Pilgrim 2016

Should auld acquaintance be forgot”…
Over the last few days I have seen two different articles trying to dissect the words of the song we sing on this night…the final night of the year. For as long as most of us can remember, this is the song with words by Scottish poet Robert Burns has capped one year and sent us head long into the next. Whether it is sung with friends at a large party or quietly watching the ball drop on television, it is music that becomes the soundtrack for entering the promise of a new year. Perhaps it is only fitting that we don’ really understand the meaning of the old Scottish words or that we, at least, struggle to find a home for them in our mouths. We are, after all, walking into unknown territory as we step into 2016.

By now many of us have begun making mental if not actual lists of ‘resolutions’…those things we want to change in our lives or add to our lives or subtract from our lives. Have you noticed the uptick of weight loss commercials on television? The lure of ads for joining health clubs? Since losing weight is the number one resolution of most people, the world of advertising knows our weak spots and is ready to slip right in. May those who have the goal of better health for 2016 find ways to be successful and may it open doors to greater happiness and more joyful living.

As I have thought about this approaching new year, I have been stumbling once again over the word ‘pilgrim’ in several things I have been reading. It is a word, a concept, that draws me in. Ever since I heard the poet David Whyte say that the one thing we humans share in common is that we are all pilgrims, I have been infatuated with this small but powerful word. Pilgrim. Are we not all beginning our walk as pilgrims into the new year of 2016?

Having been blessed to lead a few pilgrimages, I know that being a pilgrim has certain expectations. A pilgrim commits to the road knowing that they can only see a few steps ahead. They can never have a vision of the road’s end. A pilgrim opens their heart to those they meet along the way knowing, believing, that their fellow travelers have gifts to offer, gifts they cannot receive from anyone else. A pilgrim expects to be changed by the walking though they cannot know what form that change will take as they begin only that when the journey is completed they will be different than when they started. A pilgrim knows that they will lose things on the path…a sock, some pounds, an attitude, a deeply held opinion, a long buried hurt. A pilgrim also hopes to find some things…a beautiful stone, an outstretched hand, a warm cup of soup, a mended heart, a transformed life. 

As we enter this new year, we all come to it as pilgrims. We have no crystal ball that will tell its future or how the year will actually evolve. We may have goals and plans that have been lovingly and wisely molded and shaped. These goals may be accomplished and there will be celebration. They may also be derailed and take a different form. May we find grace in that and be gentle with ourselves as we know that this is the life of the pilgrim. May we be patient to wait for the lessons the detour offers.

Our faith stories are almost all wisdom tales of pilgrimages. Abraham. Sarah. Moses. Ruth. Mary. Joseph. Jesus. All these people walked the pilgrim path and from them we have shaped wisdom to be our companion on the way. The good news of pilgrimage is that it begins again with the rising of each new day and the dawning of each new year. It is written on the palm of our hand and lives within the chambers of our heart.

And so now we begin again…the pilgrim’s walk…into 2016. May the Holy bless our path. May we be protected and guided in the ways of Love and uplifted by the stories of those who have gone before. May we watch for signs and wonders. May we bless those we meet along the way and receive with graciousness their blessing to us. May we be open to the gifts and the challenges that come with each step. And may this new year find us kinder and gentler with ourselves and our world.

A blessed New Year to you all.

  
 

Turning Toward Home

Our stories are all stories of searching. We search for a good self to be and for good work to do. We search to become human in a world that tempts us always to be less than human or looks to us to be more. We search to love and to be loved. And in a world where it is often hard to believe in much of anything, we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.” 

~Frederick Buechner, The Longing for Home

The theme of ‘Turning Toward Home’ is ending now for our faith community. We have walked through Advent with these words, been surrounded by images of homes for four weeks, sung songs that used lyrics that opened up what home means. It is Christmas Eve and Advent is coming to an end. And yet the work of turning toward home is ever present. As author and theologian Frederick Buechner reminds us above, we are living, breathing stories of searching, of turning toward what is the Home that always is calling us toward our lives, toward our fullest expression of the Holy One’s presence within us. 

In a few hours, I will be present to some who have turned toward home. In all of our worship services there will be those who have come home to our particular faith community to once again engage in the story that holds us. College students, young adults, grandchildren, those we have baptized and confirmed will once again make their way into the circle along with those we see nearly every Sunday. They will be joined by others who are guests and do not know the particularities of other stories being played out around them. Those who may have moved far away and have returned to family and friends often make their way to the church which once was a home for their questions, their doubts, their certainties, their celebrations. It will be for many as if they never left. For others, they will notice change which they will resist or embrace. It is always so and perhaps has always been. Home is not as static as we would like to believe, like to hope. All this is happening in nearly every sanctuary around the world.

