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Advent 2021: the Daily Reflections

This is where I'll collate the daily reflections, in case you would like to scroll through the collection as it builds. (And if one of your daily e-mails gets blocked, you can come straight here to read it instead.)

20 // The Soul Felt Its Worth


O holy night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour’s birth;
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth …


*     *     *


Good morning!

So here we are, at the end of our Advent series. And of course, to borrow from TS Eliot, our end is also our beginning.

After so many grey mornings recently, I stepped out on to the patio yesterday to see the most glorious sun-rise, painted again in the Advent hues of pink and blue. And it took me back to our first day together, when it felt like 'something was in the air …'


*     *     *


We didn’t know it would be Omicron, of course, and with it, the aching realisation that this year, which we’d hoped would be a moving-on, ends with staying put.

But there was - is! - mercifully so much more to our Advent journey, made flesh within it.

From the artistry and flow of the Beatles, to the beatific Strictly final; from the connection and creativity of this poetic community, to the quiet power of solitude and silence; from feet planted on the holy ground of here, to planets glistening there, and full moons, and solstice sunsets. All part of the whole.

From brace, to embrace.

We’ve sought to trust the ground beneath us, while looking up. To see beyond our closing borders to the widening horizons - from where a new dawn breaks, if we keep watch, with mercies fresh; from where Magi make their long journey bearing gifts; from where the promise of the Saviour edges into view.

The Presence, felt. And the soul feels its worth.


*     *     *


Do take a moment to welcome, and be welcomed.
To speak your "Here I am". To offer your presence. To sense God's.


*     *     *


It's true, we can feel powerless when events seem so beyond our control - whether that’s politics, pandemics or angels praising God and heralding news of a virgin birth.

But when the angel visited the humble young Mary, it was she who held the power. She was free to say no; but in choosing to say “Yes”, she showed us each what it means actively, boldly to yield. "Let it be according to your word," she said, as she entered the story, and changed the world with God.

Who knows what that moment was like for her, as the Spirit came upon her, and Jesus was conceived? But she bore Jesus for us.

Her willingness led her into joyful and painful places. Love always does. But after her son's death, resurrection and ascension - what a maelstrom, for a mother - she was also there, present, in the upper room when the Spirit came upon all the disciples. And as Jane Williams so beautifully observes, ‘There must have been a deep sense of recognition as she encountered the Spirit again.'

Another conception. Another beginning. And that moment is, in a sense, the point at which, through the Spirit, Jesus now comes to be conceived in each of us. Like Mary, we have the power to say no, or to offer our "Yes". To yield, to lay down the ego, to say "Thy will be done", and to enter the Christmas story ourselves.


*     *     *


I’m beyond humbled to have walked this path with you, to the threshold. I know, from your messages, there've been so many great challenges to face, as well as so many joys.

And so we look to that horizon, now, together, keeping watch. The sky is changing colour. There's something in the air.


*     *     *


If you have a moment now ...

Have a listen to Jennifer Hudson's stirring rendition of O Holy Night.

And do take a look at the inspiring, honest, moving and presence-filled responses of the community on the RSVP page here. You have created something far greater than the sum of our humble parts.
 

*     *     *


Thank you for your presence.
May we wait, with hearts ajar.

Be well.

Brian

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19 // The Path We've Shared


Once again I’ll go over what God has done,
   lay out on the table the ancient wonders;
I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished,
   and give a long, loving look at your acts. Psalm 77.12 (Message)


*     *     *


Good morning!

I hope you managed to get outside yesterday to watch the light ebb and flow. It felt very moving to stand bathed in moonlight last night as I looked up at the North Star and thought of you, to finish the day. 'Deep peace of the shining stars ..!'

Today, a series tradition. Near the end, I love to re-trace our journey, by reading back through our reflections, and taking a line or two from each in turn - to get a sense of the path we've shared, and to gather the individual parts, somehow, into a whole.

It's just one perspective, but I hope, as you read this slowly, line by line, that it complements your own journalling, and helps you to 'go over what God has done'.


*     *     *

 

It's tempting to brace ourselves as we close in on Christmas; Advent reminds us instead of the embrace that lies at the heart of life.

I know that my Redeemer lives!

And you, you’re somewhere between the angels and the animals, able to turn song into beauty, harvest into generosity.

The Advent miracle is that the unknowable, un-namable, utterly holy Lord chose … to be known, to bear a name.

Keep your eyes out for the small signs of God's presence.
He asks for my full attention.

Presence decides whether we leak and scatter our energy or embody and direct it.

Look up! Look out! Look in!

At our Source, there’s a spring of original blessing that flows from the Creator. It might feel overgrown and hard to find, but it's in there.

We make our way to heaven through Earth. The core of every living creature is its power to love. Like the hand that grips the finger.

Jesus himself gleams through our high heart notes. It is he whose light glistens in each song sung.

And we're invited to participate with Him in the on-going work of Creation. What kind of world can I help to create with God this week?

Thou art with me. Even as I walk through the valley of the shadow.

The dear Christ enters in.

And through his friendship, we enter the tender beauty and affection of the Trinity. (You're with the band.)

What is my cup of water, my loaves and fishes to offer?

I leave my heart ajar, in case there may be travellers from afar.

God reaches through the barriers. There is a music in the soul to find.

The boundary says, "Here and no further." The horizon says, "Welcome."

 

*     *     *


If you have a moment now ...

Take a breath, relax your body, sense God's presence with you and within you, and ... go back over it again, giving space for your soul to stir.

If you're on a walk, today, why not pause to look back on the physical path you've just taken, and to read this again. Ask yourself, 'How do I wish to contine on the path from here?' Embody something of the way you'd like to walk on.

It wouldn't be Advent without listening to Audrey Assad's atmospheric version of 'I Wonder As I Wander'. It evokes, for me, the sense of our shared Advent journey!


Final RSVP window!

Thanks so much for all your replies. If you haven't yet responded, you're welcome to today. (From tomorrow, I'll still be delighted to read them, but I won't post any more.)

Send me (as is our tradition!) a six-word story of your Advent journey. Or, an example from your nearly completed one-line journal creation which helps to sum up the nature of your journey through Advent.

I'll keep updating the RSVP page here. Thank you!
 

*     *     *


May you wonder as you wander, today.

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18 // The Welcoming Horizon


'Yours is the day, Lord, yours also the night.' Psalm 74.16

 


*     *     *


Good morning!


It’s the solstice today, that glorious point in our trip around the sun when here in the northern hemisphere we stare deeply into the dark, and in the south, light overflows.

It might seem like an accentuation of the distance and difference between us, but it's really a moment to celebrate our connection within God's whole. Creation ebbs and flows between light and dark, north and south, summer and winter, and we share in it all. So, we can surely say together, wherever we are geographically, emotionally, physically or spiritually today: ‘Yours is the day, Lord, yours also the night.’


*     *     *


It's also, however, an uncertain time for us all. And ever since Saturday's post, I've been feeling touched by Luci Shaw's words: ‘Trust the ground under our feet/ Look up.’ I'm reminded that with feet planted lovingly 'here', we can look up with Advent hope, beyond our immediate limits and confinement.

As the great American travel and nature writer Barry Lopez wrote, 'The boundary says, "Here and no further." The horizon says, "Welcome."'


*     *     *


So I’d like to invite you, today, to look up, with planted feet - facing East, South, West and North respectively in four short pauses at sunrise, noon, sunset and evening, a bit like we did with the Antiphons. You can read all four now - they echo themes and words we've touched on this year - but do come back to each in turn today. I hope that what can sometimes feel a challenging day is transformed by a loving embrace.


*     *     *


Look East (At Sunrise)


Step outside if you can, or go to a window, before the dawn.

Feel the ground beneath your feet. Be aware of what you're standing on - in terms of all we've reflected on so far, this Advent, together. Perhaps somethng in particular comes to mind, or rises in your heart like the sun ...

Look around you in the half-light. And in awareness and presence, take a breath ... and notice anything you might otherwise have missed. What can you smell, hear, see, feel ..?

Bring yourself to this moment, to God, to this day. This is the day the Lord has made.

Orient yourself towards the east/northeast, where the sun is about to rise. Look, as it were, to the Light that is coming, which has already come, and will come again.

This Light can help you stand in faith, this morning. As Richard John Neuhaus writes, 'By faith in him and the victory he won, we already live in the Peaceable Kingdom that is to be. Because it has really happened, it will really happen.'

