the weeks- advent 2004

Week 1  Darkness and waiting

 

A prayer room is like prayer itself, a womb, waiting to receive and embrace, to implant you deeply in its richness, to give freely of its inflowing nurture, to support your growth. It simply waits for you to enter. The womb that is waits to be enlivened by your being, to be enspirited with your body .

 

During this season of advent, I invite you to come inside. Fill your prayer room with your presence, and place a symbolic seed or fruit of your life’s story upon the altar as a gift to the growing body, which you seek to nurture. But let the invitation also be to go inside yourself, to linger there, seeking to acknowledge, to embrace, and nurture the growing presence within yourself, Experience the quickening movements that point toward welcoming (through often painful birthings) the gift that you are.

 

In my prayer room at home, I find awaiting me (even as God quietly awaits) a hanging entitled “The Tree of Life”. You are invited, if you desire, to let it be a focus of your prayers, and your gifts, this advent season. As you enter into the Christ story, allowing it be your own story, you might imagine yourself as the tree…. growing from the seed of God, rooting deeply in God’s nurturing promise, through many seasons of budding, greening, bearing, resting as you grow to bring forth the fruit that is your Christ gift. You may choose to follow your own story, along with the biblical one, linearly from that hidden seed of promise into the God-bearing tree you are today; or cyclically, through its many days and seasons of darkness and light.

 

 

Week 1: Darkness and Waiting

 

“You have hidden your face from us”            Isaiah 64:7

 Our Advent journey begins in darkness. Life, and life in God, requires times of darkness for birth and growth, for deep intimacy, rejuvenation, or healing. Seeds in the ground, seeds in the womb, seeds in our souls all begin their growth unnoticed, unperceived, deeply buried or implanted. These are the days of unknowing, unaware of what God is up to beneath the surface. These are days of waiting, trusting in the hard mystery of the unseen. These are days of blindness and despair. But these are also days of rooting in deep faith.

 

“In days of darkness, it may seem that God’s face is hidden, but the sacred presence is there, breathing in the shadows. This is where we learn to trust senses other than sight and seek the face of God beneath our fingertips”.

 

This week, reflect upon your dark places, the places of seeming barrenness, the places of shadow and unknowing. Looking back upon the biblical story, and upon your own story, you may begin to see that apparent places of abandonment were indeed quiet places of deep intimacy and deep rooting. This knowledge may help you to trust in the presence of God if you currently feel as if you’re facing the cold and desolate darkness of a winter night within yourself. This remembering may also comfort you if you look outside yourself and can see only darkness in the world. But the womb is not a void, as is not the tomb. You can believe that God is at work beneath the surface somewhere, preparing the soil from the humus, invigorating the placenta, awaiting, receiving, embracing the hidden seed of hope.

 

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.

 The light will shine on those who live in the land of shadow”    Isa 9:2

 “The light shines in the darkness,  but the darkness has not understood it”                                                                                                                     John 1: 5

 

Week 2   Desire

 

 ‘A shoot will come up from the stump, and from the roots a branch will bear fruit. The spirit of God will rest upon it, the Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding… and it will delight in God’                                  Isaiah 11

 

Right in the midst of darkness and desolation, it happens, roots begin their urgent press. In the stillness of the inner quiet, in the apparent emptiness of the womb, so very silently, that which has awaited the time of our nurture stirs awake.

 

Sometimes our identity must be stripped away like leaves in autumn. Sometimes it happens gently over a season, as an inner intuition, quietly attended to, speaks to us of need for change. Yet often it is finally accomplished by the whipping of winds and rain. Who we once thought we were, suddenly we realize was merely cover.

 

Perhaps this is what we are being reassured of by John the Baptist’s outrageous proclamations, proclamations that often times we read as warning and condemnation. But these were intended to be words of comfort.  The passage in Isaiah 40, which predicts John’s coming begins with ‘Comfort my people, tell them that their suffering is over’ The prophets envisioned him to be a voice crying in the wilderness. Indeed that is what the voice within our own private desolations sounds like when we first hear it, a crying, beckoning desire…for valleys to be filled and rough ways to be made smooth. 

