Poem for Pentecost, and some readings

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Wind and fire – two of the ways people have tried to describe the Spirit.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, I am sharing with you some readings and a poem.  Please feel free to use them if they help you, saying where they are from.

Firstly, a reading from my book The Bible Retold

 

From the fields it came: the first sheaf of barley cut for that year’s harvest.  It was carried high through streets crammed with visitors, and on to the Temple. And then the priest offered it to God, giving thanks for the good land, and for the gift of harvest. For that day was the celebration of the first fruits.  It was Pentecost.

Meanwhile, the disciples were all together, waiting.  Then, suddenly, it began.  It stared with sound – a sound like the wind – but this was no gentle harvest breeze.  This was a shaking and a roaring: a sound of power, whooshing and howling about the house, rattling every door and shutter.  The sound seemed to come down from heaven itself, and filled the house as the wind fills sails.  Then, the disciples watched wide-eyed as something that looked like fire came down, and tongues of flame peeled off it and rested on each of them without burning them.  All of them were filled, for the Holy Spirit had come.  And as it happened, their tongues were loosened, and they began to speak as the Spirit gave them words.  These words were not Aramaic, their own language, but in languages that were unknown to them.
A crowd had gathered by the house because of the extraordinary sound, but then they heard voices. There were pilgrims in Jerusalem from all over the known world, and they recognized the words the disciples were speaking.
“He’s talking Egyptian!” said one.
“That one’s talking my language,” said a visitor from Crete – and the same was true for all.  Each person heard God’s praises in their own tongue.
“What can it mean?” they asked each other.  But others among the crowd joked that the disciples had been drinking.
The Twelve heard what they were saying, so Simon Peter stood up to speak to the crowds.
“Listen, I’ll tell you what’s happening.  We’re not drunk! It’s too early in the day for that! This is God’s promise come true.  Do you remember what one of the prophets wrote long ago?
I’ll pour out my Spirit on everyone – young and old.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
young men will have visions, and old men dreams.
All who follow me – men and women – will
be given my Spirit, and there will be wonders!

 

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And in response, some prayers from Prayers and Verses

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours…
Yours are the feet with which he is to go
about doing good,
and yours are the hands with which he is to
bless us now.
St Theresa of Avila 1515-82

 

Pentecost

Spirit of God
put love in my life.
Spirit of God
put joy in my life.
Spirit of God
put peace in my life.
Spirit of God
make me patient.
Spirit of God
make me kind.
Spirit of God
make me good.
Spirit of God
give me faithfulness.
Spirit of God
give me humility.
Spirit of God
give me self-control.

From Galatians 5:22–23

When I’m retelling stories from the Bible, I often spend time before them quietly, sinking into the story, wondering what it would have been like to have been there, to have seen and heard and felt…..  As well as the retelling, this poem emerged from that process of contemplation.

SPIRIT

How would it feel, then, to live
in that God-shaken house?
To feel the wind,
like the very breath of life,
like the stirring of the
deep before time,
gusting through these small
daily rooms, clattering and pressing
against doors and shutters,
not to be contained?

How would it feel to look up, eyes
dried by wind-force,
and see fire falling, flames bright
and crackling, and resting with
heat that does not burn on each
wondrous head?

To be blown open
lock-sprung
lifted
with wild reckless joy
as words tumble out into
the clear singing light?

It would feel like this,
it feels like this,
and it is still only morning.

 

 

Acts 2 1-4
This post draws on the series Sunday Retold

 

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A new book on the doorstep!

This morning, I was nursing a head cold in my own style – sitting on a bench in the sunny bit of the garden, wrapped up in a large blanket, and reading poetry. I thought I heard our postie so I pottered round to the front of the house, and saw this white envelope on the doorstep.

It’s always exciting opening something with the publisher’s frank on it, and this was very exciting! It’s the first copy of my new book, and BRF have done a lovely job of it. It’s a good size and weight in the hand, and the type and paper are crisp and clear. It’s a lovely thing. It’s particularly strange when something that began as a rather nebulous set of thoughts and hunches and feelings progresses through various birthing stages until it is an actual physical object you can hold in your hand. Wonderful! The joy of it seems to have lifted my coldy symptoms remarkably effectively – I hope it lasts!

