Ordinary Blessings

We are in Ordinary Time.  Did you know?  To be precise, we are in the 29th week of Ordinary Time.  Perhaps this phrase conjures images of Madeleine L’Engle’s young heroine Meg and tesseracts, or perhaps it reminds you of Seattle’s notorious slick-wet grey days and how indeed, they have returned-in all their ordinary Northwestness-for months to come.  Ordinary Time is actually a season within the Christian liturgical calendar; this English name translates the Latin term Tempus per annum (literally “time through the year”).  This time (and there are two) bookends the Christian holy periods of the weeks following Christmas and Lent, and Pentecost and Advent.

While I have grown to truly appreciate the rhythms of the church calendar, I am just a wee bit frustrated with the word association of our current season.  Hum-drum and run-of-the-mill are two words that come to mind; they certainly don’t sparkle and bellow with bright lights.  This phrase seems to denote days that are some how lesser-than, weeks that begin to lose themselves in count beyond 20.  When we are told that we are in the 29th week of Ordinary Time, one can almost hear a collective sigh of consternation, “*sigh* Really?!  Still just in Ordinary Time?!  When will it be Christmas?!”  And how can we not long for these stand-apart sacred seasons when their semblances are splashed all over shopping malls and online retail markets as early as late September?  The holidays, Christmas, winter break, all seem to be calling out to us from glossy catalog covers to long for their festive, fun-filled days.

Far from ordinary, I prefer to consider this current season a time of quiet and happened-upon blessings.  A period when we are challenged to look for the divine in our day-to-day, mundane activities.  There are extraordinary things going on all around us, all the time!  Do we have the eyes to see?  Do we have the ears to hear?  A public charge from Jesus, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, says it this way:

Then [Jesus] turned to the crowd: “When you see clouds coming in from the west, you   say, ‘Storm’s coming’—and you’re right. And when the wind comes out of the south, you say, ‘This’ll be a hot one’—and you’re right. Frauds! You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now. (Luke 12:54, The Message)

Ordinary Time is a God-season, just as much as the holy days of Christmas and Easter are.  Look to the signs that are all around you.  They won’t be covered in Christmas lights or available for purchase from the store.  Look to your immediate places, your normal pathways; the plants, people and publications that surround your life could be whispering their own important inspirations for how to find meaning and truth as time passes through the year.

———–

Following are three significant blessings that came my way this week; they were excellent reminders that my seemingly mundane days are filled with the extraordinary!

Blessing of Abundance

backyard rainbow chard

Times are financially tight in our household.  These seasons of restraint challenge us to make-do with the abundance we already have readily available at home.  This week, in particular, there weren’t even quarters to spare on healthy greens to augment our dinner.  I’ve taken to simply watching my garden from the inside kitchen windows as the rains and damp cold have taken their grip on our city.  However, I remembered that my now grey and nodding sunflowers were planted over my rainbow chard…I grabbed my rain boots and coat and quickly left the kitchen through the back door to examine the gifts at the feet of my dear sunflowers.  Indeed, in these dark and interior-living days, my rainbow chard had shot up more lovely stalks, a challenging statement of bright and vibrant color to the ordinary, clouded Seattle weather.  We feasted well that night.  We were blessed.

Blessing of Life

This week we celebrated the seventh year of my first born son.  We lit seven candles representing each year of his life; each lit candle corresponding to a memory of that particular year.  We noted that with each year of life, the candlelight became brighter and brighter.  So too should it be with our lives.  With every year of life, every experience lived through, adventure had, wisdom won, we too should be shining all the brighter.  Our lives become beacons of light for those who are in dark places, for we are given Light/Life to give it away.  Furthermore, our task is to perceive the Light in which all exists, and to live from that perception.  Our luminescence can be cleared and become brighter when we go through challenging times as well; tears of sorrow for our callousness towards ourselves, others and the earth allow us to behold one another (and the universe!) as a sacred whole.

We delighted in the candle light on our son’s birthday evening.  We are blessed by the light of his life and the reminder to be light to others all the time!