 

That John spoke of axes chopping trees that produce no fruit, of God clearing the threshing floor, gathering the wheat and burning the chaff, perhaps speaks to the truth that so much (so many wounds and false beliefs) covers over the seed of loving that we are. False beliefs about who we are and why we are here, about our unworthiness or ungodly- ness must be stripped and burnt away in a fire that never tires, if we are to bear the fruit of love…of self and neighbor. Your true loving core of self is the precious wheat that God desires to gather unto Godself. Sometimes the stripping can feel like death, but the dying is not real, the leaves from last year’s cover decompose into understanding to provide nourishment for the tree or its seeds. Our old beliefs about lovability, destroyed, enable us to grow in our ability to love.

 

Perhaps it is then true, that, as in the story of Elizabeth, mother of John, God first comes with God’s desire to “show you favor and carry away  your disgrace”, before the infant christ can be revealed to you.                                                                                                                  

“For your sake, I will not keep silent, till your goodness shines out like the dawn. No longer will they call you deserted or desolate, but you will be called by a new name, Holy, that My mouth will bestow” Isa 62                        

In the darkness, stripped and without sight, our hearts and minds can turn from images of what think we are (or what others tell us that we are, should be, or want) to gaze inside, along the cleared path, to where our souls lie deeply implanted in the nourishment of Love. It is there that we can notice God’s desire for us stirring our awareness. Perhaps as a mother’s yearning for the seed of a child in the womb, unseen as yet by the world, but felt. Perhaps as lover, whispering longings for you to come. Can you really believe the Holy One desires you, longs for you, loves you completely and unconditionally, cherishes your goodness?

 

The inward gaze into the dark can detect likewise the subtle movements of your own desire, your own longing for God, (which indeed begins its rooting in the nourishment of God’s desire initial for you). What speaks to you, calls to you, what dreams do you have buried? What wounds cry out for healing? What is the longing that you find within? How could it be of God? Can you dare to imagine yourself as Mary, listening to the whispers of your own heart and finding God’s purpose there?

 

Our deepest desires, and God’s, spring from the same source of Love. There is reciprocality in this relationship of desire, a mutuality of need. As we acknowledge our desire and need for God, we ultimately find that God has been needing us into being. The core of our own inner longing, followed, leads us more deeply into God, as we find God’s own longing there.

 

Yet, there is an interior sorting that must take place as well, a winnowing that can separate the desires that spring from a yearning for deepening wholeness and healing (of self and other) from those that spring from old stumps of wounded inadequacy; desires that come from expectations outside oneself (from authority figures or culture, drummed in as wants or shoulds) from those that stir soulfully within.

 

Time is required to nurture the seed, time spent in prayer with our desires, pondering them in our hearts, patiently awaiting their growth. But finally we are called to claim our favor with God, assured that the One who invited Mary into partnership is also desiring of us, that we are

likewise blessed and desired into being the womb of God.

 

 

Week 3: Hope

 Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her                                                     Luke 1: 45

 God, who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.                                                         Phil: 6                                                                                                                     

 

The angel whispers, right there in the midst of your longing and desire, within the darkness of your unknowing and confusion, “are you ready?” Ready to be claimed? Ready to be loved? Ready to be made whole? Ready to be healed? Ready to be born? Ready to say yes.

 

“Do not be afraid for I have called you by name, you are mine. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned…for you are precious in my eyes and I love you”                              Isaiah: 43

 

Are you ready to let go the shame-filled belief that allowed you to settle for less than God longed for you to know of yourself? To hear the voice sing, “Rejoice, oh  favored daughter”. To let down your learned guard to see the angel and trust even for a moment that it could be as it as God has said. Trust that you are a good thing. For in that tiniest of openings, the miracle begins its growth in you.

 

A seed in the ground. A child in the womb. Hope starts as small as this. What makes the seed believe?…believe that its pressing upward from the darkness where it lies will eventually open out into the light. What makes the infant embryo decide this time to take root?…begin to draw in nourishment, slowly stretching outward former boundaries of self. Hope is that place where the seed of yearning begins to draw nourishment from the radical, placental belief  that you are also held and hoped for and somehow being fed, independent of your striving, in this darkness. Hope begins to dare to envision the blossoming landscape of possibility not yet seen.

