Practice of Joy: Advent Wreath (Isaiah 10)

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” Isaiah 10:9

Consider creating an Advent wreath to display somewhere in your home.  It can be as simple or as involved as you would like it to be.  Traditionally an evergreen wreath with colored candles representing the different  themes of the advent season (hope, peace, joy, love and Christ)is used. 

However, an Advent wreath can be as simple as one pillar candle.  You can use a collection of candles you already have around the house.   Or use electric window candles or LED candles.  Take a walk to collect evergreens or dig through your Christmas decorations from years past and place some decorations around your candle(s). The “right” way to do this is the way that gives you joy!

Creating an Advent wreath and lighting it, is one practice that can help us intentionally reflect during this season.

Find times in this season to light the candle(s).  Perhaps during mealtimes or when you first get up in the morning.  In some traditions, the meaning of the candle changes each week.  As you light the candle this week, reflect on these questions:

Have you had any ups and downs during this holiday season?
Sometimes naming our disappointments in prayer can bring a new perspective.  
What would happen if you invited God’s presence into the unexpected events of your life?

Advent Reflection: Comfort in the Messy Middle (Isaiah 40)

“Comfort, O comfort my people says your God.”

Isaiah 40:1

I’m drawn to the beautiful opening lines of this passage, but as you read on it begins to feel more like a rollercoaster ride than a warm hug.

But perhaps this is just what we need to hear in our December days when we move between hope and grief, joy and despair. We have moments of delight and then disappointments. The human experience requires flexibly moving between crying out for justice and experiencing the comfort of the Spirit. The common thread through it all is hope– Hope experienced in recognizing God’s past faithfulness, presence with us now, and promised future together. 

The prophet’s reminder that our lives are fleeting and insignificant isn’t the thought that brings me the most comfort! And as an Enneagram 1, I most assuredly want to be prepared, so the call to get things in order feels like a long list of to dos with a high bar of expectation. This passage ends with the image of God as a gentle shepherd. Talk about emotional whiplash!

As we live in the messy middle of the present, O God, may we find comfort in your promise and presence with us. Amen. 

Advent Practice of Joy: Reflection on Fire (Isaiah 64)

“…as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil..” 

Isaiah 64:2

When we talk of Christmas, most often we think of love, joy, peace and hope. Yes, there’s a frenetic level of activity, elf on the shelf to move about, consumerism to battle and calories to count, but we tend to push that to the “secular” side of the chart. The religious part of the holiday gets tame and cozy terms. 

But this passage in Isaiah reminds us that scripture is not tame or devoid of emotion. Here the prophet is begging God to express wrath– to allow righteous anger to boil over into action. 

Find a fire to enjoy– stoke one in your fireplace or turn to the Netflix or a yule log video on YouTube. As you watch the flames flicker, crack and burn, take some time to reflect:

  • When have you felt anger recently? 
  • What was the cause? 
  • How did you deal with it? 
  • How might you bring your anger, righteous or otherwise, before God today? 

This season, when you see a crackling fire, may you be reminded that all feelings have a place in our lives and before God.

Advent Reflection: Waiting for God (Isaiah 64)

From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. . .Now consider, we are all your people.” Isaiah 64:4,9b

Advent is the season of waiting and expectation.  We celebrate his first coming and yet we wait for his second coming.  Really, Advent is where we live our everyday lives!  Life is full of waiting for something better to come along, and celebrating what we already have.

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence– Isaiah 64:1

Certainly, this last year of restrictions due to Covid-19 have forced many of us into seasons of waiting.  We wait for new job opportunities, grief to pass, loved ones to heal, just for life to get better somehow.  

Isaiah knows about waiting and calls to God, “Oh that you would rip open the heavens and descend”!  I can identify with this longing for all things to be made right – yesterday already!  Isaiah even goes so far as to blame God.  God, you haven’t shown up and look at the mess!

All this pleading from Isaiah implicitly says something else – something amazing.  Isaiah has hope that God will come down and act for the good of all the people.  And this is the undeniable hope of the Advent season, that we hold each day in the heart of our everyday lives:  God has come, God is here, and God will come again.

God of Hope, Enter here!  Come to our homes, our lives, our everyday hearts and transform us, we pray.  Help us brush away the cobwebs of past seasons and enter into the light of hope.  AMEN

Fall Practice of Joy: Pumpkin Pancakes (Matthew 22)

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.‘”- Matthew 22:37

Pumpkin pancake, fresh from the skillet!

Creating loving, authentic connections can mean sharing food together with loved ones. 

In celebration of the season try making these pumpkin pancakes.  If you are able to eat together with others look for moments during the preparation or during the meal to express gratitude to God for the human connections in your life.

