Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Christmastide to You!

Ah, the frenzy that is Christmas Eve is over, Christmas Day is past, and now we settle into Christmastide for a short while before the Epiphany.

For me, this is a relaxed time. We generally keep the decorations up until New Year's, and really, if we were to follow the Church calendar closely, we can keep them up until Jan. 6 (Epiphany). The house has been tidied up a bit, grandson S's new toys have been integrated into the household and we can just enjoy a little bit of free time before having to get back into the routine of daily life. Even though I work a few days next week, even that is a bit more relaxed. I wish I could say the same for my husband, who has been especially busy. I'm just glad that he has had a few days off recently.

This is a time for reflecting on the past year. Some of you veteran readers may be tired of my summer saga, but it bears mentioning because it was a significant turning point for me in 2009. As the year began, and through the summer, I had felt like I was losing so much -- a friend and a church -- but as the rest of the year played out, I have found that I have gained much. I'm closer to my family, my new church has been a haven for spiritual growth, and I'm becoming more aware of my own strength. Those who have been my friends at my old church continue to be my friends, just as others from previous congregations have been. In fact, I'm lunching tomorrow with a friend from my first Episcopal congregation. I feel a little like Job (though, thankfully, not experiencing losses to the great degree that he had). He lost a lot, but God blessed him greatly. He expressed his frustration to God, but still kept the faith. That's the amazing thing. Not by my strength alone, but with God's help, I weathered this storm in my life and was able to see and appreciate God's great blessings as I got through it.

Our family has become a tight little unit. We are still dealing with some legal issues concerning grandson S, but hope that 2010 will be the year of getting them resolved. Stepdaughter J is doing well in school -- a 4.0 average for her first semester. And I love and appreciate my husband R more and more with each passing day.

I have some goals for this year. I'm preparing to take the state exam for Special Education certification. That will take place in late January. You'll certainly will read a prayer request before then. I'll then apply for special ed as well as regular ed teaching positions for the coming school year. Spiritually, I hope to have a new spiritual director and get back on track with my prayer and worship life. I'd like to take better care of myself physically, and fit some intentional exercise into my daily routine. And I want to continue my vigilance over my mental and emotional health. That vigilance stood me in good stead in 2009.

When I reflect a little further back, say the past six years, I find that I've traveled a long road. From living an out-of-control, scared, not wanting to live existence, I have (again with God's help) built a life that has value to myself and others. I'm aware that God has always valued me, and now I have the opportunity to help others see God's value in themselves.

But of course it's not all smooth sailing from now on. I have no idea what the future holds, so it's not a time for complacency. But I can, if I allow myself to lean upon God's strength, be ready to meet the challenges. I can be confident that God will be there to help me. And by allowing God to help me, I don't have to worry so much, I can look to the needs of others rather than curving into myself. I can -- with His help -- love and serve Him. That's what it's all about, anyway.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Third Sunday of Advent -- In the Desert, Finding Hope

Fr. Y's sermon today was just what I needed to hear. It's interesting how sermons can be like that. Clergy prepare sermons for the congregation as a whole, yet each member hears it in his own particular way.

In a nutshell, the sermon was about being in a spiritual desert. The characteristics of that desert are dryness, disconnectedness, feeling lost, and hopelessness. The way out of the desert is to turn our attention to God and His promises to us. I'll add more detail to this below.

We were given a bit of homework afterward. Three questions were posed, which I'll answer here on the blog.

1. Think about the last time you were wandering in a spiritual desert. In what ways were you challenged?

Readers of this blog are familiar with my last trip through the desert, which was this past summer. In fact, the desert was the birthplace of the blog. In hindsight, I was in an unhealthy relationship with my last priest. Not sensational like an affair, but destructive all the same. When the friendship fell apart, I lost my pastor, spiritual director and church community as well. It was a distressing and confusing time. There had been red flags and people who had warned me to step back, but I didn't heed the warnings. When there was finally a irreparable break and the need to go to a new church, I realized that while I didn't worship Fr. X, I did allow my friendship with him and its ups and downs (more and more "downs", in time) to interfere with my relationship with the worshiping community and with God.

2. How did God work through your spiritual desert time to bring you to a deeper understanding of Him? How were you changed?

