Christmas decorations (including outdoor lights) remain up at our house for the “12 Days of Christmas” culminating with Epiphany on January 6th. The candles will be left in the windows through Candlemas on February 2nd, but that’s for another post.
Through the years I’ve looked for ways, old and new, to celebrate the rhythm of the liturgical year (the Christian/Church calendar). Our "Christmas Card Prayer Path" is a favorite.
Throughout December as Christmas cards come in, we often take a quick glance before putting them in a card holder on the wall. When Epiphany, also called “Three Kings Day,” arrives on the 6th, we gather the stack of cards and lay them end to end, attaching them with tape.
After all are attached, the kids form whatever path shape they want leading to the nativity with its Christmas star overhead. Some years it has been a swirl, others a zig-zag of jagged turns, and once it looked almost straight! Isn't that the journey of life?!
They choose which Magi to accompany, then for the next 30-40 minutes, we join these learned “Wise Men” from the East on their journey to meet Jesus, Love Incarnate. Their journey (and ours) begins with the first card they are set on. As the Magi move toward the manger, the name(s) on each card are read and a blessing is said for each person, family, or group.
It’s usually something simple like, “Thank you for being part of our journey…
…may you be blessed with peace & joy this year.”
…may the love of God be with you.”
…may you continue to give and receive love.”
Throughout the prayer path, we pause when we hear, “Who’s that?” or “Do I know them?” We get the opportunity to introduce names and faces to each other. There are memories shared and stories told. We discover new friends on the journey. And we get to enjoy the humor and beauty of the cards themselves (deciding that some need to be added to our crafting and collaging materials!).
When we reach the last card, we say a prayer for all of those beyond the cards who are part of our journey and we theirs. Our prayer ends with acknowledging that although we’ve made it to Jesus with the Magi, it’s just the beginning of this year's journey of incarnating Love.
*Magi from Build Your Own Bethlehem by Gertrud Mueller Nelson and The Christmas Star from Afar Wooden Nativity Set and Book
My friend, Betsy, recently shared with our Centering Prayer group the Jewish practice of "100 Blessings a Day" (as mentioned in the Talmud). It's a way of cultivating gratitude (& awe!) by finding 100 things you are grateful for each day.
I can’t help but think of The Tonight Show’s Jimmy Fallon and his weekly “Thank You Notes” segment! Whether weekly like Jimmy or daily like the Talmud, our own practice can be just as fun and meaningful. We might even choose some background music for our “100 Thank-Yous (if you want Fallon’s music, one fan has put it on a 14-minute loop).
Says Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in Davening: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Prayer, “True prayer is a bursting forth of the soul to God. What can be more natural and more human than turning to God’s listening presence with our thanks and our burdens?”
As we get ready to say goodbye to 2020, most of us would agree it has been a year of burdens for all of us (some of us more impacted than others, some burdens heavier than others). But before it leaves, pause with me and see if you can "burst forth" with 100 things (no matter how small) for which you are grateful.
My little family of four decided to do this (without music for now). So in no particular order:
Once we started, it was hard to stop!
“Whoever does not see God everywhere does not see Him anywhere,” said the Hasidic Kotzker Rebbe. It's also true that whoever sees God everywhere can see God anywhere...even in 2020!
May we enter 2021 with the gift of 100 Blessings (our Thank You-Notes to God).
We've got magnetic, chocolate, and cheese Advent calendars and we've just started lighting our Advent candles, but something my daughter said stopped me in my Advent tracks.
"I hate taking down our fall decorations, I feel like I missed out on enjoying them as much as I could have."
To which I replied, "But you're in the house all day, everyday!" (She's doing virtual school the entire year.)
To which she replied with a smile, "But I'm worrying a lot, so am I REALLY here?"
We both laughed.
But I heard her longing and it got me thinking about how we often miss the gifts that are right in front of us like beauty, rest, fun...
She is often busy with virtual classes during the day and often does homework right before bed. We're often busy with work and household chores during the day and often are on our phones or falling asleep watching Netflix. Days and evenings can easily come and go in a whir of busyness and distraction.
So a few hours later, I said, "I have an idea. Every evening before bed beginning December 1st, let's put down phones and homework, shut off the television, and turn off all the lights except for Christmas lights and candles. Let's sit in silence together for the number of minutes matching the day it is, which means we begin with 1. You can sit or lie down, eyes open or closed, and just take in the surroundings. What do you think?"
My daughter and husband were on board immediately, my 10-year-old son nodded slowly but with some skepticism (which makes me particularly excited for him!). So I'll set my Centering Prayer timer for 1 minute tonight and we'll enter into the Silence.