Blessing of Story

Charlett'e Web by E.B. White (1952)

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)

A couple weeks ago, we began reading E.B.White’s Charlotte’s Web with our boys.  Being the city-kids that they are, this 1952 classic took a bit of warming up time.  However, by Chapter 10–what with rope swings and exploding rotten eggs–the boys were hooked.  More importantly, their hearts were hooked.  Through this tale of adventurous friendship, they have been reminded that relationship is risky; connections with others call you to give of your life and energy on behalf of each other, no matter what.  This is what living life together means.  Because we are in one another’s life, we choose to risk: we risk our time, resources and energy for the sake of someone else.  Why?  Quite simply, I believe it is because of Love.  The essentials of life, of which friendship most definitely is, can always be boiled down to the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as yourself.  The web that weaves all of us together-including the miraculous web that entwines Wilbur the pig, Charlotte the spider and Templeton the rat-is one based in Love and expressed in relationship.

I hugged my boys all the tighter after we finished the book this week.  As tears streamed down their young, fresh cheeks (and mine as well, to be honest), we talked about what it means to be a friend, and concluded that it is the most precious thing to be.

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.  I wove my webs for you because I liked you.  After all, what’t a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.  A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies.  By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.  Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little bit of that.” (Charlotte’s Web, E.B.White)

Advertisements

Michaelmas-Dragons and Delight

Michaelmas chalk drawing-BWS 6th graders

Michaelmas is a relatively new seasonal celebration for my family.  While I’ve always grown up with an attunement to the season’s shifts from Summer’s boisterous bounty to Autumn’s slow and silent movement towards interior living, this special feast day and its long-time celebrations were not known to me. However, its themes of harvest and community, threat and injustice and, ultimately, a light that vanquishes all are ones with which I deeply resonate.

A bit of light history may be in order:

The festival of Michaelmas occurs on September 29, and is a traditional Celtic holiday associated with the autumn equinox.   As long, sun-filled days, turned to slanting shadows, the legends of St Michael–principal of angelic warriors, protector against night’s darkness, and the Archangel who fought against Satan and his evil angels–were told around the bounty of harvest as a way of distilling the fear associated with the coming cold winter months.  It was believed that negative forces were stronger in darkness and so families would require stronger defences during the later months of the year.  The epic heavenly battle against Lucifer and his dominions would be retold with light-filled swords slaying ghastly dragons, similar motifs as found in the tales of St. George and the Dragon.  This story and celebration would encourage the “looking-to” for protection (the looking-to a good harvest, strong community, and faith in God), the “looking-for” collective and individual strengths and the “looking-back” with thanksgiving and praise.

While this festival has agrarian and pre-Christian roots, I greatly appreciate the challenge that it still holds for us today.  I have been reaping the benefit of bounty a plenty this summer: berries, plums, tomatoes and herbs have piled themselves on our sun-drenched kitchen counter these warm months.  But as my family and I enjoy this harvest, I am mindful of the lack that is present in the lives of so many today around the world.  We all know and feel the tension that exists between our reaping while another is weeping and herein lies the proverbial dragon that makes this story of Michael a needed one, even in our one-stop-shop lives.

Dragon chalk drawing-BWS 6th graders

Dragons do exist and they lie in wait everywhere in all forms of injustice; these are the dark nights of the soul where despair lurks and preys, making victims of those without a voice to be heard.  In our bounty, in our blessing, we are called to wield our swords of light on behalf of those who desperately need advocacy and speak for those who may not be able to even scream as the beast aims to gobble them up.  We summon courage, we look-to the source of Love and Light and demand that our sword be as bright and bold as Michael’s so that we can vanquish the dragons of this world, living forward with the possibilities of peace and justice, the possibilities of bounty, for all.

The traditions around the Michaelmas festival all come with delicious community sharing, this being the acknowledgement and celebration of the cyclical nature of the gifts of the earth, and the gifts of God.  So, while we gather to celebrate the harvest of the summer season and come together in strength of numbers to combat the darkness of the coming season, we are also already raising food and drink in praise of the battle already won, the dragon already defeated.

We celebrated Michaelmas yesterday at Bright Water School, where our children attend, which included feasting on Dragon Bread.  This was a great-tasting metaphor for this valiant legend that calls us to come together to fight the challenges of darkness and oppression that combat our earth and its communities, and collectively feast on the good things given us!

