Playdates with God: The Ordinary-Sacred

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On the first day of winter—the shortest day of the year—my pastor preached about the ordinary-sacred.

She asked us about our nativity scenes at home, about the figure of Mary. “Mary is often pictured kneeling with a serene expression on her face, or sometimes with her arms lifted high in praise.”

I thought about my kneeling Mary. I thought about my praising Mary. I thought about the babe lying untouched in the manger.

“First of all, how many women who have just given birth do you know who are able to kneel?” She reminded us what it means to be a new mother. It is a messy, tiring thing, this motherhood. It’s the kind of thing that requires hands on.

“If there is any time the holy family should be pictured as hands-on,” she said, “it’s Christmas. For this is when God became hands-on with us.”

My pastor introduced us to the sculptor (and professor) Tom Clark, who grew famous for his lovable gnomes. But he also does other sculpting, including some nativities. She showed us a picture of a nativity Dr. Clark had made in which a frumpy-looking Mary holds her infant close to her body, tiny face peeking out of swaddling clothes. The baby’s head rests in the nape of Mary’s neck, eyes closed, lips full and puckered. (You can see a photo of this beautiful work of art here, on the owner’s blog.)

I met with my Spiritual Director last week and she asked me about Advent. “It feels different this year,” I told her. “Usually, my heart feels tender, vulnerable, needy during this time. But this year it just feels raw.”

We wait for this Jesus. And because we know the end of the story, this waiting is tinged with sweetness. But some seasons? Life is just hard. Some seasons are rich with the rugged journey through the longest night, heavy with the stink of the stable, rife with the sleeplessness of new birth, and the tired of doing all that is required.

These are the seasons to remember this, “Mary didn’t keep Jesus at a distance. She held him close,” my pastor said. “This is the true miracle of Christmas … Just as all babies, his greatest need was to be held in human arms … ”

Jesus is not a God who requires us to stand back and praise him from a distance. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He touched the sick, embraced the sorrowed, held little children in his lap. His life illustrates how the holy comes to us in the midst of the ordinary. Over and over again.

In the dark season, I hold Jesus close. He is as near as my next breath, as close as a tear. And when I open my arms to the raw places in the world, He opens his arms to me. This is how we make it through the longest night, this is true Advent waiting: to wait in hope, with open arms, cradling the beautiful-ordinary as sacred.

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

Laura Boggess

Playdates with God: “Be it Unto Me”

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IMG_6682We are halfway through December and it hardly seems possible. These short days rush by so fast but the legs of the nights with all their darkness seem to stretch out before us and stay a while. We’ve been finding time together to be one of the gifts of this season.

This weekend we braved to travel in time and journeyed through Bethlehem. One of our local churches has made it a tradition to re-create the little town of Bethlehem during the time of Jesus’s birth and so I got it in my mind we should go and see it. I imagined a leisurely stroll through rustic streets, shepherds and sheep loitering about. Things never seem to go the way I picture them in my mind.

One of the shepherds told us that 2300 people had come the night before and we were part of a great throng as we waited outside the city gates. We stood in line for an hour in temperatures that hovered at freezing. I texted a friend who was planning on meeting us there.

“There is a long line at Bethlehem tonight!” I said.

Her reply?

“It must be census time!”

From that point on, I saw through Mary’s eyes.

What must it have been like to travel so far, heavy with child, possibly moving through throngs of people; unable to find accommodations, when the first pangs of childbirth struck?

We walked through the streets of this new, make-believe Bethlehem, but I saw it with 2000-year-old eyes. The sheep baa-ed and the people milled about. There was scent of straw and animal lingering. We sampled wares from the bread makers and the wine shop and watched the blacksmith pound a red-hot piece of iron.

I was cold but how could that small bit of discomfort compare to the pains of a baby coming on? And in the midst of so many travelers—strangers, all.

My heart has been with Mary, that one with the beautiful heart. The one who had the courage to say, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

In this season of hustle and busy and hurry about, I sometimes complain. I complain about the crowds, I complain about the weather, I complain about the work set before me. I am praying that my eyes would be open to the greater things. I am praying, “Be it unto me…”

 

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

 

Laura Boggess

Morning Sketches

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Yesterday, I had a bad day and the legalist in me can’t help feeling it’s because I haven’t let Advent settle into my heart. I haven’t plugged in the Christmas lights enough, I haven’t read the manger story, I haven’t tried to do anything special.

This morning I lit a new candle before settling into my corner on the couch: Candy Cane Lane, it says. “Do you like candy canes?” I asked Teddy as he finished up his breakfast. “I don’t hate them,” he said. And now they have left me alone and the room smells like sweetened mint.

Outside, the sky is white and Prince waits by the fence for his apple. Inside, there are bowls of fruit on the counter—our contribution to the high school band fundraiser. “I would eat more oranges,” Jeffrey said earlier as he fingered the round fruit stacked over the rim, “if I didn’t have so much trouble peeling them.” I showed him the orange peeler from Tupperware his aunt gifted me with for Christmas one year. “This is your go-to tool for the citrus,” I said.