We stand in faith together, as we look to the horizon, and wait for the Light of dawn.


*     *     *


Look South (At Noon)


Feel the ground beneath your feet. Be earthed.

That’s what God did, of course, in Jesus. With feet that learned to walk, like us. To run. To dance. To stand alongside. Sense him standing alongside, now.

You are here, and this is holy ground, even if it’s not where you’d like to be. (Remember, Jesus found himself in places he didn’t always relish. But wherever he planted his feet, he touched the earth with love. See if you can, too.)

Look up! The sun points south at noon, here in the northern hemisphere (and north, if you're in the south). Give thanks for whatever light you have, today, whether weak or brilliant. And for the light that has lit your year with love, however dark it's felt.

Remember those who are far off, or you might not now be seeing at Christmas, or who are in another hemisphere. And thanking God for the flow between us - of light and dark, sorrow and joy, love and mercy ... speak with the psalmist: ‘Yours is the day, Lord, yours also the night.’

Let this Celtic blessing be a comfort (from the Northumbria communinty). Speak it to the horizon:

As it was, as it is,
and as it shall be evermore,
God of grace, God in Trinity!
With the ebb, with the flow,
ever it is so,
God of grace, O Trinity,
with the ebb and flow.


*     *     *


Look West (At Sunset)


I'm hoping to find a hill from which to watch the sun set today. To look to the horizon and welcome the longest night as honoured guest. And to be welcomed, within it.

Wherever you are, feel the ground beneath your feet. Holy ground, once more, even if you feel tired, afraid, or unsteady on your feet.

It's a good moment to re-visit words we've shared of Kathleen Norris, almost as confession: 'How is it possible to bridge the gap between our sorry reality and the glad, grateful recognition of the Incarnation as the mainstay of our faith?

'If we have neglected the spiritual call of Advent for yet another year, and have allowed ourselves to become thoroughly frazzled ... all is not lost.

‘We are, in fact, in very good shape for Christmas. It is precisely because we are weary, and poor in spirit, that God can touch us with hope.'

Simply yield to the dark, safe in the knowledge that God meets us here within it, as he met humanity on that first dark night in Bethlehem. "Lord, touch me in, hope."

As the sun sinks below the horizon (whether you can see it or not through the cloud), pray these words of John Henry Newman:

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.


*     *     *


Look North (In the Evening)


Step outside tonight. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Be rooted. What truth do you stand upon tonight, even within the deepest darkness?

Look up! Locate, if you can, the north star (the two stars of the outer edge of the Plough point straight up to it). Or if you're in the South, behold the Southern Cross!

The north star always reminds me of the words of Paul: 'Nothing can separate us from the love of God.’ Perhaps there's a line of scripture you've stood upon this year that has been your pole star, your guiding light, your fixed point in the night skies ... Recall it. Stand upon its truth afresh tonight.

And finally, speak the words of this familiar Celtic blessing. Say them first to yourself, out loud, as if someone else were speaking them over you:

Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.

Then speak them as a prayer for a loved one, or someone you know who's in need. Lastly, speak them to someone you've been struggling with - in the Advent spirit of reconciliation, and embrace ...

And may God bless you, and keep you, and make his face to shine upon you - perhaps even with moonlight - on this most precious solstice night.

Amen.
Go well.
 

*     *     *


Final RSVP window - now OPEN!

Please send me (as is our tradition!) a six-word story of your Advent journey. Or, an example from your nearly completed one-line journal creation which helps to sum up the nature of your journey through Advent.

I'll update the RSVP page here as quickly as I can throughout the day. Thank you!
 

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PS: Last winter, I compiled a short video reflection on welcoming the season, called A Winter Wander. You might like to refresh yourself of this, and prepare your heart to welcome winter well.

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17 // The Dance of Our Lives


'You have turned my sorrow into joyful dancing.' Psalm 30.11


*     *     *


Good morning!

The ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ final here in the UK was extraordinary this weekend, not just for its sheer excellence (none of the three finalists had danced before the series began) but for its diversity and inclusion.

There was AJ Odudu, who'd longed to be a dancer as a child, but whose parents, immigrants from Nigeria, couldn’t afford to give her lessons. In the end, she had to miss the final through injury, but she still brought an inspirational presence to it.

There was John Whaite, dancing in an all-male partnership for the first time in the programme’s history. He and his professional partner Johannes exhibited a poise and grace - on the dance floor, and in the face of on-line prejudice - that helped me glimpse a little more of God's poise and grace, too.

And the winner, Rose Ayling-Ellis, is deaf. She and her partner Giovanni found a way to work and flow together that felt divine - and in one unforgettable number, the music faded for several visceral seconds as she covered his ears and led him, and us, dancing into the silence of her world. It was surely the dance of her life.
 

*     *     *


As someone said on social media, Rose was light enough to float on air, yet had the strength to lift us all.

In a difficult year, especially with so much division in this country, how moving (yes, tears flowed here!) to see such a mix of people meet at the highest level, and bring something richer. And a festive reminder to me that Advent is good news of great joy to all.


*     *     *


I’m still processing it - dance, like any art, can take you to a place beyond words, and it’s enough, sometimes, to let its presence be felt, in the tears, or the wonder. That often seems to be how God reaches through the barriers to me, at least.

But Rose’s message was also clear, throughout: “It’s a joy to be deaf,” she said, repeatedly. And her joyful embrace released an energy, a vibrancy that surely transformed the nature of her performance.

It speaks to me of the embrace we’ve been reaching for this Advent; the embrace of where we are, and who we are - and of the God, born in the margins, who loves to meet us here and show us the steps.

I'm inspired, too, by Rose’s connection with a music beyond sound. In my spiritual life, God can sometimes seem quite hard to hear. But isn't there a music in the soul to find, and a flow to practice with the Spirit, that's unique to each of us - and so divine, surely, that we can only express it, in the end, in the very dance of our lives.


*     *     *


If you have a little more time now ...

* Take a few moments to watch Rose and Giovanni's dance here.

* Let the dance speak to you beyond words. Of you dance of life, with God.

* Don't forget to keep your one-line journal going!

* I'll invite final RSVPs from tomorrow, so you might like to start going back over theAsvent  journey Advent so far. I've been assembling all the reflections on this Advent page here.


At twilight ...

Remember to pause at twilight (set your alarm!) and step outside or head to a window ... Look up, look out, look in.
 

*     *     *


May we dance with joy, today.

Go well!

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16 // To Leave My Heart Ajar


Two poems, this morning (and a song). The first, by Elizabeth Rooney, I read on last week's YouTube reflection, and by popular demand I'm sharing it here.

The second is another from Luci Shaw, who has also touched my heart this Advent. It's a full moon tonight, and her reminder to 'look up', even as the pandemic makes its presence felt again, is a timely and moving reminder.

Please do head outside tonight to savour the full moon, wherever you are, to remember those you love who are looking up to it too, and to remember God's enduring love for us all ... as we learn, afresh, to trust the ground we stand upon.

Both poems are shared with kind permission. I hope you have a beautiful weekend.

Housekeeper

This is my little town,
My Bethlehem,
And here, if anywhere,
My Christ Child
Will be born.

I must begin
To go about my day –
Sweep out the inn,
Get fresh hay for the manger
And be sure
To leave my heart ajar
In case there may be travellers
From afar.

Elizabeth Rooney
Reprinted with kind permission from her daughter Patti, who's part of our community.


*     *     *
 

HOW?
 
How shall we sing the Lord’s songs
in a strange land? The old rhythms,
the melodies of praise, strangle
in our throats and the words
fall to the ground like leaves in autumn.
The air thickens with suspicion and doubt
and who’s to say anymore, what
is true enough to last, to prevail?
 
Isolation feels like a punishment
for offenses we never performed.
 
Let us trust, now the ground under
our feet—that which has proven steady
for generations. Look up. The heavens
are still there, unclouded, beatific.
We breathe, even though masks clothe
our faces. Prayer surrounds us, close
as our skin, weaving for us garments of
trust and solace. Even in our isolation
we are joined in love, never alone.

Luci Shaw
Re-printed with kind permission by the author.
 

*     *     *


If you have a little more time now or over the weekend ...

* Here's a song from the Norwegian singer Sigrid which she's adapted for Christmas, and strikes a gorgeous chord. It echoes with what we've been thinking about, in terms of welcome ... but it also helps to say something about 'home', wherever that is, whether that's a home we miss, a home we can't wait to return to, a home we make, or a home in God: 'Home to You (This Christmas)' by Sigrid.

