Are we there yet?

Overheard in a very, very long check-out line at a local box store:

“If you don’t stop whining, I’m going to tell Santa Claus what a bad little girl you are and he won’t bring you a single thing for Christmas.”

“I bought three more cans of that pine spray. Since we got the artificial tree, it just doesn’t seem like Christmas.”

“I got Vic in the office gift thing. What am I supposed to buy for a loser like him? They want us to spend thirty bucks. Thirty bucks! For Vic!”

“I just love Christmas! Jerry had a great party on Saturday; everyone was, like, totally wasted. And there’s another one tomorrow night at Connie’s.”

I’m discovering that it’s a long, hard road to the Manger, and it seems to be getting farther away every day. I find myself reverting to my six year old self on a long car trip. “Are we there yet?” I whine to myself.

Yet, I know it’s there…just over the horizon. And it will happen as it always does, in the telling of the age-old story, in the songs of the choir and the hush as the baby Jesus is placed in the manger. Once again, we will cry out, “He is Born! Glory to God in the highest!”

It’s not far now.

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Glimpses of Glory…

Why is it that so many of us feel that Christmas is bearing down upon us like a juggernaut, crushing all in its path and leaving us feeling bruised and beaten down? Could it be that it all starts too early and goes on too long? It’s not even December and yet the Malls have been filled with Christmas decorations and the never-ending music of “Frosty the Snowman” for weeks.

No wonder I have trouble remembering what this season is all about. Before I know it, my calendar is filling up with events and I’m caught up in the rush-rush, hurry-hurry, go-go mentality of the season. “Have you done all your Christmas shopping yet?” the clerk asks me as she bundles up my groceries.

And I’m overwhelmed with the feeling that I’m behinder than the dog’s tail and if I don’t get myself in gear, I’m never going to “get it all done”!

Yet, in the midst of it all, there are glimpses of glory – if we look for them. Small moments that remind us that we are on a journey to a manger in Bethlehem, not to a Christmas tree in the Mall.

I had a such a moment today in the check-out line – a long, slow check-out line. I was feeling anxious and rushed, wondering why I’m always in the slowest line in the store, when I noticed a young mother in front of me with a baby asleep in the cart. “How old?” I asked. “He’s two and a half weeks,” she said proudly. She leaned over him, her face alight with love, and gently stroked his cheek. And in that moment: a glimpse of glory reminding me that Christmas is a manger, a mother and a babe, and love.

These glimpses are all around us: a kindergarten choir singing “Away in a Manger”, the sound of the jingle bells at the Salvation Army kettle, the sight of the nativity scene on the church lawn. They’re there, everywhere, if we just look for them.

And when we find a glimpse of glory, for one wonderful moment, in the midst of the madness of this world’s commercial Christmas, all else fades away and we find ourselves on the road to Bethlehem.

 

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Speaking to the soul…

I play Native American (or Indian) flutes. These are simply musical pipes made from a single branch of wood, hollowed out, with a few holes down the front and a small piece of wood tied over one of the holes to direct the breath. That’s all.

The ones I play are “grandfather” tuned. That is, they aren’t tuned to our musical scales, the ones we learned to sing in grade school – do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do. Instead, the notes are tuned to the basic note of the piece of wood. That means that all of my dozen or so flutes sound different from any other flute and that’s what makes them so special.

Now, I have to admit, I don’t play “tunes” on them. For one thing, few known tunes work with the grandfather tuning of my flutes, and for another, I’m non-musical and have a hard time learning and remembering which notes go where. I play what is called “from the heart”. It’s as if I can hear the music in my head first and then my fingers just go to the note. Hard to explain, and for me, even harder to believe, but that’s what happens.

When I first found these flutes and discovered that I could play them, I had no idea of their power. Over the years, I’ve discovered that there is something in their sound that transcends our usual way of listening to music. There have been some studies conducted which show that the Native American flute triggers the right side of our brains. That’s where we go to pray, to meditate, to dream, to imagine, to connect with our inner selves.

When I play for others, and my usual audiences are either people in a palliative care setting, mentally challenged adults, or older folks in various levels of care homes, I find that the flute music reaches beyond cognitive abilities and touches the deepest part of the soul. The same thing happens when I play in a church service.

