You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2012.

windowThe choir stood in line, ready to enter the sanctuary for Christmas Eve service. But what was that sound? The rapid beeping increased to a wail before I realized it was the fire alarm. Move two candelabras and you add a fire engine full of firemen to your evening service.

How do follow up something like that?

Not surprisingly, we did our best. This was, after all, Christmas Eve. The choir performed a cantata. Pastor Carol delivered a masterful sermon. We celebrated Holy Communion. All of this we did for the glory of God.

Yet when the Presence joined us, it was still and small and witnessed by only a few.

We end Christmas Eve service by darkening our sanctuary. The overhead lights are turned off with the flip of a switch. The youth process through the church with candle snuffers extinguishing one flame after another until only the Christ candle in the Advent wreath still glows.

Pastor Carol emphasized how this candle symbolizes the light of God. She explained that we can pass this light from one person to another. As she said this, she lit a smaller candle from the Christ candle. She then lit candles for the youth who then lit candles held by members of the congregation. Little by little, the light in the room grew.

When everyone held a gleaming candle, Pastor Carol asked us to hold them overhead. The light in the room grew still brighter. The pastor explained that we can do much the same thing with Christ’s light which glows within us.

Everyone lowered their candles and we sang Silent Night. As the first tentative notes filled the air, a glow came from the stained glass window at the front of the church. Not the whole window. Only one small part was lit – the letters Chi Rho, one of our earliest symbols for Christ.

One of my friends saw and nudged another friend who in turn nudged her husband. Only a handful of people caught a glimpse before the light faded.

Sometimes the voice of God is still and small and not easily heard over either our songs of praise or the wail of a siren. But it only takes a few to Witness His presence and to let other’s know.

–SueBE

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A sea of singers can overwhelm the Message.

A sea of singers can overwhelm the Message.

This Advent season, the choir at Florissant Presbyterian Church did something new. We joined the choirs of two other denominations to perform at a community concert at the Old St. Ferdinand Shrine.

When we had our first rehearsal at the shrine, it took some time for the director to arrange more than 40 singers at the front of the sanctuary. When she was done, the front of the room was awash in tenors and basses, altos and sopranos.

Then came time to sing. A big part of it was simply getting various elements of the audio set at the right levels. Could we hear the orchestration? And that means all of us and not just the handful of sopranos and altos with monitors pointed right at them. Could the congregation also hear the orchestration and the choir as well?

The latter is what most of us were worried about. Could we be heard?

We are used to singing in our respective sanctuaries – immense rooms containing not just people but also carpeting and upholstery. Even if your acoustics are good, these things absorb sound so we compensate. Compensate? We sing our socks off.

That doesn’t work at the Shrine. First of all, the acoustics are amazing with a curved ceiling and even a gently curved floor that mimic the interior of a violin. Add to this the fact that the aisles are uncarpeted and there are no cushions on the pews. The sound absorption is near zero.

To put it politely – yes, we could be heard. Because we are so used to having to give it our all, we could not be understood. The force of 40+ voices in an acoustically divine room that absorbs very little sound was overwhelming. Our voices bounced unintelligibly from wall to wall and floor to ceiling.

The director gave us an order that we almost never get. “You need to back down.”

Dialing it down.

Dialing it down.

Back down? You mean dial it down? Sing more quietly? But we’re here to praise God. We were singing the Hallelujah Chorus for goodness sake.

But did you know that the Hallelujah Chorus was written for 16-20 voices? Sixteen to 20.

Forty people would have to dial it down. Forty people in this room would have to dial it down a lot.

When we did the results were amazing.

I know it sounds like I am giving you contradictory advice. In my first Advent post, I told you to be ready to put the Adventure back into Advent. I dared you to create a Christmas full of the Might and Power of God.

There will still be times that you need to dial it down. Yes, God sends mighty angels to spread his word.

But he also sends tiny, little babies.

–SueBE

Candles…you see them everywhere in this holiday season. They flicker from Advent wreaths and menorahs, glow in homes and churches alike. It seems we need light more than ever, as recent tragedies have made clear. Here is a poem for Christmas. May your days be lit with the love of family and the peace of blessed connection.

In need of illumination,

we light a single candle.

A fragile flame so easily extinguished —

a wind of sighs, a bath of tears

can blot it out in an instant.

It is our undertaking

to guard the flame.

For if the candle goes out,

we will be alone with the darkness

we ourselves have made.

Defend the light

or suffer in shadow:

It is our choice.

Take my hand.

Let us begin.

I will be taking some time off to be with family, but will return to blogging in the new year. Have a safe and lovely holiday, everyone.

Make space for quiet and prayer in times of tragedy.

Make space for quiet and prayer in times of tragedy.

We originally ran this post following the tragedy in Aurora, CO.  Not surprisingly, we feel the need to reach out and up once again given the recent happenings in Newtown, CT.  Any time something like this impacts a community, parents have to help their children cope. Here is what has worked for us as a family.