 

It is a choice really, this trusting that you are loved and that you are bearer of God in this place, this trusting that God is up to something within you that perhaps you cannot see. Humbly acknowledged, the waiting of a season turns from dormant passivity (resignation of a sealed fate) into hope-filled anticipation, grace-filled curiosity, love-filled observation, and an inner pondering of the miracle. (Mary treasured up these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2) It then turns to a restlessness, a quickening hope, a pressing toward the light of understanding that drives you beyond your weariness, beyond pain, beyond unseeing and confusion unto wisdom and peace.

 

 

The courage to say “yes” stirs from deep within the longing. It reassures us (Do not fear), though we cannot see from where we lie in darkness, to continue to press onward to the city, upward toward the light, and outward in our growth, to trust in the yet unseen, to trust in the all-knowing that we cannot know.

 

The road of life is often hard and wearying, its labors seemingly relentless. Hope trusts that there is gift within the journey. Hope trusts in the presence unseen but heard, in the hand unfelt but guiding, in the placenta untasted but feeding. Hope believes that there is birth occurring through the often painful and distressful  processes of life.

 As in the days of old, you do not know when the time of your delivery will come. He will come when you do not expect him       Matt: 24 Be strong, do not fear, your God will come. Then the parched land will be glad and the wilderness will blossom.                          Isaiah: 35 He who has ears, let him hear. We play our flute for you, but you do not dance. We sing our dirge, but you do not mourn.             Matt 11 Have patience, therefore till the coming. Like the farmer who awaits the precious fruit of the earth                                                          James 5 

All these signs are but the beginnings of your birth pains. But in the days following your distress, you will see him coming with power and glory. When you feel these things, stand tall, because your redemption is drawing near.                                                             Luke 21

 Everything is written, so that we might have hope                Romans 15

 

Week 4 – Birthing and Becoming

 

You may not ask for it, but what began in the midst of your darkness as God’s desire for you, that which took root inside of you to quicken your hope and awaken your love, will surely now draw you into the passage. Each passage of life is a birthing of sorts, each season of yearning followed by a delivery, and, yes, each birth is a blessing.

 

Oh, we can’t always see it, for sure, because each birthing also comes with its pains that temporarily blind us to the miracle that is occurring. What was frozen must thaw and crack open, and sometimes the breaking through of the surface comes with great distress as barriers to love fall away.

 

‘Until the one who is in labor gives birth, you will seem as abandoned. But then He will come”     Micah 5

 

This is where God becomes the midwife, the one who can see that which you can’t, the one who stands by you wherever the labor of love leads. This is where you hold onto the hand that reassures you that what is conceived in you is of the Holy Spirit, that what is emerging from within you is of God, for we are all ‘mothers of God, and God is always needing to be born’. At the same time, Godself is sometimes said to be like a mother lying on a maternity bed giving birth, ceaselessly bringing forth the new within each one of us, within the whole of creation, and beyond.

 

And so here is the three-in-one of the trinity. Mother God on the table of life giving birth, all-knowing mid-wife God supporting and encouraging, the emerging God, who is a Child of Love….even as are we also are all three, as participants in this process of birthing, encouraging, and becoming Love.

 

The theme for this week’s prayer has to do with trusting in the process of labor in the bringing forth of the Christ presence within yourself and the world. Like a woman in labor, we cannot always see from our perspective what God is up to, we cannot see the emerging child.

 

The seed has been planted, the whispered secret of our blessing has somehow been heard and claimed with hope, but the child has not yet been born. John the Baptist may have come to initiate our labor, perhaps by breaking open our previously undisturbed waters with his outrageous message of a coming holy child (who was always here within us even before John’s announcement) with his cries from within of a different way of being. John prepares the way for the delivery, cleansing us with the waters of self-understanding, cutting away the harmful lies and falsenesses we carry which cannot bear fruit.

 

Yet in our distress over the painful times, in our anxiety over not knowing, not being able to see nor understand, we may lose faith in the process and the assured outcome. Life can become overwhelming during times of transition. We do not know the time of our delivery, when the long awaited peace will arrive at last.

