Monthly Archives

December 2016

A Prayer (And Picture) For The New Year (Leighton Ford)

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On Christmas Eve our eleven year old granddaughter, who is a budding philosopher/artist, entertained us by making several sketches. One shows a beach by the ocean, with a jump path leading into the waves. Above the scene she wrote:

“You can never cross the ocean unless you forget about the shore.”

“Where did you hear that?” I asked.

She pointed to her head. “I just thought it.”

And I thought: what a good reminder as we get ready to leave one year and launch into the next.

Leaving the old and crossing to the new is a biblical image repeated again and again. In a time of pessimism and exile the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Do not remember the former things … I am about to do a new thing.”

Similarly, Paul wrote from a prison cell to his fellow believers, “This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining toward what lies ahead, I press on toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

True, in many places the Bible also urges us to remember what God has done in the past. But always there is call to look and move ahead with hope and trust.

We can compare this to a trapeze artist, who holds onto a bar, swings into space and lets go, trusting that, with perfect timing, a partner will send the next bar his way to reach and grasp.

Perhaps this New Year’s weekend would be a good time to stop and ask: what do I need to let go from the past – whether of success or hurt or failure? And where am I called to launch out with new trust into the year to come?

Bill is a lifelong friend who for many years hated Christmas. Growing up, Christmas in his home was a time of no joy, no presents, lots of drunken rage and abuse. He himself became an alcoholic at a young age. He found release in a vision of Christ and through AA.

Later, he was able to let go and write a letter of forgiveness to his deceased father. Now Bill loves Christmas. His past is an asset. He does not dwell there and he is able to share with troubled young people the grace he has found.

Bill understands very well what our granddaughter wrote:

“You can never cross the ocean unless you forget about the shore.”

Here is a prayer I have used and shared for many years. I offer it as a gift for you.

A Prayer at the End and Beginning of a Year

Lord, give me I pray:

A remembering heart for the things that have happened.

An attentive heart to what I have learned.

A forgiving heart for what has hurt.

A grateful heart for what has blessed.

A brave heart for what may be required.

An open heart to all that may come.

A trusting heart to go forth with You.

A loving heart for You and all your creation.

A longing heart for the reconciliation of all things.

A willing heart to say “Yes” to what You will

A Prayer At The End And Beginning Of The Year (Leighton Ford)

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Lord, give me I pray:

A remembering heart for the things that have happened

An attentive heart to what I have learned

A forgiving heart for what has hurt

A grateful heart for what has blessed

A brave heart for what may be required

An open heart to all that may come

A trusting heart to go forth with You

A loving heart for You and all your creation

A longing heart for the reconciliation of all things.

A willing heart to say “Yes” to what You will.

 

Leighton Ford

The Day We Saw The Fox (Leighton Ford)

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Was it Christmas day?
When we saw the fox
running through the snow?
And, was there one fox or two?
It was a long time ago and
I do not remember everything,
but it was at least near Christmas.

The snow that fell the night before
was deep for our neighborhood.
My ten-year old son and I walked
past the end of our blacktop street,
into a rough patch of grown-over farm land,
past the burned-out house
with the sinister skull and crossbones sign.
We hoped to find some charred boards there
to help make a tree house.

It was then, for the first and last time,
we saw the fox,
half a field beyond us,
slim, wiry, tawny red, fast,
nose to the wind,
high stepping through the deep snow.

Did he sense that he was seen?
That he would be famous?
That the ground where he prowled
would some day be named for him?
And, if he had known, would it
have mattered one whisker
to him?

Leighton Ford
(near Foxcroft)
December 26,2015

The Second Day of Christmas (Leighton Ford)

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morning coffee

This is the Second Day of Christmas.

“In the beginning was the Word … all things were made through him …”

The cup warm in my hand
The scent in the air
The sounds of the birds outside
The quiet rumbling inside me
The light through the window ….

All things, bright and beautiful, made through him.

In the beginning was

the Word?
or nothing?
or something we do not know?
or all things?

Two thousand years have not been able to put out that light of the Word.

 

Leighton Ford

Christmas Poem (Mary Oliver)

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nativity

Christmas Poem

Says a country legend told every year:
Go to the barn on Christmas Eve and see
what the creatures do as that long night tips over.
Down on their knees they will go, the fire
of an old memory whistling through their minds!

