Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw a child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. —Matthew 2:7-11
Today I read that an estimated 250 children are born every minute, about four per second. Four distinct, beautiful lives arriving in the width of a breath. In the time it takes to blink, staggering potential is released—again and again and again. Right now. In this second. As you read these words, birth is taking place. Light is breaking in. Possibility is being born.
You don’t need to fully embrace Christian orthodoxy or even be a particularly religious person to embrace the dawn in every second, in the ways the planet is always being made new, and in the reality that we get to participate in it all while we’re here. Every day we open our eyes and greet the sun, we are gifted a Christmas miracle. You wake in and walk into this glorious new day—into the delivery room of the present. You have this entirely new, never to be repeated opportunity to bring peace and compassion into a space that so needs it. Hope is being born again with the light arriving. Today is a birth day. This is the greatest of good news. Continue reading “Dwell In Possibility (Christmas Meditation) …”→
We risk the life we’ve known to discover something new . . . The unknown territory will open before us only to the extent that we turn our whole being courageously toward it . . . And then we must venture wherever the road leads us, in spite of the dark, in spite of the quivering of our heart. — Jack Kornfield from A New Set of Eyes by Paula D’Arcy
If we listen through our broken heart, love can gently point the way to a deeper understanding of how human life contains both darkness and light. At some point we realize that we still have choices: We will either open our heart to be healed, or we will close down to avoid the pain. — Paula D’Arcy from Winter of the Heart: Finding Your Way through the Mystery of Grief
Signs and Wonders
Reading: Mark 13:24-37
Mystery is rarely comfortable. We want to understand what we are doing here, to see more clearly how God is at work, to know how the future will unfold. This Gospel passage confounds us, reminds us that God works in the darkness as well as in the daylight. We see this in the book of Isaiah, where God says through the prophet,
I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. (45:3)
In her book The Vigil: Keeping Watch in the Season of Christ’s Coming—a beautiful reflection on Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany—Wendy M. Wright relates words given to her by a novice master of a Trappist monastery, who said, “To be a Christian does not mean knowing all the answers; to be a Christian means being willing to live in the part of the self where the question is born.” Advent brings this home in a fashion that may seem painfully direct but can also be tremendously freeing: it tells us that we cannot see everything, cannot know everything, cannot predict everything. It tells us that, ultimately, we live in mystery.
But it also tells us this: if we stay awake; if we open our eyes in the midst of our life, with all of its wildness and wonders, then we will see: something is coming. Drawing closer. Stealing home.
A shadow is never created in darkness. It is born of light. We can be blind to it and blinded by it. Our shadow asks us to look at what we don’t want to see. ― Terry Tempest Williams from When Women Were Birds
Light Moving in the Darkness
It’s not the darkness itself that we must understand. It’s the force behind the darkness and within the darkness…the force moving through life that we must know. This is the great passage: to see deep into our own nature by meeting its reflection in everything around us. To swim with something very big. To allow the Universe to love us and to love deeply in return…to allow this story to trace itself through the chapters of our life. To live within the miracle. — Paula D’Arcy from Stars at Night: When Darkness Unfolds as Light
I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being. ― Hafiz from I Heard God Laughing
Scientists say we are made of stars, and I believe them, although my upper arms look like hell. Maybe someday the stars will reabsorb me. Maybe, as fundamentalist Christians have shared with me, I will rot in hell for all eternity, which I would hate, because I am very sensitive. Besides, I have known hell, and I have also known love. Love was bigger.
What comforts us is that, after we make ourselves crazy enough, we can let go inch by inch into just being here; every so often, briefly. There is flow everywhere in nature — glaciers are just rivers that are moving really, really slowly — so how could there not be flow in each of us? Or at least in most of us? When we detach or are detached by tragedy or choice from the tendrils of identity, unexpected elements feed us. There is weird food in the flow, like the wiggly bits that birds watch for in tidal channels. Protein and greens are obvious food, but so is buoyancy, when we don’t feel as mired in the silt of despair.