* If you didn't catch my Advent YouTube Live reflection yesterday, why not watch it now on my YouTube channel here!


* Don't forget the Advent O Antiphons 'retreat' I gave you on the first Saturday, which contains seven mini reflections to do throughout the day. You might like to return to them this weekend.

* If you didn't know, in the autumn I created a reflective audio retreat called What Matters Most, which helps you reflect on your journey through the pandemic, and on what matters most as you continue along the path. You can download it for free here.

* And remember to catch up with all your amazing responses on the RSVP page here. I'll open a final 'window' early next week!
 

*     *     *


May we be joined in love, today.

Go well!

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15 // The Presence on the Threshold

 

'Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.’ Revelation 3.20

 

I loved John O’Donohue’s depiction of the Trinity yesterday, which bears repeating: ‘In friendship with Jesus,’ he says, ‘we enter the tender beauty and affection of the Trinity.’

Advent, then - Jesus’ coming - offers the way back in to that holy Midst.

It’s our welcome home. But it's not one-sided. It requires a welcome from us, too. God honours our friendship. He entrusts himself to an unlikely couple that first Christmas, with the risk they might not even want to welcome him. (Would you, if you were Joseph?) God doesn't kick the door down, he knocks.
 

*     *     *

In The Art of Advent, Jane Williams reminds us (with reference to Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World’, above) of the luminous, threshold presence of Jesus who stands at the door.


Such presence evokes, for her, his encounter with Zacchaeus, as well as the woman at the well, and the boy with loaves and fishes. Jesus looks to each for hospitality, before ‘their own poor stocks are replenished from the limitless resources of God’s generosity.’

I’m reminded, too, of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, on the other side of Jesus’ life and death. He pretends to continue on his way, before they ask him to come in and stay with them. Only then do they realise. The journey continues ...

As Rowan Williams has said, Jesus didn't exercise hospitality, so much as draw it out of others. But in the process, they - we - are the ones to find a homecoming.


*     *     *


All of which begs the question posed so poetically by Christina Rossetti which we sing every year: ‘What can I give him, poor as I am ..?’

And before we shout "Heart!" like we're at Sunday School, let's pause. What's our cup of water, our loaves and fishes? The small gift we can share - something we love to do, which we do in love, maybe? The great news is, it was never about your perfect offering but your humble, loving one, which he can take and multiply.

Then there’s the welcome we offer each other; for when we do that, we welcome Jesus. It is a bit Sunday School, in a way (and I remember Holman Hunt's painting sitting on a table at the entrance to mine!). But it's so easy, in our busy adult lives, to forget. Which is why it’s so apt, at Christmas, to reach out, catch up, offer help, show love. For we welcome the Presence on the Threshold back in to the heart of it all.

Into our heart, even as we give it. And thus that tender beauty and affection of the welcoming Trinity flows through us, even as we find ourselves within its flow.

‘Aren’t you going to invite me home?’ he says to Zacchaeus. Or as we used to sing at Sunday School, "I'm coming to your house for tea." Is that the doorbell, I hear..?


*     *     *
 

If you have a little time now

Enjoy this version of 'In the Bleak Mid-Winter' by Trinity College, Cambridge.

Take some time to breathe, relax, sense the Presence on the Threshold, and open.

Keep watch for the Threshold Presence today.


Advent YouTube Live! 4.30pm Today!

It's time for my final Advent YouTube Live of the series! Join me for 20-30 minutes' live reflection at 4.30pm on my YouTube channel here!
 

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Thanks so much for your wonderful RSVPs. I'm still uploading the final few (slowly but surely) - so keep checking back on the RSVP page here.
 

*     *     *


May you welcome the Threshold Presence, today.

Go well!

Brian

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Jane WIlliams' The Art of Advent: A Painting a Day from Advent to Epiphany is published by SPCK (2018)

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14 // You're With the Band

 

'May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you ...'  2 Corinthians 13.14


*     *     *


It’s no fun, isolating. But happily I had time, in the sick-bay, to befriend the Beatles ... or at least to watch the brand new documentary about them!

It’s what you might call ‘slow TV’: three feature-length episodes, which the director Peter Jackson whittled from 56 previously unseen hours of footage shot in January 1969, when the band recorded its penultimate album ‘Let it Be’.

It’s extraordinary in so many ways, but I’d love to highlight three for inspiration, whether you're a fan or not ...

First, it might be stating the obvious, but it’s a different era. No disposable plastic, takeaway lattés or Deliveroos. It’s trays of tea and toast all round. And the fact they’ve no mobile phones means there’s no distraction from the creativity, and sometimes the boredom, that comes from many long hours facing into each other.

It’s almost like a retreat. And it's within these moments Paul McCartney, for example, fiddling on the guitar, finds the kernel of an idea which in minutes becomes the song ‘Get Back’.

I wonder what more we’d notice, intuit, or create, if we just went off-line, for longer?


*     *     *


Second, very movingly - this part of the Beatles career was characterised by the press as deeply acrimonious - filled with fights and spats, especially between John and Paul. McCartney has admitted, recently, that over the years he came to believe this story, not the one he thought he remembered about 'the love and skill' … until he saw the footage. ‘It was so reaffirming for me,’ he recently said.

The chemistry between the two is so apparent, and while it takes time for them to warm up, and there's creative tension aplenty, they flow with love as well as magic.

I wonder what stories we tell about our life that become distorted and ingrained? (God knows, and wants to redeem them.)


*     *     *


Third, the creative relationship between the musicians feels so close that few words seem necessary once they’re in flow - songs emerge, are tirelessly honed, over and over, loved into being. Peter Jackson describes it as an almost psychic connection.

And in this Advent season, I’m minded that something even more extraordinarily Creative takes place within the Trinity. We tend to (mis)cast the Godhead so religiously in our minds that we lose their electrifying magic. It’s true, they’re not a rock and roll band, just as as the Beatles weren’t gods …

… but when something greater than the sum of its parts is formed on earth from nothing, like the Beatles, and like your own collaboration in community, you get echoes, clues, hints of something bigger still. I love what John O’Donohue says:

‘The … Trinity is the most sublime articulation of otherness and intimacy, an eternal interflow of friendship. In friendship with Jesus, we enter the tender beauty and affection of the Trinity. In the embrace of this eternal friendship, we dare to be free.’

In friendship with Jesus, we enter! And you are invited, this Christmas, to recover your own story: that you have been loved by God from the beginning, that you've your own unique part to play within all this, and that you’re very much with the band.


*     *     *
 

If you have a little time now

You'd need a subscription to Disney Plus to watch the full series, but you can get a wonderful overview if you watch the official trailer here. (Please do!)

Switch everything off for a few minutes.

Why don't you welcome the company of the Trinity, by speaking the apostle Paul's words over a few times: 'May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with me ...' 

Draw fresh inspiration from a piece of art that's touched your life, today - music, film, literature, whatever it is - see if you've a little time to reconnect with what you love.


Twilight moment

Remember to pause at twilight (set your alarm!) and step outside or head to a window ... and be present to it! Enjoy it for what it is.

You might notice the waxing moon, tonight - it's full on Saturday.
 

*     *     *


Thanks so much for your touching and moving RSVP replies. I'm still uploading what I've received, slowly but surely - so keep coming back to have a look on the RSVP page here.
 

*     *     *


May you find your flow with Them, today.

Go well!

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13 // Treasures in the Darkness

 

'I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places.’ Isaiah 45.3


*     *     *


We spend our lives, quite understandably, trying to avoid pain. But none of us will avoid it completely, of course.

Last week, I tested positive for Omicron, with my daughter Mercy. We’re both feeling a lot better now, and will be glad, soon, to end our isolation from the others with a hug!

But what I’m learning (slowly) in a tricky year or so, including a harder slog with ‘long’ Covid, is that wishing it were different won’t transform it. Learning to embrace it can. 


*     *     *


I’m sure I’ve learned most from those who’ve been through so much more. I expect you'll know someone: the kind of soul who faces in, and somehow finds a joy that transcends happiness, or its lack; a grace that overflows its limits; a ragged kind of beauty that lies beyond the perfect pain-free life. 

Just the possibility of such treasure is reason enough to keep the search alive, I'd say, however rough or smooth our journey. It evokes for me the words of Jesus, ‘Seek, and you shall find.’


