Thoughts for the Journey – Advent 1

Jeremiah 33:14-16 | Psalm 25:1-9 | 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 | Luke 21:25-36

Contrary to what my children may think, being Episcopalian at this time of year is not solely about waiting until the last minute to put up Christmas decorations or shaming others who put up decor right after Thanksgiving (if they even wait that long!). As with any culture, there are likely to be particular practices that are different from the norm, and since they’re different they stand out, setting us apart. But all of what we do means something and speaks to who we are and what we believe. We light the candles on the Advent wreath one week at a time, watching the light grow until finally we get to light the Christ candle at Christmas, our anticipation fulfilled. In a society that can get anything right now, intentionally waiting says something. Sitting in the darkness means something. Making the intentional journey through Advent shapes us and forms us year after year.

People of faith commonly refer to our lives as journeys, and we’re no different. Like I said, we “journey” through Advent and also through Lent. We have the Season after Pentecost, which as a “season” implies growth. We have a church calendar that cycles round and round through the years and phases of the moon. We are constantly moving, traveling on a path, walking in the Way. It’s no wonder we can feel exhausted if we keep plowing forward at breakneck speed.

We need time to slow down. We need the darkness reminding us to rest. We need a mother heavy with child to remind us we can’t get anywhere too fast and might need help along the way . . . and patience as we trust in God’s timing, not our own.

Our readings for this first Sunday of Advent spoke to me about this nature of our journey.

In the lesson from Jeremiah, one is foretold who “shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” God’s promise will be fulfilled when there is a way of justice and righteousness. In the Psalm, we recite with the psalmist that we lift up our souls, putting our trust in God, as we try to live faithfully as believers. We trust God to teach us God’s paths, to lead us along God’s path of love and faithfulness. And in the letter to the Thessalonians, there’s a prayer that “our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to” one another. The prayer continues, that the Lord might “make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” As we journey along, there’s genuine compassion for our brothers and sisters along the way but not just family but also neighbors and strangers.

And where are we going with all this journeying?

The Thessalonians heard that we’re anticipating the coming of Jesus with all the saints. We hear today in our gospel reading that redemption is drawing near, that the time is coming when we will have the opportunity “to stand before the Son of Man.”

And how do we know if the time is ripe? If the time is near?

Are all the earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, climate change reports, refugee crises our summer fig leaves telling us the time is nigh? Don’t you know that there were likely signs such as these in the decades and centuries following Jesus’ death. Since the Ascension faithful Christians have been proclaiming the second coming of the Son of Man, anticipating when things would finally change from the nightmare that is, especially if you are one oppressed. With such hope for something radically different, we want to be aware, to be the first to notice that the tide is turning, the tables shifting, the kingdom of God coming near.

Is this what we’re running toward? Our spiritual marathon is so we can run into the kingdom of God?

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” Jesus says, and for those of us who are looking for a little more tangible goal, we might be puzzled at his words.

In case you didn’t know this about me, I’m not a runner. 😉 But I know runners, and they train and fuel and know the race courses, like all good athletes. There’s a definite beginning and end. Especially for marathons, the last leg of the journey is gruelling; I’ve heard folks describe out of body–or at least out of mind–experiences. There’s a loss of self, a loss of control–there’s just the movement and the breath and the hope of reaching the goal. Like I said, I’m not a runner, and the closest thing I’ve ever done to running a marathon is birthing my children. In that, too, once you’ve hit transition, there’s no going back. The pain is insurmountable, the control over the body gone, and there’s nothing but complete surrender to the process at hand. If we’re lucky, though, we have people nearby reminding us to be present, to breathe, and to keep going one moment at a time.

We don’t always lose ourselves in the journey in good, productive ways. We can lose ourselves to any number of distractions or temptations, drunkenness or worries and fall to the wayside, veering far off the Way that leads us to God. As much as we want to focus on distant goals, something out there or 24 days away, it’s much more difficult to live with the expectation that this might be the moment I realize Christ has broken into our lives.

All this talk of journeying and how to be along the way and how to be a loving, good neighbor, is really practice for how to live with presence that God’s promise wasn’t exclusively for back then or for them or for some distant time in the future, but God’s promise is fulfilled right now. Advent reminds us that it’s not just the work that we do throughout our lives as we follow the path we believe is leading us toward God. It’s preparing ourselves to meet Christ not only at the feast of his nativity but also at any moment when we’re so deep in the Way of Love that we’ve completely given ourselves over to God’s will that the Word that was present at the beginning and made flesh at Christ’s birth is as present now as it always will be.

