Advent Day 5: Daily Devotional

Hope fosters comfort with stillness and silence, as aspects of not-knowing. In these times, we’re enduring personal pressures and communal, national and global stresses.

Hope supports resilience in a culture that offers round-the-clock data feeds. We give ourselves permission to unplug and turn down the noise. We need this capacity in any era, but certainly in these times, when our culture promotes 24/7 access to information and each other, with exaggerated extremes of emotion and perspective.

What if we slow it all down? Sometimes the constant stimulation provides a false sense of certainty. It also mimics intimacy.

Hope invites us into a time that can be quiet. It allows us to cope with lack of information. It enables us to wait to find out what comes next. It assures us that we will manage, even when we do not or cannot know the answer.

Hope allows us to stay centered and become comfortable with our own company. We learn to trust ourselves and each other, without external stimulation. We learn to catch our breath, and listen actively to the stillness rather than yearning for noise. And find out that in the stillness, we may come to learn and know more than we expected. — Rev Gail

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” — Psalm 46:10

Do not lose hope — what you seek will be found … Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn. Trust dreams. Trust your heart, and trust your story. — Neil Gaiman

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

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

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

Mon, Nov 9 Gratitude Reflection

Pay attention to your feet. Stand. Walk. Ground yourself.

Know you are connected to the place where you set foot. Land there. Pace yourself. Remain still. Or move. Know that your presence, motionless or on the go, offers a form of prayer.

Recognize lives — self or others — wherein standing or walking becomes a challenge: impossible, compromised, or precarious. Consider lives transformed by changes in mobility and independence. Celebrate how people adapt to challenges regarding the ability to walk, to walk with support or aid, or to adapt to new forms of mobility.  — Rev Gail

I waited patiently for the Lord;  
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth, 
a song of praise to our God.
— Psalm 40

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. — Luke 17

Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
― Thich Nhat Hanh

We use our feet so often and so constantly that it is easy to take them for granted when everything is working well. Maybe your feet don’t look perfect, and maybe they even impart pain at times. Nevertheless, our feet are exquisitely designed to support and propel us through all the various movements of life. — Samuel Goltman

And when I gazed down at my bare feet—stopped to really look at them—I could feel a new sense of gratitude for them and wondered where they might take me next. – Bruce Black

Friday, November 6: Gratitude Reflection

As we enter the weekend, let us appreciate roads and trails. Such connectors offer another aspect of journeys. They inolve ‘places between’ that encompass the routes we travel.

            On such pathways, transformation occurs. Our oldest recorded stories and most sacred texts narrate human migrations that celebrate adventures and experiences. On the trail, we cause growth and change. In our faith tradition, Christ’s ministry is called the Way.

            Let us give thanks for the roads and paths that we travel today. And the Way we walk together. — Rev Gail

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth. —Luke 3:5

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. Matsuo Basho

The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive. Thich Nhat Hanh

In life, one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day–or to celebrate each special day. — Rasheed Ogunlaru

Reflections on knowing your heart – theme from Acts of the Apostles 11-15

Then love knew it was called love.
And when I lifted my eyes to your name,
suddenly your heart showed me my way.
― Pablo Neruda

May I live this day
Compassionate of heart,
Clear of mind,
Gracious in awareness
Courageous in thought,
Generous in love.
— John O’Donohue
 

Questions to consider:

  • In what ways do you know you own heart? How have you come to know yourself well? When has your heart surprised you?
  • When you pray, what parts of yourself do you choose to hide from Godself? What would you be most comfortable and uncomfortable for Godself to see and know about your heart?
  • Who else in your life knows you well?

Songs about the heart:

Know Your Heart

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. ― Thich Nhat Hanh
 
Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes. Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it, another day. And you can make it one more. You’re doing just fine. ― Charlotte Eriksson

I wish you knew what I have in my heart for you, but there is no way for you to know except by my actions. — Umar b. al-Khattib

… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts. ― Leo Tolstoy
 
“I’ve never minded it,” he went on. “Being lost, that is. I had always thought one could not truly be lost if one knew one’s own heart. But I fear I may be lost without knowing yours.” ― Cassandra Clare

When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object. ― Milan Kundera
 
The heart has its reasons which reason knows not. ― Blaise Pascal
 
The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true. ― Leigh Bardugo
 
We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over. ― Ray Bradbury
 
Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! ― Charlotte Brontë
 
Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his heart, but he made it a point not to scratch it. He was afraid of what might come leaking out. ― Markus Zusak
 