I am eating a grapefruit right now. No sugar, just all juicy tartness. My mother-in-law says that now her medication is changed she can eat grapefruit. I think it is a blood thinner. I imagine the blood coursing more freely through my veins with each bite.

An abundance of fruit during Christmas time reminds me of my grandfather. I think he once told me that fruit used to be considered a treat before candy was so readily available. I am missing my Grandpa as I sit alone on the couch.

This morning as part of my Advent devotions I read an essay by Andre Dubus called “Railroad Sketches.”

“Travel by air,” it begins, “is not travel at all, but simply a change of location. So my wife and daughter and I went to San Francisco by train…”

I went with them, by rail, across a beautiful and sometimes hard country. The author’s attention to detail sometimes did me in and I thought what a gift it is to see.

I’ve only been on a train—besides the subway variety—one time, which seems odd since the rail is such a part of the landscape around here. But that one time similarly stirred my soul. We were on a fall foliage excursion and the scent of woodsmoke mingled with diesel to create a strange sort of dream state. My husband was hungover from a party the night before and we were young enough that I was angry with him. He slept through the wonder of it all, giving me the gift of silence as I stared out the window at passing tree and hill, river of glass, and azure sky. I do not think my eyes saw as much as those of Andre Dubus, but then, I was angry.

As I read his winding tale I thought about the contrast this slow, meandering story of open eyes makes to the world today. We don’t slow down enough to see, to feel the earth and time pass beneath our shifting feet.

What are we afraid of?

Author and minister, founder of Bread for the Journey, Wayne Muller, says we are afraid that in slowing down, we will feel the emptiness inside of us.

…For some people, emptiness can feel fertile and spacious, alive with possibility, as a womb is ripe for the child to come. But others feel emptiness as an ache, a void; something painful, in need of being filled.” ~Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in our Busy Lives

Instead, we must learn to listen to this ache inside of us, Muller says, for all of creation begins with emptiness. “…it is” he says, “the quiet hollow reed through which the wind of God blows and makes the music that is our life.”

I think Andre Dubus must have been very good at listening to the emptiness. This morning, his simple story of a rail excursion is teaching me. Today, my special Advent practice will be to notice. Let the wind that is God blow through all the empty and open my eyes wide to the holy of it all.

Wind of God

Playdates with God: Hospitality

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Yesterday, the sun came out for the first time this week and I drove to church alone with sunglasses on, blinking in the light. It was the second Sunday of Advent and the preacher preached about the power of God and then he called me up to administer communion. It’s my favorite thing, to stand at that table and look out at faces I love; to hold up the bread and wine and give the invitation. All the talk about God’s power reminded me how gracious a host our Creator is. How he gave up all that power for a time to set this table for us.

I stood there at that table thinking of Christmas parties and Christmas dinner and family and all the people I work with—how we create a space for each other every day—and I felt a pulling in my heart. This Christmas season is often about hospitality, but isn’t every day about hospitality too? I’ve been thinking about how my hospitality is a response to God.

God, the most gracious of all hosts, who spread all of creation before us. God, who shed his spirit-self and took on man-skin to be with us. God, who emptied himself fully, giving his very life. Even now God is giving in ways both seen and unseen.

In her book Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson says, “Hospitality in biblical times was understood as a way of meeting and receiving holy presence.”

Isn’t this still true today?

When I open the door for my holiday guests this season, I’m going to try to see our time together as worship.

What ways are you practicing hospitality this season?hospitality pin

 

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

Laura Boggess

West Virginia Morning: Exhale

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This morning each tree and bush drips with liquid light. The earth is being baptized, washed clean for our Advent Sabbath. Last night I fell asleep to the gentle thrum of her scrubbing and this morning when I took Bonnie out, the air was all scent of earthworms.

Oh, how I love this beautiful earth.

This morning, I read this from Wayne Muller, “ … in the book of Exodus we read, ‘In six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day God rested and was refreshed.’ Here the word ‘refreshed,’ vaiynafesh, literally means, and God exhaled. The creation of the world was like the life-quickening inhale, the Sabbath is the exhale. Thus, in a beginning, all creation moves with the rhythm of the inhale and the exhale. Without the Sabbath exhale, the life-giving inhale is impossible.”

I was up early, making a simple bread dough; left to raise now, waiting for me to tuck treasure inside and bake into goodness. While my family still sleeps, in a little bit, I will drive a soggy drive up to Charleston, back to the hospital where I work. It’s our annual Christmas party for some of our patients and former patients. Later, our Jeffrey is supposed to march in our little town’s Christmas parade with the high school band.

It is a busy, beautiful time. It would be easy to get caught in the inhale, to keep going and going and going. But today? I am remembering Mark Buchanan’s words about Sabbath being a heart attitude. Today, I embrace these responsibilities filling up the day with love. I ask God what he would have me learn from each encounter. I give out of the generous gifts that have been given to me.

Today? I exhale.

How about you?