moods and longings.
It is in deep December, near the shortest of days, that we celebrate his birth. Often he comes at my lowest point bringing hope, with promises of a time when things will be better. The darkness of a winter season makes us realize the value of light.
From “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.
But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.
Help us to have the courage and humility to name our burdens
and lay them down
so that we are light to walk across the water
to where you beckon us. . . .
The memory of hurts and insults,
driving us to last out,
to strike back
We name it
and we lay it down. . . .
Our antagonism against those
whose actions, differences, presence,
threaten our comfort or security
We name it
and we lay it down. . . .
We do not need these burdens,
but we have grown used to carrying them,
have forgotten what it is like to be light.
Beckon us to lightness of being,
for you show us it is not unbearable.
Only so we can close the distance.
Only so we can walk upon the water.
Blessed are you, Lord Christ, who makes heavy burdens light.
Kathy Galloway, Iona Community
By Sr. Spero
Anyone who grows roses knows that the way to get beautiful roses is to prune mercilessly. I tested this out recently, but not on purpose. I was deadheading and got carried away. It wasn’t the right time to prune, but I turned a beautiful bush into a bunch of sticks. So I was more cautious with the second one, leaving as much as I could. Now, several weeks later, the first one is budding, and the second has nothing but leaves. There’s a lesson here. Deep pruning gets results. And if you feel like God is taking you through some deep pruning, don’t worry. He’s growing roses.
By Sr. Nun Other
Baseball season opening day. Defined by colorful uniforms against green grass. Flags unfurled and the Star Spangled Banner sung by someone famous or a regular person deserving a chance. A Blue Angel flyover, and the two best words in all of baseball, “Play Ball!”
And right there, lurking in the background, are the naysayers. They’ve already predicted the third baseman (who they loved three weeks ago) is a huge mistake, the #2 starting pitcher will breakdown mid-season, and at best, your team (fill in the blank) might have a shot at the wild card.
Don’t let them (whoever they are) pick-pocket your hope. They–we–make up stories because really, we don’t know what God intends and just might do. Our job is to hope, believe, anticipate and participate in a well-planned outcome that leads to ultimate good.
Image courtesy of Catholic Trivia Blogspot
A month ago today Yoshio Inomata, one of our vowed brothers, entered the paradise chapter of his life. Yoshio is from Japan, so in addition to the usual monastic traditions around the liturgies and proceedings, we knew there would be special touches – flowers in the church, food at the reception – from his homeland. At the graveside, we always have a special time of telling stories and placing flowers as we fill the grave. In the middle of December flowers are rare to be found, so some of us had the idea of having the kids make paper cranes for Yoshio. They did a beautiful job, and we had baskets full of the brightly colored birds they passed around to all of us gathered there. As I watched everyone place their birds in the earth with Yoshio, the antithesis struck me: Yoshio’s soul and spirit were flying to heaven even as his body was placed in the earth, and these birds—meant to soar—buried there with him. I suddenly remembered this poem that another of our members had written years ago. Requiescat in pace, Yoshio!
With hollow bones a bird learns how to fly
Not once despising frame all delicate,
But pushed without the nest his wings to try,
Fast finds the air till flight’s inveterate –
And pauses not to ponder nor to care
How fragile are his limbs amidst his flight,
But boldly lifts his wings against the air
And mounts the wind all ignorant of fright.
And so each day, until he dies, he lives.
He soars aloft, aloud, and all replete,
Content with gifts that his Creator gives,
His weakness making all his life complete.
Who curses frailty wisdom needs implore,
For only those whose bones are hollow soar.
By Faithful Finch
We received a beautiful Christmas card with a picture of Mary & Joseph, and the shepherds huddled in light around Baby Jesus and the words, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” I put it up on our bathroom mirror to remind me as I dry my hair to “prepare Him room.” But how do I do that? I feel so small in the pains and inadequacies of my puny life as I scurry from thing to thing to make space for Christ the King. As I wash my face at the end of the day, and look at the beauty and simplicity of that card, I once again feel convicted from the words, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” I say, “Ok, I want to get there. I do, but all I have to offer is sin and the pain that comes with it. I’m sorry. Help me.”
A peace comes on me as I realize that not one person in this Nativity scene came to “prepare Him room” without pain, without sacrifice, but with so much blessing. That’s what the preparing is all about: making room every day of the year.
By Sr. Spero
The Christmas message can seem like a paradox. On one level, it’s the story of a young pregnant girl who is forced by her government to travel many miles in difficult and crowded conditions, and then give birth in the only shelter available—with the animals. It is also the story of great splendor—angels appearing on a hillside in all their radiance and glory, proclaiming tidings of great joy. The first sounds pretty grim, the second so extraordinary it is beyond description.
Which is real—the difficulty or the splendor?
The Christmas message is both. “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” Darkness is real, but light wins. The angels are singing through the darkness, piercing it with light. The canticle for Lauds during the Christmas season is from Jeremiah 31 and contains these verses: “For the Lord will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they;” and “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.”
Christmas hope does not deny evil. During the Christmas season, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the slaughter of young children who became martyrs for the sake of Christ. We can celebrate this event because we know that evil is overcome, and the message of the angels is true. No matter what the outward circumstances, we have heard “tidings of great joy.”
Bronze sculpture by Daphne du Barry, depicting Mary and innocents
By Sr. Spero
One of the most hopeful verses I’ve ever read is in the Lauds Canticle on Sundays during Advent. It is from Deuteronomy 32: “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste.” The passage refers to God coming to Jacob, but in the layers of meaning in all Scriptures, it is also about us. This is where God finds us, or we find him. Not in plenty, or when we are feeling good about life, but when it seems like a desert.
How good of God, and the ancient chant compilers, to remind us in Advent, the great season of preparation, which is often hectic and full of activity–that although he may give us gifts of celebration, family and presents, he finds us when we feel barren, and in a howling waste. This is also the message of Christ’s birth–in a stable when there was no room at the inn. This is the hope that when we feel most forsaken, we will be found.
Paul gives us an astonishing understanding of waiting in the New Testament book of Romans, as rendered by Eugene Peterson, “Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.” With such motivation, we can wait as we sense God is indeed with us, and at work within us, as he was with Mary as the Child within her grew.
Though the protracted waiting time is often the place of distress, even disillusionment, we are counseled in the book of James to “let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete.” Pain, grief, consternation, even despair, need not diminish us. They can augment us by ading to the breadth and depth of our experience, by enriching our spectrum of light and darkness, by keeping us from impulsively jumping into action before the time is ripe, before the “the fullness of time.” I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope.
By Luci Shaw
Excerpted from God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, Edited by Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press)