Advent Daily Devotional: WEEK of JOY: Day 17- Tue, Dec 14

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you,
and that your joy may be complete. — John 15:11

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.
— Ecclesiastes 11:7

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            For now, begin with the simple act of being present to whatever is going on within you and around you. Pay attention to your body and its experience.

            For instance, engage your senses. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Taste? Ground yourself by taking this inventory of your senses.

            Now focus on a few simple strategies to cultivate joy through bodily self-care.

            Inhale. Hold your breath a moment.  Exhale slowly. Breathe.

            Mindful breathing offers healthful benefits. It lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, and helps regulate your body’s capacity to manage stress and fatigue. It reduces depression, burnout, and negative thinking. It boosts your capacity to manage chronic pain and positively affects the side effects of other illnesses or conditions such as diabetes.

            Repeat your breathing cycle. Then repeat it again.

            Now smile. Science urges that the act of smiling triggers healthy neurological responses. Floods your brain with positive, empowering chemistry. Improves your wellbeing psychologically and physically.

            Joy is connected to your body-mind-spirit connections. While it grows out of spiritual, emotional, and psychological practices, it remains an embodied experience, too.

            Let your senses ground you in your surrounds and in your own skin. Now inhale deeply. Hold your breath. Smile wider. As you exhale, blow out the Advent candles.  — Rev Gail

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To get the full value of joy you must have
someone to divide it with. Mark Twain

An age is called “dark,” not because the light fails to shine
but because people refuse to see it. – James Michener

Advent Daily Devotional: WEEK of HOPE – DAY 3 -Tue, Nov 30


O hope of Israel, its savior in time of trouble,
why should you be like a stranger in the land, like a traveler turning aside for the night? Jeremiah 14:8

 Why is light given to one who cannot see the way,
    whom God has fenced in? For my sighing comes likemy bread,
    and my groanings are poured out like water. — Job 3: 23-24

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Shining a light doesn’t always mean dispelling the difficult truths it reveals. When building resilience, which feeds hope, researchers state that many people begin with an optimistic or idealized worldview. For instance, many folks originally believe that the world is safe, the world is good, and good things will happen for good people.

            Often experiences of trauma, challenge, or loss dismantle such an overly-idealistic worldview. Lee Daniel Kravetz writes, “This can feel terrifying and painful, but it’s healthy to accept a new, more realistic perspective. The world is safe—but also unsafe. Good things happen to good people—but bad things do too. I am a good person—but that doesn’t protect me from trauma.” When you shine a light, and then examine what you discover there, and allow it to reframe your perspective, this may become a strength. Now you have created the framework that allows you to discover how you can be a change-maker.

            Knowing what you’re facing or undertaking, you also know what needs to adapt or change. Thus you can begin to imagine and plan for how to create that transformation. Jane Goodall, who collaborated with Douglas Adams on The Book of Hope, states, “Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen but I’m not going to do anything about it. This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement.”

            One light can become the spark that starts a revolution. — Rev Gail

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You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope. — Thomas Merton

As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.— Mary Anne Radmacher

Advent Daily Devotional: WEEK of HOPE – DAY 2 – Mon, Nov 29

You are my hiding place and my shield;
I hope in your word. Psalm 119:114

Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord,
the Lord lightens my darkness. — 2 Samuel 22:29

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Lighting a solo flame: such a small, brave act. Hope begins with single steps. It commences by acknowledging and naming the reality in which you find yourself. Then responding with a plan.

            Lee Daniel Kravetz writes for Option B that the first part of grounded hope is a “realistic understanding of our lives and ourselves. Instead of painting a smiley face over what has happened, we bravely look at reality head-on. Seeing the situation clearly enables us to work toward recovery.” In fact, by looking honestly at the starting point of your journey, you may recognize that something about this reality must change.

            What does the candle illuminate? What does your attention, focused on your own or another person’s life circumstances, as they are right now, reveal to you? Let the season begin. — Rev Gail

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The very least you can do in your life
is figure out what you hope for.
And the most you can do is live inside that hope.
Not admire it from a distance
but live right in it, under its roof.  
Barbara Kingsolver

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle.
— Buddha

ADVENT INTRODUCTION for Daily Devotional: Day 1 / Week of Hope

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. — Genesis 1:3-4

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In this year’s holiday devotional, as you light candles each day, adding a new flame every week, we invite you to meditate on the blessings of Advent: hope, peace, joy and love. Each offers a form of inspiration and illumination: both inwardly in our souls and bodies and outwardly by how we learn, live, play, work, and serve in the world.

