Showing posts with label advent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label advent. Show all posts

Monday, December 25, 2017

fear not

This week, Anne Voskamp reminded me of that moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas when Linus says the words, "Fear not!" and drops his security blanket.

Over and over, biblical encounters between human beings and angels include these words. Fear not! Angelic visitation indicates disruption, it is a precursor to drastic change, it is inherently frightening.

Not all things that cause fear are as sudden and extraordinary as the appearance of an angel to tell you that someone, possibly you, is unexpectedly pregnant, though.

A simmering anxiety has pervaded my life these last few months. I've been slightly anxious about pretty much everything: my career, my budget, my friendships, my loneliness. It was insidious, though, and I was not paying sufficient attention to notice the anxiety.

Instead, I noticed that I was watching more crappy television and reading more crappy books and doing less writing, that I was ordering more takeout and doing less cooking, that I was teaching on the fly and not planning ahead. I was really annoyed with myself about these things, but I was caught in a negative feedback loop.

Unlike Linus, I didn't have a single Fear not! moment.

The negative feedback loop started to break down several weeks ago, at the beginning of Advent, actually. While standing at the center of a labyrinth, I heard the words, just be where you are.

Be where you are.

Be where you are.

I've been hearing them over and over ever since.

Where I am is in the middle of a period of uncertainty. I should have recognized it. I mean, I've been here before. And I survived.

The difference is that the last time my life was this uncertain, I had chosen to put myself there.

Now that I see the anxiety, it has less power.

Be where you are, I remind myself, and fear not.

Monday, December 7, 2015


Once upon a time, we made each other promises: to love, to honor, to cherish until death would us part.

We kept those promises in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, joyfully and grudgingly, even when it was phenomenally difficult.

And then, one day, death did us part. And the terms of our promises were fulfilled.

My choices have reshaped my life into one unlike the one we chose together, but I make you new promises:

I promise to have your picture in the house where your children can see it.

I promise to use the things you created until they weather with age.

I promise to tell your stories, but I promise to tell all of them because I promise not to turn you into a saint.

I promise to learn from our mistakes.

I promise to remember.

I promise not to wallow.

I promise to honor your contribution to my happily ever after.

Monday, March 30, 2015

uncertainty and the purple

Lou says that uncertainty is a good thing, that it challenges you and teaches you things about life. I can grudgingly agree that Lou is right, but I would add that a little bit of uncertainty goes a long way.

Lately, uncertainty has dominated all areas of my life: sale of Rustic Lakehouse, finalization of Adam's estate, transfer of our wordily possession to our next home, a place to live while the girls finish the school year, when my dissertation will be ready for defense, when my committee will be able to convene, job(s).

In some cases, the events are certain, but the timeline is not. The current buyer definitely wants Rustic Lakehouse, and I want to sell it to him, but he and I don't get to agree on a day ourselves. We have to wait for his bank to work their underwriting magic and assign us a date. My moving company has agreed on a day to come load the truck, but only offered a delivery window for unloading at our destination.

This storm of uncertainly feels a lot like the dark wilderness of instant widowhood with one major difference: this time, I put myself here. Each of these uncertainties is the result of a choice that I made. I did this to myself.

Sometimes I wonder what I could have been thinking.

But the one thing that I was certain about when I started making these decisions is that I can not stay here. Staying put feels like stagnating.

A little over a year ago I wrote about the importance of dwelling in the purple times of the Christian year. Always for me embracing the purple has been about an increased commitment to overtly spiritual practices: more time praying, more attending terce and mass at the abbey, more reading scripture, more doing church.  

This past Advent, I was frustrated that tasks related to the sale of Rambling Farmhouse consumed my mental and physical energy and kept me from being present in the purple. Then, Julie pointed out that sorting through the contents of a house collected over fifteen years of life was a very Advent thing to be occupied with. And she was right.

And here I am again in the purple time of Lent not doing more church, but instead doing more sorting, more introspection, more decision making. More discernment.

More preparation for the moment when my life begins again.

Friday, December 20, 2013


I've been bending your ears (eyes) a lot about grief, so here's a happy diversion inspired by the Friday tradition over at soulemama to post a photo of "A simple, special, extraordinary moment."

The surprise arrival of these living ornaments in the mail jumpstarted the holiday decorating inside Rambling Farmhouse this week.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

walk in the light

This sermon was delivered Sunday, December 1, 2013 at the Marcellus and Wakelee United Methodist Churches (Kalamazoo District, West Michigan Conference). The Revised Common Lectionary texts for Year A, First Sunday of Advent were Isaiah 2:1-5, Psalm 122, and Romans 13:11-14.

