Mindful Advent – Fear

Yes, it is a surprising meditation focus for our Mindful Advent: fear.  But Advent is a time of preparation, and being aware of fear in others and being prepared for it can help us to improve our world.

When we are aware that our loved ones (children, spouses/significant others, family), friends, coworkers are acting out of fear, then we can respond in ways that help mitigate or de-escalate their fear, rather than to inflame it.  In a way, this is how Elizabeth and Mary helped each other, as they no doubt experienced some apprehension or even fear at their unexpected circumstances.

When we are aware that someone is fearful and/or using fear to manipulate us into feeling or doing something that is against our better nature or contrary to the community’s best interest, then we can resist it.  Herod feared a rival to his throne, even if that rival came in the form of a baby.  He tried to manipulate the magi to get information for him so that (unbeknownst to them) he could do harm and mitigate this threat.  But they became aware of this situation (they slept on it), and resisted Herod by going home by another way, choosing to not give in to his fear.

Fear is something that affects us all.  How we respond to it can be helped by awareness, seeking help in community, and resisting its pull to our more base instincts.

Be calm, and be not afraid.


Mindful Advent – Angel

angels unaware

Sorry for the late post — my wifi wasn’t working at home this morning.

Today’s meditation focus is on “angel.” Angels in scripture were messengers from God.  In the Advent/Christmas story, they said things like “do not be afraid” and “The Lord is with you” and “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people…”

What does an angel look like to you (that is, who is an angel)?  If you were to doodle or draw an angel as you meditate (and I invite you to do so) what would it look like: a generic person, or a particular person in your life, or maybe an abstract glow of light/aura, or maybe perhaps even a little like you?


Mindful Advent – Ordinary

It might seem strange to pick the word “ordinary” for our Mindful Advent focus word of the day at such a special time of the year.  But let’s meditate on it for a few moments today — in fact, I invite you to take a few moments here and there in this “ordinary” day, and really see how in the midst of the ordinary, there are indeed extraordinary blessings.

The people who make up the Christmas stories in scripture are quite ordinary people (except, perhaps, the magi), in spite of our efforts to elevate them with fancy gold embossed Christmas cards.  They could be our neighbors — the young couple just starting out, poor but with great hopes before them, the older couple facing a later in life surprise, but full of wisdom and caring for those around them, shepherds hanging out in the field, just doing their job.  Even though they are ordinary, or maybe because they are ordinary, they experience God’s message and God’s blessing for them, in their ordinary lives, this wondrous, convention-busting God.  They could be our neighbors, they could be us, they are us.


“Let us remind ourselves that it is ordinary people — men and women, boys and girls — that make the world a special place.” -Nelson Mandela

“The courage of very ordinary people is all that stands between us and the dark.” -Pam Brown

“There are no great people in this world, only great challenges which ordinary people rise to meet.” -William Frederich Halsey

Mindful Advent – Seeking/Searching

Today’s Mindful Advent focus word is “seeking” or “searching.”  Meditate on these.  What comes to mind?  Are you searching for something in your life, like love or fulfillment?  Do you have a vague sense that there is something missing, but you don’t know what it is?  Spend some time with it, give it some space, and see what happens…

The Advent/Christmas stories all have an aspect of seeking/searching to them.  Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, like others they know have been longing for, seeking a messiah to save them from oppression, as a fulfillment of God’s promises through the prophets to bring a savior.  The magi were seeking a new king, a new ruler who had special qualities.  I can imagine them, in their caravan, long days of riding their camels with lots of time to meditate on what it was they were expecting to find and what difference it would make to their lives, and then looking up into the night sky at that star — they followed it, but it was not what they were seeking, but it would show them the way.


Here are some thoughts to ponder, two from Viktor Frankl, who wrote of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, and then from a scientist who shows us, I think, that we can’t help but ask such questions.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

“For the world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?”
Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time


Mindful Advent – Joy

Today’s Mindful Advent meditation focus is “joy.”

The third Sunday in Advent is often celebrated as the Sunday of Joy, with Mary’s song known as the Magnificat as the key scripture reading (Luke 1:46-55).  The only thing I remember hearing in church as a kid about Mary when it came to Advent/Christmas was about how dutiful a servant of God she was, that she took on this sudden and mysterious task of being the “Mother of God” (I was raised in a more traditional religious community than the one I serve now).

But as a adult, I’ve come to know this joy that Mary expresses at the first signs that the child she is carrying is going to be special, is going to bring salvation to the people, not as just personal joy but also as joy for her community.  If you really read Mary’s song, she is not just being personal here, she is being political.  She is talking about a God who would overturn powerful oppressors and lift up the lowly, feed the hungry and turn away the rich.  She is echoing the prophets of old, in reminding the people that God wants justice for the poor and the downtrodden (and yes, the immigrant and the stranger among you), that all are welcome to God’s grace and mercy and that all are not just spiritually blessed but they should have physical sustenance as well.  This is an ancient understanding, not just something us “bleeding heart liberals” dreamt up.  It is biblical, it is spiritual, it is gospel, it is what Jesus would do.  And that is joyous news for us, all of us, today.


Mindful Advent – Wonder

Today’s Mindful Advent focus word for meditation is “wonder.”

I don’t have any nice graphic to share, for I don’t feel that way this morning.  I made the mistake of checking news feeds late yesterday, so I went to be with a heavy heart and woke up this morning likewise, not exactly in a “wonder” mood.  Twenty million people are at risk of losing insurance coverage because of a Texas judge’s ruling.  Our governor signed the bills into law that took away power from our newly elected governor, a power grab by the Republicans because the voters of the state rejected their governor and attorney general; so much for democracy.  There was a bomb scare at Sandy Hook Elementary on the 6th anniversary of a mass shooting.  And my twitter feed included stories and a picture of a 7-year-old who had died in Border Patrol custody, no medical care for 90 minutes after first becoming ill, and at least one of our government officials blaming the victim and her parents for her death.