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Day 21 . . .

Right.  I know.  There are not enough posts between my last and current to count to 21, but I do have several prayers penned in my moleskine.  When I get more than 10 minutes, I’ll enter them on my blog.  For now, tonight was too momentous not to mention right away.  So let this count for Day 21.

Dear God,

Keep teaching me.  Keep infusing me with your Spirit.  Keep surrounding me with those who share wisdom, just enough so that they don’t even know they’re doing it.  This life is amazing, and I give my humblest thanks.

I am trying to walk the path to best serve your will.  I am trying, discerning, and I know I could not do it alone.  My path has converged with so many wonderful people; I have been blessed with a tremendous family and unimaginably compassionate friends.  Of course, each of us has a flaw or two, and from them we learn the most about ourselves.  I can’t imagine it any other way.

As I’m continuing along, help me to be mindful.  Help me not waste a dozen or more waffles because I forgot about them keeping warm in the oven.  I have enough, but there are so many without.  Help me be present to recognize the needs of others and to pay attention to what is at the heart of the matter.  Help me to hear the truth in my own heart.

And always, dear God, help me be grateful – for your love, for the gifts you’ve given me, for my friends, and for the gifts of others.  Help me remember how sweet these tender moments are with the children and how wonderfully supportive my husband is.  May they know my love for them is unconditional and greater than I will ever show.  Help me at least try to embody unconditional love.  I think I’d like to try.

Grant me the strength to do the work set before me, and may all the glory be yours.

Amen.

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Shortcuts and Canopy Roads

Darting between errands in a relatively small city, one learns the cut-throughs; there’s more than one way to get from point A to point B.  At five o’clock I’m certainly prone to taking such a route, especially when on my way to a mega-store.

The light was fading, my tummy wasn’t feeling good, and a long weekend was coming to a close.  I didn’t really want to do the shopping that HAD to be done.  I wasn’t particularly happy about being one of the motorists out at rush hour.  I should have been home making dinner, not buying the goods so I could do so.

Just as I was about to reach the straight stretch on the back road, just pass the interstate intersection, I spied a police car sitting in a drive, facing outward, waiting to catch someone like me — someone who thought they might get somewhere a little faster by out-smarting the rest of the drivers and possibly by disobeying some speed limit laws.  I see you, Mr. Officer.  Thanks for reminding me to take it easy; it is the law, after all.  I’ll get to where I’m going safely if I pay attention and slow down no matter which road I take.

So I make sure I’m going 35mph or less and enjoy this little road.  Thinking back to it, I can’t even recall if it has a center line, though I’m sure it does.  There are old farmhouses and pastures.  Barbed-wire fences with trees and bushes.  The trees grow up and over the road, forming what the kids and I call a “canopy road,” our favorite kind.

And there were deer.  Two of them.  Stopped and staring at me.  One was on the road to the right, in my lane, and the other was beside it, just off the road.  I’m sure it’s looking at the van and not me, this mama-looking deer who was out with a fellow doe.  Going slowly as I was, I slowed almost to a stop and mosied by even slower, making sure they didn’t bolt across the way I was going.  “Excuse me,” I said politely, humbly.  After all, this is their woods.  Without our intrusion and given time, our pavement and concrete and feeble structures would crumble aside.  The fauna would continue to grow and the animals to roam.  I am but a guest here.  Please pardon my arrogant intrusion.  Please bless my path.

I realize that in this small stretch of road on which for a few moments I was the only traveller, I went from seeing it as my right to take a shortcut on my all-important mission of saving time and frustration to seeing it as an opportunity and gift to slow down, enjoying what nature offers.

Then, of course, I returned to a busier road, six cars passing before I could turn into the stream.  I made it to the fluorescent-lit mega warehouse for the grocery shopping necessary for a family of six.  I went home to make dinner and then stay up much of the night with four of us working our way through a stomach virus.  The next day, we slept and rested.  One of us didn’t get sick (the older son).  You just never know.

I am pretty certain about a couple of things, though.  There’s a time for everything.  There are blessings everywhere.

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Guest Post: A Journey

by Maggie Beason, wife, mother, student, Army gal, aikidoka, hair stylist, runner, woman-extraordinaire shares her latest adventure after the Hogeye Marathon.

