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Advent 2022: 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.)

8 // Dig Deep, Draw Deeper


'Cease striving, and know that I am God' (Psalm 46.10, NASB).


*     *     *


Good morning!

When we had Long Covid, Katharine and I often talked of “digging deep”. Of course, we've all been digging deep in our different ways in these recent, challenging years, and so I was struck by the resonance with yesterday's thoughts on going deeper.

For me, while it was often excruciating to be dogged with fatigue, I was mindful there had to be treasure to be found in our experience, since I've seen how other people's journeys 'down' can yield a previously undiscovered beauty of their own.

And what I think I found first was the treasure of the human spirit: how people are incredibly kind and caring; how you can cope with more than you realise; how we're all so adaptive; how patience takes practice; how suffering develops empathy.

I wonder what you've found, in your own travails.


*     *     *


I also learned that digging can be tiring, and can take you only so far in the end. In fact, here's what I am coming to see, so slowly: that the greatest treasure of the human spirit is its capacity to yield to the Holy Spirit. And that's when we can pause digging deep to draw deep instead, from God. Like drawing breath when we're exhausted, or water when we're parched.

Perhaps there is a way that helps you to draw deep from God, to restore your soul. Why not pause to go to the 'inmost place', before you continue. Let striving cease.


*     *     *


It's not easy to quantify the kind of spiritual growth that arrives through adversity, but I glimpsed one or two things. You don’t have to know how it will all turn out; when you can't make future plans, you can be open to the now. I also think it's possible to learn to love the unloved days; that is, to bring love to them, in God's grace.

But it all comes down to this: I cannot make it on my own. There is a higher power - a deeper power! - and I need their help. I caught a moving documentary about the 12-step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous this week, and several participants spoke of the sheer power of bringing their powerlessness to God. Shift happens.

Jesus came to us powerless as a newborn, of course. And while doubtless he had to dig so deep as he grew and worked, his greatest gift, surely, was to show us how to draw on the loving strength of God. It may only be baby steps for us, compared with him, but then again - this Advent, it is a baby we are getting set to follow.


*     *     *


May you draw deep, today.

Go well!
Brian

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Just One Thing

Take a few deep breaths through your nose, and be conscious of using your diaphragm to draw that breath. Imagine you are breathing 'up' (instead of 'in'), from the deepest place where God resides in you.

Pause for breath, even just for five seconds, today, when you find you're digging deep, and invite God's loving strength to flow in you, and through you.

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7 // The Inmost Place

‘For you created my inmost being ...’ Psalm 139.13

 

*     *     *

 

Good morning!


Although we often pray to God ‘up there’ in heaven, or perhaps walking here beside us, we can forget we have an 'inmost being', where, once invited, God loves to dwell within.

There are clues, aplenty: Paul tells the Ephesians (3.16): ‘I pray that out of his glorious riches, he may strengthen you with power through his Holy Spirit in your inner being.’ Jesus himself said: 'From [your] innermost being will flow rivers of living water' (John 7.38), which makes it sound a delightful place to be, too. Think of your favourite watery place, and picture it within you, and God saying, "Meet me there!"

 

*     *     *

 

The trick, it seems, is knowing where to find the inmost place ... and one metaphor I’ve found helpful in this respect is from the Christian teacher John Eldredge. The path to take is one of descent, he says, via three levels - from what he calls the ‘Shallows’ and the ‘Mid-lands’ to the ‘Depths’.

It’s picture language, as I tell my kids, but I like it.

We know the Shallows well: we spend much of our day there, on phones and screens, distracted and interrupted.

The Mid-lands is a place of our longings, hopes, fears, dreams - the stuff that keeps us up at night, at times. It’s where we tend to shed our tears, too, he says. And at this time of year, it can fill up fast with added freight.

Meantime, the Depths is a less entangled place, containing the kind of treasure which remains when all the rest is stripped away - faith, hope and love, let’s say, and the presence of the One who made the oceans and mountains and stars ...

 

*     *     *

 

The good news is, descent involves letting go, unburdening. You don’t have to prove your worth or jump through hoops. Instead, the words of Peter are like a gateway in: ‘Cast all your cares upon Him, for he cares for you.’ Let them go.

