This week’s epistle text comes from the book of James chapter 5:
5:8 You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. 5:9 Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged.
The week’s text comes in stark contrast to our current political climate in which there is only grumbling between the two parties. In the midst of all the grumbling, it is so difficult to find the truth. Who is right? Who is wrong? These questions even make one side the winner and the other side the loser.
During this high and holy season of Advent where this epistle text is brought to light, I wonder if there is another way. Is there a chance that instead of being so quick to defend “our party” or “our perspective” that instead we could be patient and strengthen our hearts. Maybe, just maybe during this season of the coming of the Christ Child, perhaps we could open our hearts and minds to the ideas and perspectives of other people instead of digging in our heels and defending what we believe.
A recent article summarizing a report on generosity reported:
Atheists are more generous to Christians than Christians are towards them.
The report continues:
we found in multiple studies that our atheist participants behaved more fairly towards partners they believed were Christians than our Christians participants behaved towards partners they believed were atheists.
We, as Christians, find ourselves not inhabiting the very tenets and behaviors that Jesus Christ taught. We are not generous. We are suspicious and stingy. We do not treat others fairly. We defend and grumble against anyone who doesn’t believe as we do.
As a pastor and as a Christian, I find this deeply disturbing. There is so much hurt in the world and so much loneliness. As we wait for the coming of the Christ Child, I wait in hope that there we will begin to see and hear people who look different and believe different with open ears and open hearts.
This weekend, the kids helped me repot our window plants. I have two window plants that live on the window over the kitchen sink looking out to our backyard. One is a Christmas Cactus and one is a budding African Violet. The Christmas Cactus started blooming right on time as the Advent season began. Most of the year, this plant rests dormant with very little to show until these vibrant blooms start to appear.
After we repotted the Christmas cactus and I returned it to its place on the window sill, I noticed that through the window our Bradford Pear tree’s leaves were flashing the last brilliant colors of life before it rested in the dark and cold of winter. This picture of hope blooming even as death waited behind was the perfect picture of this Advent season.
Hope and death rest together during this season. The short days and dark nights remind us of the short time we have here on earth. The changing leaves remind us that death does indeed bring new life. The blooms of this Christmas Cactus remind of the hope of the Divine incarnate, something we have been waiting all year to remember and something we still hope will come again.
Hope and death. Light and dark. Cold and warmth. All pressing against each other during this season of waiting for the Christ Child. May our eyes and hearts be open on this journey.
All around us, we see evidence that the seasons are changing. The brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows are highlighted by the fall light that looks and feels different from the summer light. The change makes us pay attention and look at our everyday paths and patterns through new eyes.
When we’re going through a changing season, it isn’t quite as evident. In fact, we might be almost through a season of change before we ourselves realize what we have been going through. The season might not be one with brilliant colors and basking in the light. The season might be one of hurt and grief, hopelessness and loneliness. It’s hard for others to see this change within us for our leaves don’t change or draw attention to what is going on within.
It is easy to interact with others by simply passing by, not really looking and not really hearing what’s beneath our conversations. This season of change invites us to change the way we interact too.
Listen deeply, look deeply, connect deeply.
As we turn our attention this week to the season of Thanksgiving, we are also right on the heels of the season of Advent. I have seen so many advertisements about the shortened shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas with the reminder that this store and that store have already started their Black Friday sales.
I can feel the pressure. I feel behind already because I haven’t even started my Christmas shopping.
In the midst of all the advertisements, it is easy to get caught up in our culture of buying and consuming. As I was sitting by the fire last night, I looked around and found myself in the midst of stuff. So much stuff.
Some of it was good stuff, stuff that had been given to us by friends and families. Toys that reminded me of our son’s first birthday, our little red house in Asheville where we became a family. Books that told the story of our educational careers and then our professional careers. Pictures that showed our children growing and changing.
Americans are surrounded by stuff. In fact, we own so much stuff and continue to live in the midst of stuff that new houses were 38% bigger in 2002 than in 1975. We have so much stuff that the average American will spend 3,680 hours or 153 days of their lives looking for stuff they have misplaced. We are surrounded by stuff with the pressure to buy more stuff.