It is hard to fall asleep when you’re flat on your back. It’s
especially hard to sleep when you have a pillow wedged between your
legs in a desperate attempt to keep your knees from either touching,
straightening or bending too much while still trying to maintain a
modicum of comfort. You wrap a blanket around you, tucking in the lose
ends around your aching body while carefully avoiding your toes; any
weight on your toes is almost unbearable and the thought of donning a
pair of socks is simply out of the question. You close your eyes and
will yourself to fall into the blissful slumber that continues to
eludes you–a side effect from having eaten five packets of Gu (Energy
in goo-form. Necessary, but rather unpleasant.) earlier in the day.

The five medals that hang on your bedpost make a jingling sound as
you fold your arm underneath your pillow to support your head as you
stare at the ceiling replaying the day’s events in your mind. Today you
added one more medal to your small, but growing, collection. It took
it’s place at the headboard with the other four medals, your goggles
and your Buddhist prayer beads. You’re not actually Buddhist, but you
are a runner. A slow one, but a runner nonetheless.

Distance runners are usually depicted as “crazy” or “nuts” and
people often say something to the effect of Willy Wonka’s famous line,
“If God had intended us to walk, he wouldn’t have invented Roller
Skates.” Silliness aside, there is something about running that gets
people in the way that shoes get Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in
Sex in the City: you just get addicted.

Once you get bit by that bug, you will run–by your own
choice–through the pre-dawn chill of a ten-degree January morning. You
will run through rain and snow for miles and miles with glee. You will
relax (or try to, anyways) in an ice-cold bath with a drink in your
hand, a smile on your lips and joy in your heart because you just ran
eighteen miles. “Uphill both ways. Man, that was a great workout,” as
you’ll later reminisce to whomever will listen. If the idea of
running for five hours over the hilly terrain, thirty-something mile an
hour head wind, freezing (or at least what feels like it) temperatures
seems like fun and you don’t mind that you are the last person to
arrive, you are a runner. If all of this seems like fun to you, well,
need I say it?

My latest addition to my collection of medals, is from the Hogeye
Marathon on April 5th, 2009, at the beautiful downtown square of
Fayetteville, AR. The race started out like any other: cold, windy and
in the company of old friends, new friends and friends I hadn’t met
yet. Two of my companions were running the half-marathon, and judging
by the hills that they had to run up on their return trip, I was
thankful that I was doing the full.

I stayed in the back of the pack for the majority of the race, and
once the half-marathoners broke away, it was safe to assume that only a
handful of runners were behind me. I was focused on taking in the
scenery and enjoying my first hometown marathon–plus, in a town
renowned for it’s outstanding University of Arkansas track and field
program, I knew that it would be a marathon composed entirely of elite
runners and myself, about as un-elite that you can get.

For the first thirteen miles the roads wound and wove their way
through subdivisions, back roads, and running trails. Spectators and
volunteers dotted the course and brought with them supplies,
refreshments and cheers (I must say, the aid stations and volunteers
were phenomenal. Well done, Fayetteville!).

Between miles thirteen and fourteen, some friends had set up a
celebration station of sorts. Bringing with them were gifts of
oranges, water, Gu and a surprise: a bratwurst and a beer for my return
visit at mile twenty.

The brat has been a dream of mine ever since I was denied one by
the vendor who had stationed himself inside the course at the
twenty-six mile mark at my very first marathon. He told me that I could
have whatever I wanted so long as I had the money for it, which of
course, I didn’t. Thus, effectively smothering my hopes of crossing the
finish line with a giant bratwurst in hand.

The next seven miles where spent with dropping temperatures, a
nasty headwind and having every single runner who was behind me, pass
me. I paused for a moment to celebrate the passing of my very favorite
mile, Mile seventeen. Mile seventeen is a huge deal for me as the
remaining miles are now in the single digits. Meaning: nine more miles
to go. However, the elation I experience when I realize this is often
diminished by the fact that there are still nine more miles to go!
Usually, by the time mile twenty rolls around I’m in pain, exhausted
and somewhat insane. But this time there was my tasty manna from
heaven, bratwurst and beer.

At mile twenty-three, a dear friend of mine met me on the trail to
offer her support, water and to snap a few photos. Mile twenty-five
found me running up Dickson Street, thanking the police officers and
volunteers who had stood in the cold for five-plus-hours. Mile
twenty-six found me on the corner of Block St. where I burst in to
tears when I saw my family cheering.

The urge to cry was replaced by the urge to vomit as I realized
that I still .02 miles left and half of that was up a hill. I trudged
on, more hobble than stride. Most of the bystanders (apart from my
family, the racing officials and the paramedics) had left by the time I
crossed the finish line at five hours, eighteen minutes and some-odd
seconds. I failed to break through my five-hour barrier, but was too
exhausted to care.

