Reflecting on the Nativity….


The early morning frost gave way to a mild and sunny afternoon. The warm weather takes me back to the first Christmas my husband and I spent together as a married couple, living in Los Angeles. We received a nativity set from my sister Lana, a fitting gift for our new life together. So I was drawn to this photo of that same nativity set, more than twenty years later, taken by my husband Mark. I can’t tell you how many moves we made since then. The nativity set has traveled with us, and hasn’t always fared well with the moves. If you look closely, you’ll see the shepherd has lost one foot, and must lean against the stable to stand upright. The thatched roof is worse for wear, certainly not offering much shelter from the elements. Sometimes I’ll notice a shiny new nativity set when we are shopping, but this one suits us just fine. Take time today to remember that very first Christmas, when the King of Kings deigned to become one of us, born in a lowly stable. Consider his first followers were shepherds, the lowest of the low, despised by the priestly elite. And remember, that same King of Kings still seeks after us all, not matter how battered, or how lost.

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

Verses 3 & 4 of Angels We Have Heard on High, Photo by Mark Lindsey

Reflecting on Mary….

The weather turned cold this morning, just in time for Christmas. We’re finishing our final preparations and double checking everything is ready for tomorrow. So I was drawn to this photo of a shadow cast by a manger scene taken by my friend Mary. It’s so easy to lose sight of the real meaning of Christmas. Sometimes we get so turned around, we are facing the shadows instead of the light. We get caught up in all the busy-ness of the season, making sure we have a gift for everyone who has given us one. We rush out to get something if we receive an unexpected present, rather than gratefully accepting what we have been given. Perhaps this Christmas is less than we hoped for, due to financial concerns or ill health. Yet whatever we are facing pales in comparison to the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. I spent the end of my pregnancy on bed rest, while Mary spent hers riding a donkey. When the time came, we took a short drive to the sparkling clean, well equipped hospital. Mary wasn’t sure where she would have her baby. After so many had turned them away, I am sure even a stable seemed a welcome prospect. It seems they found shelter just in time. Take time today to consider the real meaning of Christmas, when the Holy of Holies deigned to humble himself and took on human form. Consider following the path of Mary, responding to Christ’s call by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word be fulfilled”. And remember, even 2000 years later, it’s never too late to turn toward the manger. Photo by Mary Staley

Reflecting on Sleep….

It’s a damp, grey morning and we are taking it slow after enjoying an evening out for dinner and the movies. Rain may fall later in the day, but until then, the moist air is obscuring the view. So I was drawn to this poignant photo by Lee Daniels. A similar bird house hangs in our tree, painted by my daughter as a young child. I am always taken aback by its bright color on days like today. While the earth is brown and the sky is grey, that tiny bird house reminds us this season will give way to new life in the spring. I don’t know about you, but I find myself sleeping more this time of year. If I honor that desire for more sleep, I don’t seem to catch all the colds and viruses everyone is passing around, and I tend to be gentler and more patient with others. Sleep is a greatly undervalued commodity in our society. Everyone rushes around, convinced that doing more and more is the way to get ahead. Yet sometimes we must pause to reconsider our actions, to learn what is best done and left undone. Like a river, we must ebb and flow. Without that rhythm, the river becomes a relentless, destructive force, something we call a flood. Take time today to step back and consider how best to spend your day. Allow time for rest and relaxation, closing your eyes or putting up your feet for even a few minutes. And remember, when you take care of yourself, every day can be a good day, no matter what life brings your way. Photo entitled ‘Winter Sleeps and Dreams of Spring’ by Lee Daniels © 2011, used with his permission. For more of Lee’s photos, visit http://www.leedanielsphotography.com/

Reflecting on the Longest Night…..



Longest Night © Jan L. Richardson

This week, in addition to preparing for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, many congregations will offer a “Longest Night” or “Blue Christmas” service. Usually held on or near the Winter Solstice, this gathering provides a space for those who are having a difficult time during the holidays or simply need to acknowledge some pain or loss they are carrying in the midst of this season of celebration. For you who are offering or participating in such a service, and for all who struggle in this season, I wish you many blessings and pray for the presence of Christ our Light, who goes with us in the darkness and in the day.

