Winter Solstice

December 21, 2018

Here it is. The day with the least amount of sunlight. Or put another way, the longest night of the year.

Ancient peoples tracking the movement of the sun living a hard life gathering food must have wondered how bad it would get.

And then by four days later they felt assured that indeed the days were getting longer. With confidence they faced the future of spring and its rebirth and summer with its growth and abundant food.

We may be more sophisticated in our modern age. But we’re still affected. Less daylight means less Vitamin D means reduced energy. Circumstances in the world appear to be bleak.

Yet, we have confidence in the coming rebirth.

This all has spiritual connotation as well as physical.

God-fearing people 2,000 years ago, and for about 400 years before, wondered if it was the dark night of God’s withdrawal from his people. They anticipated a rebirth. Hoped for it. Longed for it.

2,000 years ago was a time of great spiritual movement throughout the world.

How are we doing today? Ready for renewal? Ready with assurance for the coming spring?

Focus

December 20, 2018

We are waiting for Christmas.

The anticipation begins sometime about 30 days before.

It’s hard to maintain focus for 30 days.

It’s hard to maintain focus this morning.

I sat down with a piece of toast with peanut butter and honey and a cup of coffee. Noticed that WordPress had issued an update. It requested that I update my other site. So, my focus changed. Is this site updated? Have they changed the editor here? What do I need to do?

30 minutes later…oh, yes, focus on writing.

When I have trouble focusing for 30 seconds, how can I expect to maintain an active watchful focus for 30 days?

A trail of reminders throughout the day helps. Maybe that’s the purpose of placing stuff around the house. A tree here, nativity set there, colored lights, candles. Reminders…oh, yeah, focus on the person, the baby.

Now, where did I put my coffee?

Uptight

December 19, 2018

Are we all so uptight all the time?

Ready to take offense at the slightest word even taken out of context?

Far be it from me to defend our current President. But he used a common phrase used to describe an investigation you don’t like. It’s a “witch hunt”, he said.

Guess what group of people is now grievously offended? Witches, of course.

I keep returning to James’ advice (Jesus’ brother, one of whose letters survived into the Bible).

You must remember this, let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.

Let me help. How are you doing on the Relaxation (478) Breath? Practice twice a day at least. Calm down. Seek perspective.

  • Sit, lay, or stand. If sitting or standing, do not slouch.
  • Inhale through nose and count to 4 (your own pace, gradually slowing with practice).
  • Hold breath for count of 7 (same pace as inhale).
  • Exhale through the mouth and count 8.
  • Rest briefly.
  • Repeat for four cycles.

Advent

December 18, 2018

One thing I like about December. My early morning study and meditation in the living room with only the Christmas tree for illumination. My wife lovingly hangs about a thousand ornaments on the tree. But I like the light.

I remember the great anticipation of Christmas as a child. But it was more about Santa Claus than Jesus.

Jesus was there–the annual church Christmas play or the times we did a live nativity or the Carols.

So much “Christmas music” we hear today is more about the season than Jesus.

I’m not knocking it. It brings joy to many.

Then there are the misconceptions of the Christmas story from the Gospels.

Jesus wasn’t born on December 25.

There was no motel. It was someone’s house–probably a relative.

The number of Magi (wise men) was most likely not equal to three. (Nice song, though.)

But Jesus was born. He did teach and heal. He did die and return to life. Despite all the ornamentation humans have put around his birth and life, I like the light.

Power of a Misplaced Comma

December 17, 2018

A panda walks into a bar. He orders a sandwich. After eating the sandwich, he pulls out a gun and shoots the bartender. Then he gets off the bar stool and walks out. Puzzled, the other people notice the panda left behind a Field Guide To Pandas. It said clearly, “a panda eats, shoots and leaves.”

I listened to a man giving a meditation. He was quoting from the Bible (not exactly the same one that most Christians use). He read a passage. Puzzled, I pulled out my iPhone and looked up the passage. He had moved a comma. It was just one word over. But he moved it.

That one little comma completely changed the meaning of the sentence. Which changed the meaning of the interpretation of other books of the Bible. Which leads to an entirely different theology from every Christian interpretation I’ve ever studied.

When your kids complain about learning grammar. Or those “modern” English teachers of some years ago who said, “just let the kids write anything and don’t worry about spelling or grammar.” Or anyone who abhors the work of thinking.

Consider this.

Even a lowly comma has the greatest importance for conveying the correct information.

Or, maybe you will meet that panda.

Thinking and communicating are key foundation disciplines without which the spiritual discipline of study goes for naught.

[If you didn’t get it–without the comma the sentence tells us what the panda eats. With the comma (and devotees of the Oxford comma forgive me), the sentence gives us a series of actions the panda does.]

Linking Breath and Spirit

December 14, 2018

Pneuma–a Classical Greek word meaning breath. We still use it in words such as pneumatics–using air as a force to control an actuator in a machine, for example. Ancient people used the same word in a different context to mean spirit or soul.