The very physical bookness of the book has now been realised. I hope that those thoughts and feelings which have crystalised into the content may be equally real and tangible and helpful to those who read it. I’ve had a quick flick through and read a few snippets, too, and all seems well. The late amendments have gone in very efficiently, including an extract from one of the The ‘Mary, at your feet’ poems I had a yen to include.

You can pre-order it on most internet bookshops, and it should be available to order in high street bookshops in the New Year – but it might be worth asking before that just in case some distributors are ahead of the game. The publication date is 18th January 2019.

Here are a few online suggestions, in case you would like your postie to deliver one for you, too:

BRF – the publisher

Waterstones

Amazon UK

Thank you for your support and encouragement.

Poem – Moment/Joy

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The Sower  Vincent van Gough

 

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So, I thought I would offer you another poem, quite simply.

As I’ve been trying to deepen a prayer practice of stillness, of patience, I’ve found other things can begin to  emerge in the quietness of each moment.  They include – at times – acceptance, gratitude, joy, blessing.  At other times, I feel I am constantly lassoing my thoughts, and asking them to rest and wait quietly for just a minute.

Stillness and waiting and being present, now, can feel awkward.  And yet, it is daily bread, not worrying about tomorrow, manna that must be eaten now, while the sun is still above the horizon.  It is gentle work.

 

Moment/Joy

It has to be made afresh
each day
like bread.
It is only for today,
only for now.

My fingernails are thick with flour,
I breathe warm yeast,
my arms ache with the kneading,
the stretching,
feeling it come alive
in my hands.

I have done it before, and before,
and before,
but the warmth of the dough,
the smell of the bread,
are enough.
I roll up my sleeves,
pour out soft flour.
I begin again.

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Poem – The courtesie of pigeons

Each morning at the moment, I go outside to see what’s happening.  I don’t get up with the dawn, so by the time I go outside, life has been bursting out for a couple of hours – there’s always something beautiful that makes me catch my breath.

I spend time sitting, meditating, or in contemplative prayer, and then I get out my notebook and try to write what I see, what is happening right now.

Our old bench was beginning to rock and sway, especially if more than one person sat on it, so we have a beautiful new one from Genesis, Orwell Mencap  I particularly like the way that someone involved in making the furniture comes to help deliver it, and see where it will be enjoyed.

 

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Sometimes, sitting on the bench, life’s dramas play out before you. This one, with the pair of pigeons who nest in our garden, felt like part of an old chivalric romance, hence the rather archaic spelling….

The courtesie of pigeons

The pigeons, on the roof-ridge,
or on the black line of the
telephone wire,
begin this dance the same
each day.

She, head bowed slightly away,
He, with a deep murmur,
bows low, his beak sinks
to meet the wire, or the tile.
With a tail elevated to the sky,
he puffs up, more than
his full size,
his wings droop slightly.
He rises and bows,
Rises and bows.

My strength, lady,
is yours to command,
is at your disposal
should you wish it, lady.

But she steps sideways,
and again,
and flies, nonetheless,
but, nonetheless,
she cannot always do so,

for each year, come summer,
plump grey squabs sidle
across the lawn,
feasting on its richness.

 

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Photograph by Africa Gomez

 

It calls to mind another pigeon saga…..Nest

Quiet Spaces – one on The Four Loves, by C S Lewis, and a bit about the Wedding.

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Philip Wilson Steer – Walberswick,       a beach on the Suffolk Coast

I’ve just finished writing a series of meditations drawing on C S Lewis’ short book, The Four Loves.   It’s for a BRF publication, Quiet Spaces , a series I love to read, and to write for.  I always feel I go deeper as I try out my ideas for meditations and exercises, and as I work on them with Sally Smith, the editor.

The publication isn’t coming out till next summer, but I thought I might just share a few snippets with you, especially in the light of Harry and Meghan’s wedding on Saturday, and the joy of love, and the sometimes pain of love, that occasion embodied.  The palpable absence of the groom’s mother, the solitary presence of the bride’s mother, remind us that nothing is unmixed, that sorrow and difficulty are found in every place, in every heart.