Darkness is where incarnation begins. The gorgeous texts of Advent, christmas, and Epiphany shimmer with the light that God brings into our midst, as in the prologue to John’s Gospel: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1:5). Yet if we lean too quickly toward the light, we miss seeing one of the greatest gifts this season has to offer us: that the deepest darkness is the place where God comes to us. In the womb, in the night, in the dreaming; when we are lost, when our world has come undone, when we cannot see the next step on the path; in all the darkness that attends our life, whether hopeful darkness or horrendous, God meets us. God’s first priority is not to do away with the dark but to be present to us in it. I will give you the treasures of darkness, God says in Isaiah 45:3, and riches hidden in secret places. For the christ who was born two millennia ago, for the christ who seeks to be born in us this day, the darkness is where incarnation begins.
Can we imagine the darkness as a place where God meets us—and not only meets us, but asks to take form in this world through us?
In the morning when I began to wake, it happened again– that feeling that you, Beloved, had stood over me all night keeping watch, that feeling that as soon as I began to stir you put your lips on my forehead and lit the Holy Lamp inside my heart. ― Hafiz from I Heard God Laughing
Remember to practice the nobility that comes with promise,
to drive out west, the eyes level or lifted the mind cleared; the steering wheel invisible below the eye but still charting the needed course
and the body almost at tiptoe, leaning toward the windscreen,
the breath held and the eyes a-shiver for a falling plume of sky;
the clear, pinpoint star that just appeared above Leenane,
May you know serenity When you are called To enter the house of suffering. May a window of light always surprise you. May you be granted the wisdom To avoid false resistance; When suffering knocks on the door of your life, May you glimpse its eventual gifts. May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering. May memory bless and protect you With the hard-earned light of past travail; To remind you that you have survived before And though the darkness now is deep, You will soon see approaching light. — John O’Donohue from To Bless the Space Between Us
Light shimmers through the Gospel reading for Christmas Day: the stunning Prologue to the Gospel of John. Tonight, revisiting my luminous Book of Common Prayer, I read John’s words—which the book renders in the King James Version, of course. In this passage that I love and have read approximately a zillion times, what struck me tonight, in this version, were these words:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all . . . through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
— John 1:6-8
Most times when I read this passage, I’m focused on John the Evangelist’s elegant and moving description of how Christ came as the Word: the Word that was with God, the Word that was God, the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that came as life and light. As a woman with a passion for the Word, and words, and the connections between them, I never cease to be stunned by the power of this poetic passage and what—and how—it tells us of the One who entwined himself with us as life and flesh and light. Yet tonight, amidst the luminous words about the Word, my eye keeps going back to John—the one whom we call the Baptist, the one who prepared the way—and how, as the King James Version puts it, he came “to bear witness of that light.”
Even as Advent calls us to honor the gifts of the dark, this season bids us recognize our ancient longing for illumination, and to celebrate the One who came to us as light. Amidst the shadows—some necessary, some horrendous—God beckons us to look deeper, to look more closely, that we may find the presence of the Christ who shimmers there. And, finding that presence, to bear witness. Continue reading “Witness To The Light (Christmas Day Meditation) …”→
There must be always remaining in every man’s life some
place for the singing of angels — some place for that
which in itself is breathlessly beautiful and by an
inherent prerogative, throwing all the rest of life into
a new and creative relatedness — something that gathers
up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and
commonplace areas of living and glows in one bright
light of penetrating beauty and meaning — then passes.
The commonplace is shot through with new glory — old
burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much
of their old, old hurting. A crown is placed over our
heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to
grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of
life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all of the
harsh discords of life, life is saved
by the singing of angels. Continue reading “Advent Day 23: Hospitality …”→
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. — Isaiah 52:7-10
A movie director would surely begin where Isaiah begins: by concentrating on the feet. Feet, running along a mountain path. Accustomed to such terrain they are practiced, swift, and deft. They are also dirty, dusty, calloused, perhaps even bleeding. What makes them beautiful is the message we hear when the focus widens to the runner’s mouth: good tidings, peace, and good news that God reigns! The message itself, shouted aloud and borne on the mountain air, arrives before the messenger. Continue reading “Believe There Is Good In The World (Christmas Meditation) …”→
Every year we hear the same stories. Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, foreigners – all on different journeys and all converging in Bethlehem. These stories, carols, church services, school plays: the same every year but also different. Different because we are different every year. Every year we bring ourselves to these stories, and we’re always changing. We’ve had different experiences, we’re asking different questions. We’ll see something new, hear a detail we never noticed. A word, a phrase, a meaning will come to our aid in a new way. Continue reading “Advent Meditation: Different Every Year …”→