*     *     *


As Pema Chödrön writes in her book When Things Fall Apart, ‘Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.’

Perhaps you can give thanks for someone who's been present with yours.

It might not even be someone you’ve met. I’ve been giving thanks for Alfred Delp, the German pastor imprisoned (and soon to be executed) in 1944 for opposing Hitler. He wrote (with shackled hands) these Advent thoughts from his cell that December: 

‘Even through darkness and distress,’ he said, ‘we are created for joy … for a life that knows itself blessed and touched at its deepest centre by God Himself.’


*     *     *


Extraordinary. His words, smuggled out in laundry, live on, overflow the limits, bring life. No prison cell can keep God out, after all. The dear Christ enters in.

He enters in darkness to meet us with love. That’s surely why the ‘Incarnation’ matters so much, as we prepare our hearts in Advent for his coming. Jesus embraced his life from its night-time Bethlehem beginning (which was not pain free, of course, for Mary) to its darkest end with outstretched arms.

He is the treasure, isn't he? And even as we try to embrace this day, today, with love, whatever it may hold, we find ourselves embracing him.

 

*     *     *
 

If you have a little time now

Take some time to breathe, to be still, and to sit within the darkness before the sun comes up. Become present to God's presence within it, and within you.

You might whisper in invitation, 'Please enter in.'

Give thanks for someone who has met you in your own darkness.
Perhaps you can meet someone in their darkness, today, with God's love.

What might it mean for you to 'enter in' to this day, with all that it holds?


Twilight moment

Remember to pause at twilight (set your alarm!) and step outside or head to a window ... As the darkness falls, once again - pause to be present to God's presence within it. Notice what you have learned from seeking to embrace this day with love.

 

*     *     *


RSVP - Second Window Open! 

We've had another set of beautiful responses! If you haven't sent something in yet for the second window, please feel free! Simply reply to this e-mail. Thanks for keeping it succinct, and for writing with care and love.

There's tremendous wisdom and creativity abounding in the community. You can find it all on the RSVP page here.
 

*     *     *


May you seek and find some treasure, today.

Go well!

Brian

---------------------


Alfred Delp's Advent of the Heart: Seasonal Sermons and Prison Writings 1941-1944is published (in my edition) by Ignatius Press, 2006.

Pema Chödrön's When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times is published by HarperNonFiction, 2005.

---------------------

12 // The Shepherding Presence of God


'And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night ... The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.' Luke 2.8-11


*     *     *


Good morning!

When there’s so much fearful news circulating, how do we tune in to 'the Presence', to bring the good news of great joy to bear through our presence, too?

There’s no magic formula, of course. But I’ve been helped again (if I may) by Henri Nouwen, who links prayer with listening (a lovely reminder, in itself, that prayer is not all about talking).

The word ‘listening’ in Latin is obedire, he explains, which is where ‘obedience’ comes from. ‘Jesus is called the obedient one,’ he says. ‘That means the listener.’

I’m sure Jesus was an extraordinary listener - just imagine him tuning in to you. (What would his posture be like? His expression? His presence?)

Imagine how he listened to God.


*     *     *


Normally, we listen with our ears, of course, and store what we hear in the mind, as fact, or judgement, memory or belief. But for a word to become flesh, felt, lived … it has to make a deeper journey down, from mind to heart.

Henri takes the first line of Psalm 23 as an example: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.’ For as long as it stays in our head, it’s a statement, albeit an exquisite one. 'It becomes a prayer’, he says, ‘when I experience the shepherding presence of God in the centre of my being.’


*     *     *


Some related wisdom arrives from the contemplative James Finley, who offers an ancient form of Christian breath-prayer (going all the way back to St Gregory of Palamas) - which helps precisely with this movement from mind to heart.

Breathing in through your nose, you ‘recollect your mind’, he says, and let your breath carry what’s there down ‘through the lungs, into the heart and out into the world as joy’. Yes please!

I’ve chosen to ‘recollect’ the line from Psalm 23 this week, and carry it down in two separate breaths in: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ … ‘I shall not want.’

Breathing it repeatedly, and carrying it into my lungs, my blood, my heart; a prayer of the heart that courses in mercy and goodness.


*     *     *


And deep within, how lovely to recall, now, how these lines were written by Jesus’ royal ancestor, David, once a shepherd himself near Bethlehem, who knew what it meant to lead sheep by still waters, and for them to 'not want'.

And how moving, to feel the generations who’ve walked through the valley of the shadow, since, carrying David's words. Such enduring comfort, drawn like breath into the very heart of humanity, by so many, including those we've known and loved.

And how stirring, to imagine Jesus hearing the lines of this psalm for the first time, as a boy, and sensing in his heart how he might be the Good Shepherd.

And how perfect, that Bethlehem's shepherds are the very first people invited to behold the Christ-child. 'Why us?' they must have wondered, as they went on their way, spreading the Word infectiously, rejoicing.

And how good for us all, today, then, so simply: 'for Thou art with me,' Shepherding Presence. Thou art.

 

*     *     *
 

If you have a little time now

Take some time breathing in those lines:
'The Lord is my Shepherd' ...
'I shall not want.'

This is a moving song, a variation on the theme by Audrey Assad: 'I Shall Not Want'.

Listen for God, as you imagine Jesus would.
(And try to listen to others, as you imagine Jesus would, today.)

Why not read the whole of Psalm 23 here.


Twilight moment

Remember to pause at twilight (set your alarm!) and step outside or head to a window ... Pray for, or reach out to, someone who's walking through the valley.

Why not repeat the breath prayer, too.
 

*     *     *


RSVP - Second Window Open! 

OK, thanks for waiting: it's time to open the next window for RSVP replies! So how are you doing? What have you been noticing? What's your journey been like so far? Please send a sentence or two, or a short poem, picture or example of your one-line journal creativity, by replying to this e-mail!

You'll be able to see them going up, bit by bit, on the RSVP page here.

As ever, thank you for keeping your reply succint and written with love!
 

*     *     *


May you feel the Shepherd's Presence, today.

Go well!



---------------------------------

11 // Rise and Shine!


‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … Through him all things were made.’ John 1.1


*     *     *


Good morning.

Why not take a breath, look around, and speak the words, “Here I am”.

Here I am, present
to this moment, and all it contains;
and here I am, present
to God, who contains it all.
 

*     *     *


How are you doing?

The start of any working week can feel daunting enough. Throw in the pre-Christmas pressure and the Omicron variant, and you can be forgiven for not wishing to meet this particular Monday morning with the warmest embrace.

But what would it look like if we try?!

I'm cheered greatly by the Jewish notion that God's work of Creation is on-going - it was not finished with Eden, it was just beginning! - and we're invited to participate with Him in that work, and to see what happens when we do ...

Now that's a calling. And so, whether we're working from home today or still 'going in', whether we're parenting, grand-parenting, volunteering, recovering from surgery, studying for exams, self-isolating or simply planning to dig over the garden, we can most positively ask: What kind of world can I help to create with God this week?


*     *     *


There’s a short Jewish ritual we might borrow from, too. Havdalah is observed at twilight to conclude Shabbat - but for me it speaks to the first light of our Monday morning just as beautifully, as it honours the movement from rest back into work.

And it does so with three prompts: a candle, to signal the first act of the week, and with it, creative fire; spices to evoke the fragrance of the sabbath which infuses our activity; and a cup of wine to bring holy joy to this threshold moment!

I love that, and it inspires me to ask:

What’s the fire I bring to this day, even if it’s just a small flame or a spark?!

What fragrance do I carry of God, who bids me to work from rest? For some reason I'm imagining the smell of a breakfast (coffee and croissants, anyone? Though Jesus himself does a beautiful flame-cooked barbecued fish on the beach...).

And what festivity might help to energise our working week with holy joy? You might simply like to raise a cup, today, in a tea-break pause, to offer thanks to God, before cracking on with joy. L’chaim!


*     *     *


Advent reminds us that Jesus - the Word who was with God in the beginning - came here to show us, in flesh and blood, what it’s really like to work, from rest, with God. As my old friend Mark Greene loves to say, ‘Thank God it’s Monday!’ We get to carry the flame, today. God trusts us with it, after all. It's time to rise, and shine!

 

*     *     *
 

If you have a little time now

You might like to light a candle, to mark this threshold moment and to prepare to bring some fire and light into your working week, whatever you've got planned.

As it burns, reflect further on the question:
What kind of world can I help to create with God this week?


