May The Force be with you

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It is Christmas. Which means that The Force Awakens is here. (For non-Star Wars fans, or anyone who has not been in the vicinity of any media for the past few months, this is the much-anticipated Episode VII.)
Is it fair to say that the movie is wonderfully ridiculous and melodramatic and sentimental all rolled into one? Absolutely. Which is precisely why my son Zach and I congregated with fellow believers last Friday night, gladly succumbing to The Force, relishing a romp through the galaxies with a story brimming with energy and its own kind of generosity.
Bottom line; I’m still smiling.
What a Christmas present.

And it hit me. Gifts are reminders. 
And every one of us needs reminders. 

Because reminders—or stories—become sanctuaries. Regardless of how our year stacked up.

One tradition (and reminder) for me is this: Every December I re-read Garrison Keillor’s story about a young boy who wanted a Lionel Train Set for Christmas.
The father, of a family of seven, was in the hospital and unable to work. The mother, worried about money did her best to prepare the children, “I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to have much Christmas this year.”
This news was not easy to swallow for the eldest boy, aged ten, who had been dropping hints since September about the Lionel train set, deluxe with the livestock loader. He even mentioned it frequently to God, reminding God that the train was on display in Lundgren’s store window. On Christmas morning, the boy opened his gifts; a pocketknife, wrapped homemade candies, and new pair of winter boots. There was no train. After Christmas dinner, the boy asked if he could go outside. He needed some place to nurse his sadness. As he tromped along in his new boots, he walked out on the iced-over lake, and let the tears flow.
After enough time passed, the boy turned to head back home. As he turned, with the sun nearly set, he saw the lights of the town shimmering before him. He squinted his eyes and could pick out his own house, on the left, not far from shore. It all looked, he realized, exactly like a town in a Lionel train layout, and if he squinted just right, the smoke rising from the chimney look like a steam engine.
Then he knew; the whole world is a Lionel Train Set. And he walked home with a lighter step, in his brand new Christmas boots.

That sure sounds good doesn’t it? Until you don’t see the train set under the tree on Christmas morning. Life is seldom what we wish for, and it’s easy to miss the Lionel Train Set, almost every time.

But here’s my favorite part of the story.
After, the boy walked with a lighter step. 
With awareness comes gratitude. 
With gratitude there is a reminder. 
With this reminder, the weights are lifted, and there is a sense of peace.   

“In technology you have this horizontal progress, where you must start at one point and move to another and then another,” Thomas Merton reminds us. “But that is not the way to build a life of prayer. In prayer we discover what we already have. You start where you are and you deepen what you already have, and you realize that you are already there. All we need is to experience what we already possess.

Sadly, we are not wired this way, are we? What with hurry and distraction and stuckness and hullabaloo.
It is no wonder that too often we do not realize what we already have.

This truth doesn’t take long to confirm. At Christmas, long lines are perfect for eavesdropping. Where truth is always stranger than fiction. One shopper stands at the counter of Restoration Hardware, two bags on one arm, a cell phone in the opposite hand, held up to her ear. Those of us in the long line are hostage to her one-sided conversation, for which there is (unfortunately) neither a volume nor a mute dial on her telephone voice.
“It’s so sad,” she is telling her cell phone. “I don’t think people really see the meaning of Christmas. It feels so secular now. I don’t know what’s happening to our culture… I know, I know, and Gina’s school, they won’t even let her sing Away in a Manger.”
The clerk motions to the woman talking on the phone.
The woman answers the clerk in a clipped tone, “NO, I said put that on the Visa card too. And I want separate bags for those.”
She continues, to the phone, as if this has all been one long sentence, “Okay. Gotta go, It’s sooooo crazy right now. So much last minute stuff to do. Let’s get together for a latte later.”
When she walks past, I think about the “hope and fears of all the years,” and I wish her a Merry Christmas.

Here’s what I’m learning. This reminder deal is a two-way street. We receive and we give. And in giving we receive again. Go figure.
Which means that regardless of the circumstance, or the pain, or the loss, or the confusion, or the difficulty we can give and receive. Because giving and receiving is not contingent on tidiness.

Here’s the deal: maybe my pain and my fear and my confusion could use sanctuary too. In the reminder—in the story—there are sanctuary spaces waiting for us. 

Mary is very young, pregnant, unmarried, and alone and is visited by the archangel Gabriel, who tells her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.”
Say what???
Rather than attempting to tough it out on her own, Mary goes in search of someone who will help. (Someone who will be a reminder.) Mary finds that help in the home of her cousin Elizabeth, who welcomes Mary and offers her safety, blessing, and sanctuary (Gospel of Luke).

After, Mary walks with a lighter step.
With awareness comes gratitude.
With gratitude there is a reminder.
With this reminder, the weights are lifted, and there is a sense of peace.

