BEYOND THE NILE
As the season of Advent is whispering its themes of hopeful longing once again, it is offering us an invitation for spiritual reflection and exploration. Advent does not have the dramatic glitter and glow of Christmas and can easily be overlooked in the busyness of the season. But its call to active waiting is a gift simply awaiting consent.
Have you ever had a dream so great you’ve announced it to all your family and friends, only to have it dissolve over time into an illusive yearning? Or perhaps a dream buried so deeply within you that you’ve pushed it back into silent submission every time it’s made a conscious appearance? I wonder at the Gospel of Luke’s story of the elderly man Simeon’s longing for the Christ-child. Was it front and center of an ancient “bucket list” of dreams? Or was it a silent longing, the thought of a promise or gift too precious to verbalize for fear it might never come to be? Did it first emerge in his spirit quietly as a dream, a hope, a wondering? When the heights and depths of life’s joys and sufferings carved deeply into his soul did his yearning deepen? Did he ever feel a sense of urgency or face the dull ache of despair?
The fact that we are only given a brief glimpse at the end of Simeon’s story rather than year upon year of biographical details does not drain it of its strength. Regardless of the details of his possibly very ordinary life, we get to see him cross the finish line of his marathon of waiting, wishing, hoping. Any second-guessing of himself, or his dream, is thrown to the wind in the culminating appearance of the infant Jesus brought by his parents to the Temple to be “consecrated to the Lord” one ordinary day.
As a mother I’ve often wondered why Simeon felt the need to do more than celebrate the moment with Mary and Joseph. Why did he have to forewarn Mary of the sword that would pierce her heart? Yet his words seem to have stemmed from an inner conviction that he needed to give voice to this divine message. As non-politically correct as it appears, after all Mary had been through, perhaps it was something she simply needed to store away in the depths of her being. Would the knowledge of this spiritual seer comfort her when the time came to face it?
Some dreams or longings are ready to be put into words and some are not. Some must wait for expression, for the moment when life winds its way to a place where they can be recognized for what they are: the gift of heart dreams placed into receiving arms. At that moment, echoing layers of yearning suddenly merge into a dream in full motion, fully present.
Having the opportunity to live out my own “Walden Pond” experience this autumn in the midst of major life transitions has been a gift beyond measure. To live surrounded by God’s natural creation has been to me the living gift of a sustained spiritual longing. It has offered simplicity and abundance, the food of quiet waters and green pastures. It has provided sustainable strength to live in the face of uncertainty. Watching deer, coyotes, rabbits and birds thriving off the provision of food divinely woven into creation has been an inspiring reminder of care so generously given. Our “daily bread” – physical, emotional, spiritual – awaits our discovery each and every day. It is not a once and for all seeking and finding but rather an invitation to explore, within and without, to journey and celebrate with wonder the mundane and the miraculous. It is about listening and receiving and trusting that our lives will naturally overflow God’s goodness with the measure we have been given. And that provision is abundant, our source rooted in eternity. Whether the way is brightly lit or cloaked in deep shadows, our Creator is good, always. Our Creator is present, always. Our Creator is generous, always. With the Advent reminder of an everlasting dream we are invited into this changing season of hopeful wonder, of active waiting, to explore the path that leads to the heart of life, the gift of Emmanuel, God with us.
A Full Cup of Now
The realm of the unknown is God’s realm. The place of the presence of God is unbounded, unlimited by space or by time. God dwells in the present, in our pasts and in our futures. Where we cannot imagine the path will go – God will be there – a loving guiding presence, journeying alongside all that will come our way.
Do not rush the present. Do not pine for the past. Do not flee from the past. Do not fear the future. Do not live for the future. Enjoy the now. Persevere in the now. Let pain carve deep grooves in your soul. Let joy lift you as high as the heavens. Celebrate the now. Drink in the now. Breathe in the now. Befriend the now. Learn from the now as it slips between the cracks of time. Let it move seamlessly toward the next bend in the journey.
The means to an abundant joyful future is found in the present moment. Draw from the foundations of the past when needed. Trust in the future, that it may flow forward freely. Take time to rest. Grow. Live. Thrive. Be full of the gift that is now.
In the presence of a faithful guide you will travel. In the presence of a faithful guide you are traveling. This is a journey designed for you. It is a journey like no other; a journey that offers you green pastures and quiet waters, within, and beyond. It is a journey that flows from abundance, from the abundant wealth of Eternity. It is a journey with a purpose accomplished in its first step and in its last. Regardless of its twists and turns it will never veer from its course. It is your course. It is your journey. It is your life. It is full of goodness and all that is you, woven into your being from the beginning of time. It will look like no other. It will feel like no other. It will be like no other. It will be the essence of you, infused with gifts of the Divine.
