As we endure the extremely cold weather that reminds me daily of the Christmas hymn In the Bleak Midwinter, we have left Advent hymns for another year and are moving quickly towards the season of Epiphany, starting on January 6, when we remember that Jesus came to all people. Like Advent hymns and Christmas carols, I find the Epiphany hymns tend to foreshadow his ministry and death, so that even as we sing

“Star of wonder, star of night,
“Star with royal beauty bright,
“Westward leading,still proceeding,
” Guide us to thy perfect light.”

We know that soon the verse will be

“Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
“Breathes a life of gathering gloom,
“Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
“Sealed in the stone-cold tomb.”

Our priest Gayle returned recently from a tour of the Holy Land, bringing with her healing oil containing myrrh. A bitter perfume indeed, and one that lingers, it was the first time I have encountered it.

We are so accustomed to carols and manger scenes that include the Magi that it’s easy to forget that by the time of their arrival Jesus was two or three years old and presumably no longer using a manger for his bed, but I do find it disquieting to be reminded of all that awaits him. So the final verse reminds us,

“Glorious now behold him arise,
“King and God and sacrifice,
“Alleluia, alleluia,
“Earth to heaven replies.”

Advent Musings

I like Advent, it’s one of my favorite church seasons. A time of waiting for Christmas and so much more. The Advent hymns, that we get to sing only at this time of year, seem to me to have a quality of austerity about them, perhaps because they are ancient, some going back to Latin and Greek. Sung for centuries, they link us with the early church, reminding us that we are part of a 2000 year old tradition of people trying to understand the full meaning of this season, of waiting for light in darkness, waiting to celebrate Christmas, but also waiting for Christ’s return, for the salvation of creation. But at any time Christ is near, waiting for us to awaken to his loving presence and invite him into our lives. Just as the window at St. John’s, The Light of the World, shows, he is there, waiting for us to open the door so he may enter and live in our hearts.

November Moments

Our November weather changes the view from my window daily if not more often, from rain to cloud to sun, and the colors of the leaves vary in intensity as the sun comes and goes.  Sometimes they are fairly subdued, but when the sun shines they glow red, gold and orange with brightness I see nowhere else. Even the fallen leaves are a brilliant tapestry of vibrant color.  By contrast, except for the scarlet cardinal and the blue jays, the birds I see do not attempt to compete. They are brown sparrows and doves, gray and black chickadees and nuthatches, black and white woodpeckers–sober, year-round residents who don’t seek to call attention to themselves, but allow the leaves their brief time of glory.

I believe God uses such moments to break into our lives and call for our attention. A moment of thanksgiving, a brief prayer–these can be a way of keeping in touch with God in the midst of a busy day if we take the opportunity to do so. And who knows how we might be blessed by such moments, if we will only respond to them.

God Intermingles Everything for Good

“We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose,  and turns everything to their good. ”  Romans 8:28, New Jerusalem Bible

In one of her Starbridge novels, Susan Howatch uses the phrase “God intermingles everything for good” and compares intermingling to sunlight and shade.  Sometimes we can have too much shade, or sunlight.   We need one to appreciate the other.   If I pay attention I see this intermingling in many places.   When I was diagnosed with cancer, my despair was intermingled with hope for successful treatment.   Everything changed, but everything was not gloom and darkness.

Each week in the hospital’s infusion room I meet people of faith and hope.  People from all around the Mahoning Valley, some who’ve lived here all their lives, others who came here from Puerto Rico, Palestine, the British Isles  (me), all of us fighting cancer, all, it seems, people of hope, of faith.  We offer each other hope, encouragement and prayers.  We don’t ask what faith we claim, we trust in God to hear and answer our prayers.  There are times of discouragement but also times of rejoicing–when a course of treatment is completed.  The nurses are beacons of light and hope, explaining procedures,  reassuring us through their skills and compassion.

The Chaplain reminds us of God’s presence and love even here.  A high school student, a recent immigrant from Nepal, is a breath of youthful fresh air.  She practices her English on us, and we exchange information about Nepali, American and British customs.  Everyone congratulates her when she passes her driving test,  and offers encouragement as she prepares for the ACT.

The infusion room is a microcosm of the world, and when I pay attention I see God’s intermingling of all things for good–the secret is to pay attention!