———

Reflections: As you move into the darker, quieter months of Autumn and Winter, what interior light invigorates and inspires you?  Where do you draw strength for the courage to fight the dragons of your life? *** There is injustice that surrounds us in all our elements-from the earth, to the water, to our air, to all the creatures that live and breath here. For whom can you advocate in your community during these approaching seasons? *** It is important to look back on our journeys and offer thanksgiving for the battles already won!  Can you share a “dragon-vanquished” story with someone in your community?

O Michael Militant,
Thou king of the angels, Shield thy people
With the power of the thy sword,
Shield thy people
With the power of thy sword.
Spread thy wing over sea and land,
East and west,
And shield us from the foe,
East and west,
And shield us from the foe.

Brighten thy feast
From heaven above;
Be with us in the pilgrimage
And in the twistings of the fight;
Be with us in the pilgrimage
And in the twistings of the fight.

Thou chief of chiefs,
Thou chief of the needy,
Be with us in the journey
And in the gleam of the river;
Be with us in the journey
And in the gleam of the river.
Thou chief of chiefs.

Thou chief of angels
Spread thy wing
Over sea and land,
For thine is their fullness,
Thine is their fullness,
Thine own is their fullness,
Thine own is their fullness.
Amen

-Celtic Prayer

Redemptive Booms

ImageLast night I joined the throngs of millions of Americans in celebration of our nation’s democratic birth.  I pawed through our vacation-packed luggage for semblances of the requisite red-white-and-blue for my children’s ensembles and reflected on the greatest reasons why I love my country, and my deepest hopes for it as well.  While speeding luxuriously across a hot, muggy Midwestern lake towards a fine meal of steaks and wine, I was acutely aware of the great privileges surrounding my life to make this scenario remotely possible.  I supped and sipped in humble gratitude for the legacy of lost lives and the litany of wars whose cumulative effect is for me to live in relative peace and to seek after opportunities for justice to be extended to all.

As our celebratory crew later lit off firecrackers and, in inky darkness, listened for the deep bellowing booms that heralded the commencement of the community’s firework show, I was struck that these blasts weren’t sending us for cover.  Rather, these blasts joyfully invited us to lift our faces up to the beauty of the night sky.  These sounds of siege and ominous glows on surrounding horizon lines, in any other decade and/or war-torn country on our earth, would have seen us screaming towards safety and huddled close to those with whom we share our homes.  But instead of these reverberating blasts delivering demolition and death, the fire created a coordinated display of artistry, which resulted in a corporate sense of joy.  People’s laughter and festive shouts, along with affirming honks of speedboat’s horns, all mixed together with the echoing screams and blasts of the fireworks was a seasonal picture of redemption and reclamation.  Even these sounds that are historically rooted in war can instead, be used for festive joy and community celebration.  These are the sounds of redemption.

The proclaiming words of the Psalmist, that there will be a time when the God of the Universe will break and shatter weapons of war and make them into instruments of peace (Psalm 46:9), bellowed in my heart as I witnessed the peaceful explosions lighting up the sky.  And my thoughts have since gone to my musician friend, Trace Bundy, who is a world renowned guitarist, and was deeply moved by the account of an Agros village in El Salvador called San Diego de Tenango, so much so that he wrote a song in response to their story.

Tenango’s history is one of horrific hardship and despairing displacement. During a season of civil war, the villagers fled the country, surviving the war by finding safe keeping in Honduran refugee camps. The villagers returned years later to find their homeland ravaged and occupied.  With the aid and assistance of Agros International, the original families were able to purchase back the land and start a new life again together as a community.  Out of gratitude for their story and with a deep sense of faith, this group decided to postpone the building of their own homes and instead erect a church and join together in a service of joyful gratitude.  To make the church complete, these villagers wanted a church bell.  Due to limited supplies and resources, they went searching and discovered an old missile casing laying in a nearby field left over from the war.  While this very token could have been that which destroyed their village, the families instead saw the peaceful possibility and quickly hoisted it up on a rope, thus transforming the casing into their melodious church bell.

This missile-turned-to-bell speaks of the transformative power of redemption: the old becomes new, what was of war turns to peace, what brought demolition can bring beauty and joy.  This El Salvadorian bell now rings in praise, just as the Fourth of July booms and blasts now proclaim peace.  There is great hope in this ancient paradox and one that continues to call to us, even while living in privileged peace.