What draws us to turn and return? Of course, there is the hope of seeing those who have walked the path with us for even a short time. We search for a touchstone that reminds us of who were once were or hoped to be. We look for faces that shaped our early years or provided a word of support or affirmation. We also stare into the places where someone once sat but is no longer present and it reminds us of how precious life is.

We are also drawn, I believe, by the deep desire to connect to this ancient story of the miraculous. Angels sing. Shepherds are awakened. A young woman and her husband give birth to a child under what seems hopeless circumstances. Stars guide even the Wise to what has come to be. We all search to find something of ourselves in each of these characters. Beauty. Humility. Courage. Fortitude. Faith. Hope. Love. Above all, love. We are drawn because ‘we search to believe in something holy and beautiful and life-transcending that will give meaning and purpose to the lives we live.’

And so may it be. As we light the candles of Christmas today, may we find some answers to our searching. May we embrace something of the Heart of the Christ Child, however we perceive it. May we turn toward Home and find a welcome there. And may it be for everyone.

I offer to you this blessing of John Philip Newell for this Christmas season. I also offer this image of the ‘The Flannel Nativity’ by Cindy McKenna which has graced the calendar I have consulted every day of December.

O God of new beginnings,

who brings light out of night’s darkness

and fresh green out of the hard winter earth,

there is barren land between us as people and as nations this day,

there are empty stretches of soul within us.

Give us eyes to see new dawnings of promise.

Give us ears to hear fresh soundings of birth.”

A blessed Christmas to you all……

  

Joy!

You can prepare,but still

it will come to you

by surprise,

crossing through your doorway

calling your name in greeting,

turning like a child

who quickens suddenly

within you.

It will astonish you

how wide your heart 

will open

in welcome

for the joy

that finds you

so ready 

and still so

unprepared.

~Jan Richardson, Circle of Grace

Joy. We prepare for it. We anticipate it. We hope for it. We desire it. We long for it. We are sometimes desperate for it. Especially in these days of waiting for Christmas to arrive, we look for joy in all the corners and behind every door. All the outward messages say it is something we can buy…or steal…or find wrapped up in a beautiful box. But joy is much sneakier than that.One thing that living a few years can teach is that joy can be elusive. Different than happiness which can be found in a good joke or a laugh here and there, joy goes bone deep. It finds its home in our heart and moves out from there into the way we move and act in the world. And when it is playing its hide-and-seek game with us, it can be a painful dance. 

Last night I was privileged to be in the presence of people who were seeking after joy. They were trying to find a dance partner named Joy while also holding the deep loss of a loved one or the pervasive loss of the world right now. We had come together to rest in the comfort of sacred words and music in a search for hope and healing. They were doing the work of preparing for joy even when its presence seemed impossible or at least improbable. But their honesty of feeling and experience was rich and humbling and it prepared the soil of their hearts for the return of joy. It was a blessing to me to help hold the space for their waiting.

It is easy to get caught up in the lights and tinsel of this season, to think that we are all walking around in a Hallmark television special just waiting to be filmed. One of those stories where everything is in soft light and lovely and predictably joyful. But we need only change channels to know it is not true. Small children are handed from over-filled rubber, lifeboats to total strangers in an effort to flee a country gone wild with misused power and fear. Certain people, those given to mistrust, cower as they pass by those they have named ‘other’, ‘stranger’. Labels and names are assigned to faiths other than our own and become the people who hold their faith as sacred as I do mine are demonized.

And even in these times, perhaps especially in these times, we still prepare for joy. Why? Because, I believe, at our very core, we were made for this bone-deep emotion. As the Creator breathed over the waters and brought forth all that is, what was there but joy? Joy at creating. Joy at its beauty. Joy at the promise of it all. As the Spirit moves through each and every breath and beating heart no matter the color of skin, or what they believe or their life situation, joy is the thread that weaves through it all. Sometimes that joy is overshadowed but its wisdom and nature lives at the center.

Today the invitation is to prepare. Today we have the opportunity to fling the door of our heart open and make wide the welcome. May we find there the gift of surprise. May we find there the gift of joy.

