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4th sunday of adventTomorrow is the 4th Sunday of Advent.  The theme?  Love.

The funny thing about human beings is that it is hard for us to love unconditionally.  We are too fragile, too frightened.

To pull off anything that resembles loving our fellow many, we have to welcome God into our hearts.  Through him, we can achieve the impossible but it won’t be easy.  Yet, working together we can carry His Love and His Light into the World.

Then again, who ever said that something worth doing would be easy.  Care to join me in this Holy Challenge?

–SueBE

 

joyful noiseIf you’ve been reading our little blog for any length of time, you probably already know that whether I’m praying or worshipping, I adore music. So it really isn’t surprising that part of the season that gives me the most joy is the music.

Until Thursday night.  That’s when our choir director introduced us to Sunday’s anthem – From Heaven above to Earth I Come.  The text is an oldie but a goodie from Martin Luther.  The music is Bach.

Ugh. Bach.

As much as I love listening to Bach, we’d tried singing Bach once before.  I don’t remember how many times we ran through it that long ago night, but it was such a train wreck that we never even performed it. It wasn’t the same song, but it was Bach.  Translation: Complexity here I come!

We ran through page 1.  Oh heaven help us.  That was bad.  Then we did it again, and again, and yet again.  By about the fourth time through, we were somewhat amazing.  That said, everyone sings the melody on page 1.

From there we broke into parts.  It was slow going as each section learned one line at a time and then we’d sing that single line together.  Line by line.

When we started to flag, Abe explained to us why he had chosen such a hum dinger. Simple music is fun to sing, but something that is this complicated gives us the opportunity to offer something up to God that requires focus and effort. It is an offering worthy of the God who gave us His All . . .  His Son . . . His Grace.

As I drove home with Bach bouncing around in my head, I thought back on the Christmas music my mother and I had most enjoyed together – Handel’s Messiah. If you’ve ever had to sing the Hallelujah Chorus you know it is anything but simple, but it is such an amazing piece that it brought a King to his feet.

Sure, I love Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole, two more Mom introduced to me, but I can truly sink my teeth into Handel.  Joy can be simple but it can also be marvelously complex.

–SueBE

I got a funny response to one of my posts once. It was litany of reasons (tagged “an interesting read”) why Catholicism is wrong, wrong, completely wrong. I ignored it. Not because you can’t teach an old dog new tricks (I am neither terribly aged nor canine), but because Catholicism is ingrained in me. It is woven into my being like a fine silk thread. Once, someone asked me if I was “a cradle Catholic.” I responded that I had been born five weeks early — my mother had gone into labor during Mass on Christmas Day — and that I’d been born in a Catholic hospital and named after a priest. (Fr. Lawrence Smith, devotee of his namesake, St. Lawrence, and who himself is surely a saint now.) You don’t get more cradle-y than that.

One of complaints in the aforementioned litany concerned the sacrament of Reconciliation. Having just experienced the sacrament’s sweeping beauty just last night, I thought there no better time than the present to explicate it further. My detractor noted, “Only God can forgive sins.” Yes. Of course. A priest does so as a representative of God. Jesus himself told the apostles that whose sins they forgave in His name would be forgiven in heaven. Sweeping aside the notion that priests (as vowed disciples of Christ) are the successors to the apostles — I can’t sweep it aside, but maybe someone else can — there is more to the story than merely this.

All sin is public. You may think that diatribe you utter in the privacy of your own home has no ripple effect in the larger world, but you’d be wrong. All sin affects others because it causes you to be estranged from the Church; and, as we know, the Church is made up of the people of God. What I do wrong hurts you. It changes the air between us. It warps all of my relationships on a molecular level. The priest, as the representative of the Church, extends mercy to me on behalf of those I’ve wounded. I can’t apologize to all of you, but I can apologize to the person who shepherds our local flock.

True, priests are not perfect. There are a few bad apples, just as there are bad doctors, bad politicians and bad truck drivers. This imperfection — and I promise you, most of the men I’ve known as priests strive hard to avoid imperfection — does not make a priest incapable of being the conduit of forgiveness. If a baby were dying before my eyes, I could baptize it — and I’m not even a priest. Sinner that I am, God can still use me to do God’s work.

We used to call this sacrament “Confession.” The Church updated its language more than 30 years ago to reflect the fact that it is so much more. The sacrament is greater than just a personal unburdening of sin. It is a celebration of mutual healing: I am healed, and the community I’ve wounded is healed as well. What a lovely two-way street it is!

Reconciliation is a beautiful thing, especially at this time of year. Advent calls us to walk together to that place where we behold the Son of God in all His humanity, in all His glory. I can’t walk with you if we are estranged from one another. Even if you think Catholicism is wrong, wrong, completely wrong, you must admit: Anything that brings us together must be a good thing.

Tadvent 2omorrow is the second Sunday of Advent and those who celebrate will light the candle of Peace.

Peace.  I’d like to place an order for Peace Plus, please. In addition to San Bernadino, one of our local high schools issued a “threat warning.”  None of the students were allowed to bring back packs or purses to school.

Then there are me and mine. My father’s first round of medical tests came back negative which may sound like a blessing, but if it wasn’t what they tested him for, what is it?  When a former stroke patient appears confused, you worry. Confusion is a symptom of everything from COPD, sleep apnea, exhaustion, and stroke. If only we could look at this list and say, “Nope.  Not that or that.” But with his history these options are all still on the table.

There’s a virus going around. My son missed a week of school.  My husband missed work. For only the second time ever, I had to ask an editor for an extension on a deadline. Is it any wonder why?

I’d like to place an order for Peace Plus, please.  And I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one.  As personal as the turmoil around me feels at the moment, I know it isn’t mine and mine alone.