A new Advent practice. Doing nothing. But present to everything.
Whether in the morning, during a lunch break, or before bed, whether the 1st or 14th, you might experiment with Silence as both a way of entering into and a companion during this Christmas season.
A young chaplain, exhausted and frazzled by her job in a busy hospital during this time of COVID and tending to her own young family, met with me online. She wanted to know why she simply could not do the self-care things that she encouraged others to do, especially during a time when she really needed them.
I said, “Well, there were times when Jesus was exhausted, too. So if he was, you will be, too. And your soul probably doesn’t want anything else to do! Want some help in discovering what it wants instead?”
Experiencing relief simply by being reminded that Jesus experienced exhaustion but also intrigued, she said yes and I had her go get a piece of paper and a pen.
There’s a simple practice I developed for a silent retreat years ago that I still revisit with those in leadership or caregiving positions whether inside or outside the church. A cup or glass and a Sharpie are also an option but a journal and pen were easier for her. Note: You might want to stop reading and grab paper and pen, too!
Then I walked her through these 3 Steps for Discovering Your Soul's Thirst:
She was surprised. First, by how quickly her cup filled up (she didn’t think she offered that much!) and more importantly, what she circled had nothing to do with another thing to do! Instead of another item on her to do list, her soul was craving the gifts of “presence” and “being seen.” This led to reflecting on her week and a guided prayer with Jesus.
“Where have you been invited into or even experienced ‘presence’ and ‘being seen’ this week?” I asked her. She quickly realized that it was not in her times of trying hard to do self-care or connect to God during a formal service or quiet-time, but an out-of-the-spotlight interaction with two people in a hospital room had brought a deep feeling of connection, presence, and being seen. It was a holy moment being offered to her to savor once more.
After a few moments, I asked her if she was interested in meeting with Jesus by the well that she’s been passing out cups of Living Water beside. She said “yes” and we moved into a time of guided prayer based on an interaction at a well between a Samaritan woman and the Jewish Jesus as described in John 4:4-10. When walking groups through this prayer, I offer a little more context that I didn’t need to do with the chaplain but will briefly offer here.
In the story we discover that Jesus is physically tired and thirsty. The Samaritan woman is spiritually tired and thirsty, though she hasn’t admitted it yet. He asks her, a woman and enemy of the Jews, to help him with his physical thirst, later saying he can help with her spiritual thirst.
He begins with his own vulnerability, his own parched soul.
In so doing he reveals himself as a Friend of her Soul and promises he can give her Living Water that can become a wellspring within her, deep and lasting. She can draw from it at any time.
This same promise is offered to our thirsty souls today. We don't have to wait for another time in the future, we don’t have to wait until chaos or external need subsides.
Jesus is already waiting at the well, in the heat of the day.
He begins with his own thirst which offers an invitation for another to be honest about hers.
When we pause from passing out cups in Jesus' Name, we can hear with the Samaritan woman His words, “If you only knew what God is offering...you would have been the one to ask for a drink, and he would have given you living water.”
Shall we ask for a drink?
As you close your eyes, imagine the well you've been passing out cups of water beside. It may be a literal well or a metaphorical one, like your place of work. Whichever it is, you find Jesus waiting for you there. You might greet Jesus and allow him to greet you. Take in the scene with all of your senses (what do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch?).
Be there a while and become aware of your thirst. What does your soul thirst for in this moment? You may have circled it on your cup.
Trust, be curious, remembering that Jesus is a Friend of your Soul. Ask him for a drink of this water he's offering that deeply renews and restores.
What is Jesus' response? Perhaps he offers a word, action, expression, instruction, or maybe he simply wants to be there with you...
Allow the scene to unfold. You might continue a conversation like the Samaritan woman did or take a refreshing drink, or simply rest there, whatever your soul needs at this time. Be there with Jesus, drink deeply. I'll close with a prayer.
Says the prophet Isaiah, “Yahweh will always guide you, will satisfy your needs in the scorched land; he will give strength to your bones and you will be like a watered garden, like a flowing spring whose waters never run dry.” Says Jesus, “The water I shall give you will become in you a spring of water, welling up for eternal life.”
Friend of Our Soul, may we drink deeply and discover within our own lives the ways you invite us to care for our souls even as we care for the souls of others. Amen.
At the end of our time, the young chaplain, calm and with a smile on her face, said, “Just what I needed. I’m still physically tired but my soul is invigorated. I can be both. That feels so good.”
Today I facilitated a time of meditation and guided prayer for the Vanderbilt Divinity School community during their online worship. Since we're all in this 2020 boat together, I'm offering the same to you!
Mark 4:35-36 (NRSV)
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.