Bishop Curry’s moving and powerful sermon captivated so many of us watching.  I will listen to it again and again. I hope I can take it to heart, to seek to live more in the light of its truth. The power of love to transform, the way of love shown us by Jesus, were shown us in the words, and heart behind the words, that flowed out to those present, and to those far away.  It was deep and authentic.

He was drawing on the Song of Solomon, one of the readings I had chosen to dwell on for this work.  The reading at the wedding was from chapter 2 and also chapter 8, and can be found here.

You might like to use this combined passage for the exercise below.

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Philip Wilson Steer

 

So, here are some snippets from the meditations.  I hope they enrich your day.

 

From my introduction:

“”God is love,” says St John”  – this is Lewis’s opening sentence. It is the spring from which all the rest flows. The essence of Jesus’ teaching is that we love – love God, our neighbours, even our enemies.

Love like this is received as a gift, but also needs to be learned, to be worked out.  The way of the Cross shows us a love which is far from easy.  The natural loves can help us take steps, to steady our walk, as we seek to follow the path of Jesus, who loved us, and gave himself for us…

Meditation with drawing

“And we were put on Earth a little space,
That we might learn to bear the beams of love.”
Wm Blake (Songs of Innocence and Experience)

Find a quiet space
Rest in the knowledge that God loves you, and delights in you.
Breathe in and out slowly
Know God is with you, looking at you tenderly and compassionately. You can imagine God enfolding you if you prefer.
You are God’s beloved child.
Breathe in love.  Breathe out love.
If you can, call to mind some action or thought of yours which is good, and loving.
Thank God for the love that flows through you.
Breathe in love.  Breathe out love.

Take some pencils or other art equipment.  Draw and write the words of Blake above, or a Bible verse about God’s love.  Return your attention to God’s love for you again and again.

And, in honour of the royal wedding, and all who are committing their lives to loving each other this summer, from the sections on Eros ….

Romantic love – Eros

Lewis describes Eros as “the kind of love which lovers are in”.
……
Eros transforms a ‘need pleasure’ into an ‘appreciate pleasure’.  We see the miracle of the beloved – they are wondrous.  We see in them something of the “imago dei”, the image of God.    This love can wipe out the distinction between giving and receiving.  It can take us to a point beyond ourselves:  “love you, I am you!” (89).
This kind of love… is close to the kind of love God has for us.  The total commitment, the adoration and sacrifice of God’s love for us has its echo here.

……..

Drawing meditation
Read a passage from the Song of Solomon, suggest Ch 2.
Reread it slowly, and draw or paint a response, freely and spontaneously.  Doodle if that suits you.  Feel the abundant life and energy of the passage.
Dwell with the love of the couple.
Then, when you are ready, turn your mind to considering how God delights in you, and celebrates you in love and song.  Can you receive that?
How might it change your relationships to be so “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph 3:17-19)?

BRF are publishing my book, Jesus said “I am” in October this year.  It started life as a similar series of meditations, but it was wonderful to have more space to explore and develop ideas, and to include a wide range of possible responses to take into our everyday lives.  Soon, I’ll have the text to go through one last time……..

 

We have a publication date!

Some of you kind readers may remember that I’ve been working on a book over the past year or so – exploring the I Am sayings of Jesus.

I am delighted to be able to share with you that it will be published on 19th October, 2018.  The publisher, BRF, has kindly put an early page up on its shop, although I do not think you can order it yet – I’ll let you know when that is possible.

The title is, “Jesus said, “I am” – finding life in the everyday”

As we get nearer to October, I’ll tell you more about it, and hopefully share some of my work with you.  But, to give you some idea – in each chapter I spend some time exploring and reflecting on a part of John’s gospel, trying to immerse us in what was going on for Jesus at the time, and how that might connect to us and our lives now.  Then, I go on to offer suggestions for our response.  There are some questions to prompt thought or discussion, but also creative exercises, social engagement, things to do as you go about your day, prayers for personal or community use…  It’s about how we live, and how we have life.
I hope to give you some examples soon.