Her heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high. ― William Goldman
 
One ought to hold on to one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too. ― Friedrich Nietzsche
 
“Because fear kills everything,” Mo had once told her. “Your mind, your heart, your imagination.” ― Cornelia Funke
 
Her heart – like every heart, if only its fallen sides were cleared away – was an inexhaustible fountain of love: she loved everything she saw. ― George MacDonald
 
The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration. ― Pearl Buck
 
She put one hand on mine. “When someone is in your heart, they’re never truly gone. They can come back to you, even at unlikely times.” ― Mitch Albom
 
Sometimes your heart is the only thing worth listening to. ― Marissa Meyer
 
The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too. ― Vincent van Gogh
 
Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see …each other in life. Vanity, fear, desire, competition– all such distortions within our own egos– condition our vision of those in relation to us. Add to those distortions to our own egos the corresponding distortions in the egos of others, and you see how cloudy the glass must become through which we look at each other. That’s how it is in all living relationships except when there is that rare case of two people who love intensely enough to burn through all those layers of opacity and see each other’s naked hearts. ― Tennessee Williams
 
Then he made one last effort to search in his heart for the place where his affection had rotted away, and he could not find it. ― Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 
Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another. ― Homer
 
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. —  Bible
 
Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends. ― Alphonse de Lamartine
 
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn. What the swift mind beholds at every turn. ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person. ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Heart as Sacred Place

One love, one heart, one destiny. ― Robert Marley

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee. ― Augustine of Hippo

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart. ― Mahatma Gandhi
 

Wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding, and embraces the whole of a person: mind, heart, and body. These three centers must all be working, and working in harmony, as the first prerequisite to the Wisdom way of knowing. — Cynthia Bourgeault 

There is a place in you…that is the eternal place within you. The more we visit there, the more we are touched and fused with the limitless kindness and affection of the divine…If we can inhabit that reflex of divine presence, then compassion will flow naturally from us. — John O’Donohue

Heart Center — Richard Rohr (excerpt)

Deep within each of us is a prayer phrase longing to be expressed, what some have named the Prayer of the Heart. It consists of two simple phrases—one said on inhalation and one said on exhalation. Early Christians used to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” in this fashion. That was their deep longing, for Jesus to return and be among them in physical reality. We will spend time in this exercise finding those prayers that are as close to us as our very breath. The beauty of this prayer is the way it stays with us all day, all week, or even for a lifetime if we allow it.

The Exercise 

  • Begin seated in a comfortable position. Make sure your body weight is distributed in such a way that you feel stable. Take about five deep, slow breaths and allow the tension of the day to flow out with each exhalation. After five deliberate breaths, turn your attention away from counting and allow your breath to find its natural pace.
  • What is your deepest and truest longing for life with God at this moment? If you find that your longing feels “tacky” or too worldly, try suspending judgment and instead looking at what’s at the base of that desire. When you check in with your deepest and truest self, what is it that you seek from God?
  • Give that longing a short phrase. For example, if your deep desire is inner freedom, then your phrase would be “freedom” or “inner freedom.” Make sure that your phrase is not too long.
  • What is your favorite name for God? How do you image the Creator? Choose whatever name seems to fit best for you. Some examples include: Jesus, Wisdom, Father, Mother, or Mystery. Be as creative as you want to be. But again, keep the name rather short.
  • Combine your name for God with your longing. For example, if my phrase is “freedom” and the name I choose for God is Christ, my prayer of the heart might be “Freedom, in Christ.” Spend a few moments coming up with your two-part prayer
  • Begin to say—either aloud or silently—your phrase. You may inhale on the name of God and exhale on the desire or vice versa. Spend several minutes breathing this prayer. Make it your own. Allow God to inhabit this prayer.
  • After several minutes of repeating this prayer, sink into contemplative silence. Allow the love of God to fill you and surround you.
  • If you want to be sure to remember this phrase to pray it throughout the day, write it down. You might want to place it on the back of a business card and put it in your wallet or pocket. Place it on a sticky note next to your computer, or on the door of your refrigerator.

Reference:

  • Teresa A. Blythe, 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times (Abingdon Press: 2006), 36-38.

