A Pause Before Advent

In less than two weeks, Advent begins. Once again, daily posts from many different people will grace this space, lighting our path as we seek the Christ Child once more. This is the beginning of a new church year, and a time to reflect on all that this past year brought in its days. I’m taking a break from writing – a deep breath before immersing myself in Advent. Until then, I’ll ponder this:

Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105, NRSV

An Artful Blessing

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

They come a bit early to Sunday school, and help me set up the day’s activities while their mother leads the choir. They keep me informed about all the latest happenings in their lives, and on the new toys and books that I’m too old to know about. And they draw. This Sunday, they drew me.

(By Henry Tyler)
(By Addy Tyler)

The artistry, and the effort that it took, are wonderful answers to what was good?

The artists, Addy and Henry, are wonderful answers to another of the questions: where did you see God?

Before, During, and Aftermath

Last week, a storm blew in, stayed long enough to down trees and power lines, then headed out. Already high water levels went even higher. A few inches of water and two and a half days without power were the results. The lights and heat returning were among the answers to “what was good” in the storm’s aftermath.

My answer before the storm centered on appreciation for the time to get things buttoned up before the 70+ mile an hour winds arrived – putting away things that might be damaged/do damage if left out, getting the cars off the road, and getting ahead on laundry and baking (just in case.).

The before and after aren’t much of a surprise, are they? But the “what was good” during might be. I was so grateful for the time without power. Life took on a rhythm based on sun and light; appliances and electronics were no longer vying for attention. I woke up well rested, refreshed.

I wouldn’t want to live without electricity as a permanent thing, but for a couple of days in warm enough weather it was blessing more than burden.

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

Add your answers…

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Original Source

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

These three questions for me are the gist of the Daily Examen of Saint Ignatius, but that’s not where I first heard them all strung together. They guided the evening wrap-up for the teens and chaperones of Saint John’s church, Duxbury, on their yearly mission trip.

It’s been twelve or so years since I heard the questions, and they’ve stayed with me. I’d guess they’ve stayed with everyone who went on those mission trips, in one form or another. In their depth and simplicity, they offer a holy pattern of remembering, of recognizing God’s presence in the people and events that daily life offers. They offer us a glimpse of the holiness of our own lives.

Saint Ignatius came first, but it was Heidi Marcotte who gave me the questions. I am profoundly changed by and grateful for them.

What Was Good?

Heidi Marcotte’s presence in my work at Saint John’s back then, and the blessing of her friendship today.

The Examened Life

It’s November. The days are getting shorter, and the separation between Halloween and Christmas seems to shrink a little bit more every year. I don’t want to lose this month of harvest and giving thanks.

Last year, I wrote a pandemic curriculum for Thanksgiving based on the Daily Examen of Saint Ignatius. In a time when many activities were out of the question, and many people were questioning their life patterns, it seemed like a good idea. I put it in the form of three questions:

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

Families were encouraged to take some time each day to answer them together, and were given paper of various shapes to write their answers down. It was my way of offering a specific spiritual practice for God’s beloved children of all ages.

This year, even with the restoration of some of our pre-pandemic patterns, I’m returning to the three questions of the Examen for the Thanksgiving curriculum. What was good this day/week/month/season? What was hard? Where did you see God? I hope you will join me, adding your own answers and spending time with the creator who loves you beyond measure.

Click here to add your thoughts on these three questions;

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End With A Blessing

The service concludes as follows

Officiant: Let us bless the Lord

People: Thanks be to God

it’s done, this 10+ minute service in the middle of the day. We’ve read a psalm or two, prayed the Lord’s Prayer and all the other ones written on pages103 to 107; we’ve even lifted a few joys, concerns, and people that are on our hearts – with our own words and in our own time. It’s time to begin the rest of the day.

And so we end, not with asking for another blessing or two, but by blessing God and offering thanks. We end with giving, not receiving. Beloved children that we are, we give our blessing to the God who gave us life and breathes life into us every day. We may not understand all that God has done, but in this final part of the service, we are given the marvelous gift of being able to bless freely and generously.

In medias res, in the middle of things, I doubt there’s a happier or better ending.

Free Time

Free Intercessions may be offered.

One of the big complaints against the traditions that have a set liturgy – prayers, responses, etc., that are used all the time – is that there isn’t any place in them for heartfelt, spontaneous prayer. Canned religion, some call it.

There’s some truth to that accusation; it can easily become a rote exercise, familiar words mumbled without really paying attention to them. We can revert to Automatic Pilot mode, avoiding any deep engagement with God, ourselves, and one another.

There’s a lot of ignorance to that accusation; beautiful words that have been spoken so often that they are familiar friends can guide us into God’s presence when our own imaginations and verbal resources aren’t up to the task.

Here’s the irony – the best of both worlds is already offered in these five words: free intercessions may be offered. Here is our chance to speak what is on our hearts, in our own words, with our own sense of purpose and timing. We can let the ancient prayers and offerings revive our souls and replenish our own spiritual imaginings, then move into this free space. Here is the place, now is the time. Lift yourself, others, this entire world to God in your own words.

Free intercessions may be offered. It’s a shame that this sentence is written in such small print as to be easily overlooked.

Heaven On Earth

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, “Peace I give to you; my own peace I leave with you:” Regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church, and give to us the peace and unity of that heavenly City, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, now and forever. Amen.

Peace I leave with you, Jesus said. He didn’t say leisure, money, power, or the security and insularity they might buy us. Don’t look at our blindness or our inability/unwillingness to see past our own desires: see us always as part of that spiritual congregation whose vision is clear, we ask. Because the peace and unity of heaven will never settle in our bones and our communities through our own efforts. Such things come from an awareness and acceptance of our own participation in a communion that stretches back to the beginning of this creation and will embrace all life that is to come.

Heaven on earth isn’t a mini-paradise of our own making. Heaven on earth is already here, in the peace that Jesus left with us. If we want to find ourselves in it, we have to let go of our smaller, self-centered versions that will always fall short.

What a gutsy, wise thing to request in the middle of my day.

Collecting Paul

Almighty Savior, who at noonday called your servant Saint Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles: We pray you to illumine the world with the radiance of your glory, that all nations may come and worship you; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

Illumination is a gift from God to be sure, but it comes at the cost of the life we assumed we would lead. Paul had no desire to bring the love of God to Gentiles, but that was the holy calling and life that he got. The flash of light and the voice from heaven stripped him of his spiritual blindness courtesy of a three day physical blindness.

Perhaps it is only when we are stripped of the illusion that we see reality clearly that we are willing to rely on God’s vision. It’s quite a bold thing to ask for, as an individual and as part of the nations of this world, this clarity of vision. If it changed Paul’s life so dramatically, it’s likely to do the same to ours…

The Second Collect

Blessed Savior, at this hour you hung upon the cross, stretching out your loving arms: Grant that all the peoples of the earth may look to you and be saved; for your tender mercies’ sake. Amen.

I haven’t spent much time thinking about when Jesus was on the cross. Only in Holy Week does the movement of my hours align with the hours of crucifixion. But here it is, in the middle of my routine day: a prayer to remember the cost of true love.

If I claim Jesus, then Jesus has a claim on me. I doubt it will involve martyrdom, but it does demand that I take up the cross of my own life. I’m meant to love truly in this time and place, and to sacrifice to foster that love for and in others.

It’s the best of all possible realities, not the easiest.