Blessing for the Longest Night

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

Art and Blessing © 2011 Jan L. Richardson, used with her permission, to see more of Jan’s amazing work, check out janrichardson.com

Reflecting on Stars….

I had the luxury of sleeping in on this cold and clear morning, after a weekend of celebration with friends and neighbors. My husband’s company party was Saturday night, with over 600 folks gathering at the National Portrait Gallery. We returned home for our neighbor’s annual Christmas gathering, small by comparison. In the midst of all this socializing, I am drawn to a remarkable long exposure photo taken by my friend David. A short glance focuses your attention on the clouds on the horizon, while the traces of stars above dominate the longer view. I love visiting with friends and a chance to catch up. Yet there are times when the noise overwhelms any effort to connect, when distractions prevent any real conversation. My friend Paulina said it best in her Facebook post, “loving another Sunday morning when the silence is so loud and everything is magnified: the bright blue sky, the crisp looking air outside (through the window). Don’t want to move. I might disturb the peace”. Take time today to make room for God’s peace that passes all understanding. Allow the silence to soak into your soul and draw your heart into the eternal now. And remember, the clouds may be on the horizon, but the stars are always here, to light our path through the darkness. Quote by Paulina Duker, Photo entitled Star Trails vs Incoming Clouds by David Buckwalter © 2011, used with his permission

Reflecting on Toy Trains….

It’s a quiet Saturday morning, with a hint of snow in the air. The slate grey sky is banded by icy clouds, reflecting the winter sun. So I was drawn to this amazing picture of a toy train by my friend Jeanne. I love the vibrant colors and the size of the train next to the trees. When I was a small child, we had a beautiful toy train set. In those days, we asked for trains the way children these days ask for an iPod or laptop. We weren’t done decorating for Christmas until the train set was up and running. The adults may have focused on the tree, but all we saw was the train. Jeanne has drawn a child’s perspective – every else pales by comparison, no matter how colorful, no matter how bright. Perhaps the magic of the train set was offering a new perspective. We lived near train tracks and often would wave to the locomotive engineer, or train driver, as the train slowly crept through our neighborhood. Even at a snail’s pace, the train seemed huge, too big to take in all at one time. The toy train gave us a chance to see the big picture, from above, all at once. Take time today to step back and look at an overwhelming concern from all sides. Pray to see through God’s eyes and hear through God’s ears, to forge a solution that is good for all concerned, for the long haul, rather than settling for a quick fix at the expense of others. And remember, it may take more than one trip around to find the right answer. Art entitled ‘Toy Train’ by Jeanne Mischo

Reflecting on Gifts….

The dog was in and out in a flash this morning. The frost is thick and the air is cold. So I was drawn to this photo of our courthouse taken by my friend Jen. I love how the courthouse is lit up, with a Christmas tree at the top of the steps. Weekends in December, our downtown is transformed into a walking mall. The old library building becomes Gum Drop Square, where children can visit Santa. My friend Jen is one of the volunteers that participate in this community event. The children happily snuggle together after waiting outside in the cold, to listen to Jen, as Princess Genevieve, tell stories we all know and love, like ‘The Night Before Christmas’. This scene is a far cry from my Walmart trip yesterday. As Christmas draws near, the frantic search for the perfect gift becomes heated. More stock littered the floors than could be found on the shelves. Yet perhaps the best gift we can offer is something simple, like quiet time together, or creating a precious memory for years to come. I love cooking with my daughter for the holidays. When she was very young, she was in charge of smashing and stirring. Now, as a young adult, she chooses new recipes and adds her spin to our family tradition. Take time today to consider a way to share your gifts with others. Make up a batch of cookies, using an old family recipe. Take time to read a favorite book to a small child or to someone who is feeling poorly. Sit down together to watch ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’. And remember, when you give of yourself, it’s hard to say who receives the greater gift. Photo by Jen Faulconer, Princess Genevieve by The Kingdom of Azuria

Reflecting on Storms….