It has been taking me a while to do this, so thank you for your patience, and I look forward to sharing more with you soon.

Sunday Retold – Transfiguration

Part of the Sunday Retold series, following the readings may churches around the word use.  This week it’s
Luke 9:28-36

The Transfiguration

With relevant extracts from my Books.  I hope you enjoy.  Please feel free to use any of my material you find helpful, saying where it’s from.

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Photo – Matthew Ling

CHANGED BEFORE THEIR EYES (Mark 9:1-30)

Jesus led his disciples on from Caesarea Philippi towards higher ground. Jesus took Peter, James and John, and began to climb the steep slopes of a mountain that rose above the landscape.  Rocks slid under their feet as they walked under the bright, burning sun. At last they reached the top, and looked down on the outstretched wings of eagles riding the rising thermal currents.

And there, under the wide, open sky, Jesus was transformed before their eyes. He was shining, changed, his clothes dazzling white – brighter than pure untrodden mountain snow. Then, the disciples saw two figures join Jesus – Moses, the law-giver, and Elijah, the prophet. And there, on that high mountain, they talked together.
Peter, James and John watched wide-eyed until Peter said “Rabbi, Teacher, it’s so good for us to be here.  Let us build shelters for you, and Moses, and Elijah.”

Then cloud swirled around them, and a voice came from the cloud. “This is my Son, the one I love.  Listen to him!”  Then there was silence, and they were alone with Jesus.
On the steep path back down, Jesus turned to them and said, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until I have risen from the dead!”  And the three whispered together, wondering what rising from the dead might mean.

From The Bible Retold

It’s such a strange story.

It forms part of the great turn in the gospel accounts – the turn towards Jerusalem, towards death and resurrection.  It follows, and in some ways partners,  Jesus’ conversation with his disciples at Caesarea Phillipi, in which he asks them who they say he is.  He begins to explain what must happen – how the way is the way through death.  Peter, for one, cannot accept it.

And then, this.  A strange experience which seems set apart from our everyday reality, and yet shows a deeper reality, almost a peering behind a curtain.

Today, as I write this, I don’t find it very easy to know what to do with that experience  – I don’t find myself on a mountaintop.   I wonder what it must have been like to be one of the ones left at the bottom,  trying to help a desperate father and his desperate son, and unable to do so (Luke 9:37-43).  I feel more inclined to ask – if all scripture is useful, how is this useful?  If it is supposed to lead to goodness, then how does this do so (2 Timothy 3:16-17)?  These are often the starting of my enquiry into a passage.

And I find that recognising there is more than meets the eye in life, there is both dazzling brightness and deep, mysterious cloud, that we sometimes have hints, intimations, of reality and depth and connectedness does indeed help.  Although there is much that could be said about the greatness of this mountaintop experience, today, now, I am thinking more simply.

 

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Photo, Peter Skevington, Selworthy Green

I am praying for my eyes to be transfigured, so that I can see the depth and mystery, the brightness and cloudiness that is around me every day.  I pray for eyes to see each person I encounter is a holy mystery, beloved by God, made in the image of God, and therefore I seek to look for what they can teach me of God.    I would pray to be able to see as God sees, but I do not think I could bear the weight of that.  But I can pray for a little more understanding, a little more insight, a little more patience to wait in the cloud, not understanding, and to listen to Jesus, even when no words are said.  And I do find that seeing differently leads to acting differently.  I hope so. I hope that if I know more fully that the world is charged with God’s grandeur  as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote,  I will walk differently through it, with more care and more delight.  I hope that if I know more fully that each person is precious, I will treat them as precious.