Wisdom of the Heart Richard Rohr (excerpt)

Here are five interlocking habits of the heart . . . deeply ingrained patterns of receiving, interpreting, and responding to experience that involve our intellects, emotions, self-images, and concepts of meaning and purpose. These five habits, taken together, are crucial to sustaining a democracy.

  • We must understand that we are all in this together. Ecologists, economists, ethicists, philosophers of science, and religious and secular leaders have all given voice to this theme. . . .
  • We must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.”. . . [This] can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger. . . .
  • We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. . . . When we allow [these] tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. . . .
  • We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency. Insight and energy give rise to new life as we speak and act, expressing our version of truth while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. . . .
  • We must strengthen our capacity to create community. . . . The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. [4]

References:

  1. Terry Tempest Williams, “Engagement,” Orion, July-August 2004. See also Williams, The Open Space of Democracy (Wip and Stock: 2004), 83-84.
  2. [Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Way of the Heart,” Parabola, January 31, 2017.
  3. Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Voice of the Day: Richard Rohr on Sacred Space,” Sojourners, October 24, 2016.
  4. Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy (Jossey-Bass: 2014, ©2011), 6-7, 44-46.

Reflections on surprise, disruption and the Holy Spirit: themes from Pentecost and Acts 2

It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. — Frederick Douglass

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. — Khalil Gibran

Pentecost Blessing — Jan Richardson

On the day when you are wearing
your certainty like a cloak
and your sureness goes before you
like a shield or like a sword,

may the sound of God’s name
spill from your lips as you have never heard it before.

May your knowing be undone.
May mystery confound your understanding.

May the Divine rain down in strange syllables
yet with an ancient familiarity,
a knowing borne in the blood,
the ear, the tongue,
bringing the clarity that comes
not in stone or in steel
but in fire, in flame.

May there come one searing word:
enough to bare you to the bone,
enough to set your heart ablaze,
enough to make you whole again.


Questions to consider about Acts 2: 1-21:

  • What gifts do you believe you have received from the Spirit?
  • When have you felt connected to something larger than yourself?
  • When have you had a sense that you’ve lost control and your expectations have been overturned? What happened next? Did that experience make a lasting change in you?
  • When have you felt like a ‘stranger in a strange land?’ What helped you reconnect?

Music about fire, wind, breath and Spirit:

Thoughts on Pentecost & Holy Spirit

Chi and the Christian understanding of the Holy Spirit share many commonalities. The Old Testament ruach and the New Testament pneuma carry the same ambiguity of multiple meanings, as does Chi, such as “breath, air, wind, or soul.” — Kim

Here’s one thing
you must understand
about this blessing:
it is not for you alone.
It is stubborn about this.
Do not even try
to lay hold of it
if you are by yourself,
thinking you can carry it
on your own …
— Jan Richardson

Both the Jews and Christians celebrate Pentecost. During the Jewish Pentecost, every male Jew living within twenty miles of Jerusalem was legally bound to go up to Jerusalem to participate in the feast. Jewish Pentecost is also known by the name Shebuot or  Shavuot (The Feast of Weeks). … For Christians … It is the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles in the form of different tongues. It took place fifty days after the Resurrection of Jesus. The feasts also commemorate the inauguration of the Christian Church by apostles. — latestly.com

… Fire fell, I say, in angel-swarm, and men were changed for good,
To feast with God, to feast on God, to savor holy food.
Bread and wine, body and blood, were shed and tucked in a tomb.
But, out He strolled, and breathed His breath, and the world became a womb …
— Ross Guthrie

You burn with irrepressible, ferocious passion … we can barely stand upright in the face of your love … you would subsume us in the unrelenting hold of your peace … thank god our inadequacy defining you has never stopped you yet. — Cheryl Lawrie… look for – and expect! – the Holy Spirit to come along side us and shake things up, preparing and equipping each and all of us to share the disruptive, surprising, and life-giving word of grace of the God who will not rest until all people enjoy abundant life … — David Lose

English translations also underplay the fear-inducing, adrenalin-pumping, wind-tossed, fire-singed, smoke-filled turmoil of that experience. Those who observed this Pentecost visitation from outside the room are described in the NRSV as “bewildered” (v. 6), “amazed and astonished” (v. 7), and “amazed and perplexed” (v. 12). The Greek terms describing their reactions could be appropriately rendered (following the lead of various lexicons) as confused, in an uproar, beside themselves, undone, blown away, thoroughly disoriented, completely uncomprehending. — Frank Couch

