I think my epiphany is 61 years in the making ...a very very slow epiphany: The star is family ...the star is old friends (like Jesus and Mary) ...the star is new friends (like David and Robin) ...the star is love. LOVE!
Image: La Sagrada Familia - The Sacred (or Holy) Family by James Mangum
Christmas—the light that shone upon a manger—was also, the ancients knew, the light that led them on beyond it as well. If God is truly with us, has been manifested among us, companions us as we go, knows our pains and our hopes, then life is not a dark forest from which there is no exit. It is a darkness, however dark, that is always overcome by light.
Christmas now. It’s not just one star, but many stars. Too many stars to count. It is a great light pulsing, beaming from every direction. Light for the Christmas that is born in every heart …in every dawn that pushes away the darkness.
“while I was among the exiles” Ezekiel (1:1) wrote “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.”
we must rebuild our small habits and inclinations to include each morning’s nativity each evening’s stars and heavenly choirs seen even in exile from the portal of a heart opened so wide so deep so far
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2.19)
Over the previous nine months, Mary has entertained an archangel, said yes to becoming the mother of the Son of God, made the journey to visit Elizabeth, and lifted up a song of hope that has endured across centuries. She has waited with Elizabeth, made the journey back home, and traveled with her husband Joseph to Bethlehem to be included in the registration ordered by Emperor Augustus. She has labored to give birth to her son, enfolded him in strips of cloth, laid him in a manger, and welcomed those who came to marvel at what had come to pass.
Luke tells us that in response to their amazement, Mary treasures these words in her heart. Luke’s description conjures an image of a woman who, amid the tumult of angels and signs and visitors and miracles, holds all these happenings in a place of stillness. Among the memories of nine months of adventures she never could have imagined, Mary embodies a sense of wonder that is quiet and deep and wise.
Dear God, the troubles of our world have left many of us speechless. We don’t know how, in the numbness around jobs lost, illnesses we don’t have the resources to cure, a planet imperiled by the accumulated effects of our greed, and the seemingly endless presence of war and violence, to say our prayers. We are lighting candles, though – in our Advent wreaths, quietly, in side chapels of our churches, in our rooms where no one else but You can see. The candle flame is our prayer, wordless but filled with meaning, with petition, hope, and faith. And the candle flame is your answer to our prayer. You lighten our darkness, O Lord. Amen
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God. [Luke 3:5-6]
Epiphany: A Christian feast celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi.
Advent began on my birthday this year. The next day, November 30, Robin, David, and I began “following the star.” Today, December 13, my epiphany arrived with the first line of Robin’s poem: “It’s about Mary.” What should have been obvious to me for many years became obvious. My art has always been about Mary.
I have painted her and carved her hundreds of times. With and without the Christ child. Each time my art takes me away from her, she calls me back. Her image calms me; comforts me. Despite all my doubts about so-called traditional religion, her hold on me has never loosened.
I was a psychology major in college, but came to believe all of it was a crock. Except for the theory of the mother-son dynamic. I was not close to my mother, or should I say, she was not close to me. So, I suppose that Mary became my surrogate mother. I was raised in the Catholic church and began attending Catholic school when I was five. So I saw Mary a lot. At a most impressionable age and during a most trying time, I saw her almost daily. The incredible statues, paintings, stained glass windows. She always had a beatific smile…just for me.
So today I will start my new carving. A giant cypress knee in which I can already see Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms. It is going to be a good day.
Charm with your stainlessness these winter nights, Skies, and be perfect! Fly, vivider in the fiery dark, you quiet meteors, And disappear. You moon, be slow to go down, This is your full!
The four white roads make off in silence Towards the four parts of the starry universe. Time falls like manna at the corners of the wintry earth. We have become more humble than the rocks, More wakeful than the patient hills.
Charm with your stainlessness these nights in Advent, holy spheres, While minds, as meek as beasts, Stay close at home in the sweet hay; And intellects are quieter than the flocks that feed by starlight.
