In the pursuit of joy, sometimes I need to dig a bit deeper. When I look at an economy that's struggling, systems that are insufficient, friends who are hurting, joy seems too much to hope for. Which makes me think about what it is I am hoping for. 

In preparation for a talk that I ended up not giving (!), I spent some time this fall thinking about hope. Since the focus of most of this past year had been on being "present," hope wasn't on my radar, being one of those future-oriented words. The invitation to speak about hope started the wheels turning. This morning as I was walking, I caught myself thinking again about hope and the three categories that I had begun exploring. Perhaps I can flesh them out a little more in a later post, but I'll at least throw them out today as a way to get the conversation going. They are hopes, not just for me, but for all of us.

I hope that, in the end, all shall be well and all shall be well and all  manner of things shall be well. (Julian of Norwich)

I hope that the desires that were hardwired into me (and you) upon birth will be met, and that we will fulfill the purposes for which we were created.

I hope that I (and you) will be enough for today, that as we live openly and wisely, the gifts of a loving universe and the Spirit of a gracious God will empower us to love well and meet the challenges and receive the blessings of the moment.
 
Many years ago I adapted a pancake mix recipe from "More With Less," the classic Mennonite cookbook we had received as a wedding gift from a friend. The recipe (and often a bag of the mix) has been shared with friends and family, and along the way they've become known as "Dan's pancakes." There's no sugar, just tons of taste with the mix of different flours and the tang of buttermilk. Whether they're filled with fresh blueberries, or bananas and pecans, smothered with raspberry syrup, maple syrup or warm applesauce and sharp cheddar cheese, we have them every Saturday. Since that's still a few days away, you have plenty of time to make up a batch and put it in the cupboard!

Mix:
2 c whole wheat flour
2 c oat flour (I put rolled oats in the blender)
1 c corn meal
1 c white flour
1 c bran
7 t baking powder
3 1/2 t baking soda
3 1/2 t salt

To make:
For every 1 cup of mix add:
2 T oil
1 egg
1 1/2 c buttermilk

Serves 3

Note: To make gluten-free, substitute brown rice flour for the whole wheat flour,  additional flour of choice for the white flour, and oat bran for the wheat bran. This is assuming, of course, that oats are on your diet plan. Also add 1/4 c potato starch.
 
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'Mary With Child'. oil on linen panel by Kay Eneim

The First Sunday of Advent, a liturgical season celebrated in many congregations, was yesterday. During Advent, Christians anticipate the coming of Christ, not only remembering his birth in Bethlehem, but aware that one day He will come again as King, to rule in peace and justice. But waiting characterizes much of the life of a Christian, for we find ourselves waiting each day for the signs of incarnation in us, for the quickening of that same spirit which overshadowed the young Jewess we know as Mary.

Waiting has its challenges. It is hard when you know what you are waiting for - a graduation, a wedding, a visit from friends or a long-expected vacation. But it is even more difficult when you don't know exactly what is in the future, only that things aren't now what they will be. For the past seven years, I've felt like that's been my story, as I've entered this period of life, waiting for something to emerge, waiting to become someone whom I don't yet know, and yet a person who will be more authentically me than I've ever been before.

In "The Heart Aroused," David Whyte quotes a poem by Rilke in which he describes his life as a rest between two notes. Here is a portion of the poem:

I am the rest between two notes,
which are somehow always in discord
because death's note wants to climb over-
but in the dark interval, reconciled,

they stay there trembling.
        And the song goes on, beautiful. (trans Robert Bly)

Rilke sees the note before and the note to come as discordant, and in that uncomfortable clash exists a real danger that he will be overrun by death. Perhaps Rilke is not speaking so much of a physical death here, as the despair or depression that comes when one feels "out of tune", unaligned, fragmented. We feel that we have entered a dark night of the soul, and don't know what to do, or how to bring our lives back into harmony.

The tension of these dark times can be frightening, or paralyzing. But they offer us a challenge, an opportunity to go deeper, to reach a different level of integration. Donald Epstein has written on this in his book, "The 12 Stages of Healing." In Stage 8 he describes coming to the place of emptiness.
 
"Many people believe that emptiness is a lifeless void of nothingness that leads to emotional or mental paralysis. However, emptiness, when timed correctly in the healing process, leads to freedom...It serves as the space of transition..." 

The season of Advent is a season of waiting. It is a season of transition, of darkness, of longing for what is not yet here. But we need not be fearful. Instead we can learn how to breathe during these periods of our lives, to wait with patience and hope. As we approach these "advents" with expectancy, aware that something is forming deep in a mysterious womb, we can rest, knowing that, in the fullness of time, God's handiwork will be revealed. And the song will go on, beautiful.
 
