In Dazzling Darkness

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Deep midwinter, the dark center of the year,
Wake, O earth, awake,
Out of the hills a star appears,
Here lies the way for pilgrim kings,
Three magi on an ancient path,
Black hours begin their journeyings.

Their star has risen in our hearts,
Empty thrones, abandoning fears,
Out on the hills their journey starts,
In dazzling darkness God appears.
~Judith Bingham “Epiphany”

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…the scent of frankincense
and myrrh
arrives on the wind,
and I long
to breathe deeply,
to divine its trail.
But I know their uses
and cannot bring myself
to breathe deeply enough
to know
whether what comes
is the fragrant welcoming
of birth
or simply covers the stench of death.
These hands
coming toward me,
is it swaddling they carry
or shroud?
~Jan Richardson from Night Visions –searching the shadows of Advent and Christmas

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Unclench your fists

Hold out your hands.

Take mine.

Let us hold each other.

Thus is his Glory Manifest.
~Madeleine L’Engle “Epiphany”

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All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
~T.S. Eliot from “Journey of the Magi”

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The Christmas season is a wrap, put away for another year.
However, our hearts are not so easily boxed up and stored as the decorations and ornaments of the season.

Our troubles and concerns go on; our frailty a daily reality.
We can be distracted with holidays for a few weeks, but our time here slips away ever more quickly.

The Christmas story is not just about light and birth and joy to the world.
It is about how swaddling clothes became a shroud that wrapped Him tight.
There is not one without the other.

God came to be with us;
Delivered so He could deliver.
Planted on and in the earth.
Born so He could die in our place
To leave the linen strips behind, neatly folded.

Christmas:  an unwrapping that frees us forever.
Epiphany: the evidence the Seed has taken root in our hearts.

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That Still Room

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The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year,
and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to,
for sifting through the things we have done
and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who,
for better or worse, we are becoming.

We cling to the present out of wariness of the past.
But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need
—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—
to enter that still room within us all
where the past lives on as a part of the present,
where the dead are alive again,
where we are most alive ourselves to turnings
and to where our journeys have brought us.

The name of the room is Remember—
the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart,
we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.
~Frederick Buechner

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In 1959, when I was five years old, my father left his high school agriculture teaching position for a new supervisor position with the state. Our family moved from a large 3 story farm house in a rural community to a 1950’s newer rambler style home just outside the city limits of the state capitol.  It was a big adjustment to move to a much smaller house without a basement or upper story, no garage, and no large haybarn nor chicken coop.  It meant most things we owned didn’t make the move with us.

The rambler had two side by side mirror image rooms as the primary central living space between the kitchen on one side and the hallway to the bedrooms on the other.  The living room could only be entered through the front door and the family room was accessed through the back door with a shared sandstone hearth in the center, containing a fireplace in each room.  The only opening between the rooms had a folding door shut most of the year.  In December, the door was opened to accommodate a Christmas tree, so it sat partially in the living room and depending on its generous width, spilled over into the family room.  That way it was visible from both rooms, and didn’t take up too much floor space.

The living room, because it contained the only carpeting in the house, and our “best” furniture,  was strictly off-limits. In order to keep our two matching sectional knobby gray fabric sofas,  a green upholstered chair and gold crushed velvet covered love seat in pristine condition, the room was to be avoided unless we had company. The carpet was never to develop a traffic pattern, there would be no food, beverage, or pet ever allowed in that room, and the front door was not to be used unless a visitor arrived.  The hearth never saw a fire lit on that side because of the potential of messy ashes or smoke smell. This was not a room for laughter, arguments or games and certainly not for toys. The chiming clock next to the hearth, wound with weighted cones on the end of chains, called out the hours without an audience.

One week before Christmas, a tree was chosen to fit in the space where it could overflow into the family room.  I particularly enjoyed decorating the “family room” side of the tree, using all my favorite ornaments that were less likely to break if they fell on the linoleum floor on that side of the door.

It was as if the Christmas tree became divided, with a “formal” side in the living room and a “real life” face on the other side where the living (and hurting) was actually taking place.

The tree straddled more than just two rooms.  Every year that tree’s branches reached out to shelter a family that was slowly, almost imperceptibly, falling apart, like the fir needles dropping to the floor to be swept away.

Each year since, the Christmas tree bearing those old ornaments from my childhood reminds me of a still room of memories within me.  I am no longer wary of the past, and when I sweep up the fir needles that inevitably drop, I no longer weep.

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Preparing the Heart: What is Coming Behind the Crocus

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This is why I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulders. The miracles that have already happened are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise.

…To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: but often in the very early spring it feels like that.  Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale.  A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’  in the same spirit in which he says ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’

Because we know what is coming behind the crocus.

The spring comes slowly down the way, but the great thing is that the corner has been turned.  There is, of course, this difference that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not.

We can. 

We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on…to which He is calling us.

It remains with us whether to follow or not,  to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.
~C. S. Lewis from “God in the Dock”

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And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

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You, who are beyond our understanding,
have made yourself understandable to us in Jesus Christ.
You, who are the uncreated God,
have made yourself a creature for us.
You, who are the untouchable One,
have made yourself touchable to us.
You, who are most high,
make us capable of understanding your amazing love
and the wonderful things you have done for us.
Make us able to understand the mystery of your incarnation,
the mystery of your life, example and doctrine,
the mystery of your cross and passion,
the mystery of your resurrection and ascension.
~Angela of Foligno (1248-1309)– prayer

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Preparing the Heart: When the Stars Held Their Breath

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Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Lebrun 1689

Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath,
when the galaxies paused in their dance for a fraction of a second,
and the Word, who had called it all into being,
went with all his love into the womb of a young girl,
and the universe started to breathe again,and the ancient harmonies resumed their song,
and the angels clapped their hands for joy?