 

Grant me to recognise in others, Lord God,
the radiance of your own face.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955

From Prayers and Verses

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Sculpture, Elizabeth Frink – Chapel of the Transfiguration, St Edmundsbury Cathedral

 

On Sunday, we went to the Cathedral at Bury St Edmunds for evensong, beautiful as ever.  We walked past the Chapel of the Transfiguration, my favourite part of the Cathedral.  The table is formed of two pieces of stone.  The base is new, polished, very pale and smooth, and the top has been cleaned, but it is plainly old, broken, worn, rescued and repurposed.  Made new.  Transfigured, even.  Above is this beautiful Frink sculpture, which always catches my breath.  The figure of Jesus seems to float off the wall, it seems to hold within it the movement of resurrection, of ascension, those times which are to come showing that this death is not the end, that now, there will be a rising.  There will be life. Death is transfigured in this sculpture – and included.
You might like to take time to look at it.
How do you respond to it?
Does knowing that it is set in the Chapel of the Transfiguration affect how you see it?
You might like to think about the Transfiguration, and its part in the road to the cross, by dwelling on this – written by Paul in his letter to the Colossians.

19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

All things reconciled.

The brightness and the cloud.  The voice and the silence.  The death and the life.

Perhaps, like Peter, James and John,  we can wonder what this rising from the dead might mean.

Perhaps we can see things more clearly, with transfigured eyes.

Poem – Morning Yoga Practice June 2017

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There has been much grief in the UK this week, met with an outpouring of love, and courage, and kindness.  These sudden losses shock us, remind us of our fragility, and the fragility of those we love.  The moments of national grief catch up our own more private losses, bring to mind what has gone before, and can take us deeper into questions – and the capacity to endure the space between the question and anything like an answer.

After reading Malcolm Guite’s reflections on being so close to the terrible events at London Bridge on Saturday night, I too have had these words of Shakespeare on my mind.

How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?
O! how shall summer’s honey breath hold out,
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days?

Asking questions seems a good response to the depths,

I am returning to my practice of writing freely, recording what draws my attention.  This morning it was this.

 

Morning yoga practice  June 2017

I bend on the grass,
look up at the bending gladioli
dancing cerise with their
graceful arches

as June’s north wind
rocks the branches,
as the air fills with
white petals –
blossom, roses –
that fall.

Why is it all so fragile,
this beauty?
why does it all slip
through my fingers?
I stretch, stretch out my
heart, and my love,
sending it both near,
both near and far away.

 
Restore them dear Lord,
Make them whole,
may they see
this life this beauty,
as the petals fall about me
in a cold blaze,
life and beauty ripped away,
yet carried on this June wind,
yet landing softly on this
green earth.

Epiphany – a creative writing possibility

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Yesterday morning, we were in Bath Abbey, taking part in a beautiful service to celebrate the coming of the Magi, and the way God moves and speaks to people using a language they understand.  The sermon, by  Rev Evelyn Lee-Barber, explored this theme very thoughtfully, and she encouraged us to  think about where we were in the story too, and how we might respond.

It reminded me of a creative writing/meditation I did some time ago, where I used the words of the wise men to explore the story deeper.  I wondered if you, dear readers, would find it helpful to do yourselves.

You can write the words out on a large piece of paper with plenty of space between the phrases.

“Where is the one

 

 

Who was born

 

 

King?

 

 

We have come

 

 

 

to worship

 

 

 

him.”

 

Read the story slowly, allowing your imagination to dwell with each of the characters, and places. Ask what about this story speaks to you today, might be with you this week.  After you have spent some time in open quietness before God, when you feel ready, expand the words of the wise men, filling in the spaces you have left on the page.  There is something about allowing gaps that helps slow down your reading and thinking, giving time and possibility to the work of the Spirit, allowing the meaning to unfold before you.  The spaces matter, giving you space to think and feel and respond, to allow the words to engage in dialogue with you.  The gaps can be where the light gets in, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen.   Why not give it a go?

Perhaps you could share what you have written in the comments section, if you would like to!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epiphany Retold – Looking out for stars

Part of the Sunday Retold series, with my version of the reading Matthew 2:1-12

Please feel free to use any of my material that helps, saying where it is from.

Last time, I shared with you the story of Christmas Retold – Escape to Egypt, where we read of the terrible suffering that resulted from Herod’s fear and jealousy and love of power.  This time, I have been thinking smaller, more hopeful, something that might help today, and tomorrow, and the next.  We need to see the darkness, and the light.

