Doing Less and Being More

 
I was so excited when I figured out that I could retire this year.  Even though I loved my work, the daily grind of commuting over 2 hours to and from Queens every day was becoming too taxing on me. Once I retired, I set out the ambitious goal of co-creating the next chapter of my life with God.  I decided that I would spend at least one hour each day, journaling, meditating, and praying to find meaningful activities that nourish my soul. But first, I wanted to have fun.  I enjoyed traveling, hiking, Salsa dancing, and walking over 10,000 steps a day.  And I forgot about my goal. I forgot that my retirement is a gift from God and that what I do with that gift is my gift to God. I was having too much fun. 
 
God has a gentle way of bringing me back to him.  After one of my hikes, I felt pain on my right knee.  Interesting, I thought. I ignored it and still went dancing, and running up and down the stairs.  Then all of sudden, I could not do any stairs, let alone Salsa dancing.  I could not even walk without pain. I got a fancy dx, patellofemoral pain syndrome (pps). I thought I could do some physical therapy and go back to dancing. But no, God had another plan. My knee pain did not go away and forced me to slow down. I realized that whether we’re working or retired, we tend to do too much. We want to fill the gap with activities, socializing, meetings, binge-watching Netflix, or whatever. I need to do less and just be.  So that I can hear God. So that I can experience the presence of God. So that I can excitedly wait for the birth of Jesus. So that I can write this blog. So that I can create the time to meditate, to journal, and to pray. So that I can have dates with God. God and I will walk in hand in hand on this Avent trail to create the next chapter of my life. I love you God. 
 
Sooknam Choo

A Different Way to Honor the Solstice

Psalm 25:4-5 NIV  

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

For quite some time, the month of December had been a blur of activity, noise, coldness, darkness and fuss. By the beginning of January, I was left empty and unhappy despite all the Christmas festivities.

Some years ago, a friend introduced me to the practice of fasting at the winter solstice. It is a 4 day liquid fast from December 21st to December 25th. The purpose, as my friend explained, is to silence the noise and focus on the approaching new year. In the midst of the season that invites us to indulge our taste buds, I was to abstain. Counterintuitive – definitely!

My first attempt was a total bust. With some difficulty, I made it through 36 hours. There were the Christmas cookies and sweets at the manager’s desk. And the lunch invitation at Junior’s!

“Sorry I am fasting” didn’t make it to my lips.

At the famed Brooklyn restaurant, I enjoyed a delightful lunch of fish and chips.

The following year saw a similar result. There were the normal stresses that I had regularly succumbed to. Additionally, I had failed to prepare homemade juices. My fasting attempt was half-hearted at best. So when coworkers suggested a last minute potluck Christmas party, I agreed to participate. And once I had eaten solid food, it felt pointless to return to fasting.

Last December, I changed jobs within my company, going from an office with 200 coworkers to a power plant where I see just 2 others all day. Even as winter approached, I was excited in my new job and department. The change in circumstances marked a change in attitude. I was also eager to fast as winter approached. This time I also invited the Holy Spirit in as I journeyed towards Christmas. Uttering small prayers throughout each day, I took sustenance with freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices, water, tea, store-bought bottled juices and vegetable broth.  At the end of Friday, day one, I felt light but ok. It was fortunate that the weekend were days two and three. I didn’t have to go to the office and could pace myself or sleep late, and rest as needed. Day four was by far the most challenging.  That morning I yearned for my customary almond croissant to accompany the cup of tea. But with prayerful thoughts, I reminded myself that eating or fasting was voluntary.  There was great power in that acknowledgement.

The liquid fast means there is no chewing, no work. It was a time of stillness, and awareness of mind and body. I focused on listening and limiting my activities. I focused on Jesus, and on what December 25th might have meant to early Christians.

As I left home on Monday night to attend a two hour Christmas Eve Episcopal mass, I put a chocolate bar in my purse. It had come in the mail, a gift from a Finnish friend, and would be the perfect first bite. As much as I anticipated savoring my midnight snack, there was no rush or anxiety. I did not count down the minutes to indulgence. Rather, I remained present throughout the service, listening in peace and serenity to hymns and readings about the birth of Jesus.

And what the promise of salvation means to me.

Perhaps success was due to the new work environment. But I know that it is also true that “with God all things are possible.”

Blessings this Advent and Christmas!

Shared by Annemarie Edwards

Radiant Garments

I am part of a blended family and we just had a divine wedding celebration in early November. Relatives from several states flew in to attend and we partied as a family. Asher who sometimes is called Ashley was also there. A very handsome young boy with a sweet and tender heart. He was wearing a lovely purple velvet dress with floral embroidery and carrying a handbag. No one commented on his dress.  I taught him how to Salsa and he was so happy.  Laughing and enjoying his uncle’s wedding. His abandonment to joy was infectious.

