A REFLECTION AND A BENEDICTION FOR THE WEEK
When we moved to West Virginia a few years ago, Jim and I decided to downsize by taking fewer belongings with us and finding a smaller home. We soon enjoyed the benefits of simpler living, such as having fewer household tasks for our aging bodies and more time to do other things. Going smaller in these few ways helped us to live more comfortably and simply, giving us time to enhance and enjoy other areas of our life.
This week, I have been reflecting on this idea, wondering what gifts we might find by “downsizing” other areas of our lives.
~ My inclination generally is to get past the mundane, or to get through the routine as I await a bigger and better opportunity. What if I learned to downsize this perspective by seeking the meaning in the mundane, by savoring the ritual in the routine? Each moment has the potential for significance or sacredness. When writing a grocery list, I have begun to find the spirituality in tending and nourishing our bodies as I plan healthy meals. Doing the laundry has become a tender act of care as I lovingly think of Jim while putting his shirts on hangers (although he often gets to them before I do). When we can downsize our focus to the everyday moments and minutia, we will have more opportunities to find significance and sacredness in all of life.
~ Another inclination is to overlook the smaller occasions while anticipating the bigger celebrations. What if I downsized my perspective to find the same joy of large family gatherings tucked into our smaller conversations, our daily connections? I can continue to regret that our family has not been together during the last several holidays, or I can thoroughly enjoy our group texts each morning (when we compare our daily Wordle scores, “chat”, and laugh by emojis). We may not be physically together, but oh my, we remain connected.
If we learn to look at life on a downsized scale, to seek more from each little moment, I wonder if life will actually feel larger. We will one day look back to see that our lives were filled with an infinite number of tiny gifts, each containing significance, sacredness, and joy. May we never come to the end of life and find that most of our days were spent waiting for something more.
Sometimes I wonder if we are looking “too largely” for God, too. God, the awesome mystery, has chosen to downsize so we may find God’s presence and love in our human capacity. God is revealed through Christ in Jesus, then through the Spirit within us – we have God’s presence dwelling in ourselves! God is as infinite as the universe but is as present as all of creation. We may not fully comprehend God, but we can find bits of God in everything around us and all that is deep within us.
When we begin to look at all of life with a smaller perspective, perhaps we will discover the infinite, majestic, holy, and meaningful life that God has lovingly created for us to experience with great joy.
May our greatest expectation
be the smallest daily chore
or the simplest precious moment,
for they will bear much more
than what we might imagine
or what we’re searching for.
May we seek and always find you
through our ordinary days,
looking closely for your presence,
keeping nothing in the way.
For we are trusting in the certainty
that you have come to stay.
May we learn to change perspective
and to focus on the now,
asking only that you be revealed;
that you will show us how
to live in joyful adoration
’til every knee shall bow.
Thank you for this amazing life,
for each morning, bright and new,
and as we downsize just a bit
to bring you more in view,
help us to find among the gifts
the incredible gift of you.
The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (Exodus 13:21-22 NRSV)
This year – because I like to think of life as a journey – I am having fun with the idea of mapping out my plans rather than making resolutions. The basic difference is only the wording, but mapping feels like the perfect tool for planning and dreaming. Mapping fosters a spirit of progression as I move toward destinations throughout the year, and feels more spacious, doable, and creative. Here are some of the ideas I have:
My first discernment was to choose a word that will serve as a Guidepost for the year. My word will be DEEPEN. I hope to deepen in awareness, wisdom, and love – with God, myself, and others. This guiding word will serve as my main path and will help with decisions and plans throughout the year.
From there, I chose a few Special Destinations. I have already noted a few dates on our calendar to give us something to prepare for and anticipate with joy: a trip with Jim this spring, a family vacation this summer, and a few weekend getaways throughout the year. These are a gift for my spirit when dreary winter days linger.
Along with these destinations, I named a few Must-Sees; some “life dream” highlights I hope to do. One dream on my list is to stand under the stars in a deep night sky, away from artificial light; Jim has already found a Dark Sky Park in West Virginia! Another dream is to hike the 17-mile trail at Oak Openings this next autumn season.
