advent 3: sojourners in the land.

Today is the third in a December and January series on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. Following Sarah Arthur‘s new book, Light Upon Light (which I can’t recommend highly enough), this third week looks at the theme “Sojourners in the Land.” You can find week one and week two here. Check back each Saturday to see what’s new, and in the meantime, enter in and enjoy!

Flickr Creative Commons: Daniel Shah.
Flickr Creative Commons: Daniel Shah.

Another text popped up last night: What’s your address?  Did you move again?  I can’t remember…

And I’m like, I GET YOU.  I can’t wait to see your crew of smiling, effervescent faces in my mailbox, but I understand why you’d be asking me that question, again.

Because here’s the truth: I’ve not lived in the same place for more than two years since I was 18 years old – and y’all, I ain’t no spring chicken.

The upside is that I’ve become a master at packing and unpacking, a guru at visualizing a space and revamping living quarters appropriately, and an expert at constantly schlepping through stuff for the weekly Goodwill drop-off.

Martha Stewart would be so proud.

The downside, though, is obvious: I hate moving.  Although I’ve moved past enlisting friends and family to join in for “Free pizza and beer!” (because let’s be honest, that charm begins its rapid descent after or around the age of 25), I’m done sifting and sorting, filling and wadding and sorting our junk into cardboard boxes.

But I’ve accepted that, for whatever reason, this has been a part of my story, the marking point that’s kept me from getting too comfortable, from taking home for granted.  It’s helped me to understand what it means to be The New Girl, to start over in a neighborhood where you don’t know the back roads and you’ve yet to run into that friendly face in the grocery store.

It’s also helped me to understand what it means to be a sojourner, to be someone who resides temporarily in one place.  Because I, too, am a sojourner.  I wait for my final place, and I wait to hunker down and lay down roots.  I wait to make house our home, as I wait for home.

Certainly, this idea of sojourning is not new to the liturgical season of Advent.  Mary and Joseph, en route to parenthood, sojourned as they looked for a place to lay their heads.  The magi who practiced astrology – those three “wise men” who really did believe in signs and wonders, in a heavenly message communicated through the stars – were said to have trekked nearly a thousand miles in search of the baby boy.  Likewise, those dirty, stinky shepherds tending sheep in fields nearby, had to pick up their skirts and wander through the desert a few hundred yards at least.

And this doesn’t even begin to touch the greater idea of a wandering nation, a symbol of the Jewish people who have been cast out, ever yearning for home.  (Nor, for our purposes, does it begin to touch the bigger spiritual idea of one’s final eternal homeas well).

Because no matter where or how or why you sojourn, you search.  You search and you seek and you, too, yearn for a place to lay your head.  You sit by the rivers of Babylon and you remember Zion.  You wait and wonder how long… how long… how long… you’re to sing this song.

But then, perhaps because you’ve embraced this whole notion of sojourning as a part of your story, you put one foot in front of the other.  Step by step, you begin to believe that that is enough, that “The earth is enough and the air is enough/ For our wonder and our war…”*  You begin to dot your words with the occasional exclamation point because you trust in the journey, in the sojourn, in the temporary nature of it all.

Perhaps your mouth even whispers these ancient words:

“Lead, Kindly Light, amid the circling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home –
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene, – one step enough for me.”*

So darling, let’s be sojourners.

Selah.

What about you?  Are you a sojourner?  How or where or why did that happen?  

* = “The House of Christmas” by G.K. Chesterton

** = a prayer from John Henry, Cardinal Newman

advent 2: annunciations.

Today is the second in a December and January series on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  Following Sarah Arthur‘s new book, Light Upon Light (which I can’t recommend more highly), this second week looks at the theme “Annunciations.”  You can find week one here.  Check back each Saturday to see what’s new, and in the meantime, enter in and enjoy!  

Escalator Graffiti
Flickr Creative Commons: Tina Leggio.

Sometimes – like this morning – the HBH (Hot Black Husband) and I decide to put on our Brave Hats and navigate downtown San Francisco, with two young children in tow.  Generally speaking, we’ve not enough coffee in the morning when this decision is made, but the pull to ride the train! train! for Cancan’s amusement and get off at the Powell Street station to see Christmas in all its glitz and glory, is a weighty one.  So we go for it.

