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

 

 

 

 

Advent or Adventure?

Advent

The arrival of a notable person, thing or event

Waiting, preparation, coming

A coming into place, view, arrival

Anticipation

Something important

One who is awaited

A starting or coming into existence

 

Adventure

Suffix -ure

Forming nouns denoting an action, process, or result

Forming nouns denoting an office or function

Forming nouns denoting a collective

 

Advent is an Adventure

Of waiting

Of preparing

Of coming into view

Of coming into place

Of anticipation

Of something important

Of arrival of a notable person

Of arrival of a notable event

Of coming into existence

Of starting

An action

A process

A result

A function

That forms a collective.

 

What’s your definition of the Adventure of Advent?

Mary Window

 

Shared by Susan Ceeley Phillips

Follow the Trail: Don’t Mess with the Road Map

It was a snowy afternoon in New York City, and once again I was almost late for a meeting at Marble Collegiate Church; it didn’t help that I was scheduled to chair. So, of course, I took a taxi. Destination reached, I paid the driver and headed into the meeting. All went well, until I reached for my wallet just before leaving, and it wasn’t there.  A colleague helped me search the area where we had been meeting and the space just outside; no dice. It was nowhere to be found. Back home, I called the church to check whether anything had been turned in and the gentleman who had helped me search was at the desk. He told me his own story of a similar loss and shared how he had immediately begun to pray, working to put the entire situation in God’s hands. I wasn’t in the mood at that moment, but I did listen and heard the trust and faith in his voice, as he finished the story, where in the most unlikely of circumstances, he was able to reclaim his lost article. His story stayed with me, as a gentle reminder.

in addition to closing all my cards, I started the laborious process of reporting the loss. I resisted briefly, embarrassed at my own absent-mindedness, but there was nothing to do but to take the first step. So, I called 311, the help line for all things municipal and went through the slow and painstaking process of making the report. It seemed to take forever. But the next afternoon, there was a message from the Taxi and Limousine Commission asking me to call them to answer more questions. It all seemed so useless, but I called and answered still more questions always with more info to pin point time, location et al. Later that day, I got an email back that included license numbers and cell numbers of two possible drivers. It all seemed so unlikely to me, but I did pick the driver whose name was a probable match for the nationality I had intuited, called and left a message that was as specific, detailed and nonthreatening/accusatory as possible. I never got a call back. So, I surrendered, and went on with my life.

Several days later,  my friend from the church asked about the wallet. “Nope, nada,” I said. He had a lovely response suggesting that if it was needed by someone else God could be trusted to make that happen. I actually took comfort in that and felt that I had surrendered. Wallet shopping ensued, and then last night, as I was getting on the elevator  and the door was closing, I heard the intercom go off in my apartment down the hall. I stopped at the desk to find out what was up. The door person said “Someone left this for you; put out your hand.”  He placed the wallet into my hand. All money and all cards perfectly intact. So 9 days after I left the phone message, the wallet was returned.

To me this was a City Trail experience. I had to take each little step; and even though I wasn’t exactly in a prayerful frame of mind about the incident, I was graced with the willingness to listen to someone who was, so prayer partnering was there for me, even though my heart was only open a crack. And then a Christmas surprise was handed to me. So I want to remember to bring prayer into the daily routines of my life, not to get a certain outcome, but to open myself to God’s being a part of the process. If I stay open and true to that idea, I might be available to help the next traveler I meet who is walking through a tough or lonely trail journey.

Shared by Karen Gourgey

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

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