Of course, it takes an act of will to turn off our phone, say, and close the door behind the Shallows for a time. And it may feel hard to pray without trawling through our long list of cares (which is, after all, a good and valid thing to do) in the Mid-lands.

But sometimes we need a break from carrying the weight of the world.

And here’s where the burden lifts again, for me: for we don’t have to let go forever, if it feels too big an ask. Just practice, to start with, leaving your cares at the door for the time you’ve set aside to seek God in the Depths. It's manageable. Eldredge calls this ‘benevolent detachment’, and you can try it by repeating a simple phrase:

“I give everyone and everything to you, O God.”

And, enter in. (I wonder what it's like in your inmost being?)

 

*     *     *

 

Getting there will not just give you a mental break, but the space to bring your attention fully to God. To sit and ‘wait for the Lord’, as the psalmist says, without pressure to wrest anything from the moment, or from God. It’s a good place to be.

And it overflows: for it’s hard enough to give anything or anyone that kind of focus, today. Practice with God, and you may find you’re giving the person you’re meeting later your truer focus, too - acting, thinking, speaking, listening not from the place of the Shallows, but from your inmost being - which is a rare gift indeed.

It’s the place God formed in you especially, as Psalm 139 tells us. This Advent, let's believe it: it may be as humble as a stable, but it's fit for a king.

 

*     *     *

 

May you meet God there, today.

Go well!
Brian

John Eldredge's Resilient: Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Troubled Times is published by Nelson Books, 2022.

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Just One Thing

Speak the words, “I give everyone and everything to you, O God.” And enter in, for a short time. Be open and attentive. If you become distracted, repeat the words, and bring your attention back to God within the moment.

...

To get you in the Advent mood, have a listen to this evocative rendition of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel by Kelly Clarkson. It's only short, but I love it. Turn it up loud!

...

If you have time later, ask yourself this: If my 'inmost being' were a physical place, like a gorgeous little chapel, or an inspiring cafe, or an outdoor space, what would it look like, or contain? Try to imagine it as the soulful space you love, most, to visit. What characterises it? What can help you return there? Write a paragraph describing it, or sketch something, or create a 'mood board' with photographs!

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6 // Full Moon Rising

 

'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.' John 1.1

‘For by him all things were created ... and in him all things hold together.' Colossians 1.16-18

 

*     *     *

 

Good morning!

It’s a full moon tonight, and one of my favourite evenings of the Advent calendar! I’m reminded of the old lullaby by Meredith Wilson:

I see the moon; the moon sees me
Down through the leaves of the old oak tree.
Please let the light that shines on me
Shine on the one I love.


You might like to think of someone you love, now, who is far off - and then later.

I’ll be thinking of so many of us in the Advent community, tonight, in countries and continents across the world. It's such an evocative thing, to imagine the moon shining on each other. And all over, besides: it'll be softly lighting Kyiv and Moscow, indiscriminately. The World Cup in Qatar. Yemen, and Haiti. Bethlehem.

You might imagine, prayerfully, seeing Earth from the moon, a God's-eye view which the astronauts enjoyed! Remember 'Earthrise', the photo taken on Christmas Eve 1968? The National Geographic called it 'the most important photograph ever made', observing that humanity had seen itself in a mirror for the first time.

 

*     *     *

 

Don’t we feel a pull from the moon, however gently, in our spirit, and maybe even in our body, at times like this?

The oceans ebb and flow, as the moon waxes and wanes and exerts its gentle tidal tug; and we only have to stand on a beach and listen to the rise and fall, rise and fall of the waves, to feel our soul stir, and to sense how fluidly we're part of God’s whole.

We’re mostly made of water, come to think of it - as well as the 'living waters' which rise, as Jesus said, in our inmost being, when we’re in communion with the Creator; when we feel the gravity-pull of God's love.

 

*     *     *

 

To watch moonlight fall on the sea, or on a field, or a face we love - to bathe in the softness of it all! - is also to remember how exquisitely we are held in place.

If the moon were further off, there’d be no tides, and the seas would be lifeless. If it were closer, there’d be stormy chaos. The moon keeps the earth steady on its 23.4-degree axis, too, meaning we have the four seasons and the rhythms of life that come with them. Such is the nature of poise!

