A blessing for weeks when the light is on its way

We have spent so much of these months practicing walking in the dark, haven’t we? A pandemic and loss and grief have darkened our path, but the beautiful thing is that even when we didn’t know what we were walking toward, we kept going anyway. Kept praying anyway. Kept creating anyway. Kept parenting anyway. Kept healing anyway. Kept washing our hands anyway. Kept teaching anyway. Kept loving anyway. And somewhere along the line, perhaps without us knowing it, our eyes adjusted, and we could see a little bit more — see perhaps that we’re further along than we thought we were. We’re crawling our way out of the dark.

The winter solstice is here, and each year it teaches us that the darkness, no matter how thick, no matter how long, only lasts for a season. The light is always on its way. It’s always been with us, as a matter of fact; perhaps it’s just been too faint for us to notice it. And maybe that’s the real meaning of Christmas after all: that the Light has always been with us. God has not loved us from afar. Emmanuel. God with us.

So may we receive the blessing of the light this week, the blessing that even if our hearts are battered, or they are bruised, or they are tender, or they are tired, we are not alone in the longest, darkest night. May we find fragments of light in our homes, in our faith, in ourselves. May we be warmed by the spaces and faces of those which make our hearts shine. May we know the closeness of the Light with us, the Light in us, and may we prepare him room.

You are loved this week, friends. This week, and every week.

A blessing for weeks when joy feels impossible

Today is the third Sunday in Advent, and as we light the candle for Joy, I close my eyes and breathe a silent prayer, a confession of sorts. For these days, if I’m being honest? Joy seems so very far from my reach. Maybe it’s the same for you?

We are walking through the darkness of these Advent days, friends, magnified by the literal darkness that permeates our days as we inch ourselves closer to the winter solstice, crawling there on our knees. And in these long, cold days, I find myself intricately attuned to the darkness of our world, too, so much that it physically hurts. This past week, the federal government carried out two more executions, making the total for 2020 seventeen lives lost to state-sanctioned murder. One case, that of Brandon Bernard, gained a lot news coverage, for five of the original nine jurors stepped forward and said if they had known twenty years ago of the new evidence that recently came to light, they would not have sentenced him to death. Brandon was fully repentant, and still, he died on December 10th. My birthday. International Human Right’s Day. And the darkness grows heavier, just like the grief in my chest.

The fact is, it’s a hard year. These past months have been marked by so much loss, so much mourning, so much suffering, so much rage. And you want us to celebrate Joy, Lord?

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Every year, we bring our neighbors Christmas cookies, accompanied by a little card to wish them happy holidays. Every year, our one neighbor Les, two doors down, stops by to tell us how much he appreciates our gift, how yummy they are, how thankful he is that we think of him. This weekend, as I planned our cookie list, tied a bundle of shortbread together with string, I thought about Les, about the ministry of baked goods and what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. I think maybe, just maybe, Joy is what happens when we choose to be the good we want to see in the world. I am aching these days for the good. Perhaps you feel it, too?

Maybe a batch of cookies is a Joy-seed, one we plant in the soil of a world that sometimes feels overwhelmingly cold and dark. Maybe every time we make the effort to be the good, another seed is planted.

When we wear a mask to protect society’s most vulnerable.
When we buy coffee for the person behind us in the drive-through line.
When we right our wrongs.
When we forgive our enemies.
When we send in our end-of-year donations.
When we speak the hard truths with gentle love.
When we practice saying thank you for the gift of enough.
When we keep our mouths shut instead of trying to prove our point.
When we refuse to other those who are different than us.

We plant the seeds, even when our hearts are heavy, and the beautiful thing is that Joy, at the end of the day, isn’t just a feeling, and it is not at all dependent on us. Joy is our promise, our inheritance, and it doesn’t have to stand around and wait for our permission in order for it to be true.

So this week, may we reimagine Joy. May we narrow our focus to the faces right in front of us, and may we seek to sow the seeds there. May we remember that Joy, after all, is resistance because it sees the dark, it sees the pain, it sees the suffering, and like Mary, it sings out anyway.

You are loved this week, friends. This week, and every week.


A blessing for weeks when we let go

There are 18 days until Christmas (who’s counting, right?), and I think it probably goes without saying that this is going to be a holiday like we’ve never known before. We won’t be gathering with our extended family this year. No in-person Christmas Eve candlelight service for us. We’re unable to take our yearly family vacation during that week in between Christmas and New Year’s, that short stretch of time that a pastor’s family looks forward to all year long.