Mark 6:31-32 (NRSV)
31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
After days full of crowds and constant activity (& sometimes during days full of crowds & constant activity!), what did Jesus and his disciples do? They climbed into a boat.
The boat offered refuge—it was a safe place to teach from, to take a break from the pressing crowds, to find rest.
It was also a safe place to wrestle—to struggle with and against the waves, to puzzle with what had just been learned or witnessed.
And it was a threshold place—floating on the surface of the deep unknown, in-between where they’d come from and where they were going (which also meant into the unknown). It was a vehicle of both transportation and transformation.
If we were to continue on with our particular Scripture passages we would know what they didn't know. They were about to face a furious storm (although it wouldn't disturb Jesus' sleep which would disturb them even more!) and their plans for their place of rest were going to be thwarted.
Boat-time was liminal space for them, kind of like 2020 is for us.
The boat itself was a liminal place for them, kind of like Vanderbilt is for many, kind of like this worship time is for us.
So what might happen in this time of liminality? Will we discover an invitation to rest in the middle of the storm? If we loosen our grasp on our plans for the future, what will we do now? Let’s climb into the boat for some guided prayer and find out!
I invite you to close your eyes, maybe raise your shoulders and sigh deeply allowing your shoulders to drop and other places of tension in your body to begin to release. Giving yourself permission to continue to be here rather than the task or place you’re headed to after worship. As you allow for some slow, relaxed breaths, let each one draw you to the present, this place where you experience the Sacred Presence.
Now in the quiet, listen to Jesus speak the same words to you that he spoke to his disciples, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” (2x)
Imagine yourself leaving whatever or whoever has kept you busy, worried or even excited today or whatever or whoever is presently keeping you preoccupied, imagine leaving it, leaving them, and climbing into the boat with Jesus.
Take a moment to notice what the boat and your surroundings look like (they might be old or modern day). You might notice where you choose to sit, who else may be in the boat, just take in the scene with all of your senses, what do you hear, see, touch, taste…
What is the weather and water like in this moment? What time of day is it? What state are you in—mind & body?
While you’re looking forward to going to a place of rest, you don’t know what will be waiting for you in the future, all you have right now is this boat and this moment.
What do you need and what is being offered to you?
Let the scene unfold. Maybe you voice your need to Jesus and a conversation happens, or maybe there’s an opportunity to rest awhile in the boat just as you are, or you might become aware of wisdom being offered you in regard to something you’ve been wrestling with. How is rest being offered to your body, mind, and soul, right here, right now?
After a few moments in the silence you'll hear music playing and once it ends I'll offer a Benediction.
May you continue to climb into the Boat wherever you are with your situation however it is, and in this liminal space, may you find rest for your body, mind, and soul.
In and through Christ and all our names for God, Amen.
I was supposed to be traveling today to Saint Meinrad Archabbey for a yearly 4-day Silent Retreat.
It's one of my favorite places. I am always excited about facilitating this deep dive into the gift of Silence. Words don't do it justice.
BUT the pandemic threw a wrench in my (& everyone's) plans. So, I decided that even though I won't be facilitating a retreat, I can share with you the theme that I picked out for it last year and we can enter into it wherever we find ourselves.
We can still pray:
"Make me an instrument of your peace."
If there's ever been a time to pray this prayer that was written in the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi, 700 years after his death by Father Esther Couqerel of France in 1912, it is now!
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy
O Divine Master, grant that I may
Not so much seek to be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to Eternal Life
"Blessed are the peacemakers," said Jesus, "for they will be called children of God."
To be a peacemaker does not mean:
To be a peacemaker means we not only pray and enjoy peace, but we actively work for peace. For everyone. Not just ourselves. However, receiving inner peace enables us to extend outer peace...hence, the silent retreats.
Silence offers an opportunity to slow down, to quiet the outer voices that we may look within and discover the inner voice of the God of Peace.
Will you join me in reflecting, meditating, walking, dancing, stretching, playing, singing, resting, and working with this prayer over the next 4 days?
Praying it first for yourself and your internal world:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace toward myself...
Then praying it for those outside of yourself. Praying it on behalf of not only your family and nation, but the whole world.
Praying to embody the words as you come in contact with the world--from those in your own house to the grocery store and social media.
Let's breathe in and out the words of the "Prayer of St. Francis" and in so doing, may we become instruments and children of the God of Peace.
A couple of weeks ago, I walked into the bedroom, closed the door, and collapsed on the floor in tears.
I was done in that moment. My inner storm clouds were too heavy and calling for release.
There's a lot going on in our world, isn't there? For many, there is a lot going on in their personal world as well.
