West Virginia Morning: Advent Devotion

This morning there is no sun. The white sky fills with young light but there is no warmth. The thermometer tells me it’s seventeen degrees. I go out to fill my bird feeders dressed for a blizzard. When I come back in, I light all the candles and kindle the Christmas lights. Then I sit, beside the tree, with Bonnie wedged in the chair beside me. She is a good companion for the listening, and this is what we do—close our eyes and strain hearts to hear something, anything—that still, small voice.

Then I try to do some reading. Have I mentioned I’m having trouble reading lately? My hands ache to be busy and my body begins to feel squirmy and soon my mind wanders and the words float before me like alphabet soup. I keep trying, though, and this morning I gathered some of my Advent devotionals and read a little from Scott Cairns, who is one of my favorite poets. Then I read some Wendell Berry poems out loud to Bonnie, who was rapt and appreciative. But this Advent, this season of Light, I mostly have been practicing listening.

Early on in the Advent season I told a dear friend about my struggles with reading and she made some wise suggestions. “I think you need to not read any books at all,” she said. “I think maybe you need to listen.” She went on to suggest music, or poetry, or the Psalms. And then later, she gave me a tremendous gift. Every day she reads to me a chapter from one of her favorite Advent devotionals on Voxer. I listen to her readings each morning as I drive to work. The book is quickly becoming one of my favorites too. My friend told me she is reading for herself as well as for me, but as I listen to her rich voice give me words and stories, I feel treasured. I feel loved.

I spent so many years reading aloud to my sons. It was an act of love, a sacrifice. The gift of time is enough, but the gift of story? Nothing feeds my soul more. How good it is to be cared for this way.

After my Advent listening, I wash my son’s bedclothes and put clean sheets on his bed. Tomorrow I will drive all day to bring him home for winter break. There is rain in the forecast, possible icy conditions, but the thought of his company on the way back home warms me from the inside out.

These are small things but Christmas first came to us in the small, did it not? That swaddling babe wrapped in rags, sleeping in the manger. I am finding hope in the small moments this year, cherishing my small life. And I am learning that this is no small thing.

Playdates with God: Sabbath Slowing

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I’ve been finding my play dates in books lately, letting summer storms and busy days rush over and past me unawares. For me, a good book has always been a way to savor time, something I am finding an urgent need to do these days. As we prepare Teddy to head off to school, I am alternately seized with nostalgia, excitement, and often fear. I have been praying through the Psalms this summer, finding comfort in the kinship of all those ups and downs.

Since I injured my foot, I’ve struggled to get back to running. If you’ve read my book, you know how my runs nourish me, open my eyes to beauty, and soothe my mind. It’s been slow healing, with a lot of ice and ibuprofen. In the mean time, I’ve traded the more vigorous pounding of the run for the gentler step of walking. The slower pace has been a treasured gift and I find I long for more hours in the day to simply walk—one more mile, one more country hollow, past one more barn. There is so much to see, so much beauty that we race past every day.

Knowing about my hungry eyes, a friend recommended the book A Philosophy of Walking to me not long ago and I have recently dipped into its pages. The author takes a look at the walking life of some of our most influential writers and philosophers, but also reflects on the value of walking as a way to slow so that we may see.

The illusion of speed is the belief that it saves time. It looks simple at first sight: finish something in two hours instead of three, gain an hour. It’s an abstract calculation, though, done as if each hour of the day were like an hour on the clock, absolutely equal.
But haste and speed accelerate time, which passes more quickly, and two hours of hurry shorten a day. Every minute is torn apart by being segmented, stuffed to bursting. You can pile a mountain of things into an hour. Days of slow walking are very long: they make you live longer, because you have allowed every hour, every minute, every second to breathe, to deepen, instead of filling them up by straining the joints. Hurrying means doing several things at once, and quickly: this; then that; and then something else. Whey you hurry, time is filled to bursting, like a badly-arranged drawer in which you have stuffed different things without any attempt at order.
Slowness means cleaving perfectly to time, so closely that the seconds fall one by one, drop by drop like the steady dripping of a tap on stone … ”~Frédéric Gros, A Philosophy of Walking

Don’t I know that each moment is not absolutely equal? Haven’t I felt the way the kairos time—the holy time—slips into the regular ticking away of the chronos time? When the sun falls just so over the meadow, or my son looks into my eyes and sees me for once, or my husband reaches unthinkingly for my hand … these are the moments when the ticking of time becomes the steady dripping of a top on stone, the moments when time stands still.

According to Greek mythology, Kairos was the youngest son of the god Zeus. He is often portrayed as having wings on his feet, showing how quickly he rushes by. Ancient artwork also gives Kairos hair on his face but not on his head. This symbolizes that he must be grasped as he is approaching, because once he has passed, the opportunity is gone.”~Laura Boggess (that’s me!) in Playdates with God

The only way to grab the kairos moments is to always be open to them. Walking does this for me. As does running. And reading. These are ways to turn my entire being toward God, to listen with my whole self. Sabbath moments.

What works for you in this way?

Every Monday I share 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 God and know joy. Click on the button below to add your link. I try to visit a few of your stories every week, so if you are a new visitor, be sure to let me know in the comments so I can welcome you. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us.

Laura Boggess

West Virginia Morning: Listen

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I slept until nearly eight a.m. this morning, which is unusual on my days off—so many things to be done. Jeff has been sleeping a little later on these days too—he’s in-between jobs right now, focusing on contract work, which has a more flexible schedule. I’m growing fond of having his body still heavy beside me in the wee hours of morning, reaching over to find him there when he is usually gone. Something about his presence lulls my sleep into a happy state of prolong.

But I am lifted out of sleep by a soft rain whispering against the roof today. There is nothing to stop me from stepping out in it; so I do, with Bonnie, and every baptized leaf is a mirror for the white light of morning.

In Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says that writing is “90 percent listening.” I think of this as I my feet visit the font of grass in our back yard. “You listen so deeply to the space around you that it fills you,” she says.

When we were on holiday, a Brown Thrasher became familiar with the quiet of our empty yard. Usually shy, these birds with the brown-spotted breasts get their name from the robust way they search for food in the underbrush, thrashing about in search of insects or fallen berries and nuts. While we were away, this young bird has grown bold, foraging on our open lawn, grousing about under my finch feeder for fallen tidbits of sunflower.

This morning I glimpse him as we round the house, taking wing at just the hint of our presence. He disappears behind the lilac bush and I wait, listening.

“If you can capture the reality around you,” Natalie says, “your writing needs nothing else. You don’t only listen to the person speaking to you across the table, but simultaneously listen to the air, the chair, and the door. And go beyond the door. Take in the sound of the season, the sound of the color coming in through the windows. Listen to the past, future, and present right where you are. Listen with your whole body, not only with your ears, but with your hands, your face, and the back of your neck … This kind of deep, nonevaluative listening awakens stories and images inside you.”

Again, the quick thrum of wing pushing against invisible air, the soft landing and swish of a light-studded lilac branch. Metallic scent of rain, thick with clover, wet grass licking my ankles. The moist air clings to my skin and I bisect the earth rushing beneath me, a vertical axis with no beginning, no end.

Listen. Listen. Listen.

What do you hear?