Each Day Is A Sacred Gift

“Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence. Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses. Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon. Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to follow its path. Let the flame of anger free you of all falsity.
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame. May anxiety never linger about you. May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul. Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention. Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul. May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.”

-John O’Donohue,
“To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings”

Hopeful Optimists

“An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, sappy whistler in the dark. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. If we remember those times and places where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us energy to act and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”

– Howard Zinn

Be filled…

You hollow us out, God,
so that we may carry you,
and you endlessly fill us
only to be emptied again.

Make smooth our inward spaces
and sturdy,
that we may hold you
with less resistance
and bear you
with deeper grace.

– Jan L. Richardson, Night Visions

Longing for Something More

You can eat a full bowl of potatoes, or a full plate of sirloin steak.
You can hold a full glass of milk, or drink a full goblet of champagne.
You can play in a full toy box, or own a millionaire’s full house.
You can enjoy a full retirement, or save a full bank account.
But if your heart is empty, and there are holes in your soul,
you will remain hungry, and always long for something more.

– found at Hope Whispers, posted by Carrie Burtt

Keep Your Eyes Open

Read 1st Thessalonians 5:12-28; Luke 21:29-38

at all times

keep your eyes wide
open,
in every moment,
in every place:

where those who
are called heroic,
share their socks
with those who
have cold feet;

where teachers keep
enough patience on hand
for every fidgety child,
for every inquisitive mind
filled with never-ending
questions;

where those who have
put in double shifts
for the last two weeks,
stop at the 24/7
prayer room
before hitting the sack;

where those whose
arms, legs, hands
are corded with
sculpted muscles,
pick up knitting needles
to make scarves and mittens
for the homeless;

for when these things
happen,
can the kingdom
be far behind?

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

Words

If people only knew how they might cheer some lonely heart or lift up some drooping spirit, or speak some word that shall be lasting in its effects for all coming time, they would be up and about it.

– Dwight L. Moody

Messiah Singers

In an interview with Bill Moyers, recorded in Moyers’ book Fooling With Words, Mark Doty describes how this poem came to be. It seems he was attending a performance by the local choral society of the Christmas portions of Handel’s Messiah. Just before going into the church he noticed an absolutely magnificent sunset. He paused to view the sunset for a while, and as he went into the church he asked himself whether any human activity, let alone a small-town choral society Messiah performance, could equal the grandeur and beauty of that sunset. His poem answers that question. For all of you who are involved in singing, whether in a sophisticated choral group or an amateur choir, this poem is a must-read. I think you will have a new appreciation for what happens when folk sing together.

MESSIAH (CHRISTMAS PORTIONS) Mark Doty

A little heat caught
in gleaming rags,
in shrouds of veil,
torn and sun-shot swaddlings:

over the Methodist roof,
two clouds propose a Zion
of their own, blazing
(colors of tarnish on copper)

against the steely close
of a coastal afternoon, December,
while under the steeple
the Choral Society

prepares to perform
Messiah, pouring, in their best
blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.
not steep, really,

but from here,
the first pew, they’re a looming
cloudbank of familiar angels:
that neighbor who

fights operatically
with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk
from the post office

–tenor trapped
in the body of a baritone? Altos
from the A&P, soprano
from the T-shirt shop:

today they’re all poise,
costume and purpose
conveying the right note
of distance and formality.

Silence in the hall,
anticipatory, as if we’re all
about to open a gift we’re not sure
we’ll like;

how could they
compete with sunset’s burnished
oratorio? Thoughts which vanish,
when the violins begin.

Who’d have thought
they’d be so good? Every valley,
proclaims the solo tenor,
(a sleek blonde

I’ve seen somewhere before
–the liquor store?) shall be exalted,
and in his handsome mouth the word
is lifted and opened

into more syllables
than we could count, central ah
dilated in a baroque melisma,
liquefied; the pour

of voice seems
to make the unplaned landscape
the text predicts the Lord
will heighten and tame.

This music
demonstrates what it claims:
glory shall be revealed. If art’s
acceptable evidence,

mustn’t what lies
behind the world be at least
as beautiful as the human voice?
The tenors lack confidence,

and the soloists,
half of them anyway, don’t
have the strength to found
the mighty kingdoms

these passages propose
–but the chorus, all together,
equals my burning clouds,
and seems itself to burn,

commingled powers
deeded to a larger, centering claim.
These aren’t anyone we know;
choiring dissolves

familiarity in an up-
pouring rush which will not
rest, will not, for a moment,
be still.

Aren’t we enlarged
by the scale of what we’re able
to desire? Everything,
the choir insists,

might flame;
inside these wrappings
burns another, brighter life,
quickened, now,

by song: hear how
it cascades, in overlapping,
lapidary waves of praise? Still time.
Still time to change.

From Sweet Machine by Mark Doty.
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., New York, NY 10022
Copyright 1998 by Mark Doty.

Dearest Lord Jesu

Dearest Lord Jesu,. J.S. Bach’s melody causes the translated English words to come alive.
Dearest Lord Jesu, oh why dost Thou tarry?
Come now for I am waiting so weary,
Come now and comfort my heart in despair,
Take me from misery, sorrow, and care.
Come now, Lord Jesu, Oh why dost Thou tarry?
Come now for I am waiting so weary, so weary.