 

*     *     *

 

And quite naturally in the moon's soft Advent glow, our loving attention falls, too, upon Jesus.

It’s strange to think we know more, today, than Jesus would have known scientifically when he walked the earth and watched the full moon rise (imagine it reflecting in his own wondering eyes, for a few moments). Yet he’d have known, better than all, that all Creation holds together in God's love.

How soon did he sense, I wonder, as a boy growing up, that it was he who'd come to hold it all for us - to stretch out his arms to join the circle up again?

And how did it feel for Mary, deep in her inmost being, with less than a month to go - as 'the Word who was with God in the beginning' grew inside her, and the moon lit a path to Bethlehem, and the waters of Creation were poised, once more, to break.

 

*     *     *

 

May the light that shines on you, shine on the one you love, today.

Go well!
Brian

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Just One Thing

You might like to repeat the compass practice this morning. You don't have to worry about every small detail - just turn slowly through east, south, west and north to south, again, remembering one or two bits that really resonated. Be conscious that the moon will rise in the east tonight, just as the sun will rise there in the morning.

And tonight, head outside to behold the moon! You might like to pray for someone in the community whose name you've seen on the RSVP. Or think of someone you love. And allow the wonder of this evocative season to thrill you afresh.

Be held, as you behold!

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5 // The Still Point of the Turning World

The Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings.’ Malachi 4.2

 

*     *     *

 

Good morning!

Something a little different for today. To continue yesterday’s theme, I want to share a practice I’ve developed to start my day - using the points of the compass to create a circle of prayerful contemplation, as I face each direction in ‘turn’.

It's been helping me to offer the day to God, and to find poise within it. It’s also helping me prepare for the darkness of winter, and spiritually for ‘the night divine’.

It need only take you a few minutes now, turning on the spot where you are (or simply visualising the different points of the compass); but you may wish to spend longer, when you have the chance; I like to do this outside.

The idea is to go through it all, even though the four points pre-empt different parts of the day. (You can always come back to the sections in turn.)

I hope you find this helpful! I'm aware I shared something similar a year or so back, but the content has shifted for me in recent days with the advent of this series, and I sense this would be a really good way for us all to embed what's been unfolding. I love the idea of each of us turning in a circle, throughout the world, as community! (And if you're in the southern hemisphere, please switch out north for south, and vice versa, and you'll have to take our pole star metaphorically!)

We start, then, by facing East ...

 

*     *     *

 

Face East, the direction of sunrise. Stand with poise. Take a breath in, counting to four, and a breath out, counting to six.

Henry David Thoreau wrote, ‘Only that day dawns to which we are awake.’ Invite thisday to dawn on you, by consciously meeting it with reverence and gratitude.

Try to see yourself as if from above, for a moment, waiting for the light to appear over the horizon. East is the point of daybreak, and the place of new starts. What grace is this, that each new day presents us with the chance to start again!

The Bible says, ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness’ (Lam 3). Speak these words quietly.

When you’re ready, give thanks for a few simple blessings you might otherwise have taken for granted, including the gift of this new day itself.

And talking of mercies, place your hand on your heart and speak the ancient ‘Prayer of the Heart’, which goes all the way back to the Desert Mothers and Fathers:

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy upon me.”
“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy upon me.”
“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy upon me.”

Try to receive that mercy by imagining it flowing toward you, in to you. And then, imagine it flowing like a stream through you, toward someone you know, who needs it to. Commit to becoming an embodiment of mercy, as you enter this day.

———

When you’re ready, turn slowly clockwise toward the south. Be conscious of the enormity of what’s encompassed in a simple 90-degree movement - all the nations, the oceans, the creatures, the friends who are distant, the participants in this series.

Facing South.

The sun will be at its highest around mid-day, and points South (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). It reminds me that I can find bearings even when I feel lost.

It’s a reminder, too, how we're invited to stand in God’s light and love, to soak it in. Psalm 37 says, ’Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.’

So, be still.

When you are ready, practice standing on one leg, to cultivate poise, for a short while. Remember the balance and poise you can bring to this day, with practice.