Picture
Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell

Thanksgiving has become as much about family getting together as it is about the turkey dinner and football. College students home for the break, grandparents coming in for the weekend, cousins and aunts and uncles fill the laden table. Edgar Guest's poem is a homey homily on enjoying the company of loved ones. His use of colloquial English makes us feel as welcome as any of the wanderers that find a chair at the old table.
 
Thanksgiving
Edgar  A. Guest

"Give me the end of the year an' its fun
When most of the plannin' an' toilin' is  done; 
Bring all the wanderers home to the nest,
Let me sit down with the ones I love best,
Hear the old voices still ringin' with song,
See the old faces unblemished by wrong,
See the old table with all of its chairs
An' I'll put soul in my Thanksgivin' prayers."

Note: My friend Robin Bates at Better Living Through Beowulf, tells me that at one point Edgar Guest was one of America's most known and loved poets. Unfortunately, unlike Norman Rockwell, whose paintings have taken on iconic status, he has faded from memory.
 
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You are Probably Not Here by Nikolas R. Schiller
Today's post was originally written as a guest-blog for our oldest daughter, Aletheia. A creative writer, budding artist and developing spiritual director, Alethiea (Greek for truth) blogs over at according to aletheia. Several weeks ago, she started a series on desire and asked if I'd like to contribute. The series took up the nature of desire; in it Aletheia was asking and responding to questions she'd had about the role of desire in our lives. Is it helpful, problematic, selfish? Does having desires set you up for false expectations and disappointments?

It's a great topic, and worth hunkering down with for a while. Our desires are what make us unique and, as I blogged about last December here, understanding them can help lead us to our true vocations. Not only can they teach us about who we are, they can help us find communities to which we belong.  That's what I explore in the post below, with a nod to Harry Potter. 

And, just a reminder: if you're wanting to get a copy of "Our Savior Come" in time for Advent, you'll need to order soon as Advent starts this Sunday.

                                            Letting our Desires Sort Us

On the night that Harry Potter and his friends arrive at Hogwarts, they are ushered into a large room with rows of tables prepared for an opening banquet. But before the festivities begin, each student must go through the sorting process. Called one by one to the front, they sit upon a stool and a ragged hat is placed upon their head. After a few moments of deliberation, the hat determines which house they are best suited for, choosing, in effect, their closest friends and companions for the years of schooling.

I wonder if our desires don’t function in a similar way. If we pay attention to them, they help to sort us into communities that will nurture and educate us. We will find ourselves grouped with like-minded and like-empassioned companions with whom we can learn and explore and create. And these groups often have a history, providing us with mentors that go back through the centuries. 
 
If we haven’t grown up in a biological family with similar desires, or with parents who encouraged or provided direction, this new family offers surrogate parents. I remember a friend of mine telling me about a dream where she was embraced by Henri Nouwen, and Mary the mother of Christ. Both of these figures are people with whom she identified strongly, members of the household in which she now finds herself.

Allowing oneself to be “named,” can bring clarity. Recently a friend told me that she wondered why I didn’t become an Anglican priest. As I contemplated being sorted into that community of faith, I realized that I do hold much in common with the spiritual heritage and direction of this group. I was also able to affirm to myself that much of my life I have been filling a pastoral role. Accepting this designation, whether in concept or in actuality, gives me additional ways of understanding my desires. It helps me make sense of what I do, and why and how I do it, while suggesting where I might head to find new companions who share these same commitments.

I don’t think I would mind all that much if a talking hat would appear in my mailbox. It sure seems easier than sorting my desires out by myself. And yet, I’m not alone in this endeavor. In my contemplative moments, in the conversation of friends, as I pay attention to what it is that makes me truly feel alive, the spirit will nudge me in the right direction, helping me notice what I love, what that says about me, and point me toward those I need,
those who need me.
 
Human beings have deep-seated identity needs. In 1943 Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs which included self-actualization, self-esteem, love/belonging, safety and physiological needs. Vern Redekop, who discusses Conflict Resolution in his book "From Violence to Blessing," identifies 7 needs, beginning with the need to be a legitimate self, a person whose needs and desires are worth being met. Moving on from there, Redekop proposes others: meaning, action, recognition, security, and connectedness. Whichever list of needs one focuses on, it doesn't seem much of a leap to me to define love as an awareness of and a commitment to seeing these needs met - not only in ourselves (appropriate self-love) but also in our neighbors. In fact, that's one of the ways that you can interpret the Gospel reading from yesterday's lectionary.

