My favorite Advent resource

If you are a book nerd like me and love advent, have I got a resource for you!

The Advent Sourcebook  by Thomas J. O’Gorman.

My favorite Advent resource, the Advent sourcebook

It is filled with quotes from across the centuries, hymns, Scripture, and poems. It is roughly broken up by weeks and includes resources for all the major (and minor) saint days.

It was a big influence and resource for me when I wrote my own advent devotional, Lighten the Darkness.

We read out of it every year and there is so much to choose from that it never gets old.

Best of all,  there is a sourcebook for Christmastide as well so the fun keeps going. (And Lent for that matter if you love the church year as a whole as we do).

So, if you want to buy a nice gift for yourself (it is not cheap) that will keep on giving to your soul year after year this is the book for you! 

Learning from Babouska

Every year my children and I read from this picture book, My Very First Christmas: Stories for the Very Young. It has delightful little stories retelling not only the Bible narratives, but also sharing Christmas legends from around the world.

One of our favorite stories from this book is that of Baboushka.  The kids originally loved it because of the thick Russian accent I would adopt whenever I said her name. It made them giggle every time. I love it because I cannot get through it without crying. It speaks truth to my heart.

So as an early Christmas present, I will paraphrase for you the story of Baboushka as told by Lois Rock.

Remembering Baboushka

*****

Baboushka was an old Russian lady. She lived alone in a cottage by the edge of town. Even at her age, every day she worked hard cooking, cleaning, and going about her daily chores.

One day as Baboushka was finishing dinner, she heard a knock at her cottage door. When she answered she discovered three men dressed in the finest clothes. Being a good hostess, she invited them in from the cold. However as she noticed the puddles their snowy boots were making on her floors, she couldn’t help but grumble to herself. She had just cleaned them and now look at the mess!

After Baboushka served a dinner of soup and bread, the three rich men prepared to go. They informed her they were looking for a new baby, a baby that was to be king. “Come with us Baboushka,” they asked. “Join us as we travel to offer our gifts to this new baby king.”

Baboushka thanked them for the offer, but politely declined. There was still so much to do. The house was a mess and her list of chores was never ending.

As Baboushka slept that night, she was awakened from her rest by the sound of angels singing. She looked out her window and saw a star dancing in the sky. Realizing these must be signs of the baby king, she decided to rush after her three visitors and join them. She too would offer the newborn king a gift to welcome it into the world.

But as Baboushka walked around with her basket of toys for the baby, she was not sure where to find him. Just to be safe, she began leaving toys at any house where she heard the sound of children. Even if this was not the house of the king, surely he would like her offerings.

Even today people say Baboushka is still wandering about, looking for the king and leaving gifts for all the children she finds on her way.

remembering Baboushka

****

This story nails me every time because of how often am I like Baboushka, too worried about how messy the house is getting or what is left on my December to-do list to enjoy the miracles that are happening around me every day.

December can be a busy time and therefore stressful. But what a shame to miss the joy of the coming of the king because I am too worried about the mess on my floor (while ignoring the mess in my heart).

Baboushka reminds me to let some of my to-dos go so that I can get swept up in the magic and miracle of it all. I can relish the joy of my own laughing children as well as the joy of the child who came to be king.

In the end, I still read the story of Baboushka even though my children are no longer “very young” because I still need it. I still waste precious moments being cranky and consumed by unimportant details while angels sing all around me. I push through the rituals and routines of Christmas to check them off my list instead of letting their joy and meaning resound in my heart.

So, take some advice from me and Baboushka this season. Let some of the little stuff go. Put down the broom and go on an adventure looking for the king. Pass out toys to children you meet along the way. And always, always keep searching for that baby king come down. You just never know where you might find him.

 

Do you have a favorite Christmas legend you read every year? Care to Share?

 

 

Thomas Merton’s Saint Day and Advent poem

Admittedly, I am a day late and a dollar short on Thomas Merton’s Saint Day, but he is such an influence on my spiritual path that I thought this was a case of “Better late than never.”