The self-storage industry makes $38 billion a year on our storing stuff that won’t fit in the confines of where we live. That’s 2.3 billion square feet of storage. This is more than enough to house the entire homeless population in America many, many times over.
The home organizing industry has taken a different approach and has capitalized on our need to organize our stuff at the rate of $16 billion a year with a growth rate of 4%. We are living in the midst of so much stuff and that stuff makes us lose time, money, and our sleep studies have shown.
As we creep ever closer to Advent there is a whisper of something different. An invitation to leave all the stuff behind and marvel and wonder at the Divine Incarnate in the form of the Christ Child. Will we hear it in the midst of all the stuff we are trying to get done?
This past week was one filled with the joys of birthdays and the grief of services of remembrance. For us, that fell on the same day, our four-year-old’s actual birthday. The beauty and the grief of life and death juxtaposed in one twenty-four hour period. And this is how it is. Life and death live within us all the time. That divine breath and our dustiness residing together in our physical beings. We walk through our days holding both hope and grief. At times they fight within us as we wrestle to find space for both and sanctuary to let them sit together never sure which one will come out on top.
The more I talk to people, the more I realize how much grief people are holding sometimes trying to fit into a box to put away for another time sometimes trying to send it away so that it doesn’t linger or pop up. The more I talk to people, the more I say grief doesn’t go away. You don’t go through grief. You don’t come out of grief. You become grief and then grief becomes you.
You and grief can’t get away from each other. You integrate into one being with a deeper love and appreciation for moments and relationships, for safety and belonging. This loss and hurt of grief make us deeper and fuller people.
People who love and live with gratitude and intention for we always hold both life and death within us.
Almost without fail when I ask a fellow parent of littles how it is going, their response is: “It’s busy.” To be certain that’s true. Just trying to get out of the door with shoes, weather-appropriate gear, and all the other things “just in case” there is an accident or someone gets hungry can be overwhelming. Not to mention all the doctors’ appointments, haircuts, and dentist appointments.
It’s very, very easy in the midst of the busyness to never be fully present. To be moving at such a break-neck speed that we are never where we are and we are just on our way to the next appointment. Sometimes we move in the midst of busyness because we are feeling lonely or isolated. Sometimes we move in the midst of the busyness because we are fearful that we aren’t a good parent, that we aren’t paying enough attention to each of our children Sometimes we move in the midst of the busyness because we aren’t sure of our purpose. Nothing feels intentional about our daily activities and yet everything feels pressing and that it needs to be done right away. As the holidays approach, it’s even easier to get lost in the midst of the busyness and never be truly present.
Maybe today instead of being in the midst of the busyness, we can defiantly say stop and sit down for a minute and be present feeling our cold feet against the cold ground, noticing that we have been slouching out of fatigue and exhaustion, and paying attention to our dry knuckles that are reminding us that we need to drink more water.
When we stop in the midst of the busyness and say no to our culture of chaos, we remind ourselves that there is more to us than just our physical beings. We are emotional and spiritual and we need to feed those parts of ourselves. Busyness only starves those parts of us claiming there is never enough time or that we don’t deserve to pay attention to that still, small voice whispering “just be”.
Everything around us is telling us to work more, add more to our calendars, and spend more time running from one place to the other. Everything about the upcoming Advent season says the opposite. Wait. Hope. Be.
In the midst of the busyness maybe there is a deep cry for something more meaningful, less exhausting, and more fulfilling. Can you hear it?
The phrase “when it rains, it pours” means that when one thing goes wrong a trail of other difficult things happen in a row. It is a reminder that the skies can be cloudy and in just a moment that can change and there can be rain so hard you can’t see and even a short dash from the door to the car door can leave you soaked through.
In the midst of the rain, it is always difficult to be thankful. Your body is soaked and there are often shivers that follow the respite from the rain. Even though you are out of the rain, you can still feel the impact of that rain in your bones.
