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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Christmas Eve is by far my favorite moment in the year, a time when my family has always gathered together to celebrate our faith and our traditions. Tonight is the blessed moment in my calendar year when I can reconnect to my beliefs, to celebrate that humble baby in the manger, to look forward to a wonderful New Year while looking back on the blessings of the past year.

It’s the moment when, at the end of our worship service, the candles are lit and the strains of “Silent Night” ring out through the church. Christian voices, young and old, candlelightaround the world are joining in song to invite the magic of Christmas into their lives. I sit in my pew in the silent night to quiet my mind, to allow God back in, to give myself peace, to allow His voice to be heard. That moment in time is so beautiful that I am usually brought to tears – sometimes in sadness for the things that have been lost, sometimes in hope that better things are coming, sometimes with a profound joy for the blessings in my life. I pray in that moment for quiet, for peace, for forgiveness, for happiness.

Merry Christmas to all of my Christian friends on this most sacred of nights. To all of my friends of other beliefs, I wish you a warm winter’s night with your families. And to ALL of my friends, near and far, may your night be filled with magic and peace and love.

“Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright.”

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I don’t think that anyone would argue with me that this has been a dark year in the world. 2017 has been defined by hurricanes and wild fires, political unrest and the depressing news of sexual harassment, corruption, extreme bad manners and general misbehavior on all levels of our society, threats of nuclear war and unchecked violence against humanity. This is not a shining time in our history and its so easy to point fingers and lay blame for why we seem to have gone to hell in a handbasket.

But this magical season, the time of Christmas and advent and new beginnings, is not the star-of-bethlehemtime to dwell in the darkness. This is the time to celebrate the new light and the new Light. There is a reason that we celebrate with candles in windows, twinkling lights on the trees (inside and out), sparkling garlands festooning our walls and mantels, and roaring fires in our hearths. This is a time of light and wonder — and HOPE. This is the season to make things better for ourselves, for our world, for humanity. Please, let your light shine forth in the darkness, let your hopes and dreams make for a better 2018.

“Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting Light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” 

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The most underrated and overlooked part of the Christmas season is the JOY, the pure enjoyment of the blessings around us. Friends, family, food on our tables, religious moments (regardless of what faith you practice), and glowing decorations are all aroundd105244 us – if we remember to look at them! We are so busy buying gifts, making cookies, decorating, rushing, hosting parties, wrapping, moving that silly elf, and meeting endless social requirements – we drown in stress and forget to enjoy the season. This is a magical time of year, whether its a white Christmas or a palm tree decorated with fairy lights, and we just have to make time to enjoy!

This is the time to rejoice in the arrival of the Christ Child and the blessings that He would bring to us. This is the time to make room in our busy schedules for special time with our family and friends, to make room for kindness and good will to all people of earth even if they don’t look or think like us, to make room in our homes for humans and animals in need, to make room in our hearts for forgiveness and to move forward into the New Year and new beginnings. It is a time for JOY, it truly is a Wonderful Life!

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing!”

 

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One of my favorite elements of the nativity story is the angels and the shepherds. The dictionary defines “angel” as a noun that is 1) a spiritual being believed to act as an attendant, agent, or messenger of God, conventionally represented in human form with wings and a long robe OR 2) a person of exemplary conduct or virtue. A shepherd is defined as noun that is a person whose job it is to tend sheep OR a verb that is to guide someone or something.

So, in other words, some of God’s highest beings (heavenly messengers) appeared to some of society’s lowest beings (livestock herders). Under modern thinking and language, we think now of angels as anyone in this world who does good things and we think of shepherds as the guides who direct someone to or from something. But in Biblical times, shepherds were low on the social pecking order and angels were direct messengers from the Lord bearing messages both good and bad – think of the Angel Gabriel, the angel who led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Archangel Michael, and the angels who are predicted to stand with us humans on Judgement Day. And while care for the goats and sheep of a nomadic society was a vital occupation (to protect the source of meat, milk, hides, and wool), they were usually young, unmarried men who would sit for days and weeks isolated from society.

So it fascinates me to think that God would send the first heavenly announcement of the birth of our Lord not to kings or rich men sitting in tents surrounded by gold but to theseAngel-visits-shepherds-on-first-Christmas lowly, lonely men. How amazing is the idea of these glowing heavenly beings appearing out of the night sky like shining stars to sing out the good news and to issue the invitation for visits to the newborn! And that invitation was issued to flocks of sheep and their working class tenders! I am inspired to think that the heavenly message is for all people, not just the rich and powerful, beautiful and important.

“Come to Bethlehem and see, Him whose birth the angels sing. Come adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the newborn King.”

 

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A staple of my personal holiday hit parade list at this time of year is the classic carol “O Come All Ye Faithful.” You don’t hear it on the radio much (I assume due to its sacred and not secular nature) but there are literally thousands of wonderful recorded versions of this, from Sarah Maclachlan to Andrea Bocelli. I’ve heard it performed in Latin and in English, by large choirs and soloists, by men and women. The one commonality that resounds: it is a call to the faithful to celebrate this time of year.

As it says in the title, this is a call for ALL the faithful. Christmas and the arrival of the baby Jesus are not just for the ‘good’ and the ‘holy’ and the fancy fussy Christians that e83a233d7ca6904fbe5bbbd2adf0e75adutifully attend some stuffy old church every Sunday in their finest clothes. This time of year is meant to remind all Christians of their faith and of the humble beginnings of the Christ Child. The hymn is a call to all of us to remember what our faith is based in and to renew the joy and peace found in believing.