And now, with feet firmly planted again, imagine you are a tree, with roots which grow deep into the darkness of the soil, and branches which stretch tall toward the light. A powerful symmetry. You may wish to bring your attention to a nearby tree, to help you with this, even as you find communion with Creation around you.

Stand poised between the ‘vivacity of what was’ and ‘the vitality of what will be’.

———

Turn slowly to the west, conscious again of all that’s encompassed in this 90-degree movement - the people, the places, even the stars and the planets.

Facing West.

This is the direction of sun set, where light and dark meet, twilight colours bleed into one, and the soul can stir as we behold the mystery of life.

It takes courage to face into that mystery. Here, we know that we don’t know it all, as once we might have thought. (The older I get, the truer this becomes.)

There's a saying in the Japanese tradition, writes Francis Weller in his book The Wild Edge of Sorrow: "Not-knowing is most intimate.” For me, not knowing can draw me closer to God in trust, if I let it. Even Paul writes, ‘We see through a glass darkly.’

Here is a good moment, then, to release our grip on how, in particular, we wish everything to turn out in life. Let this go, gently, into the love of God. On your next in-breath, pray: “Your kingdom come.” And on the out-breath, like a sigh of relief: “Your will be done.” Keep going, in the intimacy of not knowing; trusting and yielding.

———

When you are ready, turn slowly to the north, conscious, again, of all that’s encompassed in this particular 90-degree movement.

 Facing North.

And so we face north, into the place of greatest darkness.

As they sang at the Queen’s funeral this year, so movingly, “The day thou gavest Lord is ended; the darkness falls at thy behest.”

The day will, and must end. Yet as we face into the darkness, we remember that the North Star offers the glimmer of a fixed point, when all else might feel like it’s gone. For me it’s like a divine signal, pulsing: "Are you receiving me?"

Think of what your one ‘fixed point’ really is. It might be the love of God. It might be a verse of Scripture you hold most dear. Or an experience of God you can never deny.

Imagine that north star glimmering deep within your inmost being. Let it shine inwardly, like ‘the still point of the turning world’, to borrow from TS Eliot.

Finally, recall the gift that comes under cover of darkness: the baby arriving quietly on the ‘night divine’. Whisper, 'O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.'

—————————

Turn again to the East, one last time, to complete your circle. As you do so, recall the words of Tess Ward: ‘Embracer of all, [you] stretched out your hands to join up the circle of life.’

Facing East

Give thanks for the completion of the circle, and the love that carries us through endings to beginnings, through night into dawn, through death into life.

Recall the words of the prophet Malachi: ‘the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings’. And speak the ancient prayer: ‘Maranatha, Come Lord.’

Amen.

 

*     *     *

 

May you be encompassed by God's love, today.

Go well!
Brian

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Just One Thing

You may like to complement this, as I do, by finishing with Columba's 'circling prayer', which I speak as I turn once more around 360 degrees. (Otherwise, just journal these words, or anything you have noticed about today's experience.)

Bless to me the sky that is above me,
Bless to me the ground that is beneath me,
Bless to me the friends who are around me,
Bless to me the love of the Three
Deep within me and encircling me.

Amen.

PS: Remember to keep watch for the moon, this evening, as it nears its fullness!

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4 // To Join the Circle

‘‘... I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.’ John 14.20

 

*     *     *

 

Good morning!

We’ve looked back, with kindsight and thanks, and soon we’ll look gently forward, further into Advent. But today let’s look around. Please remember to pause, and breathe, relax and smile before you read on.

 

*     *     *

 

I’m intrigued by the circular motion of God’s Creation: the Earth spins, the Moon orbits us, the planets circle the sun. We travel through each day, each month, and four gorgeous seasons in ‘turn’ to arrive, full circle, back at the same place, having grown by degrees like a tree (whose trunk is etched inside by circles!).

Surely it’s more by beautiful design than accident, this form of motion we're part of. Think of those memorable words of TS Eliot: ‘The end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time’ …

 

*     *     *

 

Arriving back here in Advent again, I'm sure we can bring an explorer’s reverence to this season, with a watchful poise and a readiness to go deeper. But whether you’ve had time to apply yourself or not so far, fear not! For even this one day, this Monday in December, comes with the invitation of a full-circle start. God’s mercies are new every morning, as the Bible says, and that, in itself, is a grace-filled rhythm enough.