Twilight moment

Remember to pause at twilight (set your alarm!) and step outside or head to a window. Raise a cup of tea or a glass of something in thanks to the Creator!

You might like to repeat this morning's short reflective pause:

Here I am, present
to this moment, and all it contains;
and here I am, present
to God, who contains it all.

*     *     *


RSVPs

I'll invite your next RSVPs imminently - I need to manage my own energy carefully today due to my health - but please keep going on your own personal responses through your one-line journals, and I can't wait to see them very soon! Thank you.
 

*     *     *


May you rise and shine, today.

Go well!

---------------------------

10 // Star Song


I was thrilled to hear this week from Advent 2021 participant Annie Henry, with news that her area of Cornwall, West Penwith, was yesterday designated with ‘Dark Sky Park’ status. There are only 181 of those in the world.

Annie has helped with the campaign for three years, and you can read more about the story here. It shows what can happen when a community rallies together!

And it all ties very happily in with today’s reflection - briefer on a Saturday - which is a poem by Luci Shaw called 'Star Song'. Luci is an acclaimed poet, 92 years young, now, and based in the US.

She's given me permission to share her poem, and sends her love.

Star Song

Glimmers from stars
have flickered all year long,
and now, at its close,
when the planets
are shining through frost,
radiance runs like music in the bones,
and the heart keeps rising
at the sound of any song,

or with the silver calling
of a bell,
rounding, high and clear,
flying, falling, sounding the death knell
of our old year,
telling the new appearing
of Christ, our Morning Star.

Now, burst,
all our bell throats!
Toll, every clapper tongue!
Stun the still night!
Jesus himself gleams through
our high heart notes
(it is no fable).
It is he whose light
glistens in each song sung,
and in the true
returning again
to the stable
of all of us: shepherds,
sages, his women and men,
common and faithful,
wealthy and wise,
with carillon hearts,
and, suddenly, stars
in our eyes.

Luci Shaw
 

*     *     *
 

You might like to complement that wonderful poem by absorbing these words of Luci's old friend Madeleine L'Engle:

'Was there a moment, known only to God, when all the stars held their breath, when the galaxies paused in their silence for a fraction of a second, and the Word, who had called it all into being, went with all his love into the womb of a young girl, and the universe started to breathe again, and the ancient harmonies resumed their song, and the angels clapped their hands for joy?'
 

*     *     *

RSVPs

I'll invite some more RSVPs next week, but do catch up on all the first batch here, including Annie Henry's lovely stars over West Penwith!

Advent YouTube Live

If you missed yesterday's Advent YouTube Live reflection, why not watch it today on my YouTube channel.

 

*     *     *


May you return to the stable, today.

Go well!

'Star Song' appears in Accompanied by Angels - Poems of the Incarnation(Eerdmans, 2006) and is printed with kind permission of the author, 11.12.21.

------------------------

9 // The Hand That Grips the Finger


‘He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.’ Colossians 1.17

One of my favourite memories of my children as newborns is when they’d grip a tiny hand around my little finger. When I’ve looked up at the stars this week, I’ve tried to imagine the intimate grip of the infinite Presence - the Creator holding Mary’s finger, and thus, in a sense, gripping mine and yours, as well.

It’s the moment when everything changes, after all, for humanity and for God: when spirit meets matter; when time meets eternity; when heaven meets earth.


*     *     *


Ironically, it's been religion itself which has tried to keep spirit and matter apart ('spirit = good, matter = bad'), but mercifully God, in Jesus, tore that curtain down, showed us there need be no further separation.

That's why, I’m sure, I feel soaked in God when I dive into the sea, a baptism by full immersion in water and light and Spirit. It’s why you might feel ‘whole’ on your walk or ‘complete’ when you’re making things with your hands - or soul-stirred when you smell fresh bread or taste wine or hear a Christmas carol or an aria or the Beatles.

‘We make our way to heaven through earth,’ says the theologian Teilhard de Chardin, who believed, like the Celts, that earth itself was shot through with heaven’s radiance, and that we meet God there, along that way.


*     *     *


And if time and eternity can come together as they did that Christmas night in the little town of Bethlehem, can they not meet in this present moment, too? ‘Because eternity/was closeted in time,’ writes Luci Shaw, ‘he is my open door to forever.’

It all meets in him, doesn't it? The hopes and fears of all the years. How good to think it’s not about escape but embrace. Earth is the original, Christ-conceived home, after all, and Jesus rises, not just from death, but first in birth from deep within it.

‘The core of every living creature is its power to love,’ says Theilard. And this is the power, surely, that brings all things ultimately together in Him, and holds them there - spirit and matter, time and eternity, heaven and earth ... The stars reflecting in our eyes. The hand that grips the finger. Squeeze it gently. Heaven's squeezing back.
 

*     *     *


If you have a little time now:


Have a listen to Nat King Cole's version of O Little Town of Bethlehem.
Make time for something that gives you life, today - however small.
And keep going with your one-line journal!


Advent YouTube Live - today at 4.30pm!

Please join me for the second of our live gatherings on my YouTube channel this afternoon. I'll see you there at 4.30pm prompt. We'll have 20-30 minutes to pause, gather up the week, share via the chat, and catch our breath together. 


*     *     *


Make sure you catch up with all the amazing responses to the first week's reflections on the RSVP page here.


*     *     *


May you feel the love, today.

Go well!

-------------------

8 // What I Know For Sure (2021)


Good morning!

A few years ago, I reflected on 'What I Know for Sure', inspired by a little book of distlled wisdom by Oprah Winfrey, of the same title. (You might remember!)

It’s not an easy thing to describe, she says, 'but often, while walking the dogs or having a bath, out of nowhere, a moment of crystal clarity will bring me back to something that in my head, my heart and my gut, I know beyond a shadow of doubt.’

It was such a good thing to do - but so much has happened since, not least a helter-skelter year for all - that I wanted to pause for breath, to ask myself again, at this year's end.
 

*     *     *


John Philip Newell, the former warden of Iona Abbey, adds some texture from a Celtic Christian angle: ’We know things in the core of our being,' he says, 'that we have not necessarily been taught.’ We can meet them by accident, or unearth them by practice.

That's because, he says, the Celts see the whole of Creation as sacred, including us. We're not just made by God, we're made of God. (Have a look in the mirror!) And so, at our Source, there’s a spring of original blessing that flows from the Creator. It might feel overgrown and hard to find, but it's in there.

 

It means that you know God when you see God. And you glimpse wisdom, when you meet it - a light comes on, or tears flow, or a shiver runs down your spine. I guess it's like Job knowing his reedeemer lives, without having had the book to read. 'Something whispers something’, to quote the poet Mary Oliver ... and you know it.


...


Anyway, I’d love to share a few things I've distilled for myself as I've reflected back on the year, before I invite you to consider your own. I offer them humbly ...


*     *     *

I don’t know if things will turn out the way I want them to, anymore
- but all will be well. For it is well with my soul.


I know that a little kindness has a disproportionate effect; I welcome the presence of (what the poet Naomi Shihab Nye calls) ‘the tender gravity of kindness’ in my life. Yes!

Company matters for the introvert like me, as much as solitude.
Solitude matters for the extrovert, as much as company.

 

I know that where sorrow and joy meet, love most surely joins them.


I know that the path to recovery is rarely straight, just like the path of life itself.
 

God takes time.
The evening stars remind me of God's slow, patient work.
The Morning Star glimmers with hope.


I know for sure the walk will do me good. It always does!

I know there’s more to this than meets the eye. To you, to me, to God.

I know for sure I don’t want to go back to how things were,
but deeper into how they are, and can be.

I know that this moment requires creativity,
and creativity requires working with the best Creative ever.

I know there is another way; and that the Way of Love will lead us home.

For I know that my redeemer lives,
and he shall stand upon the earth,
and I shall see him with my own eyes.

Amen.

 

*     *     *


If you have a little time now:


Spend a few moments listening for one thing you ‘know for sure’, which you can carry with you in your heart from this year, on into the next.

If you have longer, you might like to write a list.

Pay some attention to the Source, in a few quiet moments now.


Twilight Moment:

Do set your alarm for twilight, step outside or go to a window. As the light fades, try to watch for the moon appearing, and for Venus, Jupiter and Saturn lining up in the south-western sky. Just be there. Why not pray for someone from the RSVP page.


