Bit by Bit

Winter Tree

 

I am blessed to live on the Hudson River and look out on a beautiful park filled with glorious trees.  I watch the seasons come and go, buds form, leaves bloom, colors turn, leaves fall until the barrenness arrives.

It always comes as a surprise, stark and surreal those barren branches.  The very same tree that only a few months ago was filled with glory and beauty, was green and alive, is now filled with gaping holes and not a smudge of green to be seen.

In my heart I know this will not be forever.  My task right now is to watch and wait.  To sit patiently near the window and wait as, bit by bit, day by day, the green comes back again.  New buds will form.  New life will emerge.

I must be patient and wait for it because what seems right now to be persistent barrenness will not be that way forever.

Today the hope of a newborn child is born into the world.  Christ comes to bring green to the barren places.  Christ comes to show us the way.  Christ comes to sit with us at the window waiting, watching for the new life that is to come.  Hope has come.  Christ is born to the world.

A blessed Christmas to you all.

Reverend Dr. Elise Brown, Executive Minister, Marble Collegiate Church

 

Make a Trail

Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;  God’s the one who will keep you on track.

Proverbs 3:6

All too often we follow the path that others have set for our lives. As we grow up, our peers tell us how we should dress and how we should act. Our parents tell us where we should go to college and what our major should be. Our employers tell us what our career path should be, and on goes the list of paths others set us on. For too many people, life is about following other people’s paths, not our own.

Against this, I think of the birth of Jesus. We can become so used to hearing the story we easily forget just how surprising it is. An unmarried couple had a baby in a barn, and those who would come to follow this child would go to unexpected places and do miraculous things. In other words, they got off the path everyone else had put them on, and they followed God. One thing is clear: when you follow God, you are guaranteed a spiritual adventure in which you’ll discover how to live more fully into who God created you to be.

I think Ralph Waldo Emerson captured this well when he said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” My prayer for us all is that as we encounter God through the birth of Jesus, we will be open to leave our paths and make a trail.

Reverend Dr. Michael Bos, Senior Minister, Marble Collegiate Church

 

 

 

 

Afternoon Bonus: Excess Baggage

Like many others, I’m doing a lot of traveling this holiday season.  At the check-in kiosk, I notice another traveler trying to pare down the contents of her luggage to avoid fees for an extra carry on and overweight luggage.  One pile was for the garbage. I noticed a couple of books and an old sweater. My first thought was it’s a shame there are not donation bins at airport check-in counters. My next thought was about the journey of life and the extra baggage that we carry.

What extra baggage am I carrying?

A trunk of unforgiveness?

A weekender of regrets and discontent?

A backpack stuffed with judgment and perfectionism?

There may not be a monetary fee for carrying this extra baggage, but there is most definitely a cost to doing so. A cost to our emotional, mental, spiritual and physical well-being as well as to our relationships with others.  I’m praying that God shows me the extra baggage that I carry and helps me to put it down. May we all travel light this Advent season.

 

Patricia Wu

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

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