Any worthwhile journey includes growth and improvement, so I added Stretches to my journey. I hope to improve as a writer by reading and studying more of my craft, by submitting my works to potential publishers, and to not let self-doubt keep me from trying new forms and venues. My physical stretch will be to walk longer distances each day, and to hike with Jim on the weekends when possible.
Every long journey needs a few Rest Stops along the way. These help us to persevere, because we know we can pause a little further down the road. This month, I have a mini-retreat scheduled for a weekend when Jim will be away. I also plan to pause for tea and a good book after I return home from work when time allows.
I decided to keep any specific planning on a monthly basis, to allow for Detours. At the beginning of each month, I will assess where I am on my journey, then regroup or reroute as needed. I will revisit my guidepost to discern where I am lagging or keeping pace. My actual Itinerary will be created one week at a time, scheduling days and times for the needs and goals of that week.
One of my favorite ideas is to be more mindful of inviting Companions to come along. I am trying to prioritize time with family and friends, arranging dates on the calendar as early as possible (as long as safety precautions are in place). I also want the companionship of Christ, so I will prioritize time for meditation and reflection, too.
My journey is enriched when I allow for the natural rhythm of Seasons. This winter, I will savor the dark and quiet evenings with warm foods, hot beverages, glowing candles, good books, and special movies. I consider January as my month to decide what I need for this year’s journey – so I will go through Christmas decorations, clothes, books, and craft supplies, and toss or donate the ones I no longer need.
Finally, and most importantly, I want God to be my pillar of cloud by day, my pillar of fire by night for this journey. I want to go wherever God leads me, even if I am rerouted completely. Where does God want me to be at the end of the year? When I look back on the year, what will I be most glad and grateful to have done? Will it be important to follow my map, or to simply follow God? If I am led by the Spirit, my prayer is that they will be one and the same…
May you find many blessings as you journey through 2022!
(Tuesday, January 4th)
I had such good intentions, God,
as we entered ’22.
I planned to set all sorts of goals
for things I’d try to do;
each resolution I would make
would help me to honor you.
But I became distracted –
and then it was day two.
I truly was excited, God,
for this opportunity
and I knew I would get started
(once my schedule was more free)
to implement the changes
that would make a better me.
But I must have lost my focus
for then it was day three.
I’m feeling quite embarrassed, God,
for now it is day four.
Not only have I made no change,
I feel worse and even more.
Is it selfishness or apathy?
Am I rotten to the core?
The resolutions I did make
were soon broken like before.
I am so very grateful, God,
because when the day is done
it matters not what goals I set,
what battles I have won.
Your love is unconditional –
you showed that through your Son.
Each day I have a fresh new start…
any day can be Day One.
Photo by Karen, Hurricane, WV on January 4th, 2022
December 31, 2021
(New Year’s Eve)
As I stand on this threshold between the old year and new, I look ahead with the hopeful optimism that comes from fresh starts and new beginnings. I look ahead with the peaceful gratitude that comes from the past year’s unexpected blessings and treasured moments. And yet, I look ahead with the resignation that comes from ongoing trials and continuing struggles. I look behind and wonder how many troubles and disappointments will cross this threshold with me, clinging to my weary soul as if to say, “Oh, you’re not finished with us yet!” I become hesitant to set goals or make resolutions, to reschedule vacations and plans, to believe this year will be better.
I imagine that many of you are asking the same question I have on my heart: Can I expect this year to be a better one, or should I expect more of the same?
Today I found a gift in the words, expect more of the same. In all of life, I can expect more of the same God…
I can expect more of the same God who has guided, comforted, calmed, helped, healed, forgiven, provided, encouraged, and loved me through every moment of every year.
I can expect more of the same God who helps me glean the blessings from the baggage, find the beauty in the burdens.
I can expect more of the same God who continues to invite, reveal, and beckon me to be a conduit of God’s peace, hope, joy, and love in this world.
I can expect more of the same God who provides courage for every calling, insight for every decision, wisdom for every question.
I can expect more of the same God who will never leave me alone, who will go with me on every new path, who will light my way through every darkness.
I can expect more of the same God who calls and equips me to do all I can to work for the good of all, yet who relieves and reassures me that I can entrust the rest to God.