*     *     *


Make sure you catch up with all the amazing responses to the first week's reflections on the RSVP page here.


*     *     *


May you find the Source, today.

Go well!

Brian

John Philip Newell's Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul: A Celtic Guide to Listening to Our Souls and Saving the World is published by HarperOne (2021) - and highly recommended

--------------------

7 // Look Up, Look Out, Look In!


Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
… Who marked off its dimensions ...
while the morning stars sang together
   and all the angels shouted for joy? (Job 38)
 

*     *     *


Thanks for your wonderful RSVP responses. It’s been so inspiring, and moving, to read them. One phrase from early in the series that seems to have resonated is ‘Look up, look out, look in!’. I didn't flesh it out at the time, so a few thoughts, today, on that ...


*     *     *


Look up!

Here in Winchester, Monday’s skies felt ethereal: from the sunrise that rolled in like waves of fire, to a rainbow arching across the middle of the day, to twilight offering up a crescent moon and Venus set like a jewel above it …

You see things differently when you look up, especially if you’ve been staring down at your feet for a while. (I have to be reminded - I realise there are buildings on our familiar high street that I still haven’t properly seen above the shops.)

You can be lifted up from your own small story, too, when you look to the heavens. We are part of something bigger - a prospect that can stir the soul in wonder, especially in Advent, with its angels and archangels and all the choirs of heaven ...

But it's harder for the ego - necessarily humbling, in fact, as we follow in the footsteps of 'the Word' who helped create this entire cosmic light-show of Infinity - and yet humbled himself to become one of us, one with us.
 

*     *     *


Look out!

As I write, there’s a storm coming. The rain is lashing the windows, bare trees are bending like angels, the wind's menacing, and I realise I’m braced.

It’s not hard to find parallels between a storm threatening outside and the tempest we’ve experienced within, during these last two years of global and personal tumult. The inner and the outer worlds seem so mysteriously inter-woven.

But God spoke to Job from out of the storm; and Jesus, of course, was found in yet another, sleeping in a boat upon the churning Sea of Galilee. ‘Hush, be still’ he said, once his terrified disciples had awakened him.

‘And it was completely calm.’

(Breathe it.)


*     *     *


Look in!

Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him?

This bright star-maker and storm-calmer arrives 'eclipsed in amniotic gloom ... infinity walled in a womb', as the poet Luci Shaw puts it.

Mary knows first-hand how it feels for him to form in her.

And this is the Presence we now seek to sense within. To make room for, in Advent. To allow patiently to gestate. The Creator, inconceivably conceived in you, and me, now; and waiting, too: to be born within the stable of our heart.
 

*     *     *


If you have a little time now:


Have a listen to this version of 'Mary Did You Know?'.

...

Look Up: You might like to read a short part of God's exquisite monologue to Job, a line or two of which I quoted at the top. Enjoy the imagery, yield to the majesty, be humbled and inspired by the Creator!

Look Out: Read Mark's account of the calming of the storm, and speak the words of Jesus to the storm within: 'Hush, be still.' You might also like to stand outside in the weather, whatever it's doing, and practice peace within.

Look In: Read Luke's account of Mary's visit to Elizabeth, and her 'Magnificat'. Try to imagine what it was like for Mary to feel that baby form within her. What does it mean for you to carry 'Christ in you'?


Twilight Moment:

Do set your alarm for twilight, step outside or go to a window. As the light fades, why not, in humility and gratitude, pray Evelyn Underhill's Advent prayer:

'O Lord Jesus Christ, when You came to this earth, there was no room in the inn; grant to us, Your children, that you may never be crowded out of our lives, but that you may find in us a dwelling prepared for Yourself. Even so, Come Lord Jesus!’


*     *     *


You can read all the splendid responses from this week on the RSVP page here. It's a treasury! Please save anything new for when I next invite you. Thank you!


*     *     *


May you keep looking, today.

Go well!

--------------------------

6 // To Feel the Touch


'At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”' Mark 5.30


*     *     *


Good morning!

I had my booster jab at the weekend, and was directed to sit in the waiting area afterwards for the prescribed 12 minutes to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction.

The lady set a timer, and as I took my seat, I reached to my pocket for my phone instinctively, somewhat distracted, feeling like I just wanted to get through this hold-up and get out. I then saw, as I glanced around, that the 20 or so others gathered there had reached for their phones too, save for one brave soul with a book.

That’s not to judge anyone, including myself - they might have all been reading an Advent reflection, for all I know! - but the sight stirred me to put my phone away, close my eyes, slow my breathing, sit in stillness, and wait.


*     *     *


You might like to pause for a short while, close your eyes, slow your breathing, sit in stillness and wait too, before reading on.


*     *     *


And how lovely it was. After all, when are we ever told to sit quietly for 12 minutes, while someone keeps a caring watch on you? Perhaps we should prescribe it for each other.

After 5 minutes or so, I opened my eyes gently, and saw the room quite differently, now - behold, all the volunteers, the sense of community, the kindness etched in faces, the appreciation and a sense of well-being rising within me. When my time was up, I wished it wasn't. But I left, boosted in more ways than one.


*     *     *


It’s extraordinary, the difference even a slender amount of intentional awareness can bring. In his powerful book Living Presence, the Sufi author Kabir Helminski writes, ’Presence decides whether we leak and scatter our energy or embody and direct it.’

I love that! And it makes me think of Jesus, the loveliest embodiment of living presence. Can you imagine him leaking or scattering energy? In fact, on the one occasion we read specifically that power did leave him - when the woman suffering haemorrhages reached out to touch him, amid a tightly packed, jostling throng - Jesus felt the touch, and knew straight away - much to his disciples’ amazement.

And while she fell at his feet, trembling in fear, Jesus told the woman, with great love: “Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Presence, embodied and directed.


*     *     *


While we’re unlikely to match that kind of awareness in our lifetime, we’ve many small invitations to practice presence, this Advent. And - wonder of wonders! - it's precisely this living presence of Emmanuel that we can reach for, when we do.

To transform distraction into something more divinely grounded, earthed, embodied. And so that we, like Jesus, even when it all crowds in today, can meet this moment, feel its touch, bring God's peace.
 

*     *     *


If you have a little time now:


Set your timer for 12 minutes, and practice presence.

(If your mind distracts you with a mental to-do list, don't get annoyed with yourself - smile, bring your attention to your breathing, and gently let those thoughts go. You might like to choose a word to speak - for when you find yourself distracted - to bring you back into inner quietness ... a word such as 'peace' or 'be still' or 'Jesus'. Just sit with openness to God during this time. And when you're distracted, speak your word and return in openness again.)


Twilight Moment:

Do set your alarm for twilight, step outside or go to a window, and pause for a moment. As the light fades, reflect on the times today when your energy leaked and was scattered, and the times you were able to embody and direct it. What have you noticed about the nature of your own presence, within the day?


RSVP! Window 1 (final day)

Thanks so much for the wonderful RSVPs that came flowing in yesterday! It's a joy and a privilege to read them all!

One more day to respond during this window, if you want to - so send me a one-liner from the start of the series, or a picture of your craft emerging, or a short paragraph or poem ...

Please keep it succinct, write with love (and punctuation), and send your RSVP to me by replying to this e-mail. I might gently edit for clarity or length if I need to.

They're going up, slowly but surely, on the RSVP page here. Make sure you have a look at the wisdom of the group!


*     *     *


May you go in peace, today.

Go well!

---------------------------------

5 // The Small Signs of God's Presence


'To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
  ... He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him ...' Isaiah 53


*     *     *


Good morning! I hope you had a good weekend.

When we pray ‘O Come, O Come’ in Advent - as we did with the Antiphons - we’re touching, in a sense, on three kinds of 'coming', and the waiting that attends them.

First, there’s the coming that’s already been: the miracle of God setting foot on earth in such humility. Our waiting prepares us to honour the birth of Jesus afresh.

Second, there’s the coming ‘again’, through which all will be made new. The ‘Behold, I am coming soon’ of the final moments of the Bible in Revelation, which we await as 'all Creation groans'.

Third, there’s the coming today, which we wait for in between what has passed, and what's to come. Our active waiting within this moment helps us to keep watch for how God is coming now.
 

*     *     *


Henri Nouwen has some wisdom (as ever!) for this third way. ‘I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God’s saving power,’ he writes. ‘Our temptation is to be distracted by them.’