In Matthew 5:31-46, Jesus tells us how it will be when the Son of Man returns to claim hiis rightful place as Ruler adn King. As he separates "sheep" from "goats,"  Jesus gives a description of the sort of person who will enter the kingdom of God.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your  inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the  world. For I was hungry  and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to  drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ " (v 34-36)

While these verses are often an encouragement to do more good, to give more time and money towards those who are in the margins of society, it can be expanded beyond that to incorporate willingness to meet whatever the appropriate need is of our neighbor. Yes, it is true that some around us are hungry and thirsty, and so donating food to the local foodbank throughout the year is a valid and necessary way of showing love. But what about the stranger? Meeting his or her needs may not be about giving at all. Instead, we may show love by receiving someone new into our circle of family and friends. In doing so, we offer a place at the table, recognizing the newcomers' differences and valuing them as gifts. By stepping back and not doing for them, we allow them the opportunity to act in meaningful ways, to be a blessing to us.

And perhaps it is the need for connectedness that underlies Jesus commendation for his followers who remember the prisoners. My guess is that he is referring here to men and women who have been put under lock and key for their belief in Christ, enduring persecution for their faith. But we can also go beyond this to those who are imprisoned for any reason. To love in this way is to validate the common bond we all share as members of the human race, to continue to offer support and community in the midst of isolating and dehumanizing circumstances.

In this teaching, His last before he heads to the cross, Jesus shows us what it means to fulfill the two great commandments: to love God and to love others as ourselves.  They are two sides of one coin, for it is in loving the other, that we show our love for Christ. "‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me,'" says the King to his true followers. And he will say it again to Peter on the lakeside, "If you love me, then feed my sheep." But we need to slow down if we are to appreciate the full dimensions of love. For love isn't always about giving, although that is an important aspect of showing care. It's also about welcoming and receiving, about keeping connected. It's in the give and take and faithful companioning of loving community that our needs are truly met.
 
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Table of Bread Cheese Olives and Wine by Jose Escofet

"I like spring, but it is too  young. I like summer, but it is too proud. So I like best of all autumn, because  its tone is mellower, its colours are richer, and it is tinged with a little  sorrow. Its golden richness speaks not of the innocence of spring, nor the power  of summer, but of the mellowness and kindly wisdom of approaching age. It knows  the
limitations of life and its content."  Lin Yutang

It is true that those of us who are passing through mid-age and moving toward the autumn of our lives can feel a sense of sadness, wishing our spring days were not irrevocably past. And yet there is open to us grace for living in each season of life; if we desire, we can learn to appreciate the wisdom that experience has brought, to enjoy the slower pace, to heed the call to linger. In our maturity we can also find ourselves embracing who we have become with a new sense of appreciation.

In "Love after Love," Walcott encourages us that there will come a time when we will offer hospitality to ourselves once again; we will be reunited and reconciled to a heart that had been a stranger. Perhaps this occurs when we learn to embrace all sides of ourselves, including those "shadow" or neglected parts of our personality which we have been afraid to even admit existed. Now they are welcomed and integrated into our lives, given a place at the table. We have taken the time to understand and nurture the undeveloped aspects of ourselves and accepted the wisdom and gifts that they bring.

Love After Love
Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror,
Sit. Feast on your life.

Art above by Jose Escofet can be found here
 

Wednesdays, I blog about choosing joy as a global concern. Today I'm posting a link that my friend, Cathleen Lauer, shared on her facebook page this morning. It's a video by Playing for Change, a project dreamed up by Mark Johnson, Grammy award winning producer/engineer and film-maker. It was birthed from a desire to connect the world through music. He traveled the world with a mobile recording studio, laying down track upon track of musicians playing the same song. Mark explains the project and how it actually worked in an interview on CNN here.

I'm also posting a short section of one of the prayers found in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Prayers go beyond technology in their ability to connect us. But like the Playing for Change project, they are based on a common desire. Praying for grace for those in hardship, for wise and compassionate leaders, for relief from famine and flood flow out of a commitment to love one another. We can pray generally, or add specifics as we become aware of them through the news and other media.

While engaged in the Playing for Change project, Johnson was given another vision; he and others began a foundation to encourage arts and music education around the globe, putting legs on their desire to make the world a better place. So it is with our prayers. As we begin to pray for those who are in need, we open ourselves up to the nudgings of the Spirit. Committing to love one another, we may be given specific ways in which that can happen.