(You might like to pause, to receive them, open-handedly.)

I can't help thinking God loves joining in that rhythm with us, by the way. Imagine, too, that God loves this day, and all it contains (including you), as much as the first day that was ever created. And what if, while we're at it, God loves not just the newness of sunrise, but the dimming of the day to twilight, and the glimmering, star-filled mystery of night, too? All of it, as a whole, as it turns, and turns.

It helps me want to make the most of it, today!

 

*     *     *

 

Even before Creation, there was a circle of joyous movement, if the Early Church Fathers are to be believed. They used the Greek theatrical word perichoresis - ‘circle dance’! - to describe the everflowing, overflowing love between Father, Son and Spirit. God as verb, instead of noun.

That divine capacity for dynamic relationship and communion was set in our hearts, too, from the start, in a gift of original blessing for humanity - for God said, ‘Let uscreate them in our own image!’ A gift of love for us to receive from God, and to pass on to each other, through each other, in turn after joyful turn.

Somehow we managed to break our circle, in sin, flattening it into a straight line which runs just from A to B, beginning to end, birth to death, end of story.

But Advent anticipates the divine re-joining of the circle, and our re-joining in it, if we're willing to take our place. (Seems the Trinity would rather we joined a dance than a religion, by the way!) I love the words of Tess Ward (in her book The Celtic Wheel of the Year), who addresses God, in one reflection, as: ‘Embracer of all, who stretched out your hands to join up the circle of life.’

Hands that reached up from a manger, and would in time be stretched out on the Cross.

 

*     *     *

 

Embracer of all, as we prepare again this Advent for you to join us, lead us with joy through our endings into beginnings; through night toward day; through winter toward spring; through death toward life. May the everflowing, overflowing circle of love flood through me, as I turn, again, to you.

 

*     *     *

 

May we join the circle, today.

Go well!
Brian

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Just One Thing

Try writing a 'circle poem' - a short text, shaped in a circle, in which the reader can begin at more than one point, and can be read continuously. You could choose one word to represent each of the four seasons in turn, for example, as a way of gathering up the year - and write them in a circle joining each by the word 'and'.

...

If you have time later, why not step out around twilight to enjoy the moon, if the skies are clear, and sense the Creator's presence within the gathering dakness. The moon will be full on Thursday, so we'll keep an eye on it this week!

...

If you'd like to stay in a moment of quiet reflection, you might enjoy listening to Stormzy's current single 'Holy Spirit' (thanks Trevor P).
 

 

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3 // Thank You

 

‘One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back... He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him - and he was a Samaritan.’ Luke 17.11-19

 

*     *     *

 

Good morning!

Something happy and heart-felt, for a Saturday, if I may.

Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’ morning show has a wonderful regular feature called 'Thank You', in which members of the public phone in to thank someone for a kind act they did, sometimes decades ago. Usually, they didn't get to say thank you at the time - the lady rescued, for instance, from a lake 60 years ago, who didn't know who saved her; the man so grateful when a cab driver waived the fare as he took home his new-born baby; the woman who thanked every driver who stopped on the M6 motorway to gather her clothes when her suitcase came off the roof-rack ...

The stories often move me to tears, as they’re full of profoundly simple kindnesses. And since we're taking a moment, in our series, to look back with 'kindsight', it made me think: Who do we have, to thank?

It doesn’t take long, does it, for examples to bubble up of people who’ve helped, in big or small ways. And I'd love to share a little 'thank you' of my own, from this year.

 

*     *     *

 

This autumn, my wife took our 12-year-old and her cousin to the theatre. They were up in the gods, and when it came to getting an ice cream at the interval, the girls had to make their (own) way excitedly down several flights of stairs to the usherette at the side of the stage.

By the time they got there, out of breath, the curtain was about to rise again. “Two ice creams, please!” they said hurriedly, grabbing a ‘tub’ and handing over the cash my wife had given them. But the usherette had bad news. “The theatre is cashless. You can only pay by card." Help! The girls thought on their feet: if the people sitting in the nearby rows are tucking into ice creams, they must have a card!