I can expect more of the same life, a life that is filled with joy, hope, peace, beauty, love, purpose, delight, and meaning; a life that is also filled with surprise, hindrance, disappointment, and heartache. But I can expect more of the same God who will remain, uphold, and sustain; who will be a steadfast source of all that I will need for this wild journey of life.
Thank you, God, that in every moment, through all of life, I can expect more of the same infinite goodness of YOU.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 118:1 (NRSV)
Christmas Day, December 25th
I stood on my favorite hilltop during my walk yesterday as tears flowed. We had so hoped to finally have our family reunited for Christmas after six years, to see our sons after more than two years. As we anticipated the joy, we were almost afraid to hope it could happen, as we had weathered several cancelations and disappointments in recent years. Our concerns proved true when we learned earlier this week that our reunion was not to be. Our hearts are broken, disappointed, and especially concerned for the ones who cannot be with us. My afternoon walk was a melancholy one.
This hilltop has become a sacred space for me, as it is the place where I pause to thank God for each new bonus day of life. Yesterday it proved to be the same, as I was surprised to find that my deep grief was accompanied by my deep gratitude. My tears opened the floodgates of emotion, as I cried for the ones we are missing for this time and cried for the ones I will continue to miss in this earthly life. But then I cried with such overwhelming thankfulness for two dear friends who came to stay, for all the people I have loved, and then for Love itself. I cried with sadness for the moments we are missing but also with appreciation for the precious ones we have enjoyed. I cried out of heartache and then cried that I am alive to experience the heartache.
Suddenly I was reminded of the most precious gift we have from God through Jesus. In this roller-coaster ride of life, with all of its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, anticipations and disappointments, love and loss, Jesus has come to live among and within us. He comes to bring us so much more to life, he makes life a rich and glorious journey, and he goes with us to bless every step of the way.
Yes, there is grief. But oh my, there is gratitude.
Christmas brings the sacred to the sadness,
the holy to the heartache.
Christmas is the meaning in the mess
and the mystery in the mourning.
Christmas is the inner peace amid the pain,
the eternal hope against the hurt,
the surprising joy along the journey.
Christmas is the vulnerable infant
born in humble surroundings,
God with us,
bringing grace, goodness, and gratitude
for every grief we bear.
Thank you, Jesus.
(Photo by Karen, Hurricane, WV)
CHRISTMAS DAY, December 25th
(All the Senses of the Season)
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. ~ Luke 2:8-20 (NRSV)
Happy Christmas! On this day, A Season to Sense, A Season to Shine becomes A Reason to Sense, A Reason to Shine! Jesus is born – and born anew in our hearts. May we continue to keep our senses in tune and attentive to the presence of Christ. May we continue to absorb his goodness and shine with the light of his love – through all of our days to come.
Welcome, dear Jesus. Welcome.
A Reason to Sense…
Infinite and present God, help us…
to watch over your sheep
to hear the voices of angels in the night
to savor the scent of humble love
to treasure and to tell the story
to hold Jesus forever in our hearts.
A Reason to Shine…
Infinite and present Christ Jesus,
help us to become…
guiding beacons of your hope
gentle rays of your peace
glistening sparks of your joy
glowing embers of your love.
Amen and amen.
Friday, December 24th (Christmas Eve)
But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. ~ Mark 9:27 (NRSV)
He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. ~ Matthew 8:3 (NRSV)
He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. ~ Matthew 8:15 (NRSV)
No other form of communication is as universally understood as touch. The compassionate touch of a hand or a reassuring hug can take away our fears, soothe our anxieties, and fill the emptiness of being lonely.
~ Randi G. Fine
We are nearly to the end of our Advent journey, approaching the humble manger on this Christmas Eve. Our Advent invitation for this holy and precious time is to touch with healing love. This invitation feels especially dear as we continue to deal with the ongoing pandemic, doesn’t it? Even those of us who are fully vaccinated may be hesitant to touch or draw close to others as the contagion evolves and continues. We especially long for and need the healing touch of Jesus when our fear, grief, weariness, loneliness, heartache, or disappointment come upon us during these times.
And Jesus comes! He comes to touch, to hold, and to heal. He comes, in our best of times and in our worst. He comes, in spite of our circumstances and because of them. His healing touch is for everyone; for the child with seizures, for the suffering leper, for the fevered mother-in-law, and for all of us. Jesus answers every prayer with, “I do choose!” He wants to touch us with his healing love.