I learned through his mom that Asher is going through gender confusion and his parents are with him on this. They are loving and very supportive. The kind of love that says I’m with you — embracing and accepting with no judgments.

I don’t know what will happen with Asher in the future, but I  too was able to embrace, accept and not judge. I remembered something  I read in Jesus Calling by Sarah Young — “Remember that I have clothed you in My righteousness and holiness. I see you attired in these radiant garments, which I brought for you with My blood.”

I also remembered what Rev. Dr. Michael Bos who preached recently — “only light can cast out darkness and only love can cast out hate.”  An important lesson for all of us.

All I know is that we all love Asher.

With blessings and may you too be clothed in radiant garments!

Shared by Carmen Matias

The Gift of Friendship

Denise Friend

I’ve travelled many trails in my life.  Some alone and others enriched by the companionship of others. I met my friend about 27 years ago. We realized that we had both decided to take up walking for health reasons. She was about 15 years my senior but spry with a quick mind and listening ear that made us fast friends. For over 15 years we met and walked in Central Park most often greeting sunrise. We walked through good times like births, romance, and we walked through difficult times; the loss of her daughter and my partner.

The trail that we followed together was that of life. My buddy, now through the effects of age and Parkinson’s can no longer take those walks. The park is not the same without her. We’ve taken up a new trail. We walk through prayers. Each morning I call her and we begin our prayer session. When I close my eyes as we recite the 23rd psalm, followed by our prayer needs, I can still feel the park’s breezes brushing against my cheeks. During this Advent season I am eternally filled with gratitude for one of the greatest gifts of all. That is the gift of friendship.

The Lord Is My Shepherd

A Psalm of David.

23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Shared by Denise Kaalund

 

 

 

The Path We Tread

It takes you somewhere or nowhere.

It leaves shadows in front of you.

It leaves shadows behind you.

It points directions that you must take.

Watch it take shape,

Watch it change colors,

Watch it take strides.

You are confused,

You are frustrated,

You are torn.

You ask for it to be straight, direct and clear.

No?

You hear that small voice whispering in your ears,

You decide to take the risk.

BE NOT AFRAID FOR I AM SENDING MY BELOVED SON TO WALK BESIDE YOU.

 

Agatha Pratt

Shepherd, Shepherd, hear the Calling

My introduction to the writings of St. Teresa of Avila came from a Buddhist friend.  She had recently moved to live and work at a retreat center in Dutchess County, New York after two decades living in busy Brooklyn and Manhattan.

After sharing photos of the bucolic beauty that enriches her daily routines, she let slip that in her quiet time, she was reading works by the Carmelite Nun and mystic, St. Teresa of Avila.

What??? That was my immediate reaction and response.

But I was also curious.

What about the Catholic monastic traditions of a 16th century nun appealed to a modern woman seeking Zen enlightenment?  I do not have answers. Nor should I have!  As I read the words of St. Teresa, I quickly let go of my limited thinking and judgements.

My friend is on her own journey of growth and discovery.

What I do know is that I too can learn from the saints who went before on the path to a more enriched spiritual life.  In Matthew 7, Jesus told the disciples, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (NIV)
As I seek, I am discovering a God who is opening my eyes to infinite wonder and daily miracles. The journey continues.

I share words of a beautiful poem attributed to St Teresa of Avila for Advent.  The translation is by Arthur Symons.

Shepherd, Shepherd, Hark that Calling

Shepherd, shepherd, hark that calling!

      Angels they are and the day is dawning.

      What is this ding-dong,

      Or loud singing is it?

      Come Bras, now the day is here.

      The shepherdess we’ll visit.

      Shepherd, shepherd hark that calling!

      Angels they are and the day is dawning.

      O, is this the Alcade’s daughter,

      Or some lady come from far?

      She is daughter of God the Father,

      And she shines like a star.

      Shepherd, shepherd, hark that calling!

      Angels they are and the day is dawning

 

Shared by Annemarie Edwards

A Curved Path

curved path photo

We oftentimes walk on a path that curves to the right or left in life.  This photo of a paved path that curves to the right.  It has walls of vegetation on both sides and the vegetation is very thick. So thick, you cannot see outside of the path.  The world is hidden to the path walker.

If you look carefully, you can just make out the back of a woman as she rounds the bend.

This photo reminds me that life is not a straight path.  There are often curves and I can’t see what awaits me around the bend.

I’m not a fan of uncertainty.  Most people are not comfortable with this uncertainty either.

Yet, I go forward because God beckons me to trust that He/She walks beside me every step of the way.  All the time.  Everyday.

May this comfort you this season.

Patricia Wu