Adding virtual school to my mix and constantly hearing, "Mom!" so many times that I've begun to hear it even when no one's calling, was my breaking point.
Conversations with others who are feeling the weight of the world and going through their own personal crises have revealed a "grin and bear it" attitude. Trying hard to ignore the tension and anxiety they continue on even as they feel the inner storm clouds growing more and more each day.
One thing I've learned from my indoor cat is that if she doesn't get her playtime in, she doesn't get her anxiety out which leads to other issues (i.e. not using the litterbox). She's got to release the tension of the day through leaping, running, and chasing.
Following her lead, I've tried to be mindful about moving anxiety out of my body, too—shaking, squeezing, twisting—through at-home Zumba, barre workouts, and yoga. This release is helpful but one thing is missing...cleansing.
Crying is physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually cleansing.
It needs to be added to our personal self-care practices. It already is an ancient spiritual practice for individuals and communities called lament (though you may hear of few congregations who practice it).
It's as natural for us to cry as clouds to rain. So why do we often "hold it in"?
When I offer Distance Reiki, in the majority of my sessions, I have tears come to my eyes at some point. As parts of a client's body release, I feel a rush of energy in my own body, causing the common "lump in my throat" followed by tears. What was released inside is ready to be released outside. Upon mentioning it to the client afterwards, they always shake their head, "yes." For they either began to cry during the session or felt the lump in the throat, knowing they need to give themselves permission for a good cleansing cry sooner than later.
I once had a client that wept and shook mightily during an in-person Reiki session (with eyes remaining closed but tears streaming). Afterwards they had no idea they were shaking so much but said they weren't surprised, for they came desiring long-held trauma to leave their body and it had.
So is it time for a good cleansing cry for you? Or will you continue to hold it in and put it off?
Imagine clouds getting heavier and heavier and refusing to let go and rain...can you feel those clouds in your body?
After a rainstorm, everything feels lighter.
That's what happened for me. An hour after light crying with intermittent gut-level sobbing, my head was clear, my body relaxed, I felt at peace. I opened the door, now ready to walk out and tend to whoever called, "Mom!" first.
I told a friend the other day that as more political signs go up around me, the angrier I become. Most assuredly I wouldn’t be as angry if they aligned with my own ideology…how telling!
My reaction reminds me of the immense draw to live on the level of agreement.
Do I agree or disagree? If the latter, criticism comes quickly followed by detaching from the author, politician, doctor, Facebook friend, family member, neighbor…write them off…case closed, act as if everything is fine.
But this kind of dissociation never works for me in the long run. It's not case closed. Pretending, ignoring, and stuffing feelings ultimately turns into back pain and headaches which is not loving myself (which then leads to the inability to truly love my neighbor). See last week's post for more on loving oneself.
The growing rift, polarization, and lack of neighborliness leads me to ask, “Who is my neighbor?”
I can’t help but think of Jesus’ parable of an enemy coming to one’s rescue in a time of need (see The Good Samaritan). Or his words in the famous Sermon on the Mount,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…" Matthew 5: 43-44
Ugh. How do you actually do this?
Realizing that we see our own reflection in the faces of others—both the shadow and the light—can add to the pressure. The shadow within is hard enough to face, it can be twice as hard when I see it in the face of others (if I’m even willing to admit I do)!
Who wants to admit that the narcissism detested in someone else can be a mirror reflecting the narcissism residing within one's self? Note: This doesn’t excuse or downplay the narcissistic actions by the other.
When Jesus boldly expanded on his Jewish lineage saying that not only are our neighbors those who belong to our family/group and those on the margins of our family/group, but so are our enemies, it must have stunned his audience.
Even though it was consistent with his teachings about the Kingdom of God and his prayer that life on earth reflect life in heaven, we sadistically like the idea of some people not being included.
But the love of God includes everyone. Jesus reminds his listeners, right after telling them to love their enemies, that God sends rain for those who do right and those who do wrong. And like the moon reflects the sun, we're to reflect God.
So how do we integrate the shadow and light of others, especially that of our enemies? And why should we even try?
When it comes to why, enemy-hating takes up a lot of space in our inner world. It crowds out what is life-giving.
Jesus knew the fruit that hate bears. It depletes our inner energy and resources, crippling our ability to live a life of Love within and without.
“Hatred destroys finally the core of the life of the hater…hatred tends to dry up the springs of creative thought in the life of the hater, so that his resourcefulness becomes completely focused on the negative aspects of his environment.”
Whoever we hate holds power over us. When we release the hate, we release their power over us, and free up that energy to love. Hatred, like love, may start out small (one act or one person), but it quickly overflows into everything and everyone.