While doing so, many such announcements are made to the general public, including but not limited to:

We’re crazy!  

This – this screaming, restless saint of a tired child right here – is why you should be nice to all parental-looking people you encounter.

Two-year-olds: they’re not for the faint of heart.  

Escalators are the cheapest form of entertainment available out there;  head to your local mall and try one out today!  

Likewise, no shortage of relief exists once we’re home, safe and sound in the nest of comfort and routine.  Announcements continue to persist, in which I go from giver to receiver.  No longer do I inadvertently proclaim birth control to all Nordstrom patrons, but upon opening my laptop, I am inundated with messages: Save 15% today!  Free shipping!  (E-mail).  We just saw Santa! My kid cried when he was forced to sit on a stranger’s lap – you gotta try this! (Facebook).  Win me!  Quote me!  Retweet me!  (Twitter).

And like Bill Murray’s Groundhog’s Day, the cycle repeats, over and over again – with the same announcements, and the same mind-boggling inundation of information, and the same breathless beggary to consume and partake and buy more.    

Maybe that’s why I like the simple clarity of a single announcement, of an isolated interaction between a young girl and an angel.  And this announcement of the Incarnation – of God becoming fleshy man in the form of a baby – landed itself its own definition: annunciation.

We don’t know where Mary and Gabriel were when the Great Announcement took place, when he showed up to let her know that she was highly favored.

We know that this teenager didn’t understand it right away; she didn’t get why God chose her, and she didn’t get the whole Holy Spirit impregnation thing (and neither do I, let’s be honest).  And we know her response, at least the response passed down through centuries of oral tradition: Yes.  I accept.  I’m in.    

Because there, somewhere underneath Galilean stars, a holy moment birthed itself between God’s messenger and a bewildered teenager.  If Mary, exalted as she is, is anything like adolescents today, I’m guessing she left that conversation still caring about what others thought about her, still desiring to not have a Jerusalem camera crew following her every 16 & Pregnant move around town, still begging to not be announced and talked about behind other people’s backs.

Maybe that’s why this week’s advent theme is not just called annunciation, but annunciations.  Although the moment was singular, the message was bountiful: You are chosen.  You’re the one to carry the son, the son, that is.  Because things are gonna change through this birth, believe you me.

Announcements, where immensity cloister’d in thy dear womb.”*

Announcements to a girl “whose womb was a place/ Of middle kind…”**

Announcements that plead us beg, “Deliver, and make us, to both ways free.”  

So what announcements will you hear today?  Might we all tune our ears to a different, softer, magic-filled kind of announcing inundation today.

Announcements: what are your ears hearing on an everyday December basis?  And what do you need to tune into today?  Happy Advent!

* = “Annunciation” by John Donne

** = A prayer by John Donne

advent 1: begin with a change.

Today is the first in a December and January series on Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  Following Sarah Arthur‘s new book, Light Upon Light (which I can’t recommend more highly), this first week begins with the theme “Begin with a Change.”  Check back each Saturday to see what’s new, and in the meantime, enter in and enjoy!  

Flickr Creative Commons: Aff Photography.
Flickr Creative Commons: Aff Photography.

Christmas snuck upon me, again.  For the 35th year in a row, it’s like I went to bed sometime around the first of September, and awoke a day or two ago to find the world decked in green and red, illuminated by the hopeful glow of sparkling white lights.  Egg nog beckons me on an hourly basis and the mail box actually gets emptied every day because I am actually eager to see a stack of Real, Live Hand-Addressed Mail. The Justin Bieber Holiday station blasts through the Pandora speakers most every minute of our day, and I find myself at the gym for the sole purpose of burning off every Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Peppermint Joe Joe I’ve more-than-merrily consumed.

It’s blissful.

And it’s exhausting, already.

Because we’ve yet to buy a tree and the bins of Christmas decorations remain stacked in the garage, somewhere between the lonely and forgotten camping gear and a now-defunct high chair.  I had aspirations of being So On Top of It! this year and getting all my Christmas shopping done by Thanksgiving, but by the time I finished stuffing my face with an Alabamian spread of turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes and sweet potato pie, I realized I’d already lost the battle.