On this Christmas Eve, we can know and trust that even as we do not feel his physical touch, we DO feel his loving presence with us. We sense his guiding nudge, his warm embrace, his tender caress, and his comforting nearness through his Spirit and through those around us. We can feel his companionship and healing love through all of our days, here and now. Jesus comes – and Jesus remains!
And we can do the same. Even when we may need to refrain from physical nearness, we can still touch others with the loving and healing presence of Christ. We can comfort with words of consolation, we can uplift with gifts that brighten spirits, we can tend with pots of warm soup, we can guide with notes of encouragement. We can be the healing touch of Christ for these trying times and weary people.
Touch. Where do you most need Jesus’s loving touch? Who may need the loving touch of Christ from you today?
Today, may we deeply sense the healing power of the love of Christ, the power that began with tiny, delicate, healing, human hands. May we glow with his love while we reach out to all who need a healing touch today.
And as we come to the end of our Advent journey, may we fully embrace this infant Jesus and hold him close for all eternity.
Prayer: Loving and healing God, through our dear Jesus, you chose to come low and live among and within us. You know our every pain and heartache, so you know best how to help and heal us through every trial. Thank you for coming and for your healing touch in my life. Guide and help me to be your loving presence, your healing touch, for all who long for relief, peace, comfort, or companionship. I DO choose! Amen.
Thursday, December 23rd
(NOSE – CHEEK)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. ~ Matthew 5:38-42 (NRSV)
Turning the other cheek isn’t submissive. It’s defiant. ~ Roy H. Williams
Love people who hate you. Pray for people who have wronged you. It won’t just change their life…it’ll change yours. ~ Mandy Hale (The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass)
Our Advent invitation today is to once again turn our noses, but this time we turn our noses by offering our cheeks and lifting our chins with defiant love. I don’t generally link “defiant” with “love”, but this post took on new meaning when I found this profound and beautiful poem:
Who’s the saint, who’s the tyrant,
Is not determined by the show of strength.
Real mark of human character,
Lies in your gentleness radiant.
The strongest souls on earth,
Keep their strength hidden unless needed,
Whereas the shallow and the entitled,
Walk around trotting over the hearts of the helpless.
Turning the other cheek to the oppressor,
May work in a world of fairies.
In our primitive world of organic apes,
Turning the other cheek means aiding inhumanities.
Love is the only answer, there is no question,
But it is a lover’s duty to stand up to oppression.
~ Abhijit Naskar
(Giants in Jeans: 100 Sonnets of United Earth)
“The strongest souls on earth keep their strength hidden unless needed…” Jesus demonstrated the incredible strength of his love through his acts of radical defiance against injustice, hypocrisy, oppression, greed, and even death. What seemed to be acts of submission or surrender were truly his most defiant acts against the evils of the world:
~ After his arrest, Jesus stood before the high priest and council. According to Mark’s account, when Jesus was questioned, there were no “buts” or protests or arguments, but only silence and facts. He defied their malicious interrogation by initially remaining silent and then speaking only a few words of truth (Mark 14: 53-62).
~ We are told that as Jesus agonized in Gethsemane, he asked God to “remove this cup” of pain and suffering he knew was coming. But we see the deep love in the strength of his surrender as he continued, “but not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14:32-36).
~ Finally, through his greatest act of defiant love, Jesus asked God to “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:33-34) as he was dying on the cross!
These acts of defiant love, shown through what we would normally regard as weakness or surrender, have drawn us to love and follow Christ Jesus all these years later.
We love defiantly when we turn our cheeks – to return forgiveness for hurtful wounds, silence for stinging remarks, truth for accusations. We love defiantly when we humbly choose to be the first to initiate reconciliation, the first to apologize, the first to break through the barriers of pride and stubbornness. Our strength of integrity and character are demonstrated each time we turn the other cheek, each time we hold our chins up and our heads high, standing in the strength and integrity of Christ.
But the poem also warns us of those times when “turning the other cheek means aiding inhumanities.” We must be mindful that we are not turning the other cheek to cower in fear, or to back away in defeat, or to ignore in denial. Our acts of submission must be acts of love that confront and address. Defiant love is to shine our gentleness radiant while standing up against oppression and injustice for those who cannot. Defiant love is to do what is right for the sake of Christ – in defiance of what others think or perceive.