Running for five hours at a time allows plenty of time for
introspection and often your sanity gets called into question. After
four and a half marathons, I’ve stopped asking myself why. I know the
answer: it’s an almost-spiritual experience and a guaranteed way to
quiet an over-stimulated mind. It is a chance to commune with nature:
to watch the birds flit among the branches of trees, feel the rain on
our skin or the heat on our backs. And it is an opportunity to explore
what the saying “one step at a time” truly means.

So as I listen to the clinking sounds of my five medals from
Little Rock, Dallas, Fort Worth, Salt Lake City and Fayetteville, I
drift off to sleep smiling with a new appreciation for what my medals
really mean: it isn’t the destination, but the journey.

*  *  *

Thanks for sharing your journey with us, Maggie.
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Who Are Your Heroes?

Part of this blog is sharing my spiritual journey, lessons and discoveries.  With me taking a spirituality-based class at church, we all have much to benefit.  (for legality purposes, know that none of this information is used for or meant to be used for financial/personal gain)

From what I’ve gathered so far (not just from this class but from every spirituality book I’ve ever read), we have to sit in quiet — whether it is in zazen or contemplative prayer — for as long as we can each day.  Sometimes three minutes is all we have.  Mother Teresa would pray for four hours.

To figure out where you are going, you have to know who you are, who you are meant to be (which is who you are already but haven’t realized yet).  The first part of the Journey to Authenticity class I am taking is about discovering your spiritual gifts.  You have to have the right tools for the job, right?  It’s good to have goals, to know where you’re headed.

The first exercise was this:

  • List at least 10 of your heroes/heroines.  Don’t have heroes, per se?  List people you greatly admire.
  • Underline 6 of those.
  • For each of those 6, list three characteristics that embody that person’s greatness to you.
  • For those 6, now describe more specifically how that person has exemplified, lived into and through those characteristics (i.e. Mother Teresa was compassionate, self-sacrificing, and wholly spiritual through her service to the poor, ultimately living into and through the will of God.)

Now, it’s best to do this kind of work in groups, to share with others your heroes, their descriptions.  Many found, as they described those they admired, they were overcome with emotion.  Sharing the descriptions of your heroes out loud/in writing helps more fully to revive those characteristics that speak to you.

The punch line, of course, is that these characteristics you admire are within you.   These are you at your best.  This is what you need to be doing to be living at full potential.  This is a close glimpse of what God has in store for you.

Don’t believe it?  Sit in silence/prayer a while each day and see what happens.

Peace be with you.

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Outward Habits of an Inner Journey

Driving through town, I look at every house that’s for sale, no matter what neighborhood or price range.  Could I see myself living there?  Would it be better than where we are now?  And anything I see and think is beautiful, I ask myself if I could make it.  Chances are that I could, if only I had the right tools.

Feeling the rhythmic tug of “gotta do something different,” I am forcing myself to face these behaviors within.  Why do I do this?  Is it healthy or beneficial, or am I just continuing a pattern of looking for happiness outside of myself?

As for the perpetual house-hunting, I figure part of that is that we don’t see the house we’re living in as our house we want our grandchildren to know.  In five years, we hope to be building our eco-home, the home we’ll grow old in.  Beyond that, however, I think it has to do with being comfortable with where I am in life.  I’m not exactly where I think I should be, as ridiculous as that sounds, for where else is there to be but where you are?

I’m sure my friends will attest to the fact that I have some great supplies for sewing, pottery, card-making and gardening.  I love all these things, but rarely make time for them (except for the occasional bursts of creativity which are shared here).  If I need a tool or supply, I want to get as high quality as I can because it makes the task easier, right?  Better?  There is no substitute for time, effort and inspiration — the best tools out there.

So as I continue my inner work, taking classes like my Servant Leadership and working more in my journal, I hope to further deepen my awareness and move further into living into my true Self, being comfortable with where and who I truly am and with what I can best do.

After all, isn’t that what we’re all trying to do?  I believe that would help me keep every day truly simple.  We all need blessings on this journey!

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Back on Track

When we expend a lot of energy on any given tasks, it takes a while to recuperate.  So, it makes sense after any given event that we should build recovery time into our schedules.  This week when I can’t remember anything and my tolerance is nil, thank heavens that my calendar has been relatively slack.