Maybe next year, Self.

In the meantime, my to-do list grows: get decorations out, buy Christmas presents – figure out what to buy for Christmas presents – wrap Christmas presents, place Christmas presents in a place where your favorite two-year-old won’t go to town and unwrap his Christmas presents, figure out how to secure Christmas tree to wall so two-year-old won’t sharpen his climbing skills…

And so it goes.

Because if you’re anything like me, December arrives, and with it comes a flurry of stress and busyness, a rush of expectation and anticipation of the Big Day.  We go to parties and we hire sitters and we slurp our bellies into last year’s Spanx so we can impress and dazzle our friends with good tidings and great joy.  We decorate the kitchen in sprinkles and icing (perhaps frosting a sugar cookie or two in the process), and we say yes-yes-yes to every invitation that comes our way because we don’t want to miss one more minute of the magic and the merriment and the joy.

But in doing so we’re exhausted: tired and sleep-deprived, we exhibit the very nature of Scrooge himself.  We’re short with others – quick to anger and poor in love – and we’re even shorter with ourselves, pummeling our insides as the cycle begins anew at the start of each wintry, tinsel-filled day.

We’ve forgotten to enter into rest and reflection, to sit with that cup of hot tea and enter into the Holy, embracing the unknowing tension of the season.

We’ve neglected to steady our ears for “…the inaudible sound of a secret seed…”, to listen for Hope’s silence in the midst of the rustle and the rush.

As for me, change is imperative.  So I begin with the smallest of shifts, and when that cup of coffee first graces my hands, I read a poem or two and I engage in antiquated prayers.  I whisper “…enmeat yourself so we can rise onto our feet and meet,”** as I stare google-eyed at the little one perched atop my lap, holy cooing his reply.

I make an effort to steady my heart for this birthing grace, breathing hymn’s echoing haunt:

Of the Father’s love begotten,

Ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega,

He the source, the ending He…***

Because sometimes, my friends, you just have to begin with a change. And that is what I’m doing.

How about you?  If you celebrate Christmas (or participate in the Advent season), how do you prepare your heart for the Incarnation? Regardless of belief, what’s one change you’ve made lately that’s made all the difference?  (Also, if you haven’t already, be sure to check out A Very Foodie Giveaway, a contest I’m doing with five other writerly bloggers so YOU can win!)

* = “Freeman Creek Grove” by Paul Willis

** = “Incarnation” by Amit Majmudar.

*** = Translated from a poem by Aurelius Prudentius

peace – indeed, indeed.

peace!

Merry Christmas, friendlies.

Thank you for being a part of all the wonder of the past year – we’ll be laying low for the next week or two here at be, mama. be, because we need to make soups and roast garlic and devour cookies and sip bubbly cocktails.  Oh, and sing the praises of the Baby-King, and love our family and friends well, and hang out in our pj’s all day until we realize it’s closer to that night’s bedtime than the one before …so why change now?

So, I’ll keep this short and sweet, and instead, let the words of this 16th century German hymn send us home:

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming 
from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Might you see and sense and be enveloped by the Floweret Bright.

Peace (indeed, indeed),

chm.

when christmas isn’t all glitter & tinsel.

Photo cred: My Little Norway.
Photo cred: My Little Norway.

It happened again: the dustpan contained a mixture of dust and dirt and pine needles, about 92 cheerios, and a healthy dose of glitter sprinkled throughout.

It was the prettiest garbage I’d ever seen.  

Because when Cara the Optimist looks at the pile, she sees sparkles of glitter peeking through the grime.  I’m reminded of the magic of the Christmas season, and the merriment that can be found in the littlest of sweeping details.  A smile comes to my face, and I start singing along loudly to Whitney’s “Do You Hear What I Hear?”  I hear, I hear!  My voice carries over the countertop divide to the HBH across the room: Do you hear too, Love?  Hear it, hear it!  

I am full of Christmas cheer.  Nothing’s gonna stop me now.