Pumpkin Pancakes

In a large bowl whisk together:

  • 1 c. white flour
  • 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  •  ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt

In a small bowl whisk 

  • 1 ½ c. milk
  • ¾ c. pumpkin puree
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 lg. eggs
  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil

Stir into the flour mixture until combined.

Cook on medium heat using a lightly oiled skillet or griddle.  Flip when the edges begin to bubble, cooking about 2 to 3 min per side.

Enjoy with your favorite pancake toppings.

Fall Reflection: Whole Hearted Love (Matthew 22)

 “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.” -Matthew 22:37-38

Many of us are familiar with the idea of giving all we’ve got to something. For some it may be our faith, our calling, our family or our work. But, more likely, we feel torn between these significant roles which each demand our all in some way. 

The idea of “whole-hearted” living has been made popular by Dr. Brene Brown, a research professor and author. What’s surprising in her findings is that whole-hearted living doesn’t come from doing less, but from being the truest version of ourselves. It comes from being grounded. Some of the markers of whole-hearted living are authenticity, resiliency, self-compassion, gratitude and joy.

What if loving God whole-heartedly didn’t mean eschewing the things of our earthly life and our cultured existence, but instead meant putting God at the center? What if our love for God was the filter through which we approached everything else?

God, may my love for you be evident in all areas of my life, and may I have you at the center of all I do. Amen.

Fall Practice of Joy: Breath Prayers

“My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” -Exodus 33:14

Cultural self-help encouragement echoes the wisdom of the scripture: what we give our attention to grows; our attitude impacts our perspective. 

God is with us.

God cares for us.

God provides for us.

For the day, choose a breath prayer or mantra to focus your thinking.

  • I have what I need for today
  • There is good in every day
  • I am grateful for this moment (its gift,  its lesson or its passing!)
  • My life is abundant

When you feel worried, anxious or stressed, repeat your prayer. At natural pause points during the day– meals, washing your hands, crossing a threshold– offer your prayer. 

And as you close your day, reflect on how having a prayer impacted your day. 

Fall Reflection: God’s Protection (Exodus 33)

“And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” -Exodus 33:21-23 

I love the conversation between God and Moses recounted in Exodus 33.  Moses is struggling with the same questions I have wondered about at different times in my life.  Maybe you have pondered them as well.  God, how will others know you are with us?  Why can’t I see you?  

God says to Moses that it is impossible to see all the fullness of who God is in our present state.  God’s mystery is too much.  Moses cannot live and see God.  But God doesn’t dismiss Moses’ desire to know God more.  Instead God protects Moses by placing him in the “cleft of the rock”.  God says “I will cover you with my hand”. In this way Moses can be reassured of God’s presence and remain unharmed.

In times of uncertainty this picture gives me hope and renewed faith.  God loves all of us.  God doesn’t dismiss our frailty or lack of faith.  Instead God meets us in our present moment. God’s hand protects us.

How have you experienced God’s protection in the last weeks and months?  Have there been times in your life where you have gained a new understanding or glimpse of God?

God of the cliffs and rocky places, and God of the mountaintops and valleys, thank you for meeting us where we are.  For your great compassion and mercy we praise you.  AMEN

Fall Practice of Joy: Nature Walk (Psalm 65)

“Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.” -Psalm 65:8

Take an autumn walk and discover anew the beauty the Psalmist writes about.  Collect seed pods, late flowers, colorful leaves or small branches.  Bring them home with you and arrange them in a basket or vase.  

As you pass your display throughout the week allow it to be a reminder that God’s goodness is ever present with us!

Fall Reflection: Signs of God (Psalm 65)

Evening sky in the midst of Covid!

“By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. . . You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.” -Psalm 65:5&7

The year of 2020 will go down in history.  While I remember the Challenger explosion, my children will remember the words Corona Virus and Covid-19 forever.  It feels like a strange and untethered time.  Many usual and comforting things have become complicated and uncomfortable.  The days and weeks of quarantine are both predictable in their monotony and unpredictable in their oddity compared to our “normal” lives.

Into this chasm of uncertainty, God has poured the signs and beauty of Creation.  In Psalm 65, the writer speaks of the unfailing deliverance and hope found in God. If we know the creator by what he or she makes, then certainly we can know something of God’s love in the creation around us.  The vastness of the sunrise and the intricacies of tiny flowers speak of the overwhelming love and devotion of the Creator.

Certainly, mystery remains. The “tumult [and frailty] of the peoples” is always with us, but so are the signs of God.  Where do you see signs of God in your life?

Creator God, Open my eyes to the welcome beauty in the world.  May the infusion of your love expressed around me rejuvenate my heart for the work ahead of me today. Amen.