“Excuse me, if we give you our cash, could you pay with your card?” they asked. One chap looked down. “We don’t have a card either,” he mumbled, presumably licking his ice cream a little more guiltily. They asked a few others, to no avail.

Crest-fallen, the girls handed back their ice creams, when a woman leapt up from her seat further along the row. “I’ve got a card,” she exclaimed, and handed it to the usherette. “Two ice creams, please!” she said, with (I’m told) a very happy smile. “And keep your cash, girls - it’s my treat!”

‘Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me,’ as Jesus said. Needless to say, I was very moved when they came home and told me all about it. I don’t think they’ll ever forget it, either. So I would like to say a heart-felt “Thank you” to the lady who bought the ice creams, and made those girls' day. Whoever you are!

 

*     *     *

 

Richard Rohr memorably says that it’s not the problem of evil that vexes him, so much as the problem of good. How come goodness is always breaking out in a world so riven with strife?

I’d love to think that today, we can be part of that particular 'problem of good', and in the spirit of Advent, give someone a reason to be thankful, in the best possible way.

And perhaps there’s someone you'd still love to thank, after all this time, for being there when it really counted. I do so love the story of the Samaritan leper who remembers to return and say thank you to Jesus. It reminds me, this Advent, that ultimately I've got everything to be thankful for, because of him.

 

*     *     *

 

May you feel the love, today.

Go well!
Brian

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Just One Thing

Spend some time recalling any acts of kindness you have received, this year. Receive them back into your heart. Write a short account, like I did - a ‘thank you’, in your journal about one of them. You might like to write one to Jesus, too. And when you're out and about, be part of the 'problem of goodness' this weekend!

You can listen to several examples of the Saturday Live 'Thank You' slot here.

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2 // Kindsight

  ' ... he humbled himself ...' (Philippians 2.8)

 

*     *     *

 

Good morning!

Before you begin, please take a moment to pause, to be present and to find poise. Take a deeper breath or two, relax, and sit quietly, as you become aware of God's presence around you and within you. Take as long as you need, before you read on.

 

*     *     *

 

I was walking with my 12-year-old yesterday when she stopped dead, pointing up into the branches of the tree beside us. “One leaf left!” she exclaimed.

And she was right - there it was, a single leaf hanging there! Trees are so cool not to cling too tight to their finery, we agreed - and then she paused, remembering her older brother who'd left for university this year, and who she misses every day.

“Like us with Eden,” she said.

 

*     *     *

Every year brings gain, and loss, doesn’t it, and some more than others. A friend told me how they couldn’t wait to see the back of 2022 - it’s been so tough for them. It’s how I felt last year, I remember.

But the almost-bare tree hinted to me that we can face our past with poise, just as we can face our future. It’s what the poet Mary Oliver seems to affirm in her poem ‘Lines Written In the Days of Growing Darkness’. The world each year descends into a ‘rich mash,' she writes, 'in order that it may resume'. We don’t need to beg the petals, or leaves, to stay, therefore. For:

'... the vivacity of what was is married 
to the vitality of what will be.'

I love those words! Vivacity and vitality! They help redeem the past for me and renew my perspective on the future, all at once, within the creative tension of this stripped back moment in the present.

 

*     *     *

 

And by the way, as we naturally start to look back at year's end, let’s keep in mind our tendency to be our own worst critic, when it comes to what and how we've done. Another word, then, that has helped me recently is ‘kindsight’, coined by the author Karen Salmansohn. And kindsight is a beautiful thing!

‘Instead of slapping your forehead and asking, “What was I thinking?”,’ she writes, ‘breathe … and ask the kinder question, “What was I learning?”’. I’m tempted to ask myself, too: “How was I growing?” and "Where was grace leading?"

 

*     *     *

 

It’s such a resonant, poetic word, kindsight, and I’m sure you can use it how you’d like, to cast a gentler, appreciative eye across your year.

We might try to see God’s part in our past with kindsight, too. It’s easy, sometimes, to wonder where God ‘was’ at certain times of our life - as if somehow God’s presence is verified by life going well, and nullified if it all goes wrong.