Power. Greater power than we can imagine,
abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child,
still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid,
unseeing, unhearing, unknowing.
Slowly growing, as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose,
slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough,
and it is time for birth.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity,
Christ, the Maker of the universe or perhaps many universes,
willingly and lovingly leaving all that power
and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years
to show us what we ought to be and could be.
Christ came to us as Jesus of Nazareth, wholly human and wholly divine,
to show us what it means to be made in God’s image.
~Madeline L’Engle from Bright Evening Star

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It’s the season of grace coming out of the void
Where a man is saved by a voice in the distance
It’s the season of possible miracle cures
Where hope is currency and death is not the last unknown
Where time begins to fade
And age is welcome home

It’s the season of eyes meeting over the noise
And holding fast with sharp realization
It’s the season of cold making warmth a divine intervention
You are safe here you know now

Don’t forget
Don’t forget I love
I love
I love you

It’s the season of scars and of wounds in the heart
Of feeling the full weight of our burdens
It’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind
And knowing we are not alone in fear
Not alone in the dark

Don’t forget
Don’t forget I love
I love
I love you
~Vienna Teng “The Atheist Christmas Carol”

 

There is no longer a void or darkness upon the face of the deep.  The stars need no longer to hold their breath.

Instead Grace has come in the face of Jesus the Son, through God the Father who moves among us, His Spirit changing everything, now and always.

Do not be afraid.
You are not alone in the dark.
You are loved.
Don’t forget.

 

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Preparing the Heart: The Petals in Your Pocket

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“ZuZu’s Petals”
~Lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life”~

Our children had to be convinced
Watching black and white holiday movies
Was worthwhile~
This old tale and its characters
Caught them up right away
From steadfast George Bailey
to evil Mr. Potter-
They resonate in our hearts.

What surprised me most
Was our sons’ response to Donna Reed’s Mary:
~where can we find one like her?
Her loyalty and love unequaled,
Never wavering…

I want to be like her for you.
When things go sour
I won’t forget what brought us together
In the first place.
I’m warmth in the middle-of-the-night storm
When you need shelter.
I’m ZuZu’s petals in your pocket
When you are trying to find your way back home.

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Preparing the Heart: The Day-Star Waking

Venus & Mercury

I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.
~Revelation 22:16

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
Matthew 2: 10

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Luke 2: 8-9

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photo by Nate Gibson

There are a few moments between the blackness of a long dark night–something we have plenty of this time of year–and the renewal of the sunrise splash of color that spreads across the sky like spilled paint jars of pink and orange. Illuminated in those few moments is a transitional dawn-light or daybreak equivalent to the evening transition of twilight.

That is when the morning “stars” of Mercury and Venus become most visible. They don’t “twinkle” or appear effervescent like the night stars. They are solid radiant globes heralding the Sun to come.

The “star” guides and leads, breaking apart the darkest night.  It points to home, illuminates the birth of God come to earth as man, and presages the New Day to come. We are witnesses only if we arise early enough, peering through the clouds of everyday troubles, and prepare, ready for the dawning to come.

We must run, not walk, to meet the Redeemer.  This is what it was like for the shepherds and the magi.  This is what it is still like for us.  Our Day-Star awakens and we, our senses stolen by glory,  are overjoyed.

1. Whence is the goodly fragrance flowing,
Stealing our senses all away,
never the like did come a-blowing,
Shepherds, in flow’ry fields of May,
Whence is that goodly fragrance flowing,
Stealing our senses all away.

2. What is that light so brilliant,
breaking Here in the night across our eyes.
Never so bright, the day-star waking,
Started to climb the morning skies!
What is that light so brilliant, breaking,
Here in the night across our eyes.

3. Bethlehem! there in manger lying,
Find your Redeemer haste away,
Run ye with eager footsteps vieing!
Worship the Saviour born today.
Bethlehem! there in manger lying,
Find your Redeemer haste away.
~ Traditional French Carol

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As Eyes Open

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A flower needs to be this size
to conceal the winter window,
and this color, the red
of a Fiat with the top down,

to impress us, dull as we’ve grown.

Months ago the gigantic onion of a bulb
half above the soil
stuck out its green tongue
and slowly, day by day,

the flower itself entered our world,

closed, like hands that captured a moth,
then open, as eyes open,
and the amaryllis, seeing us,
was somehow undiscouraged.

It stands before us now

as we eat our soup;
you pour a little of your drinking water
into its saucer, and a few crumbs
of fragrant earth fall
onto the tabletop.
~Connie Wanek “Amaryllis”
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It came home with me over a month ago,
a non-descript bulb with a green sword-blade shoot
emerging shyly from the top.

Its care and feeding
was a lot of “watch and wait”
and just a little water.
It was our December morning entertainment
as we munched down cereal,
gauging how many centimeters
it rose over night.

It took over the dining table~
two tall stalks topped with tight-fisted buds
which opened oh-so-slowly over several days
like a drowsy student on Christmas break,
not yet ready to meet and greet the world
but once the commitment to wake is made,
there is no other blossoming quite like it anywhere.

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