[So] I went. Wrapped to my eyes against the cold
I creaked back the barn door and peered in.
From town the church bells spilled their midnight music,
and the beasts listened –
yet they lay in their stalls like stone.

Oh the heretics!
Not to remember Bethlehem,
or the star as bright as a sun,
or the child born on a bed of straw!
To know only of the dissolving Now!

Still they drowsed on –
citizens of the pure, the physical world,
they loomed in the dark: powerful
of body, peaceful of mind,
innocent of history.

Brothers! I whispered. It is Christmas!
And you are no heretics, but a miracle,
immaculate still as when you thundered forth
on the morning of creation!
As for Bethlehem, that blazing star

still sailed the dark, but only looked for me.
Caught in its light, listening again to its story,
I curled against some sleepy beast, who nuzzled
my hair as though I were a child, and warmed me
the best it could all night.

 

Mary Oliver

Photo cred: Art Institute of Chicago

The Incarnation: God Gives Himself Totally (Thomas Merton)

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This is what it means to be a Christian.

March 25, 1960. In emptying Himself to come into the world, God has not simply kept in reserve, in a safe place, His reality and manifested a kind of shadow or symbol of Himself. He has emptied Himself and is all in Christ…

Christ is not simply the tip of the little finger of the Godhead, moving in the world, easily withdrawn, never threatened, never really risking anything. God has acted and given Himself totally, without division, in the Incarnation. He has become not only one of us, but even our very selves.

This is what it means to be a Christian: not simply one who believes certain reports about Christ, but one who lives in a conscious confrontation with Christ in Himself and in other men. This means, therefore, the choice to become empty of one’s self, the illusory self fabricated by our desires and fears, the self that is here now and will cease being here if this or that happens.

 

Thomas Merton

Excerpted from Angelic Mistakes: The Art of Thomas Merton

 

The Wild Grace of Christmas (Frederick Buechner)

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christmas light blur

“The lovely old carols played and replayed till their effect is like a dentist’s drill or a jack hammer, the bathetic banalities of the pulpit and the chilling commercialism of almost everything else, people spending money they can’t afford on presents you neither need nor want, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” the plastic tree, the cornball crèche, the Hallmark Virgin. Yet for all our efforts, we’ve never quite managed to ruin it. That in itself is part of the miracle, a part you can see. Most of the miracle you can’t see, or don’t….

Christmas itself is by grace. It could never have survived our own blindness and depredations otherwise. It could never have happened otherwise. Perhaps it is the very wildness and strangeness of the grace that has led us to try to tame it. We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one. But if the Christmas event in itself is indeed—as a matter of cold, hard fact—all it’s cracked up to be, then even at best our efforts are misleading.

The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”

Came down. Only then do we dare uncover our eyes and see what we can see. It is the Resurrection and the Life she holds in her arms. It is the bitterness of death he takes at her breast.”

Frederick Buechner
From Whistling In The Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary

Advent Is A Totally New Beginning (Thomas Merton)

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“Advent for us means acceptance of this totally new beginning. It means a readiness to have eternity and time meet not only in Christ, but in us, in Man, in our life, in our world, in our time. The beginning, therefore, is the end. We must accept the end, before we can begin. Or rather, to be more faithful to the complexity of life, we must accept the end in the beginning both together.

The secret of the Advent mystery is then the awareness that I begin where I end because Christ begins where I end. In more familiar terms: I live to Christ when I die to myself. I begin to live to Christ when I come to the “end” or to the “limit” of what divides me from my fellow man: what I am willing to step beyond this end, cross the frontier, become a stranger, enter into a wilderness which is not “myself,” where I do not breathe the air or hear the familiar, comforting racket of my own city, where I am alone and defenseless in the desert of God.

The victory of Christ is by no means the victory of my city over “their” city. The exaltation of Christ is not the defeat and death of others in order that “my side” may be vindicated, that I may be proved “right.” I must pass over, make the transition (pascha) from my end to my beginning, from my old life which has ended and which is now death to my new life which never was before and which now exists in Christ.”

Thomas Merton
From “Advent: Hope or Delusion?” in Seasons of Celebration. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965: 96-97

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