And Mary’s response? I love this… when the world as we know it has ended, sing. (Or, if you choose, paint. Or dance, or write, or build something.) Because after Elizabeth welcomes and blesses her, Mary responds with a song (one that the Christian tradition has come to know as the Magnificat –Luke 1:46-55). With this song, Mary voices an astonishing vision—story and reminder—of a God who redeems and restores the world, not in a far-off future but already.(This story adapted from Jan Richardson, shared by a SM Reader) 

That’s it… The reminder to allow us to see. To hear the story. To tell the story. Even when we don’t believe that we can see.
Well… that’s easy for Mary we tell ourselves… 

There is another Lake Wobegon story about a couple that raised their son in a small town that pledged boundaries and firmness and security. Their son, now grown, is off to college. And he set his sights on the big city, Minneapolis. Big cities, as all from small towns know, are a melting pot for all manner of depravity.
The parents, as one would guess, are quite worried. And not just about their son’s emotional health, but his faith. He no longer goes to church, he tells his parents. And he no longer believes.
So they ask Lutheran Pastor Ingqvist for some time, in order to unpack their concerns, needing advice and solace.
What shall we do? Our son has quit believing in God.
Well, that may be so. The pastor tells them. But the good news is this; God still believes in your son.   

Back to The Force Awakens. Darth Vader is dead. Even so, the power of darkness is still alive and well. Now under the moniker First Order, their main mission is to rule the Galaxy and destroy all who oppose them. Their commander is a ruthless, mysterious, powerful dark knight, Kylo Ren. In him is another tug of war between light and dark.
To tell you the truth, I can relate. It’s not a whole lot different from what I know in my own spirit at times…

And. Sometimes, fear wins. I can tell myself it is because of loss or grief or abuse or shame. But what I’m learning is that I don’t need to outshout fear. I need a reminder. To tell me that fear is lying, and will keep me from seeing my whole self.

In The Force Awakens, Lupita Nyong’o’s Maz Kanata, basically a female Yoda, gives Rey (our new protagonist and in possession of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber) some important advice when they meet. Rey is still finding her way, and is uncertain. Maz says, “Remember, The Light — It’s Always Been There. It’ll Guide You.”
In other words… You tell the fear that there is something bigger and truer. 

I didn’t know a hummingbird could sit for so long. Every day my new buddy visits his perch, the tip of an upper branch on the Japanese Maple off the back patio. A Ruby-throated hummingbird with his iridescent neck scarf. His head swivels (or twitches?), scanning for poachers at the feeder (about 30 feet away). He spots one, and off he goes, and they play out a riveting battle as miniature combat airplanes.

Note to you all… I wish every one of you a blessed Advent and Christmas and Hanukkah (ended on Dec 14th) and Winter Solstice and Holiday Season. I’m so glad you are a part of the Sabbath Moment community.
Not long ago I was asked on an airplane, “What do you do?”
“I’m in the refueling business,” I told them. “Because we all need places to be replenished and renewed.”
Just so you know. Your gifts and your prayers and your thoughts and your notes make this possible. I want to thank you. Sabbath Moment will always be available to everyone.
The letter you received from me asking for help will happen only once a year. Just so you know.
Let’s look forward to new things happening in 2016.  We all need sanctuaries. And we all need nudges. I’m creating new ways to make that happen, including audio Sabbath Moment.
Keep spilling the light…
And may The Force be with you… 

 


POEMS AND PRAYERS

Love is what’s in the room
with you at Christmas
if you stop opening presents
and listen.
 Author unknown (attributed to a 7-year-old boy)
Spiritual Mom  
Mom got spiritual in her late fifties,
and we really had no patience for all
the forgiveness. It was disconcerting
the way she’d kneel down on the floor
in the middle of the conversation
and hug the dog, whispering affirmations
into its long ear, stroking and folding it
inside out like a pocket. When she emptied
her bank account and gave all the money
to whoever asked, wandering around downtown,
reaching into her purse to offer whatever
her fingers touched first, it was the last
straw. We did an intervention, as they call it
in the field of addiction. We sat her down
and confronted her on her spiritual habit.
The room grew quiet as Mom wept softly,
her eyes searching the floor for what to say.
The silence was terrible–even the dog
cocked its head in that doglike listening way
for some kind of affirmation that Mom
had heard us, and understood, and would cease
her spiritual ways, or at least be in the world
a little more and no longer walking around like
she didn’t have a colon, with one foot in Heaven
and an ear to the hot little mouth of God.
Paul Hostovsky
Our Prayer– (and Christmas gift suggestions…)
Lord,
in this Advent season, may we give

To our enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, our heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To our self, respect.
Amen.

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