Talk to your children. They need to find out what is going on from you. Yes, we want to protect our children, but we also need to be a reliable source of world events. Give your children an age appropriate run down of the events. Then listen to what they have to say. They are going to feel more empowered if they feel heard. Obviously, if your children are very young, you probably won’t be talking to them about this but I’m assuming your children are old enough to have sources of information other than you.

Turn off the media. Whether its news streaming online or the local TV news, media plays up the danger and the uncertainty because that’s what sells. It keeps people tuning in to hear the latest update even if there is nothing new to say. Shut it off. Don’t let this be what constantly fills your children’s ears, their minds and their hearts instead . . .

Fill their minds and hearts with serenity. Go beyond unplugging and seek out someplace that you feel near to God. You might expect me to say “go to church,” and for many people this is the right answer. Personally, I sometimes need to get outside. I feel closest to God in the desert of West Texas, but there’s also a local river bend that can do the trick. A friend of mine seeks out the beach at dawn. Forest. Field. Whatever works for you. Take your children there with you.  Help them find quiet.

Help your children speak to God. Just as your children bring their concerns to you, encourage them to speak to God. They don’t have to use a formal prayer, they can simply say how they feel and ask for the help that they need to deal with it. Dear God, I’m really scared that someone will hurt me and my friends. Help me to be brave every day. Amen.

Help your children hear God. You might choose scripture, but for me music is often the key. I’m not recommending against scripture, but nothing sticks in my head like music. After we sing an anthem in church, I catch myself humming bits and pieces throughout the week. Often, this is what I need when I’m troubled. Here are a few pieces I’ve previously posted here on PrayPower – Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place,  Open My Eyes that I May See, and Spirit of God Descend Upon My Heart.

None of these things will magically fix what is wrong in this world, but these are all things that will bring your children closer to their families and to God. This will give them a source of strength to draw on when bad times come or when someone else needs to be held up in prayer.

–SueBE

Four out of ten Americans believe that recent weather extremes are the result of impending “end times.” Well, what do you expect? The Mayan calendar ends next Friday. 12/12/12 has come and gone. Wake up, Chicken Little, the sky is falling!

No one knows the day or hour of the end of the world, of Christ’s second coming. So it’s fairly easy for me to ignore doomsayers. They think they know; therefore, they must be wrong because no one knows. That’s my attempt at logic, anyway. What I don’t consider is this: While the end will probably not be next Friday, who’s to say it won’t be Saturday? Or Sunday? Or tomorrow?

That’s the scary part of not knowing. It ties in neatly with the subject of Advent, the season of the Church year in which we find ourselves currently immersed. Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of the Savior. But it’s also about looking forward to His next coming — the big one, the “end of days” one. The one that could be tomorrow…or a million years from now. We’re supposed to be getting ready for that, too.

How? Must we all write out our “Bucket Lists” and quit our jobs in pursuit of checking off its contents? Hedge our bets and hope we have more time? I’ll be honest. I have no idea how to prepare for the Second Coming. I’ve thought about it. If the world were to end, I’d want to be in the company of those I love. I’d like to go out in prayer. Other than that, I’m clueless. I’m sure as heck not ready to stand in the presence of God and be judged. I picture God taking one look at me and pulling a lever that sends me sprawling through a conveniently placed trapdoor. My chances look dicey at best.

It is easy to forget, what with our busy lives, careers, family, TV, ringing phones, honking cars and oh-my-gosh-look-at-that-cute-kitty-on-the-internet…where was I? Oh yeah. With all these distractions, who can keep her mind on such abstract notions as Final Judgments and heaven? And maybe that’s why we let ourselves be distracted, so we don’t have to think about the big topics. Because we’re all afraid to face them.

Thomas Merton (who I paraphrase regularly because I’m a shameless fangirl) believed we are all called to be saints. And certainly, if we live as saints, we will be ready no matter when the end comes. It’s the getting there that’s the trouble. There’s no clear road marked out for sainthood. It’s not like becoming a doctor or a lawyer. There are darned few teachers, and most of them are dead. So? What is there to do?

Until the dark comes, we have light. We have role models, books to read, prayers to say, commandments to follow, clues and hints of all sorts. We have the example of Christ. And we have our consciences and the wisdom of our own souls. It may not be a well-stocked bomb shelter, but it’s something. And we’d better use it now, because, well, it may be later than we think.

The Wexford Carol

Until this year, I had never heard this amazing piece of Holy Music. Variations of the Wexford Carol, a traditional Irish carol, form the center of the cantata our choir will be performing this year. Enjoy!

It isn’t a complicated piece but when you get the four part harmony going, in the arrangement that we are singing, it is amazing.  And it takes a group of people working together to make it so.   May God Bless you all this week and enjoy!

–SueBE

So there I was, standing in line, waiting to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation (known in some circles as “Confession”). I was cogitating on my sins of course, but also regurgitating a conversation I’d had on the drive over, one filled with angry questions for my otherwise beloved Church: Why doesn’t the Church seem to care that the third largest religious affiliation in the country is “lapsed Catholic”? Why have priests been excommunicated for supporting the notion of women priests or married priests, or even simply for blessing gay people, while bishops that protected known pedophiles for decades have not been? Why are nuns being chided for their work with the poor and desire for social justice?