Oh pour your darkness and your brightness over all our solemn valleys, You skies: and travel like the gentle Virgin, Toward the planets' stately setting,
Unexpected and mysterious is the gentle Word of grace. Ever-loving and sustaining is the peace of God’s embrace. If we falter in our courage and we doubt what we have known, God is faithful to console us as a mother tends her own.
In a momentary meeting of eternity and time. Mary learned that she would carry both the mortal and divine. Then she learned of God’s compassion, of Elizabeth’s great joy, And she ran to greet the woman who would recognize her boy.
We are called to ponder myst’ry and await the coming Christ, To embody God’s compassion for each fragile human life. God is with us in our longing to bring healing to the earth, While we watch with joy and wonder for the promised Savior’s birth.
Words: a hymn by Jeannette M. Lindholm titled "Unexpected and Mysterious," which appears in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006)
Image: "Incubation," the first panel in an eight-piece work titled "Tabula Rasa" by Linda Witte Henke
"This Mary is the woman of the land. She is sister to the poor and the mother of compassion and healing for all those who live on the edges of life, walking the roads on the outskirts of the cities, living in slums, favelas, tenements, and the neighborhoods [where] no one ever wants to get caught having to raise their children. . . . She is barefoot upon the earth; her presence causes roses to bloom in December and the birds to sing wildly and the land to bring forth its seed and bread for those desperate for daily sustenance (still more than 85 percent of the earth) and freedom. She can be a spider, as in the Native American tradition, who follows a trail home bringing light to the people, silent, unnoticed, so small and so able to steal the light from those who will not share it with others. She is the symbol of the small earth, inconsequential except to God, found with all those who live faithfully in situations of darkness, despair, lack and need, yet powerful in their very weakness and numbers."
As we prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Christ Jesus in a new way this Advent, let us also receive those around us in a new way. Let us see and know that God wants to transform and make new even the most impossible situations in our lives. Let us look and see Christ Jesus in those around us who have caused us heartache and pain. As God draws near we are given the strength to see others in a new way. And truly then, the world as we now it will pass away, and all things will be made new.
"Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word." Hebrews 1:1-3
Image: Familiar Grace: Routine that Frees the Heart by Kathy Bozzuti-Jones, 2009: This assemblage-painting is made from interior house-paint and synthetic laundry bag. Daily grace, as I see it, is bright, colorful, reliable -- and radiant, too, as suggested by the light reflecting off the laundry bag -- different, depending upon the time of day. It represents household grace, the kind of ordinary loving that supports families in ways that often go undetected, but that honor the dailiness of God's constant, graceful embrace.
"...there is a way of being and knowing that is grounded in timing I did not create. There is a way of being and knowing that dimly remembers that waiting in hope is an attitude of faith.
Waiting in silence, creating space for steadfast love to grow within, may be the most essential practice of all. It is in many ways the spirit of Advent, that time of the Christian liturgical year when we practice the waiting of gestation and hoping, of trusting in new life not yet fully known.
Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and author, remarked that life is a perpetual Advent. He sensed that in that waiting, trust began to grow. Trust in God, trust in the Holy One who is beyond all that is created and is the source of all things, seen and unseen. Trusting and waiting allow the loving-kindness that is the essence of God’s own Life to grow in us, and to bear fruit that we never expected."
I woke up from one those nightmares that come out of “nowhere”. I knew it had something to do with Following the Star – or rather Not Following the Star – which is in fact where I have to start.
I live on ten acres. There is no development in sight. But when I walked out into the front yard of my dream, there were some one hundred No Trespassing signs marking a convoluted circle around the house. Some developer had come in the night and staked out a ridiculous new property line for me and clearly they were flaunting this barrier and putting it in my face. A row of yellow signs divided my driveway in two, they left me a patch of grass outside the front door. On one side of the house the signs were staked right up to the foundation line. I was stunned. I imagine if I had gone back in the house, I would have found the signs in there, too – blocking my way to the bathroom.