  

Between the Worlds

Last night my family and I attended a performance of “Between the Worlds” at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theater. For as long as I have lived in the Twin Cities, I have loved their work and the depth of their creativity. I must say that I have learned as much about the importance of ritual and how to create it from these artists committed to craft and social justice as I ever learned in seminary. I know that the work I do on a weekly basis would somehow be less if not for the inspiration of Sandy Spieler and her troupe of those dedicated to what can be done with simple objects…paper, wheat-paste, paint, sticks and poles, and a little wire. It is magic they create, a magic that draws the audience into an encounter with Mystery.
Last night’s performance was a celebration of these dark days we call Advent in the Christian household. But these are days that have been honored throughout time by cultures who lived closer to the earth than we now do. Those who lived in the rhythms of the seasons and who patterned their lives around the give and take of the Sun and the Moon. Those who knew in their bodies the power of both darkness and light. As people whose lives are now dictated by the flip of a switch, those who believe they have control of light and its arrival, we have lost the wisdom of those ancient ones. I personally believe we are lesser for it.

A poem by Marilyn Krysl graced the program for the show, a few of the final words I will share here:

the moon stops the fountain of your sleep/ and drives you out to wander and pace/ wide awake and burning, mouth dry eyes burning/ so that you are forced to acknowledge your own body/ and to remember the body is holy/ and to remember the body is one body/ and this earth the one holy body you cannot desecrate with impunity/ so that you understand that if you deny the dark/ you make a mockery of light.

These words draw me not only to the gifts of darkness and of light but also to the thing we say we are celebrating when we lift our candles high on Christmas. Incarnation. The belief that God shows up in the body. In the body of a newborn baby in Bethlehem. The body of the grown up Way-Shower, Jesus, who held before those in his time the power of both darkness and light and invites us to do the same.

Incarnation is both specific and individual and also communal. The Holy was born in a stable more than 2000 years ago. And the Holy is born in us when we remember and act as if we remember that ‘ the body is one body’. We are inextricably connected together as humans and with the earth which is our home by the One who created us to be reflections of the Sacred in the world. To do so is an honoring of what it means to be the face of the on-going Incarnation. 

In these last days before Christmas, we would be wise to notice the play of dark and light. In these last days before the Winter Solstice, we would be wise to watch how the darkness holds the space for the Light to be born. These are precious days that hold us ‘between the worlds’. They are pure gift of grace and promise.

Stay awake! The Light is coming.

   

Afraid of the Light

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy is when (wo)men are afraid of the light.”~Plato

Neither of our children ever seemed to be afraid of the dark when they were small. Though, like most parents, we spent our fair share of sleepless hours going back and forth between rooms calming restless minds and legs, I don’t remember that darkness was what kept them awake in the night. More often it was an anxiety that had taken up a home in them. Anxiety over something or someone at school. Anxiety over wanting to do well, over fearing that they had not. Anxiety over being unable to fall asleep. These kinds of mind-bending thoughts can fill the darkness of night with a fear that overwhelms but it is not the lack of light that haunts. It is what we imagine will come, might come, may never come with the coming of the morning light.

As I have been sitting with and exploring this dance of darkness and light, I came across this quote of the philosopher and ancient one, Plato. It reminded me of the Marianne Williamson poem in which she writes of how most of us are more frightened of success than of failure. That somehow bringing forth into the world what is most true and light-filled about ourselves and having that embraced is much more fear-producing than falling flat on our faces in front of those we love and those we don’t. I believe both these wise ones speak great truths across centuries.

Over the last weeks I have been participating in Julia Cameron’s study The Artist’s Way:Creativity as a Spiritual Practice. Much of this amazing process is a path of noticing and recovery of the creative life we once knew as children, the creative life that aligns us with our Creator and invites us to be fully the person we were created to be. In many ways it is an invitation to wrestle with what frightens us in the darkness and to walk fully in the Light. Over the span of these sessions with folks who are also committed to this process of recovering their own light drenched path, I have been blessed to watch ideas flow, minds expand, hearts open and spirits healed. This is Light.

As I have been tying together the threads of this quilt of light and darkness that is our gift in Advent, I have been thinking over and over of the words of the adult Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Thomas: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” 

As human beings we are constantly doing a dance with darkness and light. The fear that is born of our darkness can confront us and call to the deepest part of who we are. So, too, the light calls to us, urging us to the fullness of what it means to be created in the Image of the One who breathed life into us, the One who lures us to reflect goodness and holiness into the world.

How are you making your way around the dance floor with darkness and light these Advent days? What fears do you hold for the night and the day? What lies within you waiting to be brought forth, waiting to be born, waiting to save you? 