In the deepest part of you rests the eternal giver of life and love and beauty. The gift of you is boundless, as boundless as the vastness of all creation. The voice of your heart will guide your moments. Do not settle for the voice of others. Take time to listen to stillness within. In the rhythms of this still small voice rests your past, your present, your future. All is well. You have everything you need for this journey, your life. In the quiet glow of dawn, you will find your cup is full. It is a gift you have been given. Live in awareness of its source. Allow for redemption, restoration and hope. Expect it. Draw strength from it. Live it. Share it.
The Life of a Worry
It appeared harmlessly last week like a weed in the garden, just sprouts of nascent green poking through like a periscope looking this way and that. It was too soon to tell what might be lurking below. But it had my attention and I admit I was curious, until suddenly it sprang forth and rapped a muffled knock on my door. With a scratchy panicked voice it asked to come in.
To give it full reign all it needed to hear was, “welcome neighbor Worry, please make yourself at home.” To heed grains of wisdom gleaned from past experience all I had to say firmly was, “I’m sorry neighbor Worry, I cannot help you today.”
Identify your worry. Check its ID at the door. Are you really the rightful owner? Is it a real fear moment shouting out warnings of imminent danger? The building’s on fire get out! Or is it a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Open up, open up I can save you from rejection, humiliation and failure. If it’s the latter, rushing water against floodgates type of worry, then do not, I repeat, do not inch open the door one crack. Its foot will stick its way in and then refuse to leave. You must look it straight in the eye and declare your decision. Do not allow it to hold you back from whatever is calling you forward.
Fear versus worry. Worry is like a baby fear, perhaps innocently threatening, but in time potentially sinister enough to take on an overwhelming life of its own. Attention will make it grow, and grow and grow. It especially likes to feed on misery, indecision and restlessness. And chances are its issues that seem so all-important in the present moment will most likely sort out naturally in time.
If worry senses any sign of shaking at the knees or quickening of the breath then fear may rear its bossy demeanor and suck you in, swallow you whole. Then it will block out the light. It won’t let you see reason; it will stand in its way. It will ooze out a pessimistic air and cast a long cold shadow in your direction. It will threaten to rob you of peace, demanding time and attention, constantly, until the issue is resolved. Will giving worry full reign really help solve your problem?
Step back and analyze your options. Chart out the life of this little worry. Where is it going? Who is in charge? Ask questions. Search for answers. Pretending it is not knocking on your door will not send it away. The direct approach with a worry is always the best course of action. Put a plan in place and proceed. Don’t look back.
Fear does not need to be feared. If you troubleshoot it up front you may find it is only trying to point out an opportunity for growth, a chance to make life adjustments or calling for an act of courage. In fact, why not live in the face of fear and overcome its alluring power by making good decisions that allow for positive growth?
The successful thwarting of fear’s gloom and doom mission is not really something that can be measured by others. What you fear another might not. You are the only one living at the center of its strength-sapping grip. Is this really your battle to fight? Are you really as powerless as you feel? What is at the root of your worry? Is it holding you back from something you think you cannot do? Whose voice is telling you not to try?
It’s never too late to call in reinforcements: courage, strength, perseverance. Let courage stop fear in its tracks. Allow it to take the wind right out of its sails. Don’t let the sun go down on your worry; you will be bleary eyed by morning. Meet it straight on. Stand tall.
While the life of a worry is still in its negotiating phase, the fork in the road of decision making, disassociate yourself, nod politely and flee the scene. No harm done.
Using a Journal to Pray
Life without time for prayer and reflection can easily spin out of control. With so many pressures and demands pushing in from all directions these days, the need to step back and find ways to commune with the Divine is essential. Using a journal to pray is not just a resource for writers. There is no wrong way to do it. In this age of technology, it may be a much welcomed luxury to engage in writing several longhand pages each day you can carve out the time. Whether your words take the form of your own stream-of-consciousness, or a letter to God or to yourself, listen. Pay attention. Be honest. Pray.
Journals are windows. They allow you to see a glimpse within the deepest part of you, and to let light shine into the darkest corners of your soul. These pages (and God) can handle anything you write in them. Try trauma, drama and self-pity. Then listen to the soothing echo of release. This is prayer. Try tantrums, confusion and anger. Then listen and let go. This is prayer. Try questions, hopes and dreams. Then listen and let your soul rest. This is prayer. Try gratitude, praise and wonder. Then listen and let yourself celebrate. This is prayer.
