Darkness All Around

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.”
~Isaiah 9:2

The people who walked in darkness….that would be us. There has not been an Advent in memory that has been as dark as this one. Has there? The warm days and dark mornings and early evenings have been what I imagine it is like to live in Alaska in December. The fog that has accompanied these sunless, damp days is reminiscent of Scotland. Today as I drove around Lake Calhoun, the lake itself was invisible through the fog. I could nearly hear the bagpipes ringing off the distant moors!

I am glad for the darkness. This Advent has been difficult to connect with for me. Sometimes it is just this way. The calendar says one thing. The music sounds right. The words are familiar. But the feeling just isn’t there. That is how this Advent has been for me. I feel as if I keep reaching out, trying to pull a cord that is just outside my reach. The pull of waiting, watching, preparation just won’t come.

But the darkness is ever present. There is even darkness in the ways of the world. We know this from the morning paper, from the news report punctuated by snappy, Christmas tunes offering the joy that can be bought for a price. But the weight of the world seems to walk hand in hand with the darkness. So many people I know are holding more than their share of hurt, pain, grief, despair. My prayers surround them. This Advent, I have come to realize, is just different.So I am holding all things gently and trying to breathe deeply in each precious moment.

Last week during worship the amazing Sara Thomsen sang her song of these dark days: “Darkness cover me like a blanket of night, oh, cover me lightly…..Hidden seed, deep in the dark soil of the earth, fertile ground, womb of the night, bring us new birth.” Her rich alto took us all to the place where darkness is not frightening but is gift, the place where what is to be born is waiting. Gentle, deep breaths seemed to become present all around.

Perhaps this Advent is its own learning. The waiting and the watching is its own invitation to stay awake even in the darkness, particularly in the darkness. Like the womb, like the winter, like the night sky, light and birth are always present yet often hidden, even doing their own waiting.

And so I wait. In the days that are short and the nights that are long. Through the fog and the invisible horizon. Where darkness is the blanket that shrouds the very air we inhale. I wait.

Something is coming to birth.


Who Knows?

Do you know what you are?
You are a manuscript of a divine letter.
You are a mirror reflecting a noble face.
This universe is not outside of you.
Look inside yourself;
everything that you want,
you are already that.
— Rumi

This Advent I have once again been participating in an online retreat with the amazing artist, poet and author Jan L. Richardson. Five days a week an email arrives at some point of the wee hours of the night with an image and words of her creation. Of all the writers I read, Jan expresses Advent better than anyone. Her ability to weave the hopes and dreams of darkness and light always astound me and have me shaking my head “Yes!”…..that is what I felt and was searching for words to say.

One particular phrase in today’s reading struck with a thud to the solar plexus…..”cultivate a mindfulness of mystery.” Lovely, isn’t it? So often and with loud insistence we are urged to cultivate a mindfulness of certainty. But not mystery. Mystery is often shunned for what we can point to as fact, as documentation, as a way of creating an often false sense of order that brings a momentary peace but rarely lasts. There always seems to be the next urgent thing that requires the same Xcel spread sheet approach to life.

But cultivating a mindfulness of mystery, in my opinion, gets us to the heart of what it means to be human. Mystery is at the center of all that really matters. Life. Love. Compassion. Hope. Death. Eternity. The list goes on. Mystery is also at the heart of those places on which we hang our hats of faith. While we may want to twist and turn the ‘facts’ to fit our ordering of faith, Mystery always has the final word.

Which brings me to the words above of Rumi, blessed Rumi. In Advent we speak so often of waiting and watching. We say it as if there is something that is outside that will arrive to make all things, what? Better? Fulfilled? Enlightened? Perfect? Rumi and other wise ones from all the households of faith, impress that everything we need is already present in us. It is a matter of waking up to it, of noticing its nudging presence, its patient warmth, its ability to wait out our human flailing.

Perhaps that is one gift of these darkest of days…..to hold gently and with reverence what is yet unborn in us. Present yet unborn. Everything we want, we are already that. It may be covered over with years of hurt and pain and despair. It may be buried in messages we have harbored, handed out by people who carried their own hurts. The seeds may have been lying dormant until now. Until now.

Today is a good day, a day that has never been before and will never be again. It is a perfect day to cultivate a mindfulness of mystery. Who knows what could happen? Who knows what might be born that only you can offer to the world?

Who knows?


Face to Face

Jacob said, “No, please; if I find favor with you, then accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God—since you have received me with such favor.”
~Genesis 33:10

There are faces that draw us in. And there are faces that disturb us. There are faces that make us smile. And there are those that break our hearts. Faces are fascinating creations made up of common elements…..eyes, nose, mouth, eyebrows, eyelashes….whose coming together forms something unique and never repeated. I suppose identical twins make that statement not quite true. But even those rare identical faces must be able to twist and contort the common elements into expressions that shine forth unique characteristics of personality. Even identical twins must be able to be known as individual faces by those who know them best.