Like the musicians featured in Playing for Change, we each have a unique voice, we bring unique gifts, but together we share a common goal. 

From Form VI in the Book of Common Prayer:

In peace, we pray to you, Lord God.For all people in their daily life and work;
For our families, friends, and neighbors, and for those who
are alone.

For this community, the nation, and the world;
For all who work for justice, freedom, and peace.

For the just and proper use of your creation;
For the victims of hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression.

For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble;
For those who minister to the sick, the friendless, and the needy.

Hear us, Lord;
For your mercy is great.
 
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Leftover from breakfast with a friend this morning...
Summer breakfasts are often based around granola. My husband likes to layer his with blueberries, walnuts and yogurt sweetened with a tad of honey. But when the weather turns colder, I opt for baked oatmeal. My introduction to baked oatmeal was while on a retreat in northern PA. When I came home I searched the internet until I found a recipe with a little less sugar. Here it is, tweaked a bit more.

Baked Oatmeal
3 c oats
1/3 c brown sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1/2 c applesauce
1 t vanilla
2 eggs
1 c milk
1/2 - 1 cup (total) additional yummies like: almonds, walnuts, craisins, dried cherries, grated apple, blueberries, etc. (I usually use a fruit and a nut).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients together in one bowl. Mix the wet ingredients in another bowl. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together and add the nuts and fruits. Spread in greased (or sprayed) 9 x 9 inch pan. Bake 20-30 minutes. Serve with warm milk. Can be refrigerated for at least a week. I cut mine into squares and then take one square, put it in a bowl with some milk and microwave for a minute. If you'd like to save some time in the morning, you can mix it the night before, either all together, or keep the wet and dry ingredients separate and then complete in the morning. (That might keep the nuts from getting too wet.)

And for those of you who would like another granola recipe, here's the one we use. It's easy and inexpensive:

Granola
7 1/2 c oats
2 T ground flax seed (this can be bought whole and ground in the coffee grinder)
1/2 c water
1/2 c oil
1/2 c honey (if you put the oil in the measuring cup first, honey comes out easier)
dollop of peanut butter
dash of cinnamon
pinch of salt
Can add any combination of nuts either before cooking or afterwards.

Mix all ingredients and place on a greased cookie sheet. Put in a cold oven. Turn on the heat to 320 and bake for 23 minutes. Turn the oven off and let cool. This will help it crisp but not get too brown.
 

Yesterday's sermon took up the matter of pride. It was a needed and powerful encouragement to not think more highly of ourselves than we should, to not puff ourselves up by comparison with others, but acknowledge truthfully our strengths and our limitations. And while it is true that we can harbor an inflated view of ourselves, I don't think that we can set our desires too high. Writing to the Colossians, Paul says that he is laboring with all the energy of God to teach and admonish all of the Gentiles concerning a truth which has been hidden and is now revealed. This astonishing mystery is that Christ is in each of the believers, the hope of glory. (Col 1:24-27)

What does it mean that because of Christ's presence in us, we have the hope of glory? A saying from the desert fathers has always intrigued me. In this story, Abba Lot goes to see Abba Joseph and says to him, 'Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and, as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' At this, Abba Joseph stands up and stretches his hands towards heaven. His fingers become like ten lamps of fire and he says to Abba Lot, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'

"If you will," says Abba Joseph. Do we want to become all flame? Or, to put it another way, Do we want the Holy Spirit to so invade our lives that we are filled with the energy and love, "the glory," of God, And if so, how can we handle this fire without being consumed, how can we be as resilient as the burning bush that caught the attention of Moses out in the desert?

These are questions that guide my journey of faith. I am under no delusions. To be filled with the fire of God means that I need to stay open to the purifying this fire brings, which can be a painful process. It also means that I'm taking seriously the body that this Spirit desires to fill. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus tells his disciples that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Becoming healthy and strong makes sense if I don't want to be overwhelmed by the power of God surging through me.

Like Paul, I'm struggling to grasp hold of the gift that God has given each of us - the ability to become truly sons and daughters of God. It's pretty audacious, I know. Perhaps it sounds prideful to even admit, but I don't think so. No, the desire to be all flame is fueled by the desire to become one with the love of God. This yearning takes the Father, the Son and the Spirit seriously as they gracious pursue humanity to make us one with themselves.

I want to be all love, to channel the power of God's love, to cauterize, heal, strengthen, encourage, enjoy, empower. I want to share in God's glory because I think that's what God wants. If He desires all of us to become flame, should I want less?