Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve Morning

In a half hour I will be driving to church for my last morning of contemplative prayer in the sanctuary. It has been a gift that I gave myself during this season - a daily discipline of time in silence with God. Only one person has been with me regularly - Ruth. And during this time her partner got sick, passed away and we had his funeral. So the mornings of sitting with her through it all - have been so important to both of us. Who knew when this was planned that such a momentous event would happen during these four weeks?

This has been a pretty hard Advent for me as pastor as I have tried to walk with people in some really difficult circumstances. We have watched the deaths of a baby, a 56 year old man and a 99 year old woman. There are folks with financial problems, with issues with children and elderly parents. We have marriages that are going through struggles and of course, all the people with seasonal affective disorder. And also, the shootings in Connecticut that have caused all of us more pain than we know. This is life in the local church, of course, but for some reason, this Advent has seemed just more challenging.

That may be why I did not put up the regular Christmas tree but instead opted for a 4 foot pink tree that Chuck got in a storage unit. I put it on the table in front of the window with silver bulbs on it and have presents piled underneath it. I think it is different and quirky - Marnie said it was pathetic. Anyway, my mantra during this season has been that I have been "getting it done." And I have - Cards mailed, sermons written, services planned. And now it is Christmas Eve.

I cannot help but think about other Christmas Eves when I was a child and even a young mother and there was so much more excitement about it all. Today, I will pray with Ruth, plan Christmas Eve service, write the homily and look forward to a quiet Christmas.

But actually, as I write this, I hope for more tonight. Planning Christmas Eve worship is always a puzzle and a mystery. We want to hear "the story" and at the same time we need to hear it in a new way in order for the good news to break through our complacency about it all. Or maybe I am speaking for myself after 20 plus years of planning Christmas Eve services.

All I know is that I want this service to bring a sense of hope and peace and especially joy to all of us. This really is about the light in the darkness and the hope of new life - no matter when in our lives.

My prayer for this day is that I will be open to God's creative spirit and that tonight transcends all of our efforts and we really can experience "Emmanuel" - God with us.

We need that. I need that.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Letter

I send out fewer cards every year - but this is the letter than I am including this year.

It has been a very good year for Chuck and I and we look forward in anticipation to whatever surprises God has for us in 2013.

Dear Friends
As I write this Chuck’s cookie making stuff is all over the kitchen. He is getting ready for his annual “Christmas Tea” at the end of the week. He and his friend John have been doing this for the past 8 years – an hour for people to spend time together over a cup of tea. Chuck and John are always dressed up in vests and ties and are our wonderful hosts.

. We are blessed to be in good health (correction: Chuck says “fairly good”) and have a full and rich life here in Columbus. Chuck has added one new endeavor this fall – he has been buying the contents of storage units. It is so perfect for a man with his gifts for fixing things up, wheeling and dealing and giving things away. Our garage, back porch and basement are pretty full these days – but it is really fun to be part of this “treasure hunting.”

My life as pastor of Karl Road Christian Church continues to be busy and satisfying. I am very pleased that this year our church did intentional study around the issue of homosexuality and we now have a welcoming statement naming ourselves as a church of radical hospitality. My learning has been that if the church does not speak about this – our silence gives assent to those who would exclude and condemn the GLBT community.

The family is all doing well and the grandchildren are growing into really wonderful and interesting people. One of the highlights of our family life was the marriage of Shane and Brittany this spring and I was honored to officiate. It was a beautiful and very fun wedding.

My hope for all of you is that you have a blessed holiday season. We celebrate the one who came to show us a way of life that is full of compassion, peace, hope and joy. My prayer is that you are able to receive it all this year.

Merry Christmas!

Love Margot and Chuck


Or vulnerable.

That is how we are whether we like it or not. As I prepared my sermon for yesterday I said - and believe - that the horrific killings in Connecticut lifted the veil for all of us. And revealed our condition - vulnerable. Always.

We like to now talk about gun control (yes!) and mental health issues and school security. And they are important and changes are probably necessary. But at some point we all are very vulnerable all the time. I remember when there were the church killings in Knoxville and I thought that someone could come into my church at any time and do the same thing. We have "ambassadors" to protect us - but really - a person with a machine gun?

And then there are the health issues that we don't know about. For both my parents and my sister the cancer came seemingly out of nowhere. And what can you do? Chemo, radiation, prayer, but we are all vulnerable.

And maybe that is why I love Jesus so much. Born in the most vulnerable way - in an animal trough away from home. You know the story. And his life was a life of non defensive living and yet courage to speak the truth and compassion to reach out to all people.

And he shows me that I can trust God through the worst of what life has to offer. It is not avoiding pain but getting through it and continuing to live. Forever.

I watch people whose response to pain and loss is self protection and anger and unending grief. And I know about stages of grief - but I also know that it is easy to get stuck.

I think the answer is always to to look for the light, to wait for the healing and to know that even after the death of precious children our life must continue. There are more blessings to come as hard as that is to imagine right now.

We are vulnerable - always - and we are alive.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Expressions of Faith

I have a couple of minutes before I go to church to pray to consider a very full weekend.