Neither is true, of course; God’s involvement in our journey is so much richer and deeper than that, as Advent reminds us. This is the One, after all, who made the trees, and knows a thing or two about letting go. And just imagine: the vivacity of what Jesus so lovingly came to do for us on Earth is married to the vitality of who weare, so lovingly, invited to become ...

It's reason enough, surely - even if we have just “one leaf left” this year - to stand tall as a tree upon this richest mash of holy Advent ground.

 

*     *     *

 

May you ask the kinder question, today.

Go well!
Brian

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Just One Thing

Bring your attention to a tree that's lost its leaves, today - either one you can see through your window, or one you encounter on a walk. You may like to draw its silhouette as a way of helping you to find some connection with it. Meditate on 'the vivacity of what was', and 'the vitality of what will be'. And gather up some of your year by looking with 'kindsight' upon what has unfolded. What were you learning? How were you growing? Where was grace leading?

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1 // Poised for Advent

‘“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”’
Luke 1.38

 

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Good morning!

I’m so excited to be wondering and wandering with you through the glimmering Advent landscape and skyscape and soulscape again!

Please do take a deeper breath, for a moment.
Relax your shoulders.
Smile!

And bring yourself to this precious moment of new beginning, and to these days ahead, and to God within it all. Take your time.

Here we are.

 

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The author, contemplative and retreat leader Evelyn Underhill once gave a brilliant description of why we take time out to pause, as we’ll be doing in this series:

‘We come,’ she said, ‘to deepen our contact with the spiritual realities on which our lives depend - to recover, if we can, our spiritual poise. To wait on the Lord and renew our strength, for the sake of the world.’

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to recover, and maintain, our poise, for Advent?

I recalled Evelyn’s words recently when trying a physio exercise I'd been set after my knee replacement. The idea was to stand on one leg for as long as I could - first, with eyes open, then, with eyes closed. (Try it, if you have something to hold on to if you lose your balance!)

I teetered like a tipsy flamingo, unable to stand for more than a second or so with eyes closed, and it really did feel like a metaphor for the spiritual life ...

 

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I wonder how true poise feels in your body, your mind, your heart?

(Try to sense it, now.)

And I wonder what it looks like in action. Like a ballerina, in arabesque flow? Like a leafless tree in winter, standing tall, rooted, even in a passing storm?

Theologically, I can't help picturing Mary, who seems to find exquisite poise when the angel Gabriel visits her with news that will shake not just her life, but the world. She is ready, somehow, already.

The Cambridge Dictionary describes poise as ‘a quality of grace’. Isn't that divine? It’s surely what Mary embodies, despite feeling troubled at first. And she’ll pass this quality on to her son with a loving, steadying hand, when the time is right for him to learn to stand and walk as one of us, as God with us, in grace yet more abounding.

 

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As we pause each day in Advent, then, to wait upon this Lord, what good news, that we, too, can draw upon such grace as his.

I'm sure we'll want to make Christmas ’22 extra special, freed as most of us now are from Covid restrictions. But as we speed up in the busyness of preparation, or try indeed to slow ourselves down, a little practice may go a long way to cultivating our poise, whatever that looks like in both stillness and action.

Take a calming breath, perhaps, before entering the fray. Listen, before speaking. Stay openly present to what, or who, is about to come your way. At such a glorious time of year as this, who knows? It might even be an angel.

 

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May you find your poise, today.

Go well!
Brian

Try 'Just One Thing' today

It turns out standing on one leg for a short while each day not only improves your balance, posture and core strength - it revitalises the brain, lifts the mood, and, if the reports are to be believed, increases life expectancy! *

I’m going to make it part of my own daily practice this Advent, as a physical reminder to cultivate a spiritual posture of readiness for what, and who, is to come. The words of Psalm 40 spring to mind: ‘He set my feet upon a rock, made my footsteps firm.’

Perhaps you’d like to, as well. Try it today, in different settings (eyes open, unless it’s safe to close them!) - brushing your teeth, washing up, standing in a queue - to remind you of the Advent poise.

* If you’ve 14 minutes to spare, this podcast by the BBC’s Michael Mosley - the aptly named Just One Thing - is all about the benefits of standing on one leg!