I realized that God had to allow that friendship to end. There could be nothing that separated me from Him in my life. I had to allow God to lead me to an unknown place, a new church, and trust that He would help me and my family adjust. I found that I could focus more on my husband, family, friends, others in the congregation, and God Himself when I wasn't so worried about "What would Fr. X think?" God allowed me to experience the hardship, yet as St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:13, He was faithful and showed "with the testing he will also provide the way out," so that I was able to endure it. This experience showed me the danger of allowing any one person so much control over my spiritual life. Only God has the right to that much influence over my being.

3. Share with someone one thing you can do to participate in God's activity in your family, at work or in the community.

I will seek ways, as wife, mother and grandmother (and godparent) to nurture the faith journey of my family. I could list more things, but the assignment does say "one thing", and right now family is at the top of my list.

The sermon also included a list of Bible verses to read while one is traveling in the desert:
  • dryness: Isaiah 12:13
  • disconnectedness: Zephaniah3:17
  • feeling lost: Zephaniah3:20
  • hopelessness: Philippians 4:4
Advent is about expectation. We eagerly await to celebrate the birth of our Savior. As we do so, let's remember that God moves powerfully in this world. He restores. He revives. He resets. He renews.

But he works through us. So we are challenged. What will we do? What will I do?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Churches: Cooperation or Competition?

Last night I participated in a concert featuring singers from several Episcopal churches in my diocese. It was a very rewarding experience, both in terms of the music we performed, and the people I was able to reconnect with. Several friends from my old church were there, as participants and audience members. I met the priest who took Fr. X's place, Fr. J. I felt a genuine warmth from Fr. and Mrs. J as we met.

Some folks would take that as a reason to go back to my old church. After all, Fr. X and the problems I and others had with him are no longer a pressing issue. But I don't see it that way. My present church was and is more than merely a port in a storm. It was the place that provided comfort and solace, as well as the time and space I needed to look at my situation more objectively. It was there that I was able to serve again, and where J and S were able to worship without dealing with any fallout connected with my problems with Fr. X.

I'm not interested in being a ping-pong ball when it comes to churches. I want a place where my family and I can settle down and be settled. Living the Gospel can be unsettling enough at times. I'd rather that we remain in the community we're in now, and not have to deal with starting over in another place. Besides, S is already in love with the "pay-boun" (playground) at our present church.

Which brings me to the title of this entry -- cooperation or competition? Wouldn't it be great if we explored more opportunities -- such as the concert I described -- for churches to cooperate with one another. Perhaps the parochial boundaries could be less rigid and more permeable. Instead of convincing members of one parish to transfer to another, like some sort of Episcopal shell game, we could work together to nurture each others' faith and reach those who do not know Christ. It's not that those things are not happening now, but we could and should do more. We need to share those gifts that God has given each of our communities.

Amen. Be Blessed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Superficial or Sacramental?

Wow! December already! Advent already! Christmas is just around the corner!

I've been thinking about what Fr. Y had said in his sermon, about not getting caught up in the distractions that are our usual pre-Christmas preparations. Advent is a time of holy waiting. It's a time of waiting for the Holy. But all too often, we are bombarded with messages, commercial and non-commercial that distract us from the holy. An obvious commercial distraction is the focus on buying gifts. I heard a news story recently that made it sound like people refusing to max out their credit cards was a bad thing. Huh?

Non-commercial distractions are focusing on decorating the house, getting the Christmas cards sent, or cooking the perfect meal. Not that these are bad things, but they need to be put into perspective. All those are way lower in priority than the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

The definition of a "sacrament" is "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace." So, I'm looking at all these things I do to get ready for Christmas, the spiritual and temporal alike and wondering, how can I do them in such a way that they are an outward and visible sign of my inward and spiritual preparation for the observance of Christ's birth?

First, I intend to do only those things that are most meaningful to me in a spiritual sense. Decorating the house to a certain extent is important because I want S, my two-year-old grandson, to learn about Christmas. He can point to Baby Jesus in our Nativity Set, and will learn more as the days lead to Christmas. Cards, gifts and meals are important in that it shows my love and care for my brothers and sisters in Christ. The thing here is not to let the activities become the end. They are only indicators of my love for Christ.

Also, I intend to adopt some Advent disciplines. Disciplines are usually associated with Lent, but I want to use my Advent time wisely. I am going to incorporate more Scripture reading and intentional prayer into my daily life. I am considering reading a Bible chapter each day. I think I'll start with the Gospel of John. I don't quite know why, but it just feels right.

I wanted to get this out before I forgot too many things, but it's late now, so I am going to bed.

Good night and blessings to you!