The room always grows quiet. There is a sense of deep listening. I feel the music reaching into the hearts of those around me. I know that it touches their souls. And I am the one who is blessed.

I suspect that in our lives, we are given opportunities to connect with people in the same way that I do with my flutes. Perhaps it is only in simple words, or a gentle touch, or even just a smile, any of which, when done with the love of the Creator, touches deep beyond the polite surface of our civilized society.

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Holding fast….

It’s been a tumultuous couple of days. Seldom have so many people around the world been so engaged in a political debate and vote. And when all is said and done, the old order is no more and the new order, an order that will have ramifications on all of us in ways that we cannot see, is here.

I walked down by our little lake this morning. It’s one of those sunny/cloudy days when the air is soft and the ground underfoot is still damp from last night’s rain. Even though it is November, little flowers are still peeking through the layers of golden leaves that litter the ground and the moss glows a vivid green that lifts the spirits and belies the coming winter.

The lake is calm and serene this early in the morning. The scudding clouds reflect on its still surface and only the browned reeds around the margins tell of the end of summer. Out in the middle, a flotilla of ducks are busy, diving and quacking, oblivious to my watching eyes. A lone heron paddles along the margin, and I can hear the busy conversations of a flock of finches in a nearby bush. I gasp in delight as the otter suddenly appears under the board walk, no more than a glimpse of brown shiny fur in the water, and then he is gone.

As I search for another sighting of the otter, I see one perfect white water lily. The rest of the lily pads and blossoms have already succumbed to the rising water of our rainy season, and to the slow drop in the lake temperature. But this one, this beautiful white bloom, brings to mind the verse, “Consider the lilies of the field…”

And I realize that in the great scheme of things, if we keep faith and continue to work to bring the Kingdom of God to our world, if we remember that our job is only to show the face of Love to all those around us, no more; that despite wars and uprisings, political upheavals and dissension and strife, if we are like the lilies, simply Being, not worrying or fighting, doubting or fearing, if we allow ourselves to rest in God’s glory and draw courage from it, we will have done all that is required in this time of unrest and disquiet.

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Streams of living water…

They joke around here that there are only two seasons and one of them is dry. The dry season is summer, when rain can be absent for months at a time. It’s not really an issue with the locals – they’re used to it.

I’m getting used to it, too.

But, there comes that day in the late fall when the reservoirs are full and the trees and plants have soaked up enough water to last them through the year, when the lawns are green and the bushes are going through a second flowering, and something magical happens…

The water returns to the dry creek beds, the barely flowing rivers, to the culverts and the drains, to the ponds and lakes, and to every small stream and brook. Suddenly, the air is filled with the sound of running, bubbling, babbling, flowing water – a sound that had been missing during the long dry months of summer.

This morning on my walk, I realized that the moment had arrived. I could hear water running everywhere. In Sometimes Creek, so named because it only runs some of the time. In the ditch along the edge of the road. In the little waterfall coursing down the side of the rock face. In the outflow culvert emptying into the lake.

I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed the sound of water until I heard it all around me.

Our lives are like that: we become dried up and arid, feeling that our Christian walk is dull and that God is far away. We don’t even realize just how dry we are until the moment when God reaches out and touches us, and we are once again filled with the streams of living water.

Then, like the dry land, we soak it up and feel our souls expand, our spirits blossom with joy and our hearts open to God’s ever-present love.

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How can I be over the hill when I haven’t reached the top yet?

It’s funny that a person grows older in such a way that they suddenly look in the mirror and think, “Who is that old lady and where did she come from?” There doesn’t seem to be any gradual run-up to old; no practice slopes, so to speak. One day, there you are at the top of the hill and the only way to go is down.

Sure, there’s the first grey hair, the first wrinkle, the first creak as you get up out of a chair, but generally speaking, that’s just the thin edge of the wedge. Deep down, you really don’t believe that you’re going to get old – at least not the kind of ‘old’ that your parents reached.

You really believe that you’ll be the one who beat all the odds. The lady who runs marathons until her last gasp; the woman who manages her business until the day she dies; the gal who causes people to gasp in amazement when she admits her true age. “No really – I thought you were much younger than that. Wow!” Yup, we all think that way. Old age is for someone else, not you.