How can we even talk about wonder when we encounter news reports like this every day.  But then this morning I remembered something else that happened this week.  By accident (kismet? the Spirit? just dumb luck?) I caught most of a program on PBS, and remembering that program made it possible for me to post about wonder, and mean it.  The program was “Tree of Life: A Concert for Peace and Unity” by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and guests, a program to honor the tragedy of 10/27 when 11 were killed and 7 injured by a shooter as they gathered for Shabbat services.  At one point in the concert, young girls dressed in white came out carrying candles, representing the victims, while violinists played hauntingly moving music.  At the end, bells were rung and then silence observed for the victims.  And in the middle, the great violinist Itzhak Perlman played that familiar piece from “Schindler’s List”, and the memory of the visuals and the silence and the music remind me of the power of these to move our hearts, and yes even to help heal.

What were those shepherds thinking and feeling on that night when they saw the stars and felt like the angels sang their heavenly glorias and it all led to a babe, new life and new hope personified?  What did they feel? Wonder.

Mindful Advent – Prepare

prepare Today’s Mindful Advent meditation focus: prepare.

If you know anything about Advent (the four weeks before Christmas) you might know that this is a big word in church services and scripture readings during this time.  It is a time of waiting, active waiting which requires preparation.  John the Baptist calls us to prepare the way of the Lord.  Its a strange thing, if you think about it for a few minutes: we are preparing for something we know has already happened, but is yet to happen.  Long ago someone was born, and we will be celebrating his birthday soon.  We’re good at the preparation for that birthday celebration: we get food and drink ready, we put up special decorations, we get presents and send cards (ok, for us, not the birthday boy, but still there are presents and cards around), there are special songs, and we arrange to gather with others.   So we do a good job of preparing for the birthday.  But the season of Advent calls us to prepare in a different way: are our hearts and minds prepared for what Christ can be in our lives?  Are we prepared for the awesome wonder of the sense that God so loves us that God wants to be with us, even in the struggles and the misery?  Are we prepared for the radical message that Jesus will bring us, not just that blessed are the poor, but also blessed are those who work for peace, and also that whenever we help someone we are helping him?  Are we prepared to follow in the footsteps of someone who broke through social barriers to proclaim in word and deed that all are welcome at the table of God’s love and grace? How can we prepare for such wondrous blessings?  Maybe sitting with them for awhile, really sitting with this sense that we are worthy of such wondrous blessings, and not just us but everyone — no exceptions.

blessings on your meditations today,


Mindful Advent – Possibilities

Yesterday I mentioned about Mary pondering the possibilities of her life in wonder and awe.  As you meditate on our Mindful Advent focus of the day “possibilities,” I invite you to imagine yourself in a room with a door or window (or doors and windows).  The doors and windows represent the possibilities in your life.  Have you ever thought — “I wish I could…” or “I should try…” or “Maybe …”  Maybe the possibilities in your life aren’t about things you might do or be, but attitudes about the world or yourself — “I wish I could be more positive about the future” or “I want to believe in myself more” or …  What is keeping the door or window closed? What is keeping you from going through the threshold to that new possibility?  Still working on being prepared?  Then image yourself living into the possibility as a way to encourage you to continue the work.  Need a little courage or some help?  Then image yourself living into the possibility to give you the courage to take the steps needed.  And, like Mary, remember that you are not alone — God’s Spirit, leading us to a new day of possibilities if we take up the invitation, travels with us wherever our life’s journey takes us.


“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“What we call doubt is often simply dullness of mind and spirit, not the absence of faith at all, but faith latent with the lives we are not quite living, God dormant in the world to which we are not quire giving our best selves.” -Christian Wiman

Mindful Advent – Awe

[sorry for the late-ish post — I’ll try to get back to my early morning posts tomorrow]

Today’s focus word for Mindful Advent — awe — is one for both the theologian and the poet in you.  Are we enough in awe of our own lives?

In the Christmas story in Luke’s gospel, after the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, after Jesus is born and after the shepherds visit echoing the glorias of the angels and then head out to tell of the amazing things they have heard and witnessed, we are told that “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”  The unexpected guests are gone, the babe sleeps, and Mary meditates for a quiet moment.  I can imagine that what she finds when she ponders in her heart is awe.  Not awe in the sense of the glamorized images we make of that stable scene, with Mary in beautiful robes and a halo around her head, but rather awe at how her life has turned out.  Amid all the struggles — poor, finding herself unexpectedly with child, having to make this journey simply to be counted for taxation, living under an oppressive foreign power, her people long expecting a savior who never seems to come (has God forgotten them?), and yet here is new life, new possibilities, a new hope (to coin a phrase).  Could it be her child, born of poor parents, with no power, no influence, no friends in high places?  God has worked in mysterious ways before, through young David, through Moses, through even scoundrels like Jacob — could God be working through me and my new child, Mary must have thought, and been at awe of the possibilities.  And then her reverie was probably broken, like our meditations often are, by the real world — in her case, the animal smells permeated her senses again, as well as maybe a smell from the child letting her know the swaddling cloths had to be changed, and he needed to be nursed again, and, well, all that was wonderful too.

Are we enough in awe of our own lives, our own imperfect, struggling, painful, chaotic, amazing lives?