Last time I reflected on this journey, I managed to get out of my cave and make it up into the starlit view from the tower. Now I’m back down on ground level and opening my front door. Maybe I was ready to start out on a journey. Maybe I was just letting out the cat. Regardless, some developer is out there blocking my way, blocking my view, and advertising their claim on me. I pulled out a couple of signs and threw them down, but it would not be that easy. Something inside knows the signs are mine – I allowed them to be there – I am ‘the developer’. I live in this world of illusion and preoccupation with myself. I’m terrified of getting old, or loosing the studio, or the house, of not affording my friend-wife’s medications, or having my art dry up from the inside. I’ve allowed Netflix and caffeine into my space (again) to make their claims and set me down on the couch-of-my-life. These are all the low-level comfort/addictions of a typical middle class life – and the unconscious fear of the unknown that goes along with it. The dream is sign – a sign made up of signs. I’m not being clever, I’m just getting it.
The Three Wise Men, the Kings of the Orient, represent a kind of inner soul bravery of spirit, a curiosity that trespasses barriers, an expansive outlook, a search for our Origin that leads out into far flung territories, something that follows a Star. This is all rung out of us here in the West – in the West-of-our-lives – doesn’t matter if you are reading this in China – we all have a ‘West’ – a place of safety and drunkenness with safety. A place in the self with a lot of very human preoccupations and No Trespassing signs. The signs and barriers are there - even when we don’t see them - especially when we don’t see them.
Who is it that follows a Star? I know what follows a pop song, a pretty woman, the warmth of the sun. But who or what follows a Star? What travels in the night sharing the road with thieves and vampires? Who were these stargazers from the east who seemed to know something, who set out from their high towers, who crossed borders at will? We domesticate them in crèches, Christmas plays, gold foil, and colorful robes. But they remind me that not all who seek the Child, who carry word of the Child, are churched, catechized, circumcised, or circumspect.
I roll over and put my feet on the cold floor. The cat wants out.
Arrivals, by definition, are momentary states. They last an instant. Arrivals are both ethereal and ephemeral. A letter arrives. A child arrives. A Christ child arrives. We try to find ways to hang on them. We read letters over and over. We take photographs and make scrapbooks of and for our children. We go to church, we pray, we celebrate Christmas.
This has always been my struggle. Trying to stay in the moment. I am always looking ahead. To the next project; the next adventure. When my first child was born, my wife and I looked forward to his arrival. For different reasons, I’m pretty sure. But, when he was born she was able to stay in the moment. To hold him and…just love him.
I was already looking down the road. To when he would be able to talk to me. Start laughing at my corny jokes. When he would first play t-ball. When he would bring home his first girlfriend. Would I be afraid when he got hurt or became ill?
I did the same with my first daughter when she was born. Amazed at actually having a baby girl. Amazed at how it all happened. Then, with the arrival, the looking ahead. And the same with my last two daughters. They’re all grown now. Wonderful adults. It went by too fast, while I was thinking about the future. My wife enjoyed and savored every moment with them. She still does. We’re divorced now.
The advent of Advent brings it all home. This trip with Robin and David will be a rather melancholy one. Not in a bad way. It has made me actually stop and look back on a wonderful life. I am allowing myself to be nostalgic.
I love the Nativity story. How Christ’s arrival was foretold. How men, the powerful and the meek, followed a star. His arrival was over in a moment. But His story will live forever. It would be nice if we could hold onto it for the entire year. I wonder if Jesus minds that we take Him for granted sometimes?
My thoughts are scattered now. All the pictures in my head are a bit out of focus. Robin and David, my path has not become clear. No star yet. But, I am looking forward to this trip. A new destination lies ahead. A new arrival.