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Epiphany – the new season we enter on 6th January – can mean  a sudden encounter with God, an intuition into the heart and meaning of things, a burst of enlightenment, an event which shows things as they really are at their deepest level.  As a season, it covers some key turning points in the story of God wooing us, seeking us, expanding our always limited understanding as much as we can bear at any time.  As such, it carries on from the Christmas narratives well.  After all, the good news here is that God has come, God is with us. The Message tells John’s words like this:
The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish.
John 1:14

So, how might we see this glory?  How might we experience this generosity and truth now?

One of the things that always strikes me about the Christmas narratives, including this one, is the great variety of ways they record people receiving a revelation, an epiphany, from God.  There are dreams, visions of angels, and here, a star.  There are other ways God seems to be at work.  Elizabeth feels the child growing in her womb, and then feels the child dance.  Simeon and Anna, too, are prompted and moved.  In each case, the way the person senses, or hears, or experiences the promptings of God seems to be appropriate for them.  The gospel writers seem to have slightly different emphases in how they record what these revelations from God are like – it is hard to talk about.

I remember once standing at the front of church and trying to give an account of what had felt a real encounter with the love of God, and been very aware that my words were so inadequate.  I remember too how, many years ago, our church hosted firemen and their families from Chernobyl, following the terrible nuclear accident, and gave them a holiday by the sea.  One of the firemen wrote a song.  I wish I could remember it all, but the meaning of it, as far as I can recall, was –

I long to tell you about the love of God, what it is like to know the love of God, but my song cannot hold the meaning.  It is like, when I go home from here, I will try to tell people about the sea, how wild and salty and cold it is, and all I have to show them is a bucket of murky water I have carried away with me.

All our words cannot carry the full meaning, but they can hint at it, stir up a hunger for such love and depth of encounter, and reassure each other that we are not alone when we think there is more than the surface, more than “getting and spending” (Wordsworth)

As we enter a new season, maybe it will help to look at the stories we encounter of epiphanies, of experiencing a revelation, a seeing clearly, noticing how varied they are.  Perhaps God is seeking to gain our attention, and maybe that happens differently for different people at different times.  It is easy to think there is a way we should do it, but it seems that God is unconstrained, generous, abundant.  We need to be open.

My own experience of encounters with God, with new insights, is varied. I sometimes have little epiphanies in prayer and worship, reading the Scriptures moves me to a place where I can go deeper, but  I also hear through nature, through poetry, through art, and – perhaps most especially – through the love and kindness of people around me, including strangers I encounter.  It’s worth looking, I think, as we go about our days, doing our normal things, expecting that maybe our lives have something to teach us, to tell us about the love of God and the love of neighbour.  Our lives can speak to us like parables, and they can contain moments of transforming beauty and clarity, that open us up to something far bigger than we can comprehend.

These Magi, probably Astrologers – we do not know how many, or what gender they all were – do not have a straightforward time of it trying to find the new king.  God is not always found the places we expect.  Who would look for a king in a small town away from centres of power and wealth?  God tends to surprise us all by being in the small, the outside, the unexpected, the unimportant places.   I chose the Witz picture (between the two extracts below) because it places the family in a fairly ordinary setting.  Traditionally, they sit in the ruins of a Greek or Roman temple, showing how the old beliefs are crumbling and dying as something new and glorious takes place.  This one is quite an early example of a more small-scale setting, but even so, it is rich in meaning and symbol.  You might like to take some time to look at it carefully.

Herod’s palace was a desolate place to look for this new king. This child would indeed be a king of a different type. We can see, too, that although Herod used the scribes and the scriptures to find out information, he used that for his own ends.  It did not lead to encounter, or worship, or knowing God. There is a lesson here, too.

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As we look out for our own moments of epiphany, it might be worth looking for treasure buried in the dirt (Small Seeds, from Luke 17), and for unexpected people, such as a young girl, or an old widow, or a carpenter.  Epiphanies can burst in on us whatever we do, but my experience is that small, daily steps towards seeing God work their slow transforming changes in us, and that for these, we need to be open, we need to engage in a  quiet, contemplative way of praying and seeing as we live out our lives.  And then, in that new light, we find our lives begin to change, we better learn love, and compassion, and patience, and joy.  As we begin a new year, I am turning my attention to this way of thinking and being.