What is warring about you in your life today?  Is there something that threatens and seeks to destroy?  Our call is to come to that place and redeem it, restore it, reclaim it.  Believe in the beauty that is inherent in all of creation and begin to witness the transformation.  It will be better than any firework show you’ve ever seen!

Epiphany

This morning I awoke to bird-song outside my bedroom window; a robin was perched in a wintered tree and was robustly singing alongside the rising sun. This melody was a delightful reminder that Epiphany is upon us; the season where we proclaim that God is indeed with us is NOW.

Throughout the dark-filled Advent season we prepared our homes, our trees and the containments of boxes for Christmas.  We prepared for a day to come, a day which marks the arrival of the Christ Child.  We moved forward with anticipation and delight, counting down the days and hours to this sacred time.  And with Epiphany now here, we are invited to join with the age-old Wise Men and celebrate the reality of the Christ Child, to proclaim the promise of a prophecy, to commemorate the covenant of what comes out of Christmas being planted in our hearts.

Due to the fact that Christmas fell on a Sunday this year, we spent a shorter time leisurely around the tree, and prepared to gather with our faith community at Madrona Grace Church.  Once there, the children (don’t all good lessons come by way of the children?) were engaged with the Nativity Story from Mary’s perspective and the great gift she was given of carrying the life of Jesus.  The lesson was further emphasized by the simple assignment of placing a pole bean seed within the wetted, soft folds of a paper napkin inside a clear jar.  “The seed, the promise of Jesus, was planted in Mary,” the activity affirmed. “What has God planted in you?  What great gifts are growing in you?”  The instructions were for the children to bring the jar home and place it on a windowsill.  Daily they are to water it, watch it and wonder about what that is that has been planted in them.

 

Today, following the 12 Days of Christmas, the small seed has swelled with new life.  It has sprouted a sustainable root system and grown a full two inches.  Leaf fronds are emerging from the bean pod and the boys’ wonderment is real (and oh so good!) as they have witnessed the growing life from within this little seed.  They are so eager to plant this pole bean in the earth and eat the tasty fruit from its vines.  For this we must wait a bit longer, but the simple lesson from Christmas morning is very clear on this day of Epiphany.

We do prepare for Christmas, and prepare well we should.  We are creating the conditions for the coming of the Christ Child into our lives.  We are opening ourselves up to the life-giving promises of this contrary, cosmic Story.  Even so, the Christmas Tree has likely grown dry and it is now the time for the festive accoutrements to be put away.  But as we pack up the ornaments, and replace the holiday enhancements with the normal household arrangements, we should not be packing up the truth of the season as well.  God came on Christmas Day, but God didn’t leave.  Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, is still here!  The seed that was planted within Mary grew and became the SAVIOR.

So on this day, which marks a new season of celebrating the presence of God, I am struck by the roots of this quickly growing pole bean.  I am stilled by this visual of quick and ready growth, when the conditions have been prepared just so.  I hope that the gifts that I have been given, the blessings planted within me, are growing at a rate that will allow me to make gifts of them to others.  I hope that I too can join with the Three Kings and give what I have been accorded.

Sacrificial Giving

This week commences the annual festivities of Thanksgiving among those of us in the North Western Hemisphere.  Amidst the generous portions of food and family, is the explicit attunement to an “attitude of gratitude.” This is the season where, along with Christmas music already being played on the airwaves, a distinct line is drawn in the sand and we say with fervor, “Indeed, I am thankful!”  And the reflections begin, do they not?  In our own times of prayerful meditation, with our children and even with our friends and partners, in due diligence, we ask one another for what are we thankful?  We emphasize the many blessings and gifts we have been given and for which we are grateful.  And this is all well and good—certainly, this inclination should be a daily practice—but I can’t help but consider the giving that has to occur for me to be thankful in response.