 

The presence of God can become clouded by our mis-perceptions, expectations, and confusion during this journey of life. We become blind to the signs of God’s presence, God’s emergence, and God’s ceaseless striving to be born. We cannot see the opening to, and of, God from our perspective. Yet we are called to have faith in the one who can see, the one who created this process of birthing Love. If we quiet ourselves here once again, listen for the voice, it will remind us “I am also here, keep your eyes on me, all is as it should be, your delivery is imminent”.

 

Likewise, our expectations of what God will look like in our world can sometimes cause us to completely miss the child.  By remaining attentive, wholly present, undrugged by the illusions of the world, and open to the coming however it appears, we will be ready to joyfully acknowledge the cry when it arrives and cries out “here I am”.

 

All of this, of course, is accomplished so naturally as a part of God’s plan. The seed emerges as a seedling in its own time. We cannot control the pace nor force the process. To do so only causes more pain, as does greeting the experience with fear. We can only breathe through the painful parts with faith, choosing to cooperate with the Body of Love, entrusting always in the midwife’s reassurance that all is well.

 

 

Week 5 –Welcoming

When she comes, will you recognize her? Perhaps he will not look at all like you expected, this child of light and love. Perhaps you envisioned the newly born to look entirely different than who you are. Ah, but this is greatest miracle of all, this surprising recognition that who you have been has been blessed all along, that the path you have been walking on is sacred and has led you to this very place.

 I have been with you wherever you have gone    2 Samuel 7:9 

Perhaps you envisioned a moment of enlightened clarity, where the meaning of your struggle, of your journey, of your very existence would be emblazoned on your consciousness like the choir of angelic hosts, but the truth is that the gift often comes much more quietly than that. One day you notice that somewhere in the night, a seedling of wisdom in your soul has sprouted and there is a knowing of God that you can name.

 

This is cause for outrageous celebration. Here somehow there is visible what was yesterday completely veiled! Here is greenery! Here are 2 leaves and a fragile stem suddenly bathed in light! Here is the child, fingers and toes counted, who can never return to be hidden within the womb, who will make his presence from this day forward known to your awareness.

 

However, the truth is also that the newborn child is small and weak and utterly dependent on your welcome, on your swaddling reception, your recognition and your nurture. The truth is that the seedling is too easily overlooked and trampled because we are too often looking for the magnificent and extraordinary when holiness is often contained within the seemingly inconsequential and the ordinary. The truth is also that the moment that the seedling breaks through the soil tis merely the beginning of its growth, a growth that will require early and latter rain, and patience to await the precious fruit of its maturing.

 

How will the child first appear to you? Will you recognize its birth within yourself so that you can welcome it with love? Receive it with tenderness? Swaddle it in grace? Nurture it with acceptance? How will you clothe her…with the sun? Can you imagine what this wisdom born in you this day will grow up to be?

 Behold the fig tree and all the trees; when they sprout leaves, you know that summer is already near. So when you see these things, know that the kingdom of God is also near.                 Luke 21: 21-29

Ask god for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights                                                              Isaiah 7:10

 And this shall be a sign unto you, you shall find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger                 Luke 4 

Perhaps the sign of the child will be the sense of nurture that you experience from the revelation that you, humble as you are, complete with your inherent needs and weaknesses, are gift. This loving acceptance of yourself may come lying in the manger as food for your soul.

 

Perhaps the sign will be the subtle awareness of a newfound fearlessness, a calmness in your heart that comes from knowing you are loved, and which allows you to leave watch of what you previously had guarded fiercely (perhaps because you were afraid of judgments from the world for straying too far from its image). Yet this newfound sense of safety has nothing to do with worldly perceptions at all.

 

Perhaps one day you notice that you can begin to remove the fence that causes you to judge the one on the other side as the wolf, because the love you have allowed inside for yourself, suddenly can be extended beyond the previous boundaries you constructed around love… to include others.