If you and I were to sit down over a cup of coffee, with the results of the Enneagram personality test before us, you’d come to understand that I’m a 7.  Known as The Enthusiast, 7’s are, well, enthusiastic; our basic desire in life is to be satisfied and fulfilled, so with bold and vivacious personalities, we tend to approach life with chutzpah! 

We’re like kids in a candy store, exuberantly wide-eyed and bushy-tailed in our approach to others and to life in general.  We tend to see beauty in the most unlikely of places.  We see the sparkles of glitter shining through the messy garbage pile.

And really, that’s a good and necessary trait we can offer the world.

But seeing and sensing and leaning into Beauty always stands juxtaposed next to the filth and the grime and the muck.  The dirt can’t be ignored.  Because for a 7, our greatest fear is that we might experience pain.  At our unhealthiest, we run from hurt and sorrow and sadness, choosing only focus on the sparkle and the glitter and the tinsel of the holiday season.

But Christmas isn’t all glitter and tinsel.  

And today, as I sit with this realization, I choose to see the dirt.

This year, death looms around us: another baby lost, another young man with “so much potential” taken.  We see the pain caused by the loss of relationship, the loneliness and heartache; we hear the cries of lost health and its subsequent companion, freedom.  We scream WHY?!, not just with a question mark at the end of the sentence, but with an exclamation point, too.

Because we don’t get it.  We don’t understand why Death always seems to stand next to Life, why the cycle of Life and Death, Life and Death, Life and Death spins repetitively in the washing machine.   

We want our mouths to perfectly formulate the right words to say, but void of any Christian accolade, barren of formulaic consolations.

Because these deaths, this pain, this sorrow, didn’t happen for a reason. It isn’t my place to pithily insert, God won’t give you anything you can’t handle – especially when I don’t really know what to say, when I’m just saying it because I think these the right words to utter.

But it is my place to be there.  

It is my place to mourn with those who mourn, and to rejoice with those who rejoice.  Is it my place to be real and present, to enter into the reality of the here and now with those who sit beside me.  It is my place to take courage and take heart, resting and sitting and breathing in the God who is here with us, to the One who will make everything wrong right again.

And perhaps that’s right where we’re supposed to sit.

So we take it one day at a time.

We see the sparkles and the glitter and the tinsel, but we take a good, hard look at the dirt and the grime and the muck, too.

We embrace the reality of Light and Darkness, Death and Life, Good and Hard that swims up and down, in and out, day in, day out.  And we recognize that it’s especially hard for some of us, for some of our Loved Ones this year.

And we say, we’re here.  We’re here with you.  We stand with you and we sit by you; we love you and we embrace every part of you.

Really, really.

We hope in the shall to come: we rejoice that haloes of joy will encircle their heads, that they will be welcomed home with gifts of gladness, that all sorrow and signs will scurry into the night.* 

Even if the “will” isn’t felt today.  Even if the hope and the promise and the embrace is for tomorrow.

You are not alone.

Hugs, all.

What about you?  How do you embrace the good and the hard of the holidays?  And how can I be a friend to you today?

*Isaiah 35:10.

help come near (advent).

Photo cred: Tiny Prints.
Photo cred: Tiny Prints.

As a child, soon after the orange and brown fall decorations came down, I gleefully began anticipating the Christmas season.  The questions catapulted towards our parents, one after another: “Is it time to get a tree yet, is it time?” and “Mom, when are you going to buy us eggnog?” and “Do you have a stamp so I can mail my letter to Santa?”

With baited breath, we looked forward to the glitter and the magic of the holidays; while commercialism reminiscent of the North Pole certainly took its toll, we also held tightly to Christ’s birth.  Though elementary in understanding, we got the Real Reason for the Season – we held sacred the carols “Silent Night” and “What Child is This?” and our hearts breathed hallowed holiness when candle after candle lit up the old sanctuary in hushed glow.