It is a simple discipline to look around that which constitutes our lives—at the food on our plates, the warm walls that shelter our sleep—and acknowledge that someone built our house (I am grateful), a farmer grew my food (I am thankful), etc.  Very soon after we begin this recognition of receipt, our awareness shifts and grows to include even more gifts and blessings that come from the various relationships in our lives.  Further reflection allows even this broadening circle of thanksgiving to expand to include the natural world; we contemplate the air we breath is a gift of the trees and the water we drink is provided by rainfall and glacial streams. We arrive here on this magnificent gift of a planet and everything is given to us.  The ground we stand on, the sustenance in our bellies, the clothes on our back—these are all gifts that are the result of sacrifices on the part of our greater home, the Universe. Mathematical cosmologist, Brian Swimme, talks about that from out of the numinous spark that began all of life—the fireball, stars, extinct species, Sun, Earth, animals, plants, and other humans—have been given the gifts that were needed and are needed for our lives.

We see that everything around us, and most notably above us, is giving of itself so that we may live our lives.  Let us look at our sun.  There is an incredible, mind-blowing process that is occurring every second of our lives: the unfolding of light.  Without getting into the details of this scientific transference, it is enough to say that every second our sun is transforming 4 million tons of itself into light.  That ongoing transformation of itself is irreversible; there is nothing that we can do to give back the light; no advancements in solar energy will ever allow us to return any of this gifted energy to the sun.  The light has been given to us; it beams to our earth and is dispersed in all directions. Everything that’s happened in the life of this planet is directly dependent upon the sun’s light. Every second it is given to us is for the sustenance of our lives and the lives of the billions of species on this planet.  If this ongoing gift of light ceased, life as we know it would stop as well.  Our earth’s temperature would plummet to 400 degrees below zero; our biosphere would die.   This generous, sacrificial giving doesn’t require anything of us in return.  Should we be thankful?  I think so.

The early Celtic Christians nurtured a unique relationship with Creation as they had a deep understanding that nature was revelatory.  They were alert and discerning of theophanies or showings of God in the world, and cosmos, around them.  The sun, moon and stars—these ‘celestial luminaries’ (Eriugena, Periphyseon 711A)—shone out of the darkness and expressed something of the inexpressible nature of God. What is it that they are saying?  What is the sun revealing about the Creator with its on-going process of light-giving?

All of human activity is generated by the generosity of the sun.  Our very lives directly depend upon this ongoing gift of the sun; this is a real sacrificial, ongoing event.  The sun is giving of itself so that we might have life.  It is both giving us the way with its energy, and showing us the way with its light. This is a universal truth that has presented itself the world over, in all cultures, by way of deep archetypes and is manifested by the Christ.  All has been given—Life itself is being given—on our account.  And what is asked of us in return?  I wonder if we are asked for more than just a seasonal attitude of gratitude.  I wonder if with this universal model of unconditional giving, we too are being asked to give sacrificially, to participate in this great exchange of reciprocal giving; that we too are being invited to be the life-giving light to others?

Golden Seeds

Bigleaf Maples (Acer macrophyllum) group together in a large forested stand in our backyard. Their presence cools us in the heat of summer with their shade, and their branches provide endless childhood delights. And in Autumn, their yellow and orange hues transform our home’s sunlight into gold.

As temperatures drop and wind commences its more forceful seasonal blows, these large leaves flutter and float through the sky, downward falling only to be lifted once again toward the trees; a dance that seems to speak to the leaf’s own uncertainty of where now to call home: the woods or the earth?

My children squeal with delight when the Bigleaf Maple relinquishes her seeds, dispersing them through the air with the aid of extremely well designed membranous wings. We stand together in our yard, scanning the sky for a sighting of these swirling seeds, watching their twirling trajectory from tree to terra. The boys run pell-mell, hands outstretched in hopes of intersecting this annual planting. They intuitively appreciate these ‘helicopters’ and attribute to a captured fruit the most coveted of names: favored toy.

In the midst of their laughter, I watch these seeds twirl and tumble through the air looking for places to settle and create a new stand of trees. I can’t help but wonder if our own patterns of living (as we leave our ‘parent plant’ to find our own home in the understory) sometimes look like the zig-zag pattern of these in-flight whirlybirds. I wonder if our lives are like the seeds—feeling the lifting and carrying of the winds combined with the curious uncertainty of where we may land. We whirl and wait, waiting to fall to a special, sacred place of the earth where we can burrow, take root and unfold in all we were created to be.

I wonder, if allowed to root, if allowed to grow, OUR gifts would be that which someday grows to create a golden hue in the lives and homes of Other?