Instead, he says, we should keep our eyes out for ‘the small signs of God’s presence - the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends …’

Sometimes we can miss what is right in front of us. Such was the nature of Jesus’ coming, and continues to be so. ’The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the man on the cross, he asks for my full attention.'

You might like to pause, for a moment, to re-direct your attention there. 'O come ...'


*     *     *


It’s a powerful, powerless reminder of where the Presence might be felt. We need not make it much more complicated: the kingdom of God can be unsettlingly small, easy to miss, like a mustard seed. It’s unexpected, it’s unassuming, it’s here.

And as we give our full attention - as we wait for God within the unexpected, unassuming places - don't we get to be the Presence, too, for those today who might be waiting for the smallest sign of help or hope, themselves?

To choose to see Emmanuel in the person or place we might least expect it, is to say ‘O come' to them with arms of welcome, as we look, with Advent love, for God.
 

*     *     *

 

If you have a little time now:

Just stay, for a while, with your full attention.

...

This is a prayer by Henri Nouwen on the subject of Jesus' coming - why not read it slowly, before you launch into your day:

'Lord Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, let us be especially alert to your coming during this Advent. As a parent listens for the cry of an infant, as a sailor watches for land, as an astronomer scans the skies, as a doctor watches for signs of returning health, let us be attentive to your arrival. Amen.'


Twilight Moment:

Do set your alarm for twilight, step outside or go to a window, and pause for a moment. As the light fades, reflect on your day so far, and on the small signs of God's presence you might have seen, and been. You might like to pray the prayer above, once more.

RSVP! Window 1 (open for the next two days)

It's time! How have you felt 'the Presence' at the start of Advent? Please send an example of your one-line journal entries (words, an image, whatever form it takes) ... or else send me one sentence (or short paragraph at most) of response to the reflections so far. Or for the poets, one short poem. Don't worry about whether it's good enough - it's the spectrum of responses and experience that gives this community its richness.

Please keep it succinct, write with love (and punctuation), and send your RSVP to me by replying to this e-mail. I might gently edit for clarity or length if I need to.

They'll go up, bit by bit, on the RSVP page here.


*     *     *


May you see the signs, and be the signs, today.

Go well!

------------------------------------

4 // O Come, O Come!


Good morning!

Saturday’s reflections are usually bite-size. This one seems longer - but it’s really seven mini pauses to pop into your day. They’re based on some well-known, much-loved ancient sung prayers for Advent called the ‘O Antiphons’. We're participating in a rich and ancient flow of prayerfulness! I've added some thoughts to go with them.

The ‘O Antiphons’ were written in the sixth or seventh centuries (and form the basis for the carol, 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel). Each is short and starts with one of the Messianic titles ascribed to Jesus. Traditionally, one was sung each night from December 17-24. In their varied but interwoven ways, together they chorus the call of scripture: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22.20).

They also provide a cryptic response: the seven titles in Latin - Sapientia, Adonai, Radix Jesse, Clavis David, Oriens, Rex Gentium and Emmanuel spell backwards 'ERO CRAS' which means, in Latin: “Tomorrow, I come.”

You're welcome to read through the whole now (circling back to the first to spend some more time with) - but I hope you'll set your alarm to pause with each individual ‘moment’ itself at the appropriate point in the day. The Antiphon comes first each time, in italics - why not read it aloud - followed by a short reflection, action, prayer and Advent verse.

I hope this provides some rhythm and flow, within all that you do today ...

Go well!


*     *     *



At Sunrise.
O Sapienta (Wisdom)


'O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.’

Face east, toward the light of dawn. Relax your shoulders. Take some deeper breaths. As you breathe in, nice and slowly, imagine you’re breathing ‘up’ from a well-spring of God’s wisdom deep below the surface of your consciousness.

As you wait and watch for the sun to rise, be still. Invite God’s wisdom to rise from hidden depths within you, and to overflow through all that you do today.

And when you're ready, pray: Please come, O Wisdom. Show me a different Way to think, to act, and to be, today. Flow through me, O Wisdom. Amen.

Advent verse: ‘The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding.” (Isaiah 11.2-3)


*     *     *


At Mid-morning:
O Adonai


O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

Malcolm Guite writes, ‘The Advent Hope, indeed, the Advent miracle was that the unknowable, un-namable, utterly holy Lord, chose out of His own free will and out of love for us, to be known, to bear a name, and to meet us where we are.’

Take a deep breath in … and as you breathe out, whisper “Here I am” - as a way of bringing yourself to meet this moment, and God within it. Do that a few times.

And then, on your in-breath, imagine God, with out-stretched arms, whispering “Here I am” back to you. Stand within this intimate moment for as long as you need. Be present to the miracle of God’s presence around you and within you. Holy ground.

Please come, O Adonai. May we meet within the holiness of this moment. Amen.

Advent verse: 'The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory …’ (John 1.14)


*     *     *

 
At Mid-day:
O Radix (O Root)


O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

At noon, when the sun is at its highest, look up. You can find your bearing from the sun at mid-day, when it points south if you’re in the northern hemisphere (or north if you’re in the South).

Take a moment to re-orient yourself toward God, too, within all that you’ve been doing today. Give thanks that in a bewildering world, we have this divine bearing. Feel that presence in your heart.

And now look down at the ground. Imagine you’re like a tree, standing. It may be winter and your branches may be bare, but Christ is the root from which you grow, and these roots go deep beneath you. Simply stand upon the wonder of this truth for as long as you need. Even though it might be cold and damp, be rooted.

Please come, O Radix. May all that I am grow from you. May I be rooted in your love, and bear your fruit today. Amen.

Advent verse:

‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11.1)


*     *     *


At Sunset / Twilight:
O Clavis David (O Key of David)


O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

As the light fades, and we enter this mysterious time of twilight where colours meld and first stars shimmer … face West toward the setting sun, and be opened afresh to the mystery of life. Offer up the things you can’t quite understand. The mysteries you can’t solve with your mind alone. Anything that perplexes you.

As your eyes adjust to a different kind of light, invite God to open you to deeper ways - of being, of trusting, of encountering, of yielding … and simply pray:

Please come, O Key. Open the door in me. Amen.

Advent verse: ‘I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” Isaiah (22.22)
 

*     *     *


At Mid Evening:
O Oriens (O Dayspring!)


O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

As evening falls, turn off your artificial lights and sit within the darkness for a few moments. We need not fear the dark, nor flood it with distractions. Instead, wait for a while with unlit honesty and hope for the coming of the Morning Star. Bring any fear of your own sense of ‘darkness’ to God, and pray:

Please come, O Morning Star. In your tender mercy, hear my prayer. Amen.

Advent verse: ‘Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us.’ (Luke 1.78)


*     *     *



Before Bed:
O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)


O King of the nations, and their desire:
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

Before you go to bed, step outside into your garden, if you can, and look for the North Star. (The far edge of the Plough points straight up to it.) If you can't go outside, or if you can't see it, just orient yourself towards the north. We've faced east, south and west today. Now, as you face north, remember the fixed point of God's love within the darkness - just like the North Star, which remains constant.

Take a moment to reflect on your day. Think or write down two or three things for which you’re grateful.

Breathe deep, and offer back your day to God: the things you wish you hadn’t said; what’s gone well; the people and places you’ve been or seen; the unexpected events that took you by surprise. Surrender all these to God’s mercy, as you surrender yourself afresh to God, tonight.

Night-time can be disconcerting, especially when the world seems in turmoil, and our life feels caught in the maelstrom. But in Advent, we remember that a different kind of leader - one on whom we can place our trust - has already begun to usher in a different kind of rule. So pray with gentleness tonight:

Please come, O King, and save me. May your peace rule in my heart.

Advent verse:

'For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.' (Isaiah 9.6)
 

*     *     *


In the Watches of the Night:
O Emmanuel (God With Us)


O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

For those of us who struggle to sleep, who lie awake worrying, or feel stirred to wake and sense the presence of God when all the world falls silent, remember tonight the promise made through Isaiah:

‘The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.’ (Isaiah 7.14)

And whisper over and over, as your night-time prayer:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

You might, in time, like to imagine hearing the reply:

“Behold: I am coming soon.” (Rev 22.20).

Amen.
 

*     *     *

 

May you find your prayerful flow, today.

Go well!

-----------------------

3 // Between the Animals and the Angels


'You have made [us] a little lower than the angels     
and crowned [us] with glory and honour.' Psalm 8
 

*     *     *


What does it feel like to be present?