On December 10th we remember Thomas Merton, one of the great Christian mystics of the 20th century. I first came across him in college when my husband, then boyfriend picked up a pocket sized copy of Thoughts on Solitude at a used bookstore. So began our journey into the deep well of writing that this restless contemplative gifted our world.

In his quest for solitude and meaning, Merton left behind a life of intellectual and material success to join a Trappist monastery in Kentucky. Ironically, as Merton drew deeper and deeper into silence at Gethsemani monastery, his heart became more and more connected in love and compassion with the world.

One of his quintessential quotes illustrates this move,

“As I was standing on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district . . . I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world . . . .”

Then realizing his deep connection with all of humanity through grace he exclaims,

“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

In memory of the beloved Thomas Merton, I share another of his Advent poems with you now:

Advent poem Thomas Merton

Carol

Flocks feed by darkness with a noise of whispers,

In the dry grass of pastures,

And lull the solemn night with their weak bells.

The little towns upon the rocky hills

Look down as meek as children:

Because they have seen come this holy time.

God’s glory, now, is kindled gentler than low candlelight

Under the rafters of a barn:

Eternal Peace is sleeping in the hay,

And Wisdom’s born in secret in a straw-roofed stable.

And O! Make holy music in the stars, you happy angels.

You shepherds, gather on the hill.

Look up, you timid flocks, where the three kings

Are coming through the wintry trees;

While we unnumbered children of the wicked centuries

Come after with our penances and prayers,

And lay them down in the sweet-smelling hay

Beside the wise men’s golden jars.

Advent and the Race Crisis in America

While others in the blogosphere have weighed in on Ferguson and the mounting race crisis in America, I’ve stayed pretty quiet on those matters here at Centering Down. Let me be clear, it is not because I have not been thinking about it. It is not because I don’t care. It is certainly not because I think some lives matter more than any other.

Honestly my silence was primarily based on this, I was not quite sure yet what to say. 

Being a quiet type who likes to think things over carefully before she speaks, I needed some time to make sense of it all. Then I was in the middle of this Advent series and I wasn’t sure if race relations in America and Advent went together in any coherent way. And then I read Mary’s Magnificat again from Luke 1.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 

for he has looked with favor upon the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who hear him from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.

Then I thought about this Savior who was born to a woman of color and how he was raised in poverty. How he spent his life hanging out with the people who didn’t have any kind of privileged be it white or otherwise. I thought about how this Savior spent every day showing in word and action how all lives matter. Even the lives that the society at the time was throwing to the side of the road to suffer and die. I thought about this Savior who gathered the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor around his cradle to worship him, together. And I knew I had to say something.

And I am still not really sure what to say, so I will just tell a story.

A couple of weeks ago this thing happened. A church I go to was delivering food baskets to children who get free lunch at a low income elementary school in town. The church gives food to these children every weekend, usually sending it home with them from school on Friday afternoon. Since the kids were out for a week, this time we were driving the extra full food baskets to their homes.

When the call went out to help deliver, I immediately went up to grab a bag. Not only because I believe in feeding hungry kids, but because this elementary school happens to be the very same school I went to as a kid. It was not a low income school back in the day, but I still consider it my school. When picking which bag to deliver I zeroed in on the one with the address I knew best. It was in a neighborhood that sits in the shadow of my old high school, now considered the inner city school in town. It was two streets over from my sister-in-law’s old house where I used to play when I was a child. I knew I would not get lost getting there as these are streets I know like the back of my hand, or at least I thought I did.

I remember being concerned that all we had on the bags was a name and address. I wished for a phone number so I could arrange a mutually convenient time to drop off the food. But since that was not available I waited until almost lunch when I knew even kids on break should be awake and headed over.

As we pulled up to the house, I noticed a group of African-American kids playing in the yard. Me and my two children got out, said Hi and asked if this was the “Smith” house as we simultaneously rifled through the trunk to collect the food. Some of the kids who were looking at us with great curiosity said “yeah, this is their house, that’s a guy who lives here” and pointed to an older boy who once identified immediately ran into the house.