There’s something about this holy season that causes us to reflect on those areas of our lives

where it seems Christ is so distant or even absent. Perhaps, this year more than ever I am aware

of the human brokenness we find ourselves struggling with, ever distant from God and from each other.

Whatever the struggle we might share this Advent: grief, loneliness, broken relationships, financial hardship,

aging, worry about instability in the world, war, and violence, overwhelming problems of poverty and hunger

in the United States, not to mention starvation in many places in the world, becoming hard or stubborn,

having an inability to accept others for who they are, or illness, whatever it may be–let God know of your

desire for Christ to come with light to dispel that darkness.

— Matthew Young+, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Diocese of Lexington, KY

Season of Holiness

Lean down to us an angel,
light a star,
kindle a Christmas,
manger us your peace,
and whisper in us the name of love.

In this season of holiness we pause.
We stand under the light of the star and feel it
illuminate the corners of our lives.
We will not treat Advent as a census,
counting off days and things to be done.
We will enter the silence – where body, soul,
and spirit are embraced by the wild peace
of Christ’s coming.

– Adapted from An Improbable Gift of Blessing
by Maren C. Tirabassi and Joan Jordan Grant

Advent: A Season of Waiting

Around town, in the stores,
and even here at church with some wreaths
it’s beginning to look a lot like… “you know what!”

Anyone got a tree up yet? A wreath on your front door?
Lights on the house and in the front yard? Stockings hung?
Who went shopping on Friday – and at what hour?

All of these things are fine in themselves
unless and until we begin to mistake the trappings of Christmas
for its real meaning;
unless and until Advent gets lost in our Christmas rush.

Try to imagine for a moment: what would happen
if we took away all the trappings of Christmas.
If we took away Santa and all the presents,
all the decorations and lights,
all the spending and shopping and partying.
What would be left? What would we have?
Would the meaning of Christmas be any less real?

These scriptures we just heard
pose some hard questions for us
but they point us in the right direction for Advent
– and for Christmas.

The first scripture asks:
Are we remaking our weaponry into farm tools?
Are we training for war no more?
Are the nations of the world dedicated to making such peace —
— the peace Isaiah dreamed and called us to?
And what if we scale down from the international
to our own lives?
Are we laying down the weapons
of long-standing disagreements?
the artillery of resentments and old grudges?
Are we willing to put aside
the swords of anger that arm and divide us
in our families? in our neighborhoods? in our parish?

Movement towards reconciliation and peace —
that’s the business of Advent.

Are we following St. Paul’s advice
to “throw off the works of darkness?”
– the words and deeds, the relationships
(business and social)
that we’re not so proud of?
embarrassed by?
ashamed of?
Are we putting on the “armor of light,”
living and working and playing
honestly, justly and charitably?

That’s the work Advent.

When it comes to our spiritual life,
are we awake, as Paul calls us to be?
Or are we dozing, napping, asleep at the switch?
What will wake us, shake us,
rouse us from our spiritual complacency?

In this season of “giving and getting”
(in the larger season of a bad economy),
what rivalries, jealousies and envy shape our expectations
and misshape our hearts’ desires?
Or are we working for acceptance of who we are
and contentment with what we have?
That’s the agenda for Advent.

Much more than “getting a birthday party ready for Jesus”
Advent is meant to be a season to help us
wake up and shape up, to be ready
– not for giving and getting presents –
but to rouse us to be ready to meet Christ
who has already come,
who is with us not just at the end of December
but every day of the year
and who will come again —
at the moment of our death
and at the end of time.

Advent is a season to prepare for,
to rehearse for meeting Jesus.
In a crèche in our living room or at church?
Yes, there too.
But more importantly to prepare ourselves to meet Jesus
day in and day out so that when he comes,
on that day, at that hour unknown to us,
we will be ready to meet him and his judgment.

Our horizon on all of this is so often and so easily limited
by the date of December 25.
Jesus will be no more present to us on Christmas Day
than he is on November 28 – today.
But the known date of Christmas gives us an opportunity
to pray and prepare for the unknown day and the hour
each of us will face.

An important part of our rehearsing for Christ’s return
is our outreach to those in need.
We have the Giving Trees
and the Prison Outreach Gift Project
not just to keep some people from feeling left out
on Christmas morning
but to help us remember that we should be harvesting
a forest of giving trees all year ‘round
— because that is what followers of Jesus do
as they wait for his return.

What would Christmas look like if we took away the presents?
It would look like people waiting, not for a wrapped gift,
but waiting for One whose love is greater than any gift
that might be imagined or hoped for.

That’s what Christians wait for in Advent.

Christmas without parties
might look like Cor Unum or the Boston Rescue Mission,
soup kitchens where our young people serve the poor and hungry.
Because that’s what Christians do
while waiting for Christ’s return.

Christmas without lights might look like a darkened stable
where a child is born in poverty,
or a table where the simple meal is
a piece of Bread and a sip from a Cup:
food for servants but served by a King.

As Christ came to Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago,
he comes to this table every time we celebrate the Eucharist.
As he gave himself once in the sacrifice of the Cross
so he gives himself today in sacrament of the altar.

May the Eucharist and this season of Advent
ready our hearts for the day when we will meet Jesus
and strengthen us to ready the world for his return.

– Concord Pastor, Austin Fleming, Priest of the Archdiocese of Boston