Breath links physical being with spiritual being. Especially so when breathing with intention.

There is a type of breath that assists physical exertion.

There are several types of breathing that slow our body and mind bringing relaxation. Finding moments of pause and relaxation in this season of Christmas gift buying, parties, gatherings, stresses.

Try this Relaxing Breath exercise.

Almost any posture works. Best is sitting not slouched. Upright but not stiff.

  • Inhale through the nose and count silently to 4.
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7.
  • Exhale through your mouth for a count of 8.
  • Repeat for 4 cycles.
  • Try to intentionally stop and do this twice a day.

It does not matter how fast you count. Slower is better, but don’t stress over it (after all, we are trying to relax, right).

Do Not Be Like This

December 13, 2018

Some say practicing the spiritual disciplines becomes an end in itself. You read, pray, meditate, go to church, and the like simply by rote repetition.

Simply reading spiritual writings will be beneficial even if it is just something you do for 15-30 minutes every morning.

Simply pausing to reflect in quiet is beneficial even if on some days or seasons “you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.”

Joining with others is helpful even if it is just a weekly routine.

We know that feelings follow action. We can act our way out of bad moods and habits.

Worse is the person who follows a practice and then becomes increasingly prideful about it.

Like Jesus’ story about people who pray where they can be readily seen or fasting and doing it so everyone notices–pride is an insidious enemy. It sneaks in among the good works and destroys what it touches.

Pride is like the weeds in the parable of the sower where good seed falls among them and get choked to death as they grow.

Don’t be that person.

Practice simply and in solitude. Keep in the routine. Some days will be dry. Some days will overflow in spiritual blessing.

Slow Is Smooth and Smooth Is Fast

December 12, 2018

The Apostle Paul talked about the importance of training often. His analogy was to athletic training, which he applied to training in spiritual disciplines or practices.

You wonder sometimes if he were an athlete in his youth. He had physical stamina throughout his life in addition to his frequent sports analogies.

He told his protege Timothy one time “more important than physical training is training in godliness [Eusebia].”

Some people look for shortcuts to training. Isn’t there a magic pill I can take that will get me to physically and spiritually fit?

No. Such an elixir does not exist.

Some think they can rush through the training. What takes others 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert they will do in a week.

But results do not follow. It’s too easy to quit.

Life is a paradox. One paradox applies here.

Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

Slow down. Smooth out the practices. One day you step back and evaluate discovering far more progress than you might have anticipated.

Politically Correct

December 11, 2018

Many people (white men?) complain about the “politically correct” speech movement. They seem to feel it is a restraint on their freedom.

Why?

Do we need to be free to speak about people in demeaning terms?

Do we need to be free to preach hatred?

The founders of the American Republic were rightly concerned that people would grab onto the “rights” without considering the balancing “responsibilities”.

Especially as Christians, do we need social pressure to speak respectfully of others? To speak wisdom? To think before we speak (read the letter of James for a longer essay on this)?

I am almost never on Facebook anymore. I don’t see some of the memes going around. But I guess there is a kerfluffel about the “Christmas” song “Baby It’s Cold Out There.”

First, hate to burst your bubble, but this isn’t a Christmas song. It’s a winter song.

Next, the song is about a man convincing a reluctant woman to have sex with him. It is done playfully. That makes it even more dangerous.

Have we learned nothing from the last several years? Finding ways to convince or force others into having sex is simply not correct behavior. Forget “politically correct.” It is not morally correct.

In the terms of the Proverbs, many people seem to want the right to be a fool when we should be growing into Wisdom.

Learn To Wait

December 10, 2018

Samuel Beckett wrote a play wherein two men engage in seemingly random conversations while Waiting for Godot–who never arrives. When one starts to leave, the other reminds him, “Remember, we are waiting for Godot.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer advised us, “Learning about advent means learning about waiting.”

Is waiting something we need to learn?

I remember being about 9 and waiting outside a house after a drum lesson for dad to arrive to take me home. I thought he’d never make it. Sometimes waiting is forced upon us. Is that how we learn?

You cannot learn waiting by reading about its meaning. You can learn the etymology of the word. You may learn some contexts for the word.

Like Vladimir and Estragon waiting for Godot, you learn waiting by intentionally pausing your day anticipating the arrival of someone or something.

Maybe it is waiting in expectation like Mary waiting out the nine months for the birth of a miracle child. What does it mean? What will he be like? How will I raise him?

Waiting.

Rather than waiting with excitement for December 25 in order to inspect the stuff left behind by St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, advent requires a different sort of waiting.

We talk about things while we wait. But in this play Godot actually comes. In the form of Jesus, of course.

Read Luke and Matthew. Read about all the people they describe who had waited throughout a long life for this birth. For the advent of this spiritual renewal.

Wait.