Blessings on your nighttime. Blessing on the light that illumines your days.

  

Putting Love in the Driver’s Seat

During these December days of Advent, I have been holding the dark to my heart. I have been trying not to rush toward the lights of Christmas but have instead been scuttling about in the corners of darkness to find its varied gifts. I have been enjoying waking in the dark hours and returning home in the shadowed hours. I have even intentionally been using fewer lights in the house and in my office. One of my colleagues peeked in my door on Monday in the late afternoon to find me crouched in front of the light of my computer screen, the only other light in the room, a lovely red cutout star with its tiny night-light sized beam hanging in the corner. “It’s getting dark, you know.” she said.
Yes, I know. It is getting dark and has been dark and will get just a little darker before next Tuesday when the Solstice marks the slow, Zen-like return of the sun’s rays. This sitting with the dark has not been uncomfortable though I recognize the privilege with which I do it. I could turn on more light. I have working electricity and the bills have been paid. I could turn on all the lights and flood my senses with its mood-altering gifts. But since I do not suffer from SAD as so many do, I am dwelling in the blessing of darkness and sending my prayers off to those who would find this difficult and painful.

As is often the case, once I start to pay attention to a word or a concept, it seems to show up every where. Poems about darkness, quotes from famous people, songs on the radio, bits of conversations I overhear in a restaurant or on the street. The subject seems to be showing up all around me. It can seem like a movie and everyone knows the title….Darkness!

One such quote that has appeared several times in my reading is this one by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” These are words that many of us have heard for years,in fact, we may even have memorized as part of a history or church school class at some time. They are words that are on the one hand simple and straight forward and they are also challenging and confronting.

As I think about these words in the context of this particular Advent, they are also incredibly profound and prophetic. As our common life is bombarded with words and the sheer meanness of some, it can seem as if hate is being fed with hate, as if there is little light that will ever be found. Though I believe there is gift in darkness, it is also often seen as the symbol of what harms, what wounds, what shows itself as our lesser-selves. Only light can drive out that manner of darkness and its only healing remedy is the light turned on with full force. A light that can show all the cracks and crevices of words crafted in dangerous darkness, a dangerous darkness that fuels hate and divides us rather than unites us, that keeps us further from what our sacred texts assure us is the Holy’s intention for us.

I have been trying to take these words of Dr. King’s into myself and not get pulled in the direction of the culture around. I have been intentionally watching less and less television and listening to more beautiful music. I have made a point of looking into the eyes of those I encounter and not allow the rush, rush of the season to be my rhythm. I have been hoping and praying that my words and my actions will be grounded in love and have been doing a little check in with myself periodically to see how I’m doing.

These are precious days, as all days are, and we won’t get them back. Advent 2015 is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is a time to put love in the driver’s seat. In the end, it is what Christmas is all about, isn’t it?
 

Mountaintop Experience

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”~Og Mandino

We are always looking, I believe, for mountain top experiences in life. Of course, this means different things to different people. For some it is literally climbing a mountain they had set as a bucket list goal and finally achieve by reaching its summit. For others it is seeing a famous person, a celebrity or political figure they admire, someone whose presence makes them feel more than what they believe to be their ‘ordinary’ self. These mountaintop experiences can be planned but most often they are ‘caught’, they simply happen and are gift of serendipity. One minute you are walking around in the ordinary minutiae of your day and…boom…something happens that lifts you up. Call it magic. Call it miracle. It depends on the lens with which a person sees the world.

Still steeped in these dark days which seem to be getting even darker with the rain and clouds that are our constant companion, I have been remembering the times when I have been surprised by light, enfolded in the gifts of dark. One such time that always bubbles to the top for me happened several summers ago. My husband and younger son and I were driving across some roads in northern Wisconsin just shy of the Michigan border. It was dark, pitch black dark. The kind of dark that keeps your eyes scanning the road wildly because you can’t guess the moment a deer will jump out of the darkness and into the path of your light beams. No street lights or even houses brought any light to our path.

Because we were feeling brave…or wise…at one point we stopped the car and stood along the side of the road. Looking up we shared an audible collective gasp. Stars! More stars than seemed imaginable. The constellations learned in some elementary classroom in a by-gone day danced their night dance. The Milky Way swirled and confounded our eyes..you are HERE the twinkling shouted into the deep, blue sky. 

We were speechless and rightly so. Awe has a way of doing that. It rips the words from the human’s lips and shoves our bodies into the place of silence, that language of Mystery. Our minds lose all ability to form a word that would seem useless in the Face of such wonder. It was a mountain top experience for me. I have thought of it so many times and am filled with such gratitude for having shared it with two of my beloved ones.