Turn. Where might we turn our nose, offer our cheek, and lift our chin, as we defiantly return goodness against all inhumanities?
Prayer: God, this defiant love seems so difficult, so contrary to my natural inclinations and reactions. Today, let me glow with your defiant love. Show me how and where to turn in defiance, so that I may stand against all that is wrong or hurtful – while shining your love with gentleness radiant. Amen.
Wednesday, December 22nd
Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.
~ Psalm 141:3 (NRSV)
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
~ Psalm 19: 14 (NRSV)
The true test of a man’s spirituality is not his ability to speak, as we are apt to think, but rather his ability to bridle his tongue. ~ R. Kent Hughes
Better a little caution than a great regret. ~ unknown
“You have the right to remain silent…” These are the familiar words of the Miranda warning, the first words an officer is to say when making an arrest. Accused suspects are warned to be mindful of their words, that they may not later regret what they have said. Today we are cautioned to do the same; to keep from saying words that we will later regret. We are invited to choose the words that are more loving – and to choose to remain silent when those words won’t come. We demonstrate gentle love when we share gracious words but also when we refrain from spewing hurtful ones.
It seems we have a natural tendency to recall negative words more than positive ones. As I was researching information for this post, I found that anywhere from two to seven positive words are needed to negate or soften negative words. Coach Dave at Lifesource Coaches explains:
Neuroscience is now teaching us that when we face criticism, rejection or fear, when we feel marginalized or minimized, our bodies produce higher levels of cortisol, a hormone triggered by the hypothalamus causing a fight or flight reaction. Cortisol shuts down our reasoning ability and can cause us to either freeze or appease” according to Dr. Richard and Judith Glasser of The CreatingWE Institute (HBR June 2014). On the other hand, positive comments and conversations produce a chemical reaction too. They stir the production of oxytocin impacting our prefrontal cortex. This feel-good hormone elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others. Yet, because oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, its effects are less powerful and long-lasting. That’s why it takes more positive conversation to overcome the chemical reactions of a negative one.1
Today, may we be aware of the power of negative words; may we be mindful to use our mouths only to bless. May we guard our words and “bite our tongues” before we say hurtful things. May we bear in mind the THINK acronym and discern whether our words are True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind before we allow them to pass from our mouths. May we continue to glow with steadfast love through the words we say – and the words we swallow.
Guard. How will you choose your words and your silences to be more loving today?
Prayer: Guiding and guarding God, I ask that you especially guide and guard my words today. May I say only words that are pleasing to you and uplifting for others. I also ask that you keep me mindful of the words I may say to my inner self. May your loving presence fill me with every good word and thought, that I may glow with gentle love within and without. Amen.
Tuesday, December 21st
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. ~ Philippians 2:1-4 (NRSV)
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
~ 1 Peter 3:8 (NRSV)
Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her empty his heart. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self. ~ Dean Jackson
At age 96, my mom is doing remarkably well, but she struggles with memory loss. This is difficult for her because her memory is good enough to realize that she has forgotten something. When she expresses her annoyance and frustration, I usually try to encourage her. I assure her that she is doing very well, and that we understand that this just happens as we age (I share that I have forgetful moments, too). But one day, as she was lamenting her recent forgetfulness, I replied, “That must be so frustrating!” Her eyes widened, and she sat up straighter in her chair as she replied, “It IS!” She looked so relieved, so grateful that this time I had heard her, that I didn’t discount her feelings but truly understood and accepted them.
Today, our Advent invitation is to listen well – to listen with empathy and understanding. May we remember to use our ears, perhaps more than our mouths, as we listen for the deeper meanings and the unspoken feelings. May we set aside our need to respond, react, or reply until we have fully received and understood the message. May we listen with understanding love.
Understand. Who may need you to truly and lovingly listen today?
Prayer: Listening God, you always hear our true intentions, our deeper meanings, our genuine desires. Open my ears and my heart to listen and to clarify so that I listen well. Keep me from making someone’s story mine, keep me from assuming or perceiving incorrectly, keep me from jumping to conclusions or remedies or reactions. Help me to listen well. Amen.