My Advent Retreat was this weekend and it was wonderful, satisfying and very tiring for me. We have a "slumber party" on Friday night and 7 women joined me at the lodge to just sit around the fire and talk. No agenda, no program, just conversation. It is a good beginning to the retreat except that i often have trouble sleeping at the lodge.
I got to really catch up with some women from my old church in Bowling Green and that is always a blessing.

The retreat itself was called "Hope for the Holy Days" and 21 women attended for the day. As I pondered the whole idea of hope and some scriptures from Isaiah that gave hope, I also understood that we needed to recognize the areas that needed hope. And the human condition of feeling alienated, dead, alone, and empty. There are three important parts to the retreats that I do - the first part is allowing people to just be in silence and reflection. They have the gift of scripture and Camp itself as they can walk and pray. The second part is allowing us to get together in small groups and be able to pray for each other. Over the years I keep hearing how important that has been to women. And finally in the afternoon we do some sort of craft that helps us to visit and express our feelings in a tangible way. This year the craft was a snow flake ornament and everyone had the freedom to do whatever they wanted with it and the creativity was awesome.

The last few weeks in the church has been a time of grief for many people and as I looked out over the group of women I knew that just getting away for a day with others who valued the spiritual life was a gift. So, when it was all said and done, we really did find hope in our being together. It was a HOly Day.

And then yesterday morning we had worship and somehow I pulled together a sermon. But Sunday morning I was extremely tired. And wondered how to get through the day.

Sunday night we had a program that was called "Acts of Faith present The Meaning of Christmas." Acts of Faith is a signing choir that is based at our church and every year they put together a program. This one was outstanding and featured other signing choirs and choirs. In addition, Carol, our music director sang a solo of O Holy Night. The church was packed and it was very diverse - actually more black than white. And it was full of spirit. There was a miming group from a Baptist Church that was just wonderful. By the end of the evening my spirits were revived and my tiredness gone! It was really a testament to the power of the holy spirit.

So, as usual, I say - God is good, all the time.

I am grateful to be in this life where I have access to very different expressions of faith - from silent meditation, to formal worship, to a spirit filled evening like last night. It all gives me life.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I am here to be with you

That became my mantra after a silent retreat this fall.
It seemed like it said everything.

I am HERE - on this earth - to be in conscious contact (communion) with the source of all life.

And I am HERE in prayer - to be in conscious contact (communion) with the source of all life.

And it is easy to say and hard for me to really do. Be HERE.

So often I am somewhere else - thinking ahead, pondering the past, wondering what to do next.
Distracted by sounds, by my body, by my inborn resistence to be HERE>

I write all this after a time of contemplative prayer in the sanctuary this morning. As I sat there, with a candle lit, after reading a devotional, and in silence.

I was present - or at least trying to be.

The question of this day was - "What do you have to let go of for this season?"

And always I wonder about that. I am taking something on - which is giving God my time every morning.

But the question is: can I give God my attention? Can I be here?

I am working on it.

And hoping always for growth.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday in Advent

Today is the first Sunday in Advent and I feel like I need it. Advent. That 4 weeks of preparation for our celebration of the birth of Jesus.

I woke up this morning to a full house with Addie and Reagan sleeping in the prayer room and more and more "stuff" from other people's storage encroaching in my living space. The girls are here because Marnie and Erik are at a destination wedding in Florida. The stuff is here because Chuck keeps on keeping on with the storage unit purchases. And until I put my foot down more and more of the "treasures" find their way onto kitchen and dining tables, corners in the family room and now almost every space in the back porch.

Advent is traditionally a time of preparation and the preparation that I need is to make space. Physically, mentally and make space for God in my life.

I have added some activity to my calendar which I hope will ultimately be space with God in community. I intend to pray at the church every morning from 8 - 8:30. I did that during Lent and found it to be personally helpful. Few people joined me, but it was an enforced discipline of "space and time making"

I also will start two "Christmas Care Groups" which will be times for lectio divina Bible study and prayer and conversation. I have no idea whether anyone will come, but I felt led to offer this.

What is interesting to me is how easily it is for everything to start to encroach on me so that I feel increasingly disconnected from God and from my best self. And it does not take much to be back "on track" or into a place of "attunement."

and so Advent, the opportunity to reflect and wait and prepare myself and others

always wondering what God will do with me and with us during these seasons.

Something new and interesting, I am sure.

I am getting ready.

Here is what Madeliene L'Engle wrote about Advent

Come in your naked, newborn might.
Come, with bolts of lightning hurled.
Come in your flaming, burning power.
Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come;
Come speak in joy untamed and wild.

And in the words of Richard Rohr:

This is what Advent means: to be chosen and upheld by God, to be filled with God's delight and Spirit, to bring justice to the nations, to not shout or break a bruised reed, to not snuff out a smoldering wick, to not grow discouraged until we establish justice, to hold God's hand and be God's promise, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison, to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness (Isaiah 42:1-9).

Advent is here - let us prepare ourselves again this year.

Come, Lord Jesus Come