Since our Advent theme of Face to Face invites me to be awake to the faces who pass through my day, I have chosen to take these words literally when possible. I have been trying to really look into the faces of those I work with, those who bag my groceries, those who pass me on the street. It has made me realize how the majority of our time is spent avoiding being face to face in any real way. We keep our eyes down as we walk. We allow the distractions of any given moment to prevail when a face to face encounter is happening. We look at our hands, our feet, our phone. What we miss is the opportunity to look into the eyes of another human being. Someone with a life as rich and full as our own. Someone who may be struggling with life in ways that would startle us. Someone who may be ready with the one word we need to turn a day around and move us to hope.

Have you studied your own face in a mirror recently? What do you notice? Many of us are surprised by lines that didn’t seem to be there this time last year. Others wonder at the two, deep creases that make dual rivers between our eyes…..worry lines, they are called. What is the worry? Some faces I have seen have lovely, playful lines that seem to spring from the corners of their eyes, a sure sign of a life filled with laughter and joy. I am always drawn to these people.

The days of Advent invite us to see the light that shines in the darkest corners of our world. This seeing is an experience that requires some watching, some waiting, some preparation, some seeing that leads to deep knowing. This can all be done by opening ourselves to the vulnerability of being face to face. With our dearest ones and with those with whom we struggle.

Those of us who have ever held a small baby know the intensity with which these who are new to world can look at a face. Their small features seem to dig deep, search for meaning or affirmation of safety. Their young eyes burrow into the eyes of the one who is holding and a connection is made that goes to some eternal place. Perhaps this is one of the practices we might adopt in these darkest of days. Perhaps the soul deep looking into the face of another can lead us to a fuller experience of this Christmas toward which we travel.

I think it might be worth a try……



Advent……and so it begins. These days, this season when we walk through darkness toward a light that glimmers in the distance. Eight years ago, I began writing this blog to mark the days of Advent. It was intended to provide a ‘pause’ in the days of those who read it in what can be a season filled with, if not too much, then more than enough to occupy one’s time. The hope was that the act of stopping whatever the urgent was, hitting pause and reflecting, would bring me and any others who connected to it to a place to really receive the gifts of these December days.

In the northern hemisphere these are the days which move more slowly if we let them. The days are short and nights long. They are made for building fires, settling in with a good book, the act of staring into the middle distance. Even with the sparkle of lights from decorations, the darkness is never a far-off companion. Those of us who make our home in the Christian household have used these images, these experiences, for two millennia to speak of the coming of the Light, the Christ Child. Others light candles in menorahs and in windows, along pathways and sidewalks, all to signal the light that is present even in the darkest of times.

The darkest of times. This is a descriptor that can be both personal and universal. We need only enter conversation with a stranger or friend to get an opinion of whether or not we are, indeed, living in some of the darkest of times. The unrest that flows through our country right now might point to this truth. The ways in which racism is an ever present yet often ignored member of our common family has been present at our national table. What to do? How to respond? How to make our way in a world that seems shattered beyond mending? How to hold our deep differences and our common hopes in the same space? These were elements of the conversation that was present at our Thanksgiving table and the one that carries me into Advent.

For both the seasons Advent and Lent, our church establishes a theme that will carry us through the days and give shape to our words, our music and our time together. This year’s theme for Advent is “Face to Face”. Throughout the next days and weeks, we will be blessed by faces….of those we know, those we meet in our neighborhood, those who give rise to the way in which we choose to be faith-filled people together at this time in the history of the world. The words come from scripture and are reflected in those we will hear on a Sunday mornings.

Face to Face. The hope of Advent is that we will come face to face with the Holy. This was not a one time historical experience but a call to the daily living of our lives and has been so throughout time…..if we have the eyes to see. This is another call of Advent: “Stay awake!” The words ring through the first scriptures we hear in this season and reverberate over the sound of carols sung, bells rung and the din of shopping. Stay awake because the Sacred is showing up all the time, hoping to meet us face to face. Stay awake because the Holy is present in each face we meet. The wary stranger. The child whose far-off look makes us wonder. The elder, wise one whose smile draws us in. The person who shares our breakfast table, whose face we have memorized over and over again. The seeming enemy whose face flashes at us from the television screen.

My sense is that each generation believes at some level that they are living in the darkest of times. And because life is both beauty and tragedy there is an element of truth to that belief. Perhaps this Advent can find us reaching toward a light that continues to flicker in both the real and perceived dark times. Perhaps that light will be found in the faces that pass us each day and make up the story we continue to tell with our life. It is a short season, Advent. But an important one for the reminder it offers up……….

Stay awake!