"Mary is, in a certain sense, the community which is my Mother. It is her love that has brought us here and keeps the community together. It is her love I have known out under the cedars, and working in the fields and singing in choir. It is her love that has made me desire solitude, and she will fulfill that desire. She is my solitude and she is here. It seems I have to keep finding it out over and over again. "
God of the watching ones, give us Your benediction.
God of the waiting ones, give us Your good word for our souls.
God of the watching ones, the waiting ones, the slow and suffering ones, give us Your benediction, Your good word for our souls, that we might rest.
God of the watching ones, the waiting ones, the slow and suffering ones, and of the angels in heaven, and of the child in the womb, give us Your benediction, Your good word for our souls, that we might rest and rise in the kindness of Your company.
They manifest a nature's sublimity. That is why Gabriel is represented with wings. Not that angels have wings, but that you may know that they leave the heights and the most elevated dwelling to approach human nature. Accordingly, the wings attributed to these powers have no other meaning than to indicate the sublimity of their nature.
"Love of self, love of neighbors, and love of God are the foundational stones of the world's religions. Spiraling out from the core of our being, our other loves are also cobblestones on the spiritual path: love of family, of partner, of friends, of community, of animals, of nature, of country, of things, of hobbies, of work. Love is not something that you just fall into, as the romantic songs suggest. Love is a spiritual practice. You can get better at it over time."
“God’s presence can be symbolized in various ways. Figures of speech and images invite the imagining of God’s nearness. In one dramatic instance God is wondrously and mysteriously present to Moses in a transfigured bush. The bush burns without burning up. It is ever-living while ever-giving in its flames of light and life. Yet, striking as the image is, this is still only a sign. The essence of the divine life, the source of all creation, remains beyond the world of human seeing. God’s presence is figuratively hinted. Holiness and inexhaustible power and life are alluded to, while the Divine continues to transcend creaturely ways of knowing—of being able to say, Now I know that I have seen God. I have seen the beauty and grandeur of God.”
"Whenever we offer a blessing, it is an intimate act that acknowledges that we are connected with another and that we desire the wholeness of that person—or that place, or whatever it is that we are blessing. A blessing is a reminder that God has not designed us to live by our own devices: we are bound together with one another and with all of creation, and we are called to work for the well-being of those whom we share this life with—and those who will follow. Offering a blessing is an act of profound hope. In blessing one another, we recognize and ally ourselves with the presence of God who is ever working to bring about the healing of the world."
I spent an hour yesterday sloshing through a vast scrap yard looking for a headlight for my van. It was pretty much a scene out of Mad Max – Mad Max after a long Midwestern drizzle. The sun and the mud were in my eyes and I couldn’t see any stars – biblical or otherwise. The day before yesterday I had hit a deer on the road – no way to miss it. It ran off and I hope it is ok, but it knocked out my headlamp and put me in a fresh funk – a simmering mix of guilt, anger, and distress. Not a big rolling boil – not my style – just a simmer. But still I’ve definitely got something cooking. I see that I have been taking little moments like this personally. Seems like there are a lot them lately. So this is the cave in which I begin my journey. I’d love a star, but not sure I can see stars from “here.”
That’s a start actually. Just seeing myself laying here in bed, pinned down at first by self-pity. A kind of straightforward confession without the groveling. Staying here with myself and letting God see me. Fortunately, you don’t have to sit in a particular way to meditate (though sometimes it helps). Staying with it, but somehow no longer “in” it. A star has risen inside me. This for me now is prayer. Not asking God to fix things – that just hasn’t been working for me. But just watching myself lying here things cleared up for a while. Not getting great visions of the Cosmos or the Child. Just some starlight. It illumines the night. Not permanently, but for a while. So now I know there are stars and there are also places from which it is difficult to see them.
So today, the residual starlight is still there. It’s not a pinpoint in the sky. It’s not brilliant. It’s just a sense of a gentle light – a place inside that is not pinned down in a cave. I’m not on the road yet. But today I’m out of the cave and up in the watchtower. It’s better up here. In the starlight.