My favorite part of Advent is the candles. Seriously. I think we do not have enough holidays that involve candles. They’re pretty awesome.
In the storms a couple of weeks ago, we were without power at my house from Sunday afternoon through Wednesday evening, and I spent more time with candlelight than I have in a while. I was reminded that the flame of a candle is different from electric light. It’s more glowy, and it doesn’t penetrate as far. A single candle, like the one we lit this morning, or a small group of candles, like the ones we will light in coming weeks, can illuminate the space immediately surrounding them, while at the same time highlighting the darkness at the edges of the room, outside the circle of light. This limited range of candlelight draws people in, pulls them into the illuminated space. I suppose electric light works the same way, but on a grander scale, and the circle of light from one light bulb intersects with the circle of light from the next such that we notice the darkness less and we are not drawn together.
It’s no coincidence that Advent comes as the days are getting ever shorter, or that we celebrate Christmas at the darkest time of year. Have you ever noticed how many religious and cultural traditions celebrate a holiday this time of year? There’s Christmas, Hannukah, Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice, African Kwanzaa, Buddhist Bodhi Day.
The common theme of all these holidays is light. Hannukah celebrates the light that lasted eight nights despite having oil only for one. Saturnalia and Solstice mark the moment that the night is the longest, the transition point from waning to waxing. Kwanzaa uses colored candles as a mnemonic device to remember the Seven Principles. And Bodhi Day commemorates the light of wisdom coming to the Buddah.
There is something wonderful about a light shining in the darkness, a candle pushing back the night with its wee little flame. This morning, as we lit our first Advent candle, we began preparing for our own celebration of the Light of World, the birth of the one prophesied in Isaiah, who will teach us to walk in his paths.
Isaiah 2:5 is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture: "they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.What a beautiful vision. Imagine that for a moment. Imagine a world where everyone felt safe enough to transform their weapons into tools. That looks like a pretty beautiful place to me.
We often read this verse as an impossible pie-in-the-sky vision for the future. Something that maybe our children’s children’s children will see. However, this verse taken in the context of the passage from Isaiah and Psalm 122 and the passage from Romans does not have to be a vision for the distant future. If we accept the call from Isaiah to walk in the light or from the writer of Romans to put on the armor of light, we can work to realize this vision here, now, in this world where we live.
For centuries, Christian thought has regarded this present world as unimportant, an imperfect and broken world from which Christ will lift us on his second coming. This idea of the world as an imperfect shadow of the perfect reality elsewhere can be traced back to the Neo-Platonists, a group of Greek philosophers contemporary with the early church.* This idea, however, does not originate within the church. Rather, it is an example of secular culture overlaid onto the narrative of creation, fall, crucifixion, resurrection, and return. At some times in our history, Christians have argued that this world does not matter, that we should live our lives as a means to get to the Kingdom of God in the afterlife.
The passages from Isaiah and from the epistle to the Romans, however, each include an invitation for the present. They propose that we “walk in the light of the Lord” and “put on the armor of light.” But what does that mean?
Increasingly in recent years, there has been a movement among some Christians to live in the kingdom of god right here and right now. To endeavor to make this present world a better place by loving our neighbors as ourselves, turning the other cheek, caring for the creation, and working for social justice. A commitment to living the kingdom into fruition has broad implications for the way we live our lives and where we spend our limited time, energy, and resources.
We can join the Evangelical Environmental Network, which embraces creation care projects around the world. We can support missionaries from the United Methodist Church and from other denominations who lead the fight against disease in the world’s most poor and war-ravaged countries with projects like Imagine No Malaria. We can support organizations like Friendly PlanetMissiology who are working to aid the development of the United Methodist Church in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North Katanga region by riding their bicycles through jungles and war zones to pray with local pastors and offer their helping hands. We can support UMCOR’s relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters like the recent typhoon in the Philippines. [At Wakelee: We can support Ruslan and Olga in the Ukraine or the Alliance for Smiles as we did with our collection this morning.]
Organizations and projects that live the kingdom into fruition exist around the world, but they are also happening right here. My friends Rob and Kirsten Vander Giessen-Rietsma, whom you might know as the founders of the World Fare store in Three Rivers, are doing wonderful work of kingdom building. Their organization *culture is not optional and the related Huss Projectmodel and encourage creative communities, rooted in the love of Christ in Three Rivers and beyond” and “aspire to make culture that is loving, just and joyful.” ** Rob and Kirsten and their board of directors took a huge leap of faith when they bought the old Huss School building on Eighth Street with the vision of a community center that includes space for public use as well as studio space for artists. Their faithful work has made so much progress. At their annual FutureFest, people who attended Huss mingle with the young people involved in the community garden and local artists, and the neighborhood around that building is rebuilding its sense of community. In this town of Marcellus, the work of the kingdom is happening, too. As the Marcellus Area Food Pantry offers nourishment to the body, this church and especially the Kids Rock program offer nourishment to the soul.
The world is so big. The creation is so very big, and it is so very broken, and sometimes the magnitude is overwhelming. It can be hard to choose where to commit our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.  With limited resources, we can only do so much.
But I think sometimes our commitment to projects and organizations like the ones I’ve mentioned this morning become a way that we pat ourselves on the back. We say, “I am supporting the mission of the church in Marcellus, or Three Rivers, or the Philippines, or the Congo. I am doing good work for the kingdom of God.” The greater challenge, at least for me, is to walk in the light in our daily lives apart from projects and organizations.
When we hear that line about beating our swords into ploughshares, we think of peace at the level of nations, but I think we also need to think of peace at the level of daily interactions. A sword is a tool for punishment, for killing, for aggression, and for domination.  A ploughshare, on the other hand, is a tool for nourishment and for sustaining life.  For the past few years, I have been working to interact with people using a ploughshare rather than a sword. You may remember the last time I stood in this pulpit talking about living God’s love in the world. It has not been easy to break out of the patterns of aggression and domination and to build life-sustaining habits of love in interpersonal interactions, and I’m not always successful. I still sometimes lose my temper and yell, just ask my children. The effort I’ve directed toward living love, though, has made me a better parent, a better teacher, a better co-worker, and a better spouse and friend.
My commitment to walk in the light of the kingdom of god by living love in my world was sorely tested this year. In June my husband was killed in an automobile accident caused by an unlicensed, teenaged driver who had taken her parents’ car for a joyride. She raced through an intersection without stopping at the stop sign and struck Adam’s car, spinning it into oncoming traffic at highway speed. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.
            A lot of people expected me to be angry. A lot of them were angry themselves. They told me to “sue the pants off” the teenager’s parents, to "take them for all they're worth." They told me to demand the harshest sentence possible, to make sure the driver was tried as an adult, and that she served time in jail. The people who were angry wanted me to take up the sword.
Friends, that’s not what I did. I bent the sword into a ploughshare instead.
I prayed for the driver and her family, and I asked those who offered to pray for me to pray for her, too. I have been wounded and frustrated, but I have not been angry. This girl has seen the results of her poor choices in a very real way. She can not unsee the carnage of the accident or unknow that her actions resulted in someone else’s death, and that is a powerful sort of punishment that she will carry her whole life.
I do think that this teenager should face formal consequences for her actions, and the mechanism we have for consequences in American society is the court system. In conversation with the prosecutor’s office, I agreed that some combination of home detention, probation, and restitution through juvenile court would be appropriate, and the judge will make that decision tomorrow afternoon. In reality, though, no amount of punishment in a court of law can restore my husband to me or replace his unique contribution to God’s creation. To destroy the life of the teenager with the harshest punishment available would be to rob God’s creation of her unique contribution, too, and that would compound the tragedy.
This is me living love in a broken world. This is me doing my best to walk in the light. This is me saying with the psalmist, “Peace be within you,” to the people whose lives intersect with mine.