In the midst of the rain, it seems like the sun will never shine again and the warmth is far away. In the midst of the rain, the ground is nourished and all of those buried seeds began to take root and when the rain stops, what blooms is new life and new hope.
One of my friends asked me the other day if there was something in the air. Our three-year-olds had both had similarly difficult mornings getting going and wanting to determine their own schedules and as good pattern seekers, we were trying to figure out what it was about this specific day that was causing them such consternation.
It’s a funny question when you think about it because there is always something in the air. People in India are finding out that what is in the air can actually be very dangerous. It is so difficult to see what is in the air and so we often forget that we are in the midst of a current.
Just like water has currents, so too are there air currents moving and changing all around us. We are in the midst of a current of air constantly moving and changing. This has a great impact on our body chemistry and indeed on our children’s body chemistries.
There is always something in the air. An invitation to remember that we are in the midst of current, but a small part to play in the energy and movement all around us.
This week in the move to our new office, we moved a bookshelf. As my partner was taking it out the door, the three-year-old started crying. We both stopped for a minute thinking that something had fallen and hurt him, but when we asked if he was ok, he responded, “But I don’t want it to move.” Let’s just say we’re at an age where we are more than a little resistant to changes in environment, schedule, and apparently bookshelves.
He’s not the only one that I’ve heard lamenting change. In my work as an editor and offering advice to writers who would like to become published authors, I often hear: “But I didn’t think I was going to have to change things.” Change is never easy no matter how old we are.
Interestingly, the idea that we are not changing constantly is something that we have convinced ourselves is true when in fact it’s not. We are constantly changing. The air around us is constantly changing. The temperature increases and decreases throughout the day or changes. Our bodies are changing digesting and reacting to the food and liquids we have consumed. The places we live and the transportation we use are constantly changing as wear and tear begin to take hold.
Change is all around us and indeed within us.
When we say we hate change, what we really are saying is that we hate being confronted with the reality that we don’t have control. We like to think that we have created something that will hold and that will remain stable from day to day. And when something bigger than a bookshelf moves or changes, we find ourselves in the same position as our three-year-old crying and reaching out for things not to move and change.
What if instead, we clung to the reality that things are always changing and that change is the only constant we can depend upon. Then we would ride the waves of the air current, marveling at the way that sun moves across the sky, and being astounded by all the work our bodies do every single minute to keep us breathing.
Our plans were changed because of bad weather on the weekend we were planning to carve our pumpkin. By the time we were able to carve it, let’s just say it had been with us for a while. I had this feeling that once we got inside, we were going to find something besides just the seeds and pumpkin guts. As I worked to pull off the top, just as I had expected, there was a big spot of rot (see where the pumpkin top looks like it has a bite out of it?). Although I expected that there was something not quite right with our pumpkin, I didn’t really know what was going on until we took a look inside.
The same holds true for our own lives. We might look orange and pretty on the outside, but if there is something that is eating away at us, a broken relationship, unresolved conflict, fatigue or exhausation, slowly by surely that one spot will grow bigger and bigger until what’s going on inside leaks out.
This is what self-care is: taking a look inside. Cracking open the top to see deep into the parts of ourselves that have hold all the seeds. The seeds of our past. The seeds of our hurts. The seeds of our hopes. The seeds of our passions. The seeds of our calling. The seeds of our fear. The seeds of our worries. The seeds of who we are.
When we don’t take the time to look inside or take a look at whether those seeds nestled within us are getting enough water and light and space, then rot begins to grow, comprising all those seeds of possibility.
Maybe you’re like us, the time that you meant to spend in self-reflection or self-care got rained out of stormed out by the fierce urgency of now. Maybe you think that you can’t make up that time or that the time has passed. What we discovered was that once we got inside our pumpkin, even though it was a little worse for the wear, we were able to scoop that rot out. We were able to clean out the part that was threatening the rest of the pumpkin and we were able to transform our pumpkin into a new creation.
See how happy our pumpkin is that we took the time to look inside!