So again, what are we to do? How can we begin to release criticism, anger, and hate?
Since curiosity is helping me release the anger and criticism toward myself, I’ve been experimenting with curiosity in the shift toward loving my neighbor/enemy.
What might happen if I chose curiosity over criticism with my "neighbor"?
Another political sign went up, this time with a flag on the porch of someone I’ve never met. Going past their residence, I looked at the signage and their house with curiosity:
After a few wonderings & questions (without providing hypothetical answers!), I found my face softening and a willingness to actually have a real conversation rather than a hardening and hiding in my anger. Honestly, I was surprised.
I experimented with a friend when the conversation turned to politics and we wanted to criticize a group of people. When we shifted to curiosity, the critique faded. Surprise again!
The most recent opportunity happened when someone disagreed with my schooling choice for my kids. I asked some questions instead of focusing on defending myself. They began asking questions. We left the conversation still having differing opinions, but smiling and looking forward to future conversations.
Curiosity may be the spiritual practice for this season.
May it be a step on the path of peace, a way of wisdom, a beginning in embodying the love of God, especially toward all of those putting up political signs!
Finding yourself triggered more than usual with thoughts and feelings of rage, resentment, and judgment? I know I am.
And it's not just toward others (we'll focus on that next week)!
What are we to do with inner voices of critique and judgment, chronic dissatisfaction and frustration? How do we not let ourselves be beat up by them? Is there another way?
Jesus once summed up the entire Scriptures by saying, “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-38)
“Loving your neighbor as yourself” is to “loving the Lord your God,” as the moon is to the sun.
The former reflects the latter.
Like the line from his prayer to the Father, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,“ Jesus teaches and prays for wholeness—inner and outer continuity, authenticity, alignment. Oneness with God, self, and neighbor.
“Loving yourself” is inextricably linked to “loving your neighbor.” Think of those best friends necklaces with two halves, both are needed to make the heart whole.
So let's begin with our part--ourselves.
Tell me, how are you loving yourself these days?
How would you characterize your inner conversations? Are they best friends necklace worthy? Is your inner landscape characterized by harmony and peace? What/who is your inner world reflecting?
Given I resonate with a One on the Enneagram, inner critique and compulsive improvement of myself (& others) along with their counterparts of rage and resentment are easily accessible. They are often lurking, looking to supplant the inner voice of Love. When that happens, I cannot relax so compulsive doing is often the result (and a red flag).
Recently, someone brought up a class series I taught a while ago and said that what continues to stick with her most was how I started every class with the invitation to be curious.
I usually write these three phrases at the top of the dry erase board or handout:
“Be curious. Be compassionate. Be aware”
Given the subject matter is designed to go deeper, I know most classes will challenge our surface-level survival self (our ego). In response, people can expect to experience resistance (and all manner of feelings). That's not bad. There's wisdom in the resistance if we look.
Given what we're presented with on a daily basis right now, there's plenty of subject matter to challenge our survival selves, isn't there?!
At any moment, fear may be triggered, or anxiety, anger, resentment, rage, envy, sadness, guilt, shame, even numbness and avoidance. Instead of harmonious, our inner world begins to look like a daily war zone where there isn't the space or ability to give and receive love since it's all about surviving the day.
What can bring peace to the inner chaos? Certainly not more "shoulds"!
Fortunately, God offers us paths of peace.
One that I've found is choosing curiosity over critique. It almost immediately relaxes inner tension, opening me to the inner voice of Love. Remember, it was Moses’ curiosity that caused him to stop what he was doing and take a closer look at the burning bush. From inside the fire, the Voice of Love spoke to him.
Try it. Be curious.
Once becoming aware of the tone, physical sensations, and triggers, then the next time you experience them, rather than continuing down the path of self-condemnation which can lead to inward or outward lashing out, pause.
Turn your compassionate gaze toward that inner burning (or numbness) and be curious:
Let's play with this concept of curiosity with ourselves. Next week we'll consider curiosity with others.
Conventional language regarding spirituality tends to focus on work-related words. We speak of spiritual practice, discipline, effort, work...
These words distract us from the truth about spirituality. Work is all about earning something, doing something, getting somewhere. But spirituality is all about accepting, receiving, embracing, and surrendering. It is as if we want spirituality to be difficult so as to excuse our not bothering with it.
Better to speak of spiritual play than spiritual work.
Play can be no less intense and engaging, but it doesn't hold out the hope of a prize. You play for the sheer fun of playing. When your spiritual life is done for joy, your life will be filled with joy.
-Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Hasidic Tales: Annotated & Explained
Need some spiritual play in your life?
Let's talk about all you've been juggling and ways you can surrender to joy!
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.