And then I looked up. I was standing under Station Eight of the Stations of the Cross: Jesus speaks to the women. Five words. And I realized my true sin. I have not trusted God to work through His Church, to bring change and healing. How did I get from Station Eight to recognition of sin? Easy. Jesus spoke to women. That doesn’t seem all that revolutionary now, but it sure was then. Women were considered chattel, property. For a man to speak to a woman — well, it was tantamount to speaking to a cow. The Jewish word for widow literally means “unable to speak.” Not due to grief or anything, but because a widow has no husband, no man, to speak for her. Yet Jesus spoke to the women. And He listened to them, too.

And if that is true, then anything is. Maybe things need to get to crisis levels before the Church changes its views on homosexuality, birth control and the like. Maybe this time of waiting — this Advent — is necessary to effect change. Who knows? Certainly not me. But what I can do is trust that God will work His will through the Church. It is not up to me to worry about it; it is for me to trust. So trust I will.

I guess the women of Station Eight weren’t the only women Jesus spoke to, huh?

I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest.  I do not judge the universe.  Dalai Lama

They rolled in early in the morning, well before 9 AM, and you heard the “beep-beep-beep” of massive trucks backing up and turning around.  There was a scraper attachment on the front of the first one, and it lifted up the worn-down top layer of black-top on the road.  The scraped-up black-top was then funneled into a dump truck following behind via a long metal tube.  Behind these two trucks was a crew laying down the new, gloppy black-top.  After they poured down the black goo, they all got off the trucks and pulled out shovels.  They dug around driveways that had potholes (like mine) and smoothed the driveways’ ends into the newly-paved road.  Then came the steamrollers, back and forth, for hours on end.

There was a lot of noise, a lot of equipment and a lot of manpower out there on my road today.  The fact is, it takes a lot of work to un-do a road, especially if you plan to re-do it.

Imagine how much effort and energy it must take to un-do bad attitudes, dark thoughts and crushed spirits.  And what kind of power it must take to re-do a soul that’s a fixer-upper.  It takes a tear-down to pave the way for a build-up.

Lately, because of the things happening in my life, in particular, to my family, I’ve been having bouts of doubt.  Maybe it should be capitalized, like a chronic condition.  Bouts of Doubt.  Could even be classified in the ICD-9 DM soul diagnostic manual.

When I saw the quote, above, by the Dalai Lama, I realized that this is what’s going on in my faith life.  I’m judging God.  I’ve actually prefaced a prayer with, “Now, I’m sure You have your reasons….” and “I don’t doubt You; I just question Your methods.”

Seeing these words written on the page, it really is ridiculous.  Me, calling God on the carpet.  Heck, He invented carpet!  Even remnants.

So I’m working on getting past one of my Pet Proclivities:  judging others.  Only in this case, I’m judging the way God is working in my life.  He’s been patient as I’ve let my Jersey out from time to time.  “Not for nuttin, Lord, but what gives?”

I’ll work on re-vamping my own road, and keep believing that, with all the detours I’ve taken and the potholes that abound, I can find my way back home to hope.  Until then, I’ll just keep on truckin.

In our society there seems to be two distinct Christmases.

There is the Christmas filled with Santa Claus, gifts in brightly colored paper, twinkly lights and good cheer of all kinds. There is food in great abundance. People decorate big and bright. They make a big deal out of it from start to Alka Seltzer laden finish. This is the commercial Christmas. As card carrying Christians, when exposed to this monstrosity, we are virtually required to grow faint and go have a little lie down.

Then there is the Christian Christmas of the Nativity, candlelight and prayer. It’s quiet. It’s serene. I’ve actually had Christian friends tell me that they hate Christmas. If you’re a real Christian, apparently, Easter is IT. When confronted by cheer and bright lights, they bemoan the corrupting influence of “commercialism,” hold themselves apart and shuffle down the hall, heads bent, dark robes swaying. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but they would if they could.

Not me. For me, Christmas is an adventure and it started the way that so many adventures do – with the birth of someone who was going to shake things up. In this case, the birth of Jesus. A birth is never a ho hum simple thing. Mary didn’t have an IV or an epidural. She most likely didn’t have a midwife. This wasn’t glitz and glamor but it was big and it was important.

This was life coming into the world in a big way and it deserved a big announcement. God sent an angel. This wasn’t a cute little cherubim with his chubby little cheeks. This was an ANGEL OF GOD. I once saw a pattern for an Advent banner that showed an angel and a shepherd with his sheep. The angel is the height and width of the banner. The tiny shepherd cowers at the angels feet. This is the Christmas angel described by Luke.

Luke 2:8-12
New International Version (NIV)
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

This wasn’t a sedate night under the stars. This was a moment that would change the world. This was a big, Big Angel with big, Big News. Not all glitz and shopping, but not all quiet candlelight either.

What we need to recognize in our society is a third kind of Christmas, a Christmas with the might and power to take its place in the dark of night and the clamor of day. We need the Christmas with the impact of birth and the might of an Angel of God.

We need, in short, to put the Adventure back in.

–SueBE

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