Advent Week One, Day One

Light in a Season of Darkness

In my last post, I mentioned crossroads and ancient paths, and how Advent, or the winter months, invite us to reflect on where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going.  Though winter invites us into fallow time, how we approach that time is part of our journey.  This dark season can either be something we get through and get done . . . or something we allow to transform us.

As this journey begins, I see Advent not only from a Christian perspective but even more so from a universal, humankind perspective.  The title for these reflections, “Light in a Season of Darkness,” speaks to the communal need for hope, for perseverance, for reassurance, for the presence of Something or Someone that is bigger, wiser, more compassionate and loving, than we are.  December is a season of lights for all sorts of faith traditions and secular celebrations because it is in the time of deepest darkness that we need to see the flame.

Advent is also a fallow time as the earth goes to sleep and rests, as animals slow down and hibernate, something which is difficult for most of us to do because of the responsibilities and demands and expectations of our daily lives.  But don’t the earth and the animals hold “ancient wisdom”?  In whatever way we can, we might follow the lead of that wisdom and carve out some time for spiritual hibernation.  Perhaps this space here can be just a bit of quiet earth, of stillness, of resting in the sanctuary of our hearts and receiving whatever may be taking root in each of us.

In regard to journeys, we always meet the question, “What do we take with us, and what do we leave behind”?  I have recently begun to pack lighter for my travels and not to worry if there are several photos of me in the same clothes.  The pandemic has certainly taught me that what I wear doesn’t matter much, so I have given away clothes and not replaced them.  Lightness makes it so much easier to maneuver.  Lightness makes it so much easier to breathe.

As we enter this four-week journey together, I invite you to join me in spending some quiet time considering what to let go of this season.  What weighs you down or hinders you or distracts you from your own personal light and joy?  What is necessary to keep that leads you through the shadows to the Light?  Ask for Ancient Wisdom to help you discern what you need, and don’t need, for this part of your travels, and may you, and I, be blessed.

Journey Blessing

Wherever you are
on your particular ancient path
may you give up expectations,
your own and others,
of what you “should be,”
when you “should have” arrived,
what you “should have” accomplished
by now
along with worry over whether
you have truly achieved
enoughness.

May you leave behind those expectations,
your own and others,
stuffed in the carry-always luggage
you dread hoisting
once more above your head
into the compartment
above, already filled
with bundles and backpacks
of those who could not
unpack.

May you honestly assess
what you have chosen to carry:
old records coated in dust,
ingrained “shoulds” that did not
arise from your own innocent soul,
snapshots yellowing with age
of what people think of you,
manipulations and mind-traps
of every weight and shape
to make you into another’s image.

May you rummage through your luggage
with courage and keep only
what is you,
by you, of you, and then
may you love yourself enough
to set your suitcase aside,
trusting the lightness
of what is precious
to lead you freely onward.

© Rosemary McMahan

Which Direction?

cairns

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies, and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.'” (Jer. 6:16)

How many crossroads have we stood at in our personal lives? Reflect on a few of them. What direction did you take? What convinced or guided you to take that direction? Do you ever look back and wonder where you might be if you had taken a left instead of a right? Then join the human race.  Crossroads can be tricky.

We are in a season of crossroads and making choices.   The United States will have a new president in January, and we will choose whether or not to support him.  Hopefully, vaccinations for Covid-19 will become available as people choose between taking them or not.  Christians are at the crossroads of Advent, a time of waiting, or a time of rushing. I am at my own personal crossroads as I leave pastoral ministry for the ministry of writing.  How do we navigate which way to go?

God the Creator and designer of crossroads speaks through the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament of the Bible and instructs us to “ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies.”  How often do we consider “ancient paths”?  Out with the old, in with the new is our typical practice.  But something resonates within me when I reflect on “ancient paths.”  The image of a cairn appears, built by someone who has gone before to direct someone coming from behind.  In the darkness and waning of this present year, with all its many challenges, wounds, revelations and sorrows, I wonder if we can consider who, or where, the cairns are in our own journeys.

Scripture and holy writings from whatever faith traditions contain many cairns and crossings.  I think of Eve and all the blame and shame she has shouldered for thousands of years simply for wanting to know, for being curious, for taking a risk.  Yes, she lost her innocence, but she gained the fullness of experience, both joy and sorrow, both delight and hardship, that transformed her into someone real.  Eve embodies much wisdom about crossroads.

Poetry is another place to seek the cairns who know about ancient paths.  Mary Oliver comes to mind and her reliance on the guidance of nature that never disappointed her in the personal directions she chose.  Authors and musicians and artists of all types who have walked the path before us lend us their guidance, if we want it.  If we listen for it.