It’s a beautiful December morning, yet I am drawn to this amazing drawing by my friend Jeanne. It’s difficult to say if the drawing is set in the distant past or distant future, if the storm is made of snow or sand, if the scene is a remote village or a planet from another galaxy. It seems odd to focus on storms when the weather is just the opposite. Yet how often do we carry around a storm inside, despite the apparent calm that surrounds us? Inner turmoil has a timeless quality, persistent beyond all reason. You aren’t sure if it’s day or night, or even what is going on around you. The gloom can blot out everything, leading to self absorption and social isolation. We may turtle in, hoping to wait out the storm, not realizing we take the storm into the shell with us. Others may choose to place themselves in difficult situations, to mirror their souls in their surroundings. Some even convince themselves they deserve to suffer. Yet all the while, the answer lies within, a healing has been prepared, abundant life awaits. We must simply open our hearts and souls to the Holy of Holies, to lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross, to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Most High. Take time today to look beyond the storm within. Allow yourself to rest in God’s love, to accept the peace of God that passes all understanding. Let go of what you have come to expect and allow the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and ears. And remember, the path to healing is never what we expect, yet we must trust in healing for that path to be revealed. Art entitled ‘Yurt – Girl Faces the Storm’ by Jeanne Mischo

Reflecting on Flight….

It’s a cold, clear morning, with frost on the ground. The trees are bathed in soft sunlight, giving the whole scene a dreamlike appearance. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my new friend Steve. I did not think a still photo was capable of capturing the intricate motion of flight. High speed video may reveal each specific movement, yet it cannot portray the fluid nature of seemingly effortless motion. Ii don’t know about you, but the notion of flight simply eludes me. As an engineer, I studied control theory extensively, taking many courses through the aerospace department. What I learned is how much we do not know or understand. Our universe is governed by two numbers we cannot fathom; even our most complex math is simply an approximation of reality. We must build complicated structures with even more complicated electronics to achieve what a bird accomplishes day in, day out. Our engineering triumph requires the same lens as this photo. We must step back, taking in the entire picture, accepting our perception is full of flaws and imperfections, always slightly out of focus. To succeed, we must remain mindful of our limited glimpse of reality, all the while resisting the temptation to be overly precise. Take time today to ponder the vastness and simplicity of God’s creation. Stop to soak in the graceful arch of a bird taking flight, or the limb of a tree stretching toward the sun. And remember, when words fail you, reciting the never ending digits of π may be the purest form of prayer. Photo entitled ‘Dreaming of Flight’ by Steve Ullenius

Reflecting on Balance….

It’s a wet, dreary day, far too warm for December. Chores are waiting to be done, not to mention Christmas preparations. Yet I’m lingering over another cup of coffee, delaying the start of the day. So I was drawn to this photo of a flamingo taken by my friend Carole. I love how this odd looking bird can fold into itself, often perching on one foot. Instead of ‘taking to the bed’, this elegant creature can curl up and take a rest in place, before moving on to the next challenge. Perhaps the flamingo has something to teach us about the natural rhythm of life. We make lists and more lists, seeking a sense of accomplishment in what we did or did not do by the end of the day. We rush around to get things done, often undoing relationships in the process. We run roughshod over others, neglecting common courtesy and forgetting the value of patience. Everything has to happen right now, just the way we want it. Yet we most value what takes the most work, or time, or sacrifice. When we force an immediate answer, we sell ourselves and others short, rather than allow the best solution to unfold. We must pause to consider the best path for all, rather than the best answer for us alone. By alternating between active work and quiet reflection, we find a better path than we could imagine, or even hope for. Take time today to find and maintain balance, to consider your needs as well as the needs of others. Look for new and creative ways to work and play, to enjoy the gift of life, here and now. Make time and space for the Holy Spirit to guard and guide, recharging your soul for the challenges ahead. And remember, even when you seem to be curled up doing nothing, God is balancing you on one leg. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011, used with her permission

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