Today, the first Sunday of Advent, is the beginning of the new year on the Christian calendar. We start our year in the growing darkness with time set aside to prepare to welcome the light back into the world at Christmas. There are many ways to answer Isaiah’s call to walk in the light, from the international to the interpersonal. I’ve mentioned several this morning. I invite you this Advent to join me in reflecting on what it means to walk in the light in our daily interactions with one another.

* More on this here.
** From *cino's mission and vision statements.

Correction: "Saturnalia and Solstice mark the moment that the night is the longest, the transition point from waning to waxing." This sentence has been changed. I mistakenly said that Saturnalia and the Solstice mark the moment that day and night are equal. I know better, and I appreciate the reader who pointed out my mistake. Thanks, Mel.

Update: This sermon has been reposted to the Spirituality Column at Spectrum in modified form.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wæs Hæil


Tomorrow evening we are celebrating the graduate school milestones of two of my colleagues and friends, one who has passed her prelims and one who will have defended her prospectus. I'm really excited for them, and being excited for them helps me to look forward to these milestones for myself next year rather than dreading them. I'm doubly excited for tomorrow, though, because I am making wassail for the party, and this can be filed under Kate's Inordinate Love of Obscure Traditions.

If you google recipes for wassail, you'll be rewarded a teeming multitude of recipes made up of a never-ending variety of ingredients. The one thing all these recipes have in common, though, is their size. Wassail is not a small-batch preparation. My recipe calls for a bottle of red wine, a bottle of tawny port, and 3 bottles of ale plus the spices and the half dozen eggs. (Alton Brown's recipe is similar.)

Wassail is the drink of celebration and ceremony. It invites a good apple harvest for the next year, it warms carolers out singing, and it celebrates community.
Be well, Be healthy,
Wæs Hæil!

Monday, November 29, 2010

juxtapositions and hope

Happy Advent, Everyone!

I'm noticing the increasingly early darkness this year more than usual. I think I may have to start lighting candles in my apartment in the evenings so their warm glowiness can carve out a space for light.

Last night, I heard a great sermon in the Rethink series at Purdue's Wesley Foundation. The topic this week is Rethinking Family, and the speaker quoted the African proverb I am because we are; since we are, therefore I am.” 

Then, this morning I read the sermon from last night's American University United Methodist service, which centered on the text from Isaiah 2:4 "...they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

Wouldn't it be easier to beat our swords into plowshares and respond to the people around us with love rather than violence if we recognized the collective nature of our existence? A tall order indeed, but this is the week of hope.