Since we are speaking of kings, Peter King, the sportswriter, has a featurette in each of his Monday Morning Quarterback columns: Factoid of the Week That May Interest Only Me. I will paraphrase Mr. King with my Factoids of Advent That May Interest Only Me:
Being an English major and a writer, words fascinate me. I have been away from the church, any church, for a long time now. So when we are talking about Advent, I felt a good place for me to start was refreshing myself with the definition. I went to Merriam Webster Online Dictionary and found this:
Main Entry: Ad•vent
Pronunciation: \ˈad-ˌvent, chiefly British -vənt\
Etymology: Middle English, from Medieval Latin adventus, from Latin, arrival, from advenire
Date: 12th century
1 : the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting
2 a : the coming of Christ at the Incarnation b : second coming
3 not capitalized : a coming into being or use
Two things which I did not know jumped out at me: Advent also means the Second Coming; and it comes from the Latin, adventus, meaning arrival.
So, never one to leave well enough alone, I broke the Latin, adventus, down into it's etymological least common denominators (if that is even a concept). In Latin, ad carries the idea of "in the direction of". And ventus, in Latin, means wind, rumor, or favor. So reassembling the word from its Latin roots, adventus becomes "in the direction of the wind", or "in the direction of a rumor", or "in the direction of favor". Based on the story in Matthew 2: 1-12, any of these definitions of adventus would work quite well, e.g.: 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
And still, I would not let it go...so I looked up the current colloquial definition of "ad": a public notice...and a definition of "vent": to give often vigorous or emotional expression to ...putting those 2 together kind of works too.
And there you have it: My Factoids of Advent That May Interest Only Me
People, look east. The time is near Of the crowning of the year. Make your house fair as you are able, Trim the hearth and set the table. People, look east and sing today: Love, the Guest is on the way.
Angels announce with shouts of mirth, Him who brings new life to earth. Set every peak and valley humming With the word, the Lord is coming People, look east and sing today: Love, the Lord, is on the way.
Word: Two verses of a modern carol first published in The Oxford Book of Carols in 1928, by Eleanor Farjeon
Image: "Ephphatha" by Claudia Smith
"And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened." (Mark 7:34) -- interpreted for this painting to mean: be open to the Holy Spirit and Its boundless love, and you will be filled with Grace. Rejoice in it!
In that innocent moment, fences down and doors unguarded, an idea arrived. Unexpected. Not entirely uninvited. Call it radical or call it risky or call it an interesting quest… We’re following The Star.
Challenged and inspired by our own internal and external constellations we’re following the star across (neither down, nor up) an Advent path. We bring our own maps and tools and gifts, committing to the journey and to sharing.
These words by Joan Chittester carried the idea and brought us together for this journey.
“…Waiting — that cold, dry period of life when nothing seems to be enough and something else beckons within us — is the grace that Advent comes to bring. It stands before us, within us, pointing to the star for which the wise ones from the East are only icons of ourselves.”
So, as respectfully as we can, we salute those icons and then just as respectfully begin to diverge, branch out, make a trail.
There is no better time than Advent to turn our heads and hearts around to the true meaning of our lives. Each year we anticipate the coming of the babe in the manger. And each year, we have the opportunity to start again, to learn anew how to best live into the meaning of Christ with us.
Still, there is probably no time of the year when it is more difficult to focus on God than right now. Some of us are old enough to remember earlier times when the anticipation of Advent was possible, without too much intrusion from the gift-giving celebrations of Christmas. But today, the decorations for Christmas go up in the stores even before Thanksgiving, and we usually lose focus on the waiting and anticipation of Advent—before we even got started!
Last night all I could think of was to give my will entirely to God and desire no light or consolation, but only His will. I chanted the psalms of Lauds thinking how the only thing that matters is the glory of God....[Journals 2:149-150]
The Bible NRSV:
And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. [I Thessalonians 3:12]
I revere your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. [Psalm 119:48]