 

And on earth peace….Perhaps the sign of inner peace for this seedling of yourself will come when you see yourself one day in the mirror of a grand old tree; a tree perhaps spotted growing along the side of a road, an ancient tree that has observed much pass by it’s way, that has witnessed change in the terrain surrounding it; a tree that seems to take it all in and yet remains calmly grounded, rooted somehow even as it continues to grow; a tree that began surely as a seed hidden in the dark, stirred awake by desire, pressed hopefully toward the light, and sprouted into awareness; a tree that has endured and creatively adapted throughout lean years and abundant ones and contains each one gracefully within the circumference of its growth; a tree as beautiful with the ridges and folds of maturity as it was in the smoothness of a sapling; a tree whose roots extend more deeply even as its branches reach with increasing intricacy toward the light. A tree of life that you recognize as yourself.

 

Is one tree more beautiful than the other? Is any one life more beautiful than your own?                                                              All is well.

 

 Week 6 — Thresholds of Epiphany  

Luke 3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor, to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn up in the unquenchable fire.

 

On new year’s day, unlike any other singular moment it seems, we are aware of the passage of time, somehow more intentionally conscious of  both the passageways that we have traveled, as well as the ones, anticipated or as yet unseen, which lie ahead upon our journey. It seems, on this day alone, we are most acutely aware of standing in a threshold.

 

This is, of course, rather similar to our usual way of being attentive to presence of God, for though God also lies within each moment, typically we see God only in retrospect or when painting God into the landscape of our forward thinking hope, and so completely miss the presence of the sacred within the very moment in which we stand.

 

A student in the high school Sunday school class yesterday, noted that homeless persons often choose deliberately to stand in doorways, because it is warmer there. We who are also the wandering homeless would do well to emulate them, to linger and to notice the subtle change in temperature, to stand more consciously within the protection and the invitation of the doorway. For God indeed guards and surrounds each one, and moves right along with us to encircle the next step along the path.

 

The truth is that each moment we stand upon a threshold. Each moment we stand in time with the path that we and God have together etched lying in our wake… the unique passageway that has led us to this particular doorway, which is ours and God’s alone. Each moment is a doorway, created by God, invited into by God, opened and closed by God, even as within each given moment, from amongst the array of doorways that are offered, we take a step into the next threshold of our own choosing.

 

It is rather like a dance, I think, this journey, with God and the self alternately leading, and it is God who often follows, saying ‘yes’ to our invitation. ‘Yes’, I’ll go with you here. ‘Yes’, I can work with this.  At other times, we wish perhaps that God would lead us to another dance floor, into another room, another house, another town, for we are certain that this life that has been chosen for us is somehow too restrictive for us to grow and flourish, to be free. Couldn’t we be over there, standing in the threshold of that other place…as a man perhaps (or a woman), a European (at least a Canadian), born into a family or a world of other opportunity where our unique gift of self might at least have had the chance to nurtured, understood, received and valued. Loved.

 

At other times it is the obstacle, not the open door, which greets us in our path and thus disturbs us, unable as we are to see the gift of God’s presence in the closed door, to trust that all doorways are not meant for us to enter. Yet, the blockage forces us to take another passageway (or to continue upon the one from which we wished to escape), to proceed along the offered/chosen path so that we might encounter some new or richer opportunity for growth. Each experience and situation, stranger or companion along the way is given so that we might receive its nurture, no matter how oddly it may come packaged, how prickly or difficult to open.

 

And so on this day, as indeed each moment, the path of nurture we have followed lies behind us. We have taken into our bodies and our beings each experience. Each one has been integrated and transformed into our very spirit and our flesh. And it is with awe, which may only come as we linger within the thin place of a threshold suddenly unveiled, that we ponder the mystery of the journey. The astounding holiness of it all is revealed in the opening of this door that has remained closed to our awareness for so long. And we can see the miracle of how spirit was made flesh time and time again within each moment past, the sacredness of the experiences of a lifetime taken in bite by bite as nurture for our growth, the presence of our God within each created thing and situation. It is then, within this threshold that we can look forward to perceive the universe spread out before us like a feast.