Look around, for a few moments. Listen.
Breathe it all in.
You are here. (Whisper it: "Here I am.")
Picture yourself there, as if looking through someone else's eyes.

If God were waiting quietly with you now, what would your own presence feel like to God? Offer it, as gift.


*     *     *


For presence really is a gift, isn’t it?

Remember some of the presence you've been graced with, in your life. Your first best friend at school, perhaps, closer than your shadow on a sunny childhood day. Or a comrade who marched with you for the cause. Or a holiday companion (they're a special breed!).

Speak some names.

Perhaps someone stepped into your darkness, when others couldn't. They weren’t even here for you, necessarily - just with you. (Isn’t that liberating, come to think of it, for any of us who feel compelled to fix or solve or heal or save?)

The contours of presence can also be traced through absence, of course. Faces you miss. Players who have left the stage.


*     *     *


As humans, we carry presence like no other creature. You’re more than just an apex predator, as the author Cynthia Bourgeault observes - you’re ‘somewhere between the animals and the angels’. And with that great honour comes great potential to transform life - 'to turn song into beauty,' she says, or 'harvest into generosity …'

Wow - what a prospect! But it’s wise, always, to first start with being. (For we could yet do a hundred things today without being present at all.)

I think of the baby Jesus: God brought nothing but himself to bear in those first moments, as Mary bore him. And she, too, could do little more than receive him, bring him close to her heart, hold him dear.

I think of the beloved disciple John, reclining back on Jesus at the Last Supper - head on his heart, sharing in the communion of it all.

I think of how both Mary and John were the last ones standing at the Cross, when there was nothing more to do than stand in love until the end.


*     *     *


As the world awakened to Emmanuel on that Bethlehem night, the angels sang, and lit the skies with radiant glory; the animals must have felt, in their bones, a peace descending on the stable space below, filled as it was with the Spirit of the baby.

And there, between the animals and the angels, humanity itself is somehow born again at last; graced by the Presence, our song is turned to beauty.
 

*     *     *

 

If you have a little time now: 

Sit for a little while longer with your own presence, and God's.
Why not read the rest of Psalm 8.
As you continue on with the rest of the day, practice being present - when you taste your food, when you feel the warm water of a shower, when you look someone in the eye and listen with your heart ... be there.



Advent YouTube Live - Today at 4.30pm!

Join me for our first Advent YouTube Live of the series by heading to my YouTube channel here just before 4.30pm. You'll see a 'live' screen of my living room, and I will join you promptly at 4.30pm! We'll have 20-30 minutes together to reflect back on the start of Advent and pause for a contemplative breath. If you haven't joined us before, please do!


*     *     *


May you be graced by the Presence, today.

Go well!

-----------------------

2 // I Know That My Redeemer Liveth


Good morning!

While we tend, quite naturally, to brace ourselves against pain, I’ve been touched, recently, by how the Book of Job - the oldest in the Bible, despite its place in the running order - embraces the mystery of human suffering. (And there's been plenty enough of that again this year ...)

Job, a good man, loses his health, wealth, and then, terribly, his children. Awful things can sometimes happen to the best of people - I went to a heart-rending funeral last week - and we can be left lamenting, pleading, wondering 'Why?'.

Mercifully, scripture doesn’t shirk our pain, even if we don’t always get the simple, dogmatic answers we might crave.

But what I love about Job from Advent’s perspective (aside from the poetry of God’s extraordinary monologue towards the end of the book) is that there, from within Job’s suffering, we glimpse the earliest recorded hint of Emmanuel, God With Us. It’s less the germ of a neat theology, more a real-life seed of faith which Job himself plants:

‘Oh that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!’ he says to his friends, who are convinced he must have done something to deserve such a terrible downturn of fate. He wants these words to last:
 
‘I know that my redeemer lives,   
  and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
   And after my skin has been destroyed,
   yet in my flesh I will see God;
   I myself will see him
   with my own eyes …’ (Job 19.25-27)

Set like a jewel within the oldest lines of scripture (Job goes almost as far back in time from Jesus as we are forward) there’s more than a hint that God’s presence will be felt, here on earth, in flesh; and that we, too, will one day see him face to face.


*     *     *


And here we are, today, still suffering (if it's not you, it's your friends or family). And the Book of Job says, to me at least, we’ll never quite know 'Why?', in this life. But this much I can fathom: that if God’s universe worked strictly by some cosmic law of karma, and good happened only to the good, and bad to the bad, there’d be no place at all for the mystery and wonder of grace. And we all need that.

Grace itself was embodied, of course, in the loveliest person to stand upon the earth; who lived sinlessly yet suffered, died and rose so that we shall see him; and so the enduring hope of his presence might be planted within our suffering, like Job.

It's little wonder tears can sometimes flow around this time of year, when sublime strains of Handel's Messiah catch us unawares and carry Job's words afresh, immortalised now in music, too, and written not on rock or lead but here upon the heart: "I know that my redeemer liveth." Alleluia!
 

*     *     *

 

If you have a little time now: 

Take a few moments to sit quietly, breathing slowly through your nose, and becoming present to God's presence around you and within you.

When you're ready, have a listen, with all your attention, to this version of  'I Know That My Redeemer Liveth'. 

Keep going with your one-line journal, today. (And if you're stuck creatively, here are a few templates to get you started, as suggested by Michaela T.)


Twilight Moment:

Remember someone you know who has suffered this year. Pray for them in the twilight. Reach out to them, in a text or a call or a handwritten note.

-----------------------

1 // The Presence Felt


'Prepare the Way for the Lord.' Isaiah 40.3


*     *     *


There’s something in the air. Can you feel it? The skies here are starting to fill with dusky Advent hues of pink, blue, grey and gold at sunrise and sunset. (They're the kind of skies you might believe could swell with angels, too...)

It’s as if Creation helps to 'prepare the Way' herself - whispering afresh through the colours of the heavens and early winter textures, through ancient memory of what once came to pass, and eager hope for what is yet to be fulfilled: "O come, O come, Emmanuel." And don’t the stars shine brighter, for the darkness of December nights?

There's something in the air, and perhaps our greatest honour as humans is to feel it in our hearts, too: the pregnant anticipation; the shiver of wonder; the promise of the Presence felt, in hope and peace, in love and joy.

In person.
 

*     *     *


It’s not always an easy time of year, of course - Christmas carries scars for so many (it may carry them, for you) and its build-up is so often fraught.

But Advent offers a different approach, if we heed its invitation to look up, and look out, and look in. To make space, and enter a stillness in which to watch and wait. To empty our hands, ready to receive. To sit within darkness, without artificial glare. To let our breaking hearts break open into Love, if indeed we dare.
 

*     *     *


It's tempting to brace ourselves as we close in on Christmas; Advent reminds us instead of the embrace that lies at the heart of life. Not an imaginary hug, mind - but a moments-old baby held safe to a mother's heart, in the wonder of a first meeting.

Why not pause to relax your body, and take a breath, and open your hands. Let the quality of this moment shift from brace to embrace, for as long as you need.

When we approach anything with love, with care, with reverence (to paraphrase John O'Donohue), great things can approach us. Part of the wonder of this season, surely, is that as we prepare to offer our Advent welcome once again - as we whisper our "O Come, O Come" with all Creation - it is we who'll find a welcome here.
 

*     *     *

 

If you have a little time now: 

Let the quality of this moment continue to shift from brace to embrace.

Whisper on your out-breath, "O Come, O Come".
Whisper (in your spirit) on your in-breath, "Emmanuel."

You might also enjoy listening to Enya's version of 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel'.


Advent project: the One-Line Journal

Why not journal one single phrase or sentence each day in Advent? And allow your lines, over the coming days, to form a work of art or craft. Embroider, paint, mould, use calligraphy, or just write a list! Use your imagination, and we'll have a chance to share as we go.


Twilight Moment:

Sunset is around 4pm here. Set an alarm and step outside for a few moments each day, or look from a window. 

Today, sense what's in the air, and in your heart.
Look up, look out, look in.
Start your one-line journal!


*     *     *


I'll invite your RSVP responses after the first few reflections.

 

I'll also upload each daily reflection to this private web page here - so if you're ever missing an e-mail, or you'd like to view the collection gathering, it'll be there!

Our first Advent Live '21 YouTube gathering will be on Friday at 4.30pm here on my YouTube channel.


*     *     *


And so, we begin!
May you feel the embrace.

Go well!

Brian

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