Let us remember what Rachel Held Evans observed during a difficult holiday: “Those little Advent candles sure have a lot of darkness to overcome this year … Their stubborn flames represent the divine promise that … God can’t be kept out.” This assurance believes that each flame kindled in the world—metaphorically referring to human hearts and lives, each of them shining as lanterns in this mortal world—carries the potential to ignite transformative blazes as well as to awaken comforting hearth fires.

The daily act of lighting a candle reminds us that God chooses to return to humanity’s experience, to show up incarnate, in our messy world. Nothing can stop love’s arrival. Like dawn spilling across the horizon after the depths of a night’s vigil, love arrives with the light.Love also presses close in the holy dark.

When we practice setting a small part of our time and space aflame each day, we’re inviting the light to attend us. Abide in us. Illuminate us.  — Rev Gail

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WEEK of HOPE – DAY 1
Sun, Nov 28

And now, O Lord, what do I wait for?
My hope is in you. — Psalm 39:7

The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day,
to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night,
to give them light … — Exodus 13:21

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One candle to signify hope? The candle, until today, remains unmarked. Its wick curves like a question mark, inviting you to ask. 

            Within you dwell questions. Seeds that have grown and seek to open and thrive. Curiosity begins in the wilderness, or what you might consider to be the fruitful dark of unresolved, unexamined, unexplored parts of the world or the self. Questions arise where things may not yet be visible or known.

            Today, before you give birth to light, by setting the wick aflame, make friends with the darkness. Stare into it. Let its depths become more visible as your eyes adjust. Grow more attuned to sitting in the absence of the light or the flame.

            What senses grow keener when vision isn’t in use? What can you discern without light to heighten the contrast around the contours and edges of the world surrounding you? Or to illuminate the self within?

            Allow the darkness to keep you company. Part of hope acknowledges that you begin each journey with a sense of uncertainty and discomfort. Yet hope grows in such places.  Love takes root within this life-producing womb of not-knowing.

            Yes, in this season, you will shine a light into darkness. Yet when you welcome the fertile depths and darkness, look into it, and let it touch you, you embrace beginnings. You invite questions to come alive.

            Afterward, light the single flame. How does its presence change the darkness in which you have immersed yourself? — Rev Gail

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Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up. — Anne Lamott

Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light. — Brene Brown

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Blessing of Hope
— Jan Richardson


So may we know the hope
that is not just for someday
but for this day—
here, now, in this moment that opens to us:
hope not made of wishes, but of substance,
hope made of sinew and muscle and bone,
hope that has breath and a beating heart,
hope that will not keep quiet and be polite,
hope that knows how to holler
when it is called for,
hope that knows how to sing
when there seems little cause,
hope that raises us from the dead—
not someday but this day, every day,
again and again and again.

Meditations on hope and resilience for the first Sunday of Advent

Hope begins in the dark … the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You don’t give up. — Anne Lamott

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope. — Thomas Merton

SONGS about HOPE:

Blessing of Hope — Jan Richardson
So may we know the hope
that is not just for someday
but for this day—here, now,
in this moment that opens to us:
hope not made of wishes
but of substance,
hope made of sinew
and muscle and bone,
hope that has breath
and a beating heart,
hope that will not keep quiet
and be polite,
hope that knows how to holler when it is called for,
hope that knows how to sing when there seems little cause,
hope that raises us
from the dead—
not someday
but this day,
every day,
again and again and again.

Advent 1: The Parable

In a mother’s womb were two babies.  The first baby asked the other:  “Do you believe in life after delivery?”
      The second baby replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery.  Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
      “Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery.  What would that life be?”
      “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here.  Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.”
      The doubting baby laughed. “This is absurd!  Walking is impossible.  And eat with our mouths?  Ridiculous.  The umbilical cord supplies nutrition.  Life after delivery is to be excluded.  The umbilical cord is too short.”
      The second baby held his ground. “I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here.”
      The first baby replied, “No one has ever come back from there.  Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere.”
      “Well, I don’t know,” said the twin, “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us.”
       “Mother?” The first baby guffawed. “You believe in mother?  Where is she now?” 
       The second baby calmly and patiently tried to explain. “She is all around us.  It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world.”
       “Hah. I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”  
        To which the other replied, “Sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her.  I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality when it comes….”
 