In Advent, we celebrate the God who is with us, the god-man who lived and breathed here on this earth, entering into the fullness of life through human body.  Were you to ask me what that meant as a child, I would have rightly answered Jesus came to earth as a little baby, “just like me!”  But what strikes me today is not necessarily the how of Christ’s birth, but the why of his humanity: He, the Salvation Pioneer, became fully human in order to help us.  Jesus didn’t do this for the angels, but he did it for people just like us.  He entered into every detail of human life, experiencing the ups and the downs, the good and the ugly, so he might “…be able to help where help was needed,” as Eugene Peterson phrases it in The Message translation.

Now that is a mind-blower!  He who is bright with Eden’s dawn light becomes one of us, experiencing the fullness of every detail of what it means to be human, all in an effort to comfort and help us more.  Perhaps this is what Mary so astutely understood when her soul exaltedly sang of the God near her and with her, alive and kicking in her very belly.  She braved mockery and ridicule, and she clung to God, knowing that he would not leave her in her time of need.  Her Hope had become her Help, doing for her then just as he does for us now.

Might we all rest in this Help come near.*

What about you?  How do you merge the magic and the holiness of the holiday season?  How do you embrace Help Come Near?  

*This article originally appeared in the DPC Advent Booklet, 2013.

a cry, a shout (advent).

Photo cred: Patheos.
Photo cred: Patheos.

A year ago, my eyes seemed to do nothing but cry.

Broken-hearted and exultant, hurt and joy-filled, reflective and hopeful at the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.  I’d returned to work full-time in September, with Cancan in tote much of the time – and instead of retracing the steps I’d walked in months and years prior, pain and hurt and blame held the upper hand.  I’d make apologies, pleading to make right that which had somehow gone wrong, only to find that another I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry needed to be uttered.  I was exhausted emotionally, physically, spiritually – and at the end of the day, it took all my energy to muster and ask and plead, Where are you in the middle of this, God?  Because it didn’t make sense.  Heartache isn’t supposed to coincide with the Church.

But sometimes it’s a reality.

Sometimes it happens.

Even though I looked forward to life slowing down, to pursuing The Writer’s Dream, to being the primary caregiver for my son, there was still hurt in the present.  I yearned and I longed for everything wrong to be made right again, but no matter what I did or said or seemed to believed, situations and circumstances and conversations seemed beyond my control.

Against my nature, I began to learn what it means to sit with the tension, to embrace the discomfort and the gray that can overwhelm.

I began to sit with Advent.

I sit at the piano and turn to page 38; I let my fingers do the talking as the mournful triplets repeat and build, repeat and build:

A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn
Fall – on your knees,
O hear, the angel voices… 

I remember the gray of a year ago.

I embrace expectations lost and I let go, I cling to the Already-But-Not-Yet, to the thrill of hoping, to the hardship of hoping. A part of my heart still hurts, a part of my insides weary but a sliver, a slice of hope remains, and I pound the keys in remembrance.

I am before my grandmother’s old piano – the one I can’t yet call my own yet, even if it technically resides in my dining room for the long haul – and I plunk, plunk, plunk away at the keys.  The D# above middle C is numb, deaf to sound, so I move my right hand just an octave higher and the song is given new life.

The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
in all our trials born to be our friend;
He knows our need,
He guardeth us from danger…

Over and over again, I tap away at the keys.  I repeat the song’s verses because I want to believe it, I need to believe it – my soul needs its mournfully magnificent refrain.  Because He knows my need.

I too am given new life.

And this, I suppose, is Advent: We wait for Hope to come – we yearn for hope triumphant, for hope fulfilled.  Sometimes there’s a voice in the desert that says, “Cry!” – and, like the reality of a year ago, we prepare to lift our voices to cry, even if it doesn’t quite feel right.  And sometimes, and maybe some years, that same voice instead says, “Shout!” and triumphantly, we shout, Look! Look! the only way we know how, fingers plunking and playing and breathing new song.

Sometimes, in preparation we cry and sometimes we shout, but always, always, we  yearn for comfort, we cling like babes to Hope Coming.  Because, because …Look at Him!  God, the Master, comes in power, ready to go into action.  (Isaiah 40:9, The Message).

Yes.

Yes, yes, yes.

Might this be our prayer today.  Happy Advent, friends.

What about you?  What, if anything, is Advent to you?  How do you cry, how do you shout?  (And thank you for sharing this post if it resonates with you).