This is not a soft, cuddly Holy Spirit; this is an uncontrollable and unpredictable Spirit … the Spirit is not our private possession — it’s not “mine.” The Spirit is given to the whole community. — Patrick Johnson

The Spirit is like breath, as close as the lungs, the chest, the lips, the fogged canvas where little fingers draw hearts, the tide that rises and falls twenty-three thousand times a day in a rhythm so intimate we forget to notice until it enervates or until a supine yogi says pay attention and its fragile power awes again. … The Spirit is like fire, deceptively polite in its dance atop the wax and wick of our church candles, but wild and mercurial as a storm when unleashed. … The Spirit is like a seal, an emblem bearing the family crest, a promise of belonging, protection, favor. …The Spirit is like wind, earth’s oldest sojourner, which in one place readies a sail, in another whittles a rock, in another commands the trees to bow, in another gently lifts a bridal veil. … The Spirit is like a bird, fragile alloy of heaven and earth, where wind and feather and flight meets breath and blood and bones. … The Spirit is like a womb, from which the living are born again. — Rachel Held Evans

Excerpt from Mindfulness Exercise by Thich Nhat Hanh (full article)

Just recognize: this is an in-breath, this is an out-breath. Very simple, very easy. In order to recognize your in-breath as in-breath, you have to bring your mind home to yourself. What is recognizing your in-breath is your mind, and the object of your mind—the object of your mindfulness—is the in-breath. Mindfulness is always mindful of something. When you drink your tea mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of drinking. When you walk mindfully, it’s called mindfulness of walking. And when you breathe mindfully, that is mindfulness of breathing.

So the object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you just focus your attention on it. Breathing in, this is my in-breath. Breathing out, this is my out-breath. When you do that, the mental discourse will stop. You don’t think anymore. You don’t have to make an effort to stop your thinking; you bring your attention to your in-breath and the mental discourse just stops. That is the miracle of the practice. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. You don’t think of your projects, because you are focusing your attention, your mindfulness, on your breath.

Spirit as Flame and Fire

Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.
Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.
Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.
— attributed to Rumi

Love in its essence is spiritual fire. — Seneca

The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire. — Ferdinand Foch

Heat cannot be separated from fire, nor beauty from the eternal. — Dante Alighieri

We cannot tear out a single page of our life, but we can throw the whole book in the fire. — George Sand

You kindled me, heap of ashes that I am, into fire. — Cassandra Clare

… I am … setting fire to the forests
at night when no one else is alive or awake
however you choose to see it and I live in my own flames
sometimes burning too bright and too wild
to make things last or handle myself or anyone else
and so I run. run run run
far and wide until my bones ache and lungs split
and it feels good. Hear that people? It feels good …
― Charlotte Eriksson

Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden. ― Cormac McCarthy, The Road

If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is. ― Charles Bukowski

There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke. ― attributed to Vincent van Gogh

The Moth don’t care
when he sees The Flame.
He might get burned,
but he’s in the game.
And once he’s in,
he can’t go back,
he’ll Beat his wings
’til he burns them black…
No, The Moth don’t care
when he sees The Flame …
The Moth don’t care if
The Flame is real,
‘Cause Flame and Moth
got a sweetheart deal.
And nothing fuels
a good flirtation,
Like Need and Anger
and Desperation…
No, The Moth don’t care
if The Flame is real …
― Aimee Mann

Spirit as Wind and Breath

The wind that gave our grandfather his first breath also received his last sigh. The wind also gives our children the spirit of life. — Chief Seattle

The breath of life is in the sunlight and the hand of life is in the wind. ― Kahlil Gibran

Close your eyes and turn your face into the wind. Feel it sweep along your skin in an invisible ocean of exultation. Suddenly, you know you are alive. ― Vera Nazarian

The wind shows us how close to the edge we are. — Joan Didion

To most human beings, wind is an irritation. To most trees, wind is a song. ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana 

When men sow the wind it is rational to expect that they will reap the whirlwind. — Frederick Douglass

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. — William Arthur Ward

What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives?— E. M. Forster


 You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of. — Jim Rohn

I hear the wind among the trees Playing the celestial symphonies; I see the branches downward bent, Like keys of some great instrument. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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