Thinking maybe he was just shy, we proceeded up the the door and knocked. I remember thinking how different the houses looked now, twenty years after my days of playing in these same front yards. They were clearly worn by time and stress and some bore bars on the doors.

When the Mom came to the door the only way I can explain her reaction is that her eyes got wide and her face had “who is this white woman on my door?” written all over it. It took me a few minutes to actually explain who I was and what I was doing, she was so freaked out by me.

Once she got that we were bringing her food, she sent the same kid who had ran from me out to collect the bags, apologizing that she would invite us in but her house was a mess. I replied that mine was a mess too, so it was okay.

As the still scared looking boy came out to collect the bags, we wished them well and a Happy Thanksgiving and began to walk off.

Instead of saying “thank you” or “Happy Thanksgiving” the mom said, “I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here.” As if we had traveled from some far away foreign land to bring her the food.

It has taken me two weeks to even speak about this exchange it upset me so much. I don’t know what I had imagined, some bonding experience about the good old days at our common alma maters? I certainly did not expect that people would be afraid of me or ashamed to have me see them and their house.

Me, who drives a modest four year old car. Me, who never has her hair or nails done and wears clothes from Goodwill. Me who drives around with one kid in tow who isn’t even white (though being Asian in America is very different from being African-American).

I had so assumed I lived a life where I tried to fight against racism, to befriend people of all backgrounds,  that it erased my white privilege (which apparently is a fear inducing thing). After all, we live in a very multi-race neighborhood. One in which our kids play with the African-American kids who live behind us so much that we built a ladder so they could climb straight from our yard to theirs. Living in this neighborhood has our daughter zoned for a Title 1 Middle School where over 50% of the students are African-American, a good 10% are Latino or Asian and only 40% of the kids are white.

A school where the kids have told her to get over trying to be politically correct by calling them African American and just go with Black. A statement which totally confused her since we’ve spent her whole life telling her not to call anyone black because she wouldn’t want to be called yellow, would she?

Honestly, these days I’m about as confused as she is. For I don’t know what is right any more. What makes me being white in America okay?

Advent and race relations

Because obviously this little ladder is not enough to bridge today’s race issues.

What will it take for me to go into a low income neighborhood in my own hometown and find common ground with a family there instead of fear?

I had hoped to be a part of the solution, but obviously the problem is much bigger than I thought.

I do not know exactly what will break down all these walls between races so we can stand on common ground, but I’ve got to believe it is possible.

For our Savior came to draw all people together. To make all people matter.

My slow brain is still sorting all this out. I’d love to hear your good ideas on the next right thing in America and our local communities in particular.

 

The Need for Silence

As we have begun to cruise through December (is it really just the 4th?) I have found myself craving silence.

As the noise and hubbub in our culture at large grows, so does my need to step away for a minute each day and just be quiet.

Ironically, the meditation practice I had been nurturing throughout October and December is lagging due to increased demands upon my time and worries in my brain. This is a sad reality, as I actually need more time in meditation as we approach the holidays and not less. Not only to keep my sanity intact, but to get to a place where I might find the meaning behind all the busyness.

As I said before, sometimes it is the silence that speaks to our hearts the loudest.

With that being said, I am going to let my voice rest and share the words of others with you for a while.

I offer you a poem by my talented friend, Anya Silver. You can find a whole book of her outstanding poems by clicking here.

 

advent need for silence

Advent, First Frost

 

Something has descended

like a feathered prophecy.

Someone has offered the world

a bowl of frozen tears,

has traced the veins and edges

of leaves with furred ink.

The grass is stiff as the stings of a lute.

And, day by day, the tiny windows

crack their cardboard frames,

seizing the frail light. The sun,

moving through

these waxy squares, undiminished

as a word passing

from mind to speech.

Every breath a birth,

a stir of floating limbs within me.

I stay up late and waken early

to feel beneath my feet

the silence coming.

May you too have the grace to feel the silence coming.