— Attribution uncertain: According to Wayne Dyer, the original story was told by Henri J. W. Nouwen. Possibly  adapted from the writings of Pablo Molinero. Or penned in 1947 by Orthodox Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky. Or from the Hungarian writer Útmutató a Léleknek.

The spiritual task of life is to feed hope. Hope is not something to be found outside of us. It lies in the spiritual life we cultivate within.— Joan Chittister

There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster. ― Dalai Lama XIV
 
Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose. ― Viktor E. Frankl
 
Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality. – Jonas Salk
 

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. – Maya Angelou

They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. – Tom Bodett
 
Few things in the world are more powerful than a positive push. A smile. A world of optimism and hope. A ‘you can do it’ when things are tough. – Richard M. DeVos

A lot of people have their big dreams and get knocked down and don’t have things go their way. And you never give up hope, and you really just hold on to it. Hard work and perseverance. You just keep getting up and getting up, and then you get that breakthrough.– Robert Kraft

Hope is the dream of a soul awake. — French proverb

Dum spiro, spero: While I breath, I hope. — Latin proverb

The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. — Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

IS HOPE ABOUT NOW or TOMORROW, IS IT a HELP or an OBSTACLE?

Grounded hope has two parts. The “grounded” part refers to a realistic understanding of our lives and ourselves. Instead of painting a smiley face over what has happened, we bravely look at reality head-on. Seeing the situation clearly enables us to work toward recovery.
     We cultivate the “hope” part by building confidence in our ability to shape what happens to us next. We start by asking, “Given what’s happened to me, what am I going to do about it? How can I build a better life on top of it?” Then we set goals for ourselves and find sources of motivation to pursue those goals.
      At some point, most of us will face the task of recovering, rebuilding, and rebounding from adversity. Grounded hope can help us not just bounce back, but bounce forward. — Lee Daniel Kravetz, Option B, https://optionb.org/build-resilience/advice/steps-to-grounded-hope

Hope is important, because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. But that is the most that hope can do for us – to make some hardship lighter. When I think deeply about the nature of hope, I see something tragic. Since we cling to our hope in the future, we do not focus our energies and capabilities on the present moment. We use hope to believe something better will happen in the future, that we will arrive at peace, or the Kingdom of God. Hope becomes a kind of obstacle. If you can refrain from hoping, you can bring yourself entirely into the present moment and discover the joy that is already here…
     Western civilization places so much emphasis on the idea of hope that we sacrifice the present moment. Hope is for the future. It cannot help us discover joy, peace, or enlightenment in the present moment. Many religions are based on the notion of hope, and this teaching about refraining from hope may create a strong reaction. But the shock can bring about something important. I do not mean that you should not have hope, but that hope is not enough. Hope can create an obstacle for you, and if you dwell in the energy of hope, you will not bring yourself back entirely into the present moment. If you re-channel those energies into being aware of what is going on in the present moment, you will be able to make a breakthrough and discover joy and peace right in the present moment, inside of yourself and all around you. — Thich Nhat Hahn, Peace In Every Step

When considered only philosophically, hope, more often than not, seems to be at odds with rational, analytical thinking. But due to its proactive nature, hope in action touches the heart and creates its own validation. A good example of this is found in the philanthropic work of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. In the 2015 Annual Gates Letter he wrote: “Optimism for me isn’t that things will get better; it’s a conviction that we can make things better — that whatever suffering we see, no matter how bad it is we can help people if we don’t lose hope and we don’t look away.” — article from ornishliving.com

Hope is not always comforting or comfortable. Hope asks us to open ourselves to what we do not know, to pray for illumination in this life, to imagine what is beyond our imagining, to bear what seems unbearable. It calls us to keep breathing when beloved lives have left us, to turn toward one another when we might prefer to turn away. Hope draws our eyes and hearts toward a more whole future but propels us also into the present, where Christ waits for us to work with him toward a more whole world now. — Jan Richardson

When God saves people in this life by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope, and love, such people are designed…to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. What’s more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate salvation; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen both in the present and the future. — NT Wright

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