This year is unlike any other, and if you’re anything like me, you’re wearing yourself a bit thin from all the worrying about how you can still make it magical, still make it meaningful, for those you love.

But maybe this is the year when we choose to let go of the expectations, the pressure, the “should”s and “have to”s. Maybe we don’t need to worry about the matching holiday pajamas this year. Maybe we only make two different kinds of Christmas cookies instead of seventeen. Maybe we use big gift bags instead of pristine wrapping jobs for our presents, and maybe we just put a big bow on it and call it a day.

Maybe we take a long, hard look at our traditions and ask ourselves honestly if they truly bring us any sort of satisfaction or joy, or if we’re just stuck doing the same thing in the same way because it’s how it’s always been done (or, worse, if it’s because it’s what everyone else is doing!)

There’s a particular kind of blessing that comes when we take a look at what we have and declare it to be enough. There’s a peace that comes when we stop trying to be all the things to all the people, choosing instead to focus on what matters most to us. And there is an often an unexpected gift from being brave enough to try and do something in a new way.

This week, may we take a deep breath and remember that we are enough. May we stop chasing after the perfect photo or a certain number of likes on social media. May we be honest enough to name the grief that comes from missing out on things we love, but may we also be honest enough to name the relief that comes from letting go of things we didn’t care all that much for, anyway.

You are loved this week, friends. This week and every week.

An embodied Advent

The moments just following my son’s birth four years ago were some of the most holy ground I have ever experienced. As his full-bodied screams pierced the room, the very space between heaven and earth felt thin, and hallowed, the lines between sacred and worldly bleeding into one another, much as the elation and the pain coursed simultaneously through my body.

Birth is an altogether spiritual experience, and so it seems fitting that one of the most holy days of my faith tradition is characterized by a baby–a baby who was covered in blood and fluid and vernix, a baby who cried and tore Mary’s flesh and suckled at her breast. A baby who had an umbilical cord, who soiled himself, who had wrinkly toes and patchy hair, a baby who was helpless and wholly dependent on his teenaged mother. The Greatest Mystery of our faith entered our broken world the way we all do, in a body, in flesh and bone and sweat and muscle and organs and pushing and pulsing and screaming.

And we sing come, let us adore him.

Christianity’s Advent begins tomorrow, November 29th, and it is a season where we will wait, expectantly, much like a pregnant mother, for the miracle of Christmas Day. Christ-mas. Christ’s coming. A season where we ready ourselves and prepare him room, much like a pregnant mother who nests and washes tiny infant clothing in preparation and arranges a nursery.

And this Advent, I find myself coming back to the body. I need the body, the body who knows my limitations and expectations and fractures and failures and desire and disappointment and hunger and need because it has felt them, too. I don’t want impractical faith, faith that acts like God is some ethereal force somewhere out there, like God is there but not here. I don’t want a faith that’s too far removed to be attained, a faith that acts like it exists only in my head and my heart without paying any attention to the skin that inhabits them.

How could a faith like that speak to an epidemic that has claimed over a million lives?
How could a faith like that speak to the blood of black and brown bodies that soaks the earth?
How could a faith like that speak to children who feel the angry gnaw of hunger in their bellies?
How could a faith like that speak to inmates on death row?
How could a faith like that speak to refugees who traverse the deadly desert or the dangerous waves of the ocean in search of freedom?
How could a faith like that speak to the one who has cancer?
How could a faith like that speak to the AIDS patient?
How could a faith like that speak to the families in cages?
How could a faith like that speak to the woman who is starving herself to be thin?
How could a faith like that speak to the ones who accidentally overdose or the ones who die by suicide?

Humanity is embodied. Our pain is embodied, and so are our struggles. We don’t need a God who floats around in a far-off mansion in the sky; we need a God who feels the hurt, who knows the ache, who understands the weariness. We need a God who plugs the bullet holes and feels the bony ribs, who heals with mud and spit, who shields our bodies with his own, who weeps, whose body tore, who cooked his friends breakfast, who knows what it is to choke out the words, “I. Can’t. Breathe.”

We need an embodied God.

So as Advent begins tomorrow, I’m not looking for the sparkly lights and the shiny presents. I’m not looking for angels singing in the sky, the joyful carols, the sanitized and white-washed version with the cherub child and a glowing halo.

I’m looking for the dirty manger, the stench of the stable, the mother who is leaking milk, the baby slick with fluid. I’m looking for the tears, the screams, the flesh, the exhaustion, the thin and holy places. I’m looking for an embodied God.

O, come let us adore him.