Three Practices for a Happy New Year

First, be yourself, be who you are, be who you are called to be. Be bold. Be free.

Second, love everyone, including yourself, including the world, including God. Be kind. Be tender mercy.

Third, whenever you struggle with the first or second practice above, then practice forgiveness and begin again and again. Be brave. Be strong. Be grace.

Happy New Year!

Grace upon Grace

“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”  Luke’s second chapter, read last night at church, suggests that Christmas Eve is the most tender night of the year.  Anyone who has given birth–to a child, to a relationship, to anything or anyone new–has known vulnerability, has known surrender.  On Christmas Eve, we are called to treasure all we are given and like Mary, to ponder these wonders in our hearts.  Last night we sang:

“Child, for us sinners poor and in the manger,

we would embrace thee, with love and awe;

who would not love thee, loving us so dearly?

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him,

O come, let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.”

The Gospel for Christmas Day is from John’s first chapter:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.  What has come into being with him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…  And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…  From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

We move from the most tender moments on Christmas Eve into the almost unbearable brightness of Christmas Day.  Now the Light is among us, now we are One, now we stand in the shining glory of all that is good and all that is holy.  Now we are called to become again the messengers of truth, the architects of peace, the heralds of grace upon grace.  Let us receive with joy the gifts we are given, and let us give with joy all that is ours to give–to those we love and to our world that still patiently waits for Love.

Merry Christmas!

The Day Before The Day Before Christmas

This year my work winter holidays are December 23 and 24. I can’t remember ever having had December 23 off from work before. This year, my holiday bears an opportunity to actually prepare for Christmas at a more leisurely pace than my usual traditional frenzy.

So, today I slept a little later, did a little cooking and baking (not too much), and now am headed to shop a little (mostly to watch the people and sights of Christmas and really hear the music). I am thinking about watching a movie later and not so much about writing Christmas cards that are as yet unwritten.

After weeks and weeks of busy-ness, this day before the day before Christmas is an unexpected sparkling gift of uncommon hours to spend watching, listening, waiting, rejoicing…

May the Light draw nearer to us all this day!

Spool Man

And speaking of apparent grace, I made this spool man in kindergarten, way back when spools were wooden.  My mom hung it on the Christmas tree every year, and now I hang it on our Christmas tree.  You can see for yourself that it is not all that Christmasey and not all that beautiful.  And yet, it always reminds me of my mom’s love, of all mothers’ love for their children, and of this exhortation in the New Zealand Prayer Book: “Let us accept that we are profoundly loved and need never be afraid.”  May we know this love and may we smile like the spool man as we enter the week ahead…

Adolescent Christmas

Earlier this week, my husband and I attended a holiday gathering of friends.  After dinner, our hostess invited everyone  to share a Christmas memory.  All of those present were at least middle-aged.  There were a few memories offered of recent Christmases–our community experienced a very rare Christmas Eve snowfall a few years ago following months during which several of us had parents die, and more than one of us mentioned that beautiful and almost-never-happens snow.  A few of us mentioned childhood Christmases, traditional decorations,  and favorite toys.

A surprising number of us offered Christmas memories from adolescence and early adulthood.  There were stories of trips taken with friends during college breaks and of first Christmases away from family, chosen or not.  Many of these were funny stories about travel mishaps.  A few of them were stories about surprises and expectations that were unmet and yet transformed.  The stories were about adventure and about separation.  They were also about discovery and authenticity and beginning to consider creating one’s own Christmas traditions.  As friends told these stories, they appeared enlivened by the telling.  It was easy to imagine them as teenagers, laughing and seeking adventure.

I wondered later about the specific poignancy of adolescence and Christmas and this theme of striking out on one’s own during the very season generally thought of as a family celebration.  It was interesting to me that so many of our friends drew Christmas memories from their teenage years.  Perhaps it is in the darkness of this season, waiting for Light to come, that we may feel closer to our adolescent selves (and those adolescents near us now).  We want tradition and connection, and, like teenagers, we still yearn for something new to happen, for someone new to come along.  Although we may treasure all we have known, the very heart of Christmas lies in this newness and in the excitement of anticipation and surprise.  Like teenagers, during Christmas we may open most easily to new love, to new hope, to new grace–all the while steeped in profound history and tradition. In the midst of this adolescent paradox, we are drawn to the past and future simultaneously and we find ourselves in the present, open to surprise and adventure once more.

Let us honor adolescence in all its proud and brave glory, within us and around us, this Christmas–may we seek and discover what newness is waiting to be born, in our hearts and in our world.

(At Least) Four Ways to Approach the Holidays

Way #1:  Exuberant planning for perfect holiday celebrations, decorations, gifts AND wrapping, dinners, parties, wardrobe, cards and greetings, concerts, outings, reunions, and family relationships–all with photogenic smiles and all with impeccable outcomes.  This is the approach that sells magazines.  I don’t know anyone who has ever actually traveled this path.  I include it as #1, recognizing that it is more of an archetypal path than a real one.

Way #2:  Trying to follow path #1, only to eventually collapse in frustration, tears, anger, exhaustion, or worse.  Sometimes, much worse.

Way #3:  Giving up the struggle to have perfect holidays and falling into the past, into treasured memories that may or may not reflect actual events.  Treasured memories can light our path and bring joy to our celebration.  We can anchor our holiday frenzy in happy recollection of our early experience.  This might be a step toward holidays that are a “better fit” for us as we recall what has meant most to us.  This way has risks, though–not everyone has happy early memories to draw upon, and if we get stuck in “the good old days” we can get stuck in sadness and even bitterness.

Way #4 (and #5 and #6 and #10,000 and #658, 934 and on and on):  Sometimes, if we are very lucky, we can open to a moment-by-moment awareness and noticing of the small and wonderful experiences that flow through our days and nights during the holidays.  We can choose to watch and listen and wait and receive each moment and its gifts.  Small children and very elderly adults are best at this.  They practice being available and so they are able  to receive whatever comes.  While we may no longer be small children, we are all traveling through our lives toward the days when we will again, as we age, have the opportunity to practice being available, being open to what appears moment-by-moment, without having to plan or control what happens.  What would it be like to practice being available now?  We undoubtedly have responsibilities and we surely desire to do all we can to offer happy holidays to those we love.  And, we always have choices.  We really can choose to be intentional about our holiday practices, especially the practice of being available.  Available to those we love, available to ourselves, available to the Holy One.  In so doing, we become available to the world around us at a heart level.  We will know sadness and frustration in some moments.  We will also know love and joy.  Anton Chekhov wrote “We shall find peace.  