But the sad reality is that for the majority of us, old age is simply a fact of life. It has nothing to do with the number of your birthday or the state of your mind. It has everything to do with an aging body that is now making you pay for all those years when you ignored its complaints. Knees give way, hips break, stomachs rebel, lungs fill up,  eyes film over and various other bits cease to function at all. As someone once said, “If I’d known I was going to get this old, I would have taken better care of myself.”

Now, all those things that you did without thought have become small marathons and even smaller victories. Getting up on a kitchen chair to change the light bulb, pulling out the bed to clean out behind the head board, carrying in three bags of groceries, washing all the windows, mowing the lawn. You know you can’t take anything for granted anymore – just because you used to be able to do it doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to do it now.

I have a theory that our bodies age so that our spirits can finally be freed to spend more time in pursuit of God. We can pray more. We can meditate longer. We can seek God in new ways. Our old age becomes our Age of Enlightenment as we step closer to God where  we can hear the ‘still, small voice.’

I guess you could say that as we age, the best is yet to come.

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Thinking like a boy scout…

A couple of weeks ago, we were hit by a surprise overnight storm – winds and rain buffeted our little house and the sound of pine cones and branches hitting the metal roof made us feel like we were in a war zone. In the morning, the decks and yard were littered with a thick carpet of debris. This was a storm that no one had predicted.

This past week, we’ve been assailed by dire warnings and predictions that a series of three storms will come in off the Pacific and pound our little world. High winds and torrential rains were on the menu. Weather forecasters explained that the first storm would be the least powerful, but that the third one would be the tail end of a Superstorm – a typhoon that had crossed the Pacific to find us. One forecaster gravely warned us that this would be as bad as a similar storm that had devastated our area nearly sixty years earlier.

The first storm blew in. Heavy rain pounded the roof, but no wind to speak of. I stopped holding my breath and thanked God for small mercies. I was surprised to see reports of downed trees and power outages in other areas nearby.

A day and a half later, the second storm hit. Again, heavy rain, a little more wind, but nothing of any significance. I was beginning to feel a little cocky, thinking that we must be in some magic area of “no-storm”winds. And again, reports of downed trees, flooding and power outages dominated the local news.

Then, the weather reports turned dire. The first two storms hadn’t been nearly as bad as predicted, but we could be sure that the typhoon-driven storm was going to be a doozy, they said. We should prepare for the worst, they said. This wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, they intoned.

Now, I live in a forest, literally. There are a hundred and sixty little houses scattered on the back side of a mountain, tucked in among towering old-growth spruces, cedars and pines. Thirteen of these gigantic beauties surround my house, with their enormous branches forming a cathedral overhead. I looked up and contemplated one of them falling in the forecasted hurricane force winds. Others around me were having similar thoughts.

I went to the shed and found the camping stove, the water containers, the emergency candles, the flashlights, and the battery radio  – none of which I’d thought about since I moved here from the East two years ago. I dragged them all into the kitchen. I filled the kettle and the bathtub with water (bathtub water meant that a toilet could be flushed), and pulled out the picnic cooler to store frozen items if the power was off for any length of time. I cleared the decks, tucked away everything that looked as if it would blow away, and hunkered down.

The day wore on – all ferries were cancelled. AmTrak was cancelled in the neighbouring state. Highways were closed. Oh my.

Five hours later, they said it was over. Our storm?  Rain, a couple of minor wind gusts, and by early evening, the sky was clear and there was a full moon riding on the branches of my grandfather trees.

So much for being prepared.

Isn’t that always the way? Like our un-forecast storm of a few weeks ago,  sometimes life just smacks us in the face when we least expect it. We’re unprepared and ill-equipped to face the challenge, and all we can do is turn to God and pray.

And then there’s those life events that we know are coming – surgeries, deaths, divorces, bankruptcies. We try to be ready. Like good boy scouts, we’re determined to be prepared for them and so we spend weeks and months “getting ready” to face the worst, only to find it wasn’t nearly as bad as we’d thought it would be.

Maybe there’s something to the verse, “Take no thought for the morrow…”

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