Any one who has spent any time away from the lights of the city knows the power of the darkness that allows us to see the stars. It is not chance, I believe, that the night sky plays such a central place in the story of Christmas. Stars signal the birth. Stars guide the way to the stable. Stars kept the shepherds company as they watched their flocks. Stars help the wise ones navigate their way home by another way.

Oh, yes, I do love the light. It helps me find the path and makes my going easier in the world. But the darkness…oh, the darkness. It is mirror for stars…and the bringer of awe.

The night sky might be cloudy where you are. But continue to look up. You just never know when the stars might be leading you to someplace you had not expected to go. This is another gift of Advent. Accept it with open hands and a willing heart.

  

A Box of Darkness

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
~Mary Oliver.

I am an early riser. I like getting up in the wee hours of the morning and having the house lie in stillness around me.I have a little routine that I have established in this moving and I am happy with it. Each season of the year holds particular early mornings gifts….in spring it is the morning songs of birds returning…in summer it is the sweet smell of flowers and cut grass…in the fall it is the goodbye call of geese heading to their winter getaway.
But in winter, in December, the gift of early morning is darkness. There is a certain contemplative spirit that lurks in the corners of every room, inviting reflection and calm. It begs you to sit with it, to notice its offerings.There is the promise of the light that will arrive in its own good time. Eventually there is the arrival of the sun on the horizon. Often it brings a palette of color that stuns the senses…lavender, baby pink, orange and yellow. To have waited in the darkness for all this splendor is pure gift.

Last night I attended a concert with two amazing singer/songwriters: Barbara McAfee and Claudia Schmidt. The theme of their concert was ‘Hark the Dark!” they wove together poetry and songs of darkness…its beauty and its terror. And also, with these two wily women, its humor. What both performer and audience held in common was a healthy respect for the gifts of darkness.

As we make our way to the Winter Solstice in a few days, I am struck with this love/ hate, push/pull relationship we humans have with darkness. I am also more keenly aware of the way in which honoring the Solstice connects us with all those who have walked before us. I think particularly of the Celtic blood which flows through my veins and my ancestors who rightfully celebrated the return of the light in the late days of December darkness as it began to shine on their green and rocky soil once again. I think about how my ancestors who took up the Christian faith settled on celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Way-Shower, near the date of this return of light to the earth. Why not? Light is light.

I think of all the times I have heard people describe how they have come through difficult times…dark times…to see the gift in it. Over and over I have heard people talk about how without this seemingly dark time, they would never have learned, known, discovered, realized, accomplished…whatever. Someone or something had handed them a box full of darkness and they had eventually seen that it was gift, too.

Somehow for me, this movement through Advent, this moving toward the Solstice, this walking the path on the way to Christmas is all tied up like a box full of darkness. I am waiting in expectation to see what the gift will really be. I am hoping to be surprised.

Won’t you join me?

 
      
  
  
  
  

Steeped in Burning Layers

We imagine the Divine as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact we live steeped in its burning layers.~Pierre Teilard de Chardin

Advent is a ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ time. It is what someone I read yesterday refers to as a ‘shoulder’ season. Those of you who may do some traveling know that shoulder seasons can be the times when airline fares are cheaper, hotels more affordable. Shoulder seasons are in-between times. This person used this term to mean that Advent sets the stage for the big show of Christmas. This is not as easy to glimpse given how, in our culture, we take down the Halloween decorations and move directly to hanging sparkling lights and adorning our doors with red-ribboned wreaths. But Advent is the quieter, more slow moving cousin that shows up to help us prepare at holidays and stands back while its showier relative, Christmas, takes center stage. I wonder if this is why I love the season so? 

Often times in sermons during Advent we use this metaphor of the season being ‘now’ and ‘not yet’ to talk about how the scriptures speak of the in-breaking of God. The glimpses of the reign of what we have named the kingdom of God has been, is and is not yet fulfilled. It is heady stuff, difficult to grasp for most so we gloss over it. Those that can unfurrow their brows and follow the golden thread through the thinking get it. But most just let it go as ‘preacher talk’ or ‘theologian speak.’ Now. But not yet.

I wonder if much of what brings such pain in the world is the result of not recognizing the Divine presence in our midst, of not noticing the ‘now’ part of Advent all year round. I mean, how might our lives be truly different if we recognized that we are ‘steeped in burning layers’ of the Divine in every moment. Not just on Sundays or whenever we set aside time for worship. Not just on the days which each faith tradition has carved out to celebrate the God moments spoken of in our ancient and enduring life. I wonder.