I may not manage to be centered 24/7 but I have managed to find a few islands of peace throughout the week. It probably isn’t surprising that choir rehearsal and church service serve this purpose.

But for me, so does making cookie dough and baking a cake. Whenever I work with my hands and create something, I feel a connection with my Creator. It’s soothing and a little peaceful.

The same holds true when I reduce the chaos in my life. At the moment, there’s a lot that I can’t reduce, but I’ve been working on the house with the help of my now healthy husband and son. Every evening, we spend about 10 minutes cleaning something up.  Each of us chooses a task or two.  In a week we cleared the living room and the dining room.  For weeks, my prayer life has suffered.  But now that I have two clean rooms, I actually want to sit in there and pray.  I don’t know why but it feels peaceful.

I’d like to place an order of Peace Plus, please. I can ask him for Peace, but I’m beginning to realize that I have to put some effort into making myself ready to receive it. What about you? Do you need to place an order?

–SueBE

Advent 1Tomorrow is the first Sunday in Advent. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the tradition, Advent is one of the seasons in the church calendar. In this particular season, we celebrate Christ’s first arrival and anticipate his second.  It is a time of reflection and waiting.

Each Sunday in Advent, we begin our church service by lighting a candle on the Advent wreath. Tomorrow we will light the candle of Hope.  That seems especially appropriate this year given the darkness of the preceding weeks.

I’m sure I’m not the only one whose been asking myself as I watch the news – where is God in all of this? Where is Hope?

Hope is wherever you find God’s helpers. Look closely and you will see them moving through the darkness, holding out a helping hand.  There is hope in the actions of our local International Institute as they prepare to aid Syrian refugees. Those who arrive in my area will have help finding an apartment to call home, furnishing it, learning English and finding a job. God’s love is at work.

Hope can be found with those who transport food from the church’s that collect it to the local food pantry.

Hope sits alongside a friend who is making baby blankets out of recycled sweaters. The proceeds help people in Haiti.

Hope is all around us but it can be incredibly hard to see when it is the darkness that holds our attention.  Instead, look for the flickering light of His People doing His Work. Look for them and you will find Hope.

–SueBE

Again, not my church choir but this is the anthem that we sang today. A medieval anthem sound.

–SueBE

Make space for quiet and prayer in times of tragedy.

Make space for quiet and prayer in times of tragedy.

I’d love to say that I’ve filled my Advent thus far with meditation and contemplation about the coming of Christ.  Unfortunately, it isn’t true. Advent may be a time of waiting but I’ve just been waiting for things to calm down.

As I’ve said before, I live just outside of Ferguson.  As the district attorney announced that the police officer who shot and killed the young man in August would not be indicted, riots broke out.  No, not protests.  Riots.  Burning buildings, flipping over police cars, looting.  Riots.

Just as this calmed down, my father had the nerve to be admitted to the hospital through the ER. Waiting in the ER is one thing.  Waiting when the place is crawling with high-strung emergency workers is another thing altogether.

Not enough drama in my life at this point, I also had a book due. I know?  Couldn’t my publisher have planned better and given me a calmer, quieter deadline?

But in the middle of all of this insanity, I realized that this is the world that Christ came into.  Although we picture a quiet night with shepherds and angels, Christ came into a world full of tension between Roman and Jew. He came into a world where the haves feasted until they had to vomit so they could feast some more while the have nots combed through harvested fields looking for enough to feed their families.

Instead of waiting until things calm down to find Christ, I need to find him amid the furor. It is time to light a Christmas candle and snag a few quiet moments. I can’t expect more than a few but in those moments I can listen for the still small voice calling to me. That voice that is calling me to share his hope with those that have none, the voice that is whispering to me to share his joy with those who know only despair.  I am waiting to discover the details, but like Lori I know that they will come.

–SueBE

Stop me if I’ve told this one before (Ha! As if you could stop me!): My husband and I were leaving the doctor’s office when the kind receptionist apologized for our wait. “That okay,” said hubby, “I brought a book.” “That’s okay,” I replied, “I have a vivid imagination.”

What I meant, of course, is that I can occupy myself practically endlessly with just the machinations of my own kooky brain. Still, that doesn’t always make waiting easy. Sure, I waited three years for kitchen counters (and I cook every blessed day), but just waiting for Yahoo to get it together this morning and SHOW ME MY BLOODY MAIL made me go all kinds of cuckoo. Waiting can be insufferable sometimes.

Advent, the liturgical season leading up to Christmas, is a time of waiting, too. We are called to “stay awake,” and “keep watch,” but for what? For a savior that was born a long time ago? No. For a savior that is returning — and for the march of Providence (sometimes it feels like a tiptoe) in our lives, leading us to our spiritual destinies.

Where are we going? How do we get there? Persons of faith know their desired destination — heaven — but getting there is another kettle of fish altogether. Yes, we have Jesus’ own words to help us: Feed the poor, shelter the homeless, be kind and merciful, forgive one another. This is all bricks-and-mortar stuff. But the specific way in which we reach enlightenment…that’s different for each of us.

I spend a good deal of time wondering if I’m on the right path. Am I using my gifts to my fullest ability? Am I giving enough? What is God calling me to do now? These are not easy questions to answer. I often strain to hear the voice of God. But I also have faith that I did not get where I am now on my own. I am here for a reason — God must want me here. I just need to figure out why.

If you, too, are in a “holding pattern” in your life, wondering which way to go, be of good cheer. Advent is your season. Be patient and listen, but also know that you did not arrive at your current destination by chance. God is leading, guiding. All you have to do is stay awake. And maybe bring a book.

Can you believe it?  Today is the first Sunday in Advent.  This is the season when we pause to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.  I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that one of the best ways for me to do this is with music.  Although this isn’t us singing, here is a recording of today’s anthem, Call to Advent.

–SueBE

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

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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