I wouldn’t dare to presume but I personally don’t think God cares what a good, faithful Christian wears to church or how much money they put in the offering plate. I don’t think he cares what skin color or what gender or what political bend a worshipper has. I don’t think he judges based on what their job is or what kind of car they drive. He cares about how we treat the people around us, in how we give of ourselves to the world, and what we contribute to bettering our fellow human beings.

I am a sinner. As a good friend of mine, who is a pastor, reminds me all the time — we are all sinners! But this is my favorite time of year because we sinners can be renewed with the birth of that baby in the stable in Bethlehem. From the lowliest birth, the faithful are reenergized with the joy of our Savior. Every December, we are called to remember and reinvest in the basic tenets of what we believe: peace, goodwill to men, kindness to all creatures, love your neighbor, and forgive those who have wronged you, to name just a few.

So, “O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold him, born the King of Angels. O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.” Blessings to ALL ye faithful!

 

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I have spent the better part of the last 2 years thinking that I am now permanently damaged goods. Besides the constant sense of bitterness and the fragile state of my already-heavily-damaged ego, I have questioned if these experiences have made me unfit for future human relationships. Forget about the male-female romantic type of relationships (of which I fear I am permanently unfit) but even just the simple human interactions. What happens if I am too screwed up to ever have a normal friendship again??

If you had asked me 10 years ago where I envisioned my life would be at this juncture, you can bet your sweet bippy that it never would have occurred to me that I would be more lost than I was at 18 – rootless and struggling with my faith, my self-esteem, and my future – I thought I had outgrown these sorts of emotions. So now I feel that I am too messed up, too crazy, too jaded, too broken – damaged goods.

So last night, in spending some time with my nearly-perfect friend (who will be known here only as “The B”) I discovered that I am not alone in the feeling of being ‘damaged.’ “The B”  is tall, gorgeous, outgoing, funny, intelligent and charismatic – and yet feels that she isn’t good enough. We actually spent quite a bit of the evening arguing over who is crazier, more angry, and/or more flawed. How is that a woman who is almost the perfect ideal of a female in current American society share the same sense of inadequacy that I have? “The B” is the kind of woman that I want to be when I grow up – how can SHE feel that she’s as crazy as I am?!

Is it a woman thing? Are we, as females, programmed to feel inadequate in some way at all times in our lives? I don’t think that’s exclusively the answer – although I DO believe that females specialize in feeling insecure and flawed. But I know many men who suffer from some of the same feelings that we have, especially the men who have been through shattering divorces or other life-altering events. These men are normal, everyday guys who have managed (just like “The B” and I) to get out of bed and face each new day. So, no, I don’t think it’s just ‘a woman thing’ – I actually think it’s more widespread than that.

My evening with “The B” has helped me to realize something very important – we are ALL damaged goods! There is not a single person, no matter how good it looks like they may have it in life, that is truly content with who they are. Maybe it’s trauma (emotional or physical) that has damaged someone, maybe it’s simply born in them – but we ALL feel that we have flaws. I am so glad to have company in the Damaged Goods area of the department store of life! Does it make me a bad person to rejoice in the company I keep?? I have truly wonderful friends that have helped me to realize that they too struggle with the damages in their lives – and if they can survive, so can I!

So, to”The B” I send the assurance that we are both crazier than hell, totally screwed up, and yet totally lovable!! And we are not alone – there are a lot of us that are Damaged Goods – and we should stand proud!

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A true child of the ’80’s am I, raised on the wisdom of sitcoms and television dramas. I admit especially to being a M*A*S*H-aholic. Back in its heyday, my big brother watched it (he being the older, wiser, and more worldly of the two of us) and I admit now to an obsessive need to view the marathons on TVLand and Hallmark Channel every chance I get. Many an important life lesson was learned from that show (along with The Golden Girls) and even now I find that the TV shows of my childhood are still shaping my values.

The episode I was watching earlier tonight was the pen pal letters episode – Hawkeye’s friend back home gets her elementary school students in Crabapple Cove, Maine to write letters to the personnel of the 4077th. In the midst of writing back to the children and amongst the amusing and mundane anecdotes that the staff chooses to tell the kids about, there are several poignant moments in which the staff is forced to reexamine their role in the war – and in life. One of the students writes a letter that Hawkeye must answer in which the student says he hates the doctors because they fixed up his brother and sent him back into combat in which he was subsequently killed. As Hawkeye is pondering how to answer this child, a child is brought in from a local orphanage who has a severe brain injury – and the priest who runs the orphanage prays “Dear God, I thank you for providing….to have them here in this place at this time is truly a sign of Your providence.”  All of a sudden, Hawkeye knows what to write to the poor young student back home, full of so much anger: “I understand your feelings. Sometimes I hate myself for being here. But once in a while, in the midst of this insanity, a very small event can make my being here seem almost bearable.”

I had seen this episode at least 5 times before and yet this was the first time that this whole exchange made me stop and go hmmmm….

I am a woman of strong faith. I have stated over and over and over again that I am sure God has a plan for me, that the struggles and pain that I have suffered for the last 10 years have not been in vain. I constantly recite the AA mantra “Let go and let God.” Despite my faith, I admit that I have often questioned why God has put me in this situation, given me this kind of pain.

Now, thanks to a television show (geez, welcome to religion in America), I have a whole new way of looking at things. Because of God’s plan, I was put here at this moment in time in this particular geographical location for a purpose. Divine providence has brought me to this moment in my life with my own special brand of emotional baggage for a purpose. And, much like Hawkeye, I don’t quite know yet what that purpose is – but I have a strong faith that my small event is coming, that event which will make it all clear.  I have only to wait and to trust in the Lord and to believe that my time is coming. I will let you know when that time comes. In the meantime, I can only hope that I will become Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan when I grow up. But that’s a topic for another day.

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