If we truly believed and lived like we believe that we are steeped in burning layers of the Sacred, that the Presence we call by a thousand names was pulsing through each person and throughout the Creation in which we stand, how would we show up? How would we behave? What words would we choose to speak to one another? What words would we leave unsaid? How might we welcome the face…the Divine Face…of each and every person we encounter in every blessed day? 

I love how the word ‘Namaste’ has crept into our culture. A word used in India and other countries is often the ending of yoga classes. With more and more people taking up this practice, ‘Namaste’ as a greeting or a goodbye can seem natural. ‘The God is me honors the a God in you’. ‘The Holy that lives within me greet the Holy that lives in you.’ 

This is the message of this one powerful word, namaste. It is a single word that affirms that we are all steeped in burning layers of the Divine. Even when we forget. Even when we behave otherwise. Even when those layers are smoldering rather than shining.

Words are flying around us in these days. Words that often deny the layered divinity that exists in all people and not just some. They are hurtful and dangerous words that harbor fear and seek to pull people into camps of alienation. They are words that fuel the imaginary, and untrue, notion that the Divine is distant and inaccessible. But this One who breathed us all into being…all, not just some…will not be silenced and indeed moves in the shadows inviting, urging us to notice the beautiful, burning layers of the Holy in one another. Perhaps in our noticing and with ‘namaste’ on our lips and in our hearts, we can begin to drown out the awful words and turn the tides. Something tells me this is the quiet work of Advent. Something tells me this is also the work of Christmas.

  

Watching

While shepherds watched their flocks by nightAll seated on the ground.

The angel of the Lord came down,

And glory shone around, 

and glory shone around.”~Nahum Tate, 1700

Watch. Advent is meant to be a time of watching. Watching for how light and darkness dance together….how one seems to be leading and the other following. Watching for the ways in which darkness can bring much if we are open to its wisdom, its presence. Watching how our hearts are bent one way or another by encounters with our fellow travelers on this path.

With regularity I indulge in some watching. I sit at Amore, a coffee shop in our neighborhood, that sits at the corner of two roads converging. I hold a cup of excellent coffee between my hands and I watch as the story of our neighborhood plays out. I see cars go by too fast and those that amble along in an almost contemplative fashion. I watch as young people, heavy with sleeplessness and over-stuffed backpacks wait for the bus that will take them to a place of joy or pain, depending on their connections or friendships or alienation. I watch the antique store across the street with its changing window display and the blinking of the Summit beer sign in the window of the local restaurant. I watch familiar faces come through the door and those I have never seen also enter looking furtively around deciding if this is a ‘good’ place or not.

A lot can be learned from watching which is different than looking I’ve decided. Watching implies intention. It implies that the watcher expects to see something important, something that might capture the imagination or offer a surprise or transforming moment. It also implies a spirit of guarding the moment, of watching over in a air of protection…..watching over our children, over our four-legged companions, over our vulnerable ones.

This is what the shepherds were doing in the Christmas story we are walking toward. They were watching over those in their care. I imagine that a shepherd’s skill of watching is pretty honed. Perhaps their ability to watch…to look with intention…keeps them open to being awake to other experiences, other sights that come their way. Wolves, for instance, who might attack a flock. Storms. Stars. Unusual stars. Really bright stars.

The watching that the shepherds did led them to an encounter with the Holy we are told in the story. It was an encounter in which ‘glory shone all around’. I don’t know about you but I am in need of some ‘glory all around’ moments. The words and the news of this particular Advent are weighing on my heart and spirit. I could really go for a few ‘glory all around’ experiences.

This morning I received an email from the receptionist at the church where I am blessed to serve. She was passing on a story of something that had just happened to her. A young man who had been riding his bike near the church had found $57.00 on the ground. Maybe he had been watching well. He came in and gave it to her saying he thought the ‘ church would find a good way to use that money.’ And he left. She passed on the story to all of us so we could bask in its sweetness, so we could reap some of the reward of his watching. And I now pass it on to you. 

Watching. I think Advent, particularly this Advent, is asking us to ‘watch’ and to do it well and with intention. We are being asked to watch for the places where goodness and kindness and hope break into our world. We are being asked to be vigilant in this watching. And when in our watching we see the in-breaking of God, we will know that glory is indeed shining all around.

And when it happens…we would do well to tell about it.