When you take time for inner reflection and waiting, quieting your inner self before God, you will see and hear the things of God. Turning your attention away from outer concerns, you will enter into light and discover God’s kingdom within. Once things are visible and committed to the realm of conscious thought, then light can shine on its pages and offer a respite. All witnesses will be present – your heart, your thoughts, your spirit, your mind, your emotions, and God. The words in these pages prove you are human, alive, for better or for worse. They create honesty with yourself and intimacy with God.
Prayer is a song of the heart and inside these words will be woven melodies of thought and explorations of discord, creating harmony and a wholeness of spirit, true freedom. A journal can be a meeting place, a tool for prayer, where God can fill your memories with reminders of Divine faithful presence, enlighten understanding with healing, and center your heart with a steady peace.
Thankfulness on Tap
One thing we have all been given in life is the gift of time. Whether our lives stretch out for many decades or not, we are blessed with the opportunity to find meaning and choose attitudes, regardless of circumstances. Joy can be found in the hearts and lives of those who suffer deeply as well as those who outwardly appear unscathed. Weathering seasons of despair, pain and shattered dreams is part of the human landscape. But so also are the mountaintop vistas, the gift of passions, dreams and bright flowers of wonder along the way. These gifts are as present as the air we breathe. Sometimes we can get too close, pressed down by the loads we carry, to stop for even a moment of celebration. One moment of permission to celebrate today, to see the sunshine offered in a smile given or received, can lift your head and heart straight into the sunlight, toward the source of all Goodness. That source is abundant and endless. It is shining down upon us in days of plenty and days of nothing.
A thankful heart is not something that needs large stored reserves on hand before it can pour forth. Yet the more you cultivate thankfulness, the more remains. There are no strings attached and thankfulness on tap offers an endless supply. It’s a big mystery – perhaps a holy habit to consider. It can be expressed on behalf of yourself or the joy of another. The risks of living in the midst of joy far outweigh the hazards of a gloomy cloud overhead. It is never too late to celebrate heartfelt thankfulness. God’s grace infuses all of life, always. Like a bouquet of wildflowers offered by the hand of a child, it is a gift awaiting our consent each and every day of our lives. Even if your bouquet seems to have dwindled down to one measly weed, perhaps instead it is a hearty wildflower, quietly hoping to grace your life.
When Darkness Descends
There are times in life when storm clouds threaten and darkness descends uninvited. If just for a moment, its presence may be heeded, an opportunity to pause, refocus and take less for granted. Then with cause for thankfulness a new day dawns and life’s course resumes its way.
But when dense darkness and thick shadows linger, rhythms may falter as moments of surety slip just out of reach. Into the vault of time the steady rays of the sun recede. In its stead a gloomy blanket of night unfolds. In unknown territory and enveloped by darkness, lurking fear grips the edges of consciousness and despair sounds its looming cadence. The bend in the journey is not welcome. You have not traveled this way before.
Nagging questions obscure the pathway. Elusive answers bully and demand. The joyful pulse of hope feels smothered, bleary vision continues to dim. Listen to what is nudging your soul, whispers in the wind from the breath of eternity. Be watchful. Stretch your boundaries. Grow to savor the mystery.
Trust the hushed voice of your Creator. Be comforted by that caring embrace. Allow yourself the chance to be grounded. In the details of being alive, anchor your heart with meaning. Leap to celebrate when the time is right. Live from within. Live everything.
Be still. Be aware. God’s presence is ever brushing the night sky toward hints of the coming dawn. Swishes of light and shafts of hope gradually emerge in the stillness, waiting. Work is being done as channels are infused with healing. Strength is being collected, stored and held in reserve until needed. The night’s work must run its full course. It is carrying its secrets, its sources of healing, its mysterious outpouring of strength to draw from, to sustain you in the bright warmth of day. The visitation of darkness is a time of letting go, sorting, restoring health, resting your body, mind and spirit.
Let the low notes of life resonate, allow minor keys to participate, listen to the beauty concealed in these moments: moments with no answers, moments of mystery and moments of teetering on the edge of emptiness. Step back from your life, pull aside the veil, resist the urge to rush the gift of life you’ve been given. Let it be. In time, the darkness will fade again; it will slip away and be gone. Then dawn will be released, daylight will arrive. And what was gathered in the silent moments of waiting, will guide you with meaning in the full light of day.