The Magi were doing what they did – studying the stars.  And they noticed something.

There may be stars out there that would guide us, if we looked.

What might your stars be?

From The Bible Retold

 

They Followed a Star

Far away from Jerusalem, in a land to the east, wise men looked up at the clear night skies above the desert and saw a star rising.  For years they had studied the movements of the stars and planets, and they had never seen anything like this before.  They unrolled their charts and plotted its path.
“This means a new king has been born to the Jews!” they said to each other, as they gave hurried orders to their servants to prepare for a journey.
When these strangely dressed foreigners arrived in Jerusalem, they began to ask “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” Troubled rumours spread through the city, for there had been no proclamation of any birth.
King Herod the Great’s advisors approached him nervously.
“Your Majesty, strangers from the east have arrived in Jerusalem, they began to ask, “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?”.  Troubled rumours spread through the city, for there had been no proclamation of any birth.
King Herod the Great’s advisors approached him nervously.
“Your Majesty, strangers from the east have arrived in the city. They are searching for a child who they say has been born King of the Jews.  They saw a sign in the heavens!”  Herod caught his breath, and turned white with fear. He had been given that title himself by the authority of Rome, building palaces and the great Temple to spread his fame.  What kind of king was coming to challenge him?
Then he asked his advisors “Where is the Messiah, the Anointed One, to be born?”  The scholars unrolled the scroll of the prophet Micah, and read out loud:
“Bethlehem will no longer be
the least important of the towns.
For from it will come a leader
who will rule my people Israel
like a shepherd-king.”

“Bethlehem, eh?” murmured Herod. He gave orders for the wise men to be invited to the palace.  He listened to their tale of the star with keen interest, nodding and smiling as if he were delighted at the news.  He told them all about Bethlehem.  “Go and find the child, then please send a message so I can join you in your worship.  What wonderful times these are!” Herod hid his crooked smile.
As the wise men set off from the cool marble and mosaics of the palace, they looked up at the sky once more.  And there was the star, guiding them to Bethlehem.  They followed, and found the child with his mother, Mary.  She was astonished to receive such guests – who bowed low, and spoke of her son with reverence, and unwrapped precious gifts to lay at their feet.

She unclasped the caskets one by one.  The first shone, it was full of gold.  The second opened to a rich, sweet smell.  “The smell of the Temple,” Mary murmured to herself.  It was frankincense, used in worship. The third contained an earthy, dark, resin.  It was myrrh, more valuable than gold, used in burials, and for healing.  Mary looked up at her visitors, and thanked them for these extraordinary, extravagant gifts as the smell of the incense and the myrrh hung in the air about them.

The wise men did not send word to Herod in Jerusalem, for that night, they were troubled in their dreams about him.  They paid attention to the warning, as they had to the star.  So they slipped away, avoiding the city, to cross the desert once more.

 

the-magi-konrad-witz

The Adoration of the Magi, by Konrad Witz

 

And from Prayers and Verses

Gifts

Lord Jesus,
The wise men brought you gold:
Let us use our riches to do good.

The wise men brought you frankincense:
Let our prayers rise like smoke to heaven.

The wise men brought you myrrh:
Let us seek to comfort those who are sad and grieving.

 

Let there be little Christmases
throughout the year,
when unexpected acts of kindness
bring heaven’s light to earth.

 

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give Him –
Give my heart.
Christina Rosetti 1830-1894

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Christina Rosetti 1830-1894

 

From Frederick Buechner:
“Listen for Him

The question is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God’s things because, of course, they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak — even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere. He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys. We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement. But be not affeard, says Caliban, nor is he the only one to say it. “Be not afraid,” says another, “for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” He says he is with us on our journeys. He says he has been with us since each of our journeys began. Listen for him. Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of him.”

~ from The Sacred Journey and Listening to Your Life