I’m motivated now to get lots accomplished.  I have that sense that I need to be doing much — preferably that which pays, but I seemed destined to be a professional volunteer.  Today at Target I
found a lovely accordion file that I think will fit in my
diaper/laptop/purse bag.  In it I hope to house all my concurrent
projects without them falling out of their file folders.  Why do
scenic_route.jpg I hope
that 13 sections is enough?  Borderline obsessively organized, maybe,
but it’s good to keep everything corralled.

We all have our quirks and our individual journeys.  Going off-road to put all our energy into special projects is like taking the scenic route.  By the end of the trip, everything may get all wild and hairy, but when it’s time to get back on the highway, we’ll find our groove again.

May we be so blessed to take the scenic route more often.

(photo from everystockphoto.com by
dphershman)
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Falling into Reflection

bridge_autumn_fall_234841_l.jpgThe air gets cooler every morning now, and while it’s not officially autumn yet, the leaves in places on our cherry tree are turning a deep red.  Being a fall baby, I always feel like I’m coming home as it turns cooler and the skies are gray.  It’s a time to be honest with myself and others, a great time for reflection.

In a dream night before last, I was talking with my midwives about my new pregnancy.  (Just in the dream was I pregnant, so no one needs to get concerned about me having 5 kids!)  Of course I’ll be having “pregnant” dreams now; I’ve just started two new journeys — one the women’s spirituality group (which meets Wednesday nights) and the other a Servant Leadership course (which meets Monday nights).  Also right now we’re having rehearsals for the play “Birth” by Karen Brody for our local BOLD events.  The time is ripe for potentiality even though the light will be less and the earth will be retreating into slumber.  It’s a good time to go inward.

For a reality check, where are you in your journey of life, of spirit, of health?  It’s time to be open to new discoveries, to be aware of what Spirit might reveal.  O, if only that could be how I live every day!

Blessed be.

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Where the Sidewalk Ends

The wonderful thing about journaling, about writing for where you are in life at the moment, is that you can reflect on where you’ve come from, see if your thoughts are well-founded, see if your visions come true.  I wrote this entry almost two years ago.  Our sidewalk ended.  We leaped into the grassy field and wandered and faltered until we’ve eventually come back to where we were before.  Our gains were in experience and life lessons.  We’re still walking.  How does your path go?

Visiting with an acquaintance at the grocery store, catching her up on our goings-on, I found a good description for where we are right now.  “It’s like we’re right here where the sidewalk ends, and it’s going to take a leap of faith” to determine which path we make for ourselves.  So here we are.  Brace yourself.

For some reason, things have to come in clusters for us.  Having a baby would be enough excitement, but we also chose to homeschool the same year, build a bread oven in the backyard (starting right around the due date), and change jobs — the latter being the main reason the sidewalk ends.  Our path has never really been the well-maintained, paved walkway, more the broken, uneven, weedy, less-traveled path anyway.  However, now for some reason, my husband feels compelled to leave the corporate realm he’s been a part of since we’ve been married.  He, too, seeks authenticity, and I admire that.  He’s also the monetary provider for our livelihood, though, and there are quite a few of us these days to feed, making his decisions weighty.  Before truly following his dreams, we have to make sure there are assets, something to rely on to pay the bills.  It will take time, a transition period, perhaps, that will be less corporate but still techy.

Responsibility doesn’t have to mean certain doom.  We can have our families and our dreams; it just takes some juggling, fine-tuning and budgeting (in most cases).  I know I can’t afford a housekeeper, baby-sitter and all the craft supplies I want!  I can keep journals, especially ones that honor my ideas and dreams.  I can carve out time for me on good days.  We can take our kids to events we feel passionate about or at least take turns going.  When need be, time will be spent to provide the monetary necessities.  Interestingly enough, we can create money.

When we are in a good balance, the Universe has a way of providing.  So here where even our rough old sidewalk ends and we have to jump to our next path — probably the dirt trail through the grassy field and shady wood — we have to be balanced before we can thrive, and we have to trust ourselves and the Universe to support our decisions.  Everything will fall into place.  May the Universe Shower blessings and creativity upon us just as the Leonids shower the heavens.  I may not be able to see them clearly because of the huge clouds in the way, but I know they’re there.  When we are in vulnerable times in our lives, I believe it is ultimately important to listen to the still small voice that offers guidance, gives creative ideas, tells you to rest or to work.  We all need Divine help to find balance, and it’s a lot easier to jump if we feel we’re going in the right direction.  We do love our walks in the woods, and I’m loving my abundance of creative energy — it may just provide the bridge or net we need right now.

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