For me, Advent and the closing of this year offer us the invitation to ponder whose cairns we are following as we stand at the crossroads of a new year.  What ancient wisdom is right there, waiting for us to embrace us, to walk in it, to find rest for our souls in this season of waiting?

Oh, I should mention that this particular passage of scripture ends with this response: “But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.'”  Crossroads are tricky places and guides don’t force themselves on us.  We have a choice to accept the invitation, or not.

Beginning November 29, the first Sunday of Advent, I will be inviting you to join me as we walk on ancient paths and seek ancient wisdom and listen to those guides both within us and without, that will lead us to—if not rest for our souls—a place of sanctuary as we journey toward the Light.

Light in a Season of Darkness: What are We Waiting For?

Advent.  A time of waiting for what is coming.  Autumn, waiting for winter, waiting for the coming of spring, waiting for the coming of summer, waiting for the coming of autumn.  “To everything there is a season,” we are told, if we wait for it to come and then, often, to pass.

What are we waiting for?  The answer to the question seems quite obvious for most Americans.  We are waiting for this election cycle to be formally over.  We are waiting to see what the next four years will bring.  We are waiting for stability, for peace, for kindness, for Light.  The question seems obvious for the rest of the world.  We are waiting for vaccinations, for the end of the pandemic, for what that “end” will look like and what it will ask of us and who will say “yes” to what is required.  Waiting can be tiring.  We can only tread water for so long.  Our hope, I believe, is to rediscover the practice of waiting while staying in the moment, paying attention to that moment, whatever it is.

In this time of watching the world in which I grew up, reared children, practiced a vocation seem to crumble or at least suffer some serious fissures, I have wondered where God—that ultimate Being that is part of us yet is much vaster than us–is.  Slowly during these months of pandemic, that answer came to me:  “What is, is where God is.”  What our current reality is (lockdown, illness, frustration, anger, fear, displacement, separation) is where God is.  And if we desire to participate in the creative and re-creative work of God, we join God where God is.  IS.  Here.  Now.  In the waiting, or rather, in how we wait.

How are you preparing to wait for the Light and the closure of the year 2020?  How am I?  In our waiting, how will we assist the flame that is calling to be rekindled?  What commitment will we make to being Light-followers?  These are the questions I am taking into my heart this Advent, with honesty, with compassion, and with the presence of the Spirit of God.  You are invited to join me in pondering them, or sharing your own questions.

Light-invitation

“Light your candles quietly, such candles as you possess, wherever you are.” ~ Fr. Alfred Delp, martyred in Nazi Germany, age 38

As the daylight hours shorten and we approach a fallow time of year, many Christian denominations prepare for the season of Advent, the month-long period of waiting for the celebration of the birth of the Christ-Child, the Light of the World. Other faith traditions, such as Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, celebrate Diwali, a festival of lights, while our Jewish sisters and brothers prepare for Hannukah. Darkness calls humanity to seek the light, eon after eon.

Our current pandemic is certainly a dark place, while social and political upheaval in the United States and in other parts of the world create heavy shadows. But each of us has been given a spark of light, and this time of year, in particular, is an appropriate, and much-needed, season to reflect on how we can shine our lights together. As Father Delp, a Jesuit priest hanged for treason in Nazi Germany, invited, we are to shine humbly in whatever way our souls, spirits, psyches call us to, in whatever places and situations we find ourselves, in order to stave off the darkness and encircle our world with the healing power of light.

During this Season of Advent/Diwali/Hannukah, etc., I will be sharing my reflections on how we may be called to both wait in the darkness and to illuminate the shadows in a series called Light in a Dark Season. I invite you to join me as a Light-Bearer so that together we might spread a mantle of brightness over our wounded world.

Candle-Prayer
In the small still shadow of a darkened morning
before the screeching of this broken world repeats,
I strike a match and set it to a stub of wick:
an offering of light being birthed yet again.

Before the screeching of this broken world repeats,
I breathe sacred flame-glow into heart, psyche, soul
an offering of light being birthed yet again,
a single, slender candle singing prayer.

I breathe sacred flame-glow into heart, psyche, soul,
imagine the brilliance of a hundred million candles
burning quietly on the edges of every dawn
before the screeching of this broken world repeats.

I strike a match and set it to a stub of wick,
my hope for this wounded world one fluttering flame,
a single, slender candle singing prayer
in the small still shadows of a darkened morning.

© Rosemary McMahan