 

It is in this spirit that I take the bite of bread into my body this day, in awe of the miracle, of how it is that this thing that lies inert in my palm, this thing that has been dead for me, that appears to be so different from who I am, can enter into me, work its way into my very cells, come alive, become me. I stand in awe of how it is that the Bread and myself are in fact made of the same holy fleshy substance, how it is that we become one, how it is that He and I can be different and the same, both nourished by the bread of life, both becoming bread. I ponder how his words enter to become my flesh, how this knowledge of our oneness somehow heals and makes me whole. I drink his blood, but this time it is not the blood of sacrifice and death, but of Life, life coursing through my veins, each drop reminding me that human blood is holy, a carrier of the divine. Communion.

 

And so now I can let Christ stand behind me on the threshing floor, winnowing me, behind the threshold, which is created to hold back the thresh, the thresh that I no longer need. Let it be burnt away so that I can pass more lightly through this doorway, my goodness at last gathered. What is it that I no longer need to hold onto, that I can release into the fire? What is the chaff upon which I have grown up to this point, the chaff, which has served well its purpose, but now can be discarded? What is it I will carry forward through the door, that will sustain me, that will be made into my bread? What is it in this particular doorway that I am being invited to let go of, what is it I am being asked to cherish and embrace? An old image of myself, and God, of Jesus, or humanity? It is with gratitude that we toss them to the all receiving fire unquenchable. There is no hatred of the chaff for now we know that it has carried the growing seeds of bread….

 

Every few days, the cells of our body change and renew, die and are replaced. Every few days we are completely transformed into a brand new body, and yet we remain somehow recognizably ourselves. Such is the way of transformation. Each new experience, taken in, is integrated to become a part of ourselves. Each changes us slightly, yet we  somehow remain fully ourselves in the process. Transformation then is not a change in WHO we are at all, and yet it is. It is the gradual integration of the recognition and the knowledge that that WHO we are is holy, and that the path upon which we trod is sacred. Bit by bit the message is ingested to become us.

 

Transformation then is a re-membrance that comes with the remembrance of who we really are. The bread that we ingest is not a foreign substance after all! It is not something that we must reject within ourselves, it is a part of who we are and who we always have been, but now somehow is known. Transformation is a coming home that begins to recognize that the road upon which we travel lies not within an alien land but a holy one, that life’s journey is indeed blessed.

 

From this threshold of unveiled wisdom we can move with grace and openness, trusting that what lies ahead is likewise blessed. We can stay the course, explore the path, greet the new, choose with assurance because we know that God is in it all. Even as we maintain an openness to receive the new, engaging in the busyness of choosing, ingesting, changing, and becoming, we honor ourselves and the One who created life in this form through our steadfast commitment to the uniqueness of our self, the particularity of our journey, the distinctive gifts of person, place, tradition, culture, situation, world into which we have been born. As the body honors its commitment to its form even while changing moment by moment at the cellular level, we also honor the miracle contained within the singular form of our lifetime of experience as we change and grow.

 

And though each life is distinct and no two passages are the same, because, as we have explored, with each opening of a door comes the opportunity also to close, to say yes or no, to agree to what is being offered or to dissent, to invite or to reject, to lead or to follow, to welcome or to keep out, to carry forward or to leave behind … somewhere along the way there also comes the gradual recognition of the Oneness of it all, the similarity of our stories with the Story, the common elements of the sacred, the unity of the journey.

 

Such is the conversion experience, a lifelong process of crossing over thresholds, of embracing and releasing, of growing toward oneness, toward wholeness. Transformation then is not a destination but a process, a perpetual re-turning, along this spiral path, toward the recognition of the nature of our true selves, the taking it in bit by bit, moment by moment, experience by experience until we have at last recollected the holiness of our life. Each passage by the same place draws us deeper, each encounter with the similarity of another’s story…be it Old or new… brings a deeper recognition of the sacredness of the journey, a richer wisdom and peace that comes from having passed this way before, until we fully know within each and every threshold the presence of the Holy. However shrouded, it does shroud us.

 

Such has been our Advent journey once again this year, a recycling of the familiar through darkness and desire, hope and birthing, into welcome, such it will be again as we pass this way, through life’s many seasons toward wisdom.

 

 

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