Darkness and Light

The Winter Solstice has come and gone.  With each day the light lingers.

In my faith tradition, Advent has given way to Christmas.  Light illuminates the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

The seasons both cosmic and liturgical, remind us that the challenges of any given moment, give way in time, to that which is life-giving.    Such is our hope.

Such thoughts are welcome in this time of political turmoil, both within our nation and on a global scale.  I see the leader of my own nation demonize and trivialize the struggle of migrants fleeing violence and poverty.  The answer he offers is a wall to keep ‘the other’ out.   A wall of apartheid.  A wall built by fear.

Yet, we know that in a life of faith, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, there is only ‘us’.  Children of God.

Imago Dei.

We know, these migrants have names and stories, just like you and me.  We know that they are more than their labels.  We know that they are simply doing for their loved ones what we would do.

So into the darkness of this moment in time, we long for metaphors, stories of light and love, healing and hope.  As we look into a New Year, may the words of the poet, Madeleine L’Engle offer comfort and courage to one and all.

Into The Darkest Hour
by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss –
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight –
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

Sheer Silence: Part Four

This is the fourth installment, where we explore a key question:  In the midst of the busyness and noise of daily life, where can we turn for perspective and refreshment?

This question is particularly compelling during the holiday season.  The demands and expectations can be overwhelming and unrealistic.  The busyness can drown out the underlying spiritual essence of the season.

Within my tradition, Advent marks a four-week journey, ushering us towards the promise of the Christ child and the hope He represents.   My Jewish sisters and brothers celebrate Hanukkah, marking the eight-day festival of light as a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

Still others find meaning in the rhythm of the seasons. The Winter Solstice marks the longest night (honored with fire, dance and reflection).

Each of these ritualized events create cosmic space for a meeting of awe, wonder, gratitude and humility. A space which reminds us of the enormity and mystery within which we find our place.

What then can we do to step away from that which distracts us?   How can we enter more fully  into the cosmic search which the various religious traditions invite us?

Walking through the woods at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center, during a silent retreat for Advent.

Here are a few suggestions:  Carve out 30 minutes each day to simply be quiet.  The premise is that in silence we become open and are met by a Source of wisdom, which is greater than oneself.

Be mindful.  For a period of time each day, whatever you are doing, do so mind fully.  Be fully present to where you are and who you are with.  Imagine what happens when you are fully present to your child, to your beloved, to nature, to ___.

Be grateful.  Studies show that a leading indicator of happiness is an intentional practice of being grateful.  Consider making a list each day of at least three things you are grateful for.

Be kind.  Each day offer at least one-act of kindness, large or small.  Kindness expands our heart and mind.

Be unplugged.  This one is particularly challenging.  Recent studies show that many of us are addicted to our smartphones.  Indeed, social media platforms are designed to train us to spend more and more time on our devices.   A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania https://www.thecollegefix.com/college-students-happier-when-they-limit-social-media-campus-roundup-ep-36/ indicated that college students who limit themselves to 30 minutes on social media each day, saw a significant increase in their sense of mental well-being and connection to others.

This sacred season, whatever your spiritual path may be…may you carve out space to simply be and listen for the wisdom that is yours.  In the mid 19th century, the theologian Soren Kierkegaard said: ‘God is always present, simply waiting to be found’.

May it be so, for those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

 

 

Christmas in the Woods

In the midst of the deep darkness of December, made complete with the Winter Solstice, is the promise that light follows. Advent, the prelude to Christmas,  invites us to anticipate the embodiment of this light, in the life of a baby named Jesus.

This can be hard to believe when the temperature is cold and the sun sets so early.  Hard to believe as a metaphor of hope, when the political winds blow contrary to so much that I hold sacred and dear.

With such dark thoughts in mid December, I climbed into my Subaru and headed 90 miles for Canterbury, New Hampshire. I’d heard about a little church that invites seekers to unplug, breathe deeply and walk mindfully in the forest.

Warming barn for Church of the Woods

I drove up a snowy road to Church of the Woods   http://kairosearth.org and parked adjacent to a small barn.  Standing in a field, adding logs to a campfire, was Steve Blackmer, pastor of this unusual church.

Steve, a forester by profession, has become an ordained Episcopal priest.  His parish is the outdoors.  Most often congregants are sent out into the woods, in silence, to commune with our Creator.

Church of the Woods is tapping into a truth that most of us know but so often forget.  That that great mystery we call God/Spirit/Creator, is heard and sensed most clearly when in nature.

Early Christians had a name for this truth:  ‘The Book of Nature’.  They believed that in nature we hear and experience the voice of the Creator reminding us to be humble, thankful, mindful.  Inviting us to make room for awe and wonder.

Martin Luther spoke to this truth when he wrote: “The call of a bird, water in a stream, the wind through the reeds, are little words to us from God.”

Steve invited us to walk the snowy paths of Church in the Woods.  We worshipers were a mix of ages from three to seventy plus.  He invited us to listen carefully for little, holy words.  After a time of wandering, a bell called us back to the barn with its wood stove.  There we warmed our bodies and shared gifts from our walk.


On the altar was the Eucharist, to which we added decorative touches of pine cones and hemlock bough.  Steve spoke ancient words inviting us to consume the bread and drink from the cup.  Each a symbol of God’s grace.

Once all were served, Steve poured wine onto the ground, reminding us that the fertile soil is the source from which the wine and bread come and to which we will one day return.

Now late in the afternoon, the sun had begun to set.  It was time for me to drive home.  I left feeling calm, centered and thankful.  Thankful for the Book of Nature that had spoken so gently and clearly.  Reminding us that ‘little words’ from God are being spoken for those with ears to hear and eyes to see.

This season may we remember that light always follows darkness.

Wishing you a blessed Christmas.

 

 

 

Living with Pain

I have several friends and people in my extended family who live with chronic pain. Pain that grabs you by the throat and takes your breath away. Pain that is so unrelenting that it can telescope your parameters as to what is possible, to the point that all one sees and knows is the pain. For some of us the pain is emotional for others it is physical. For some a combination of the two.

Richard Rohr the Franciscan monk and author writes that such pain can be the door to facing tough spiritual questions that we otherwise avoid. Questions such as: Is there really a God? If God is good and all powerful then why am I or the people I love suffering?

Such questions Rohr suggest arise when we are faced with difficulties and nothing is more challenging than chronic pain. I’ve known some people who have wrestled with such questions only to walk away from their faith. I’ve known others who have found meaning and strength in their spiritual life, giving them strength and hope.

In the classic book by Rabbi Harold Kushner ‘When Bad Things Happen to Good People’, Kushner reflects out of his own pain on the nature of God and the unfairness of life. He wrote following the death of his son Aaron who died in adolescence after a life long illness.

Kushner writes: “I’ve never received a good answer as to why God allows bad things to happen to good people. But I do know where God is when bad things happen.” For Kushner God showed up in the kindness of friends who didn’t give platitudes but simply listened. God showed up when meals were brought by neighbors and loving prayers were voiced by people he and his wife didn’t know. And, God showed up in a deep-seated awareness that he and his family including his son, were being carried through the most painful of times.

Can this awareness be proven, quantified or measured? No. But for Kushner this awareness of that loving presence he calls God, is a real as the death of his son.

For Kushner and so many others this awareness of not being alone is a source of hope. Hope opens something in the human heart. Like shutters slowly parting to admit a winter dawn, hope permits strands of light to make their way to us, even when we still stand in darkness; but hope also reveals a landscape beyond us into which we can live and move and have our being.

photo of candle

For those who follow the Christian calendar, December is the season of Advent when believers and seekers move from darkness towards light. December 16th is the beginning of Hanukkah in the Jewish calendar a festival of light in the midst of a dark time.

My prayer for all who journey with pain that ‘you be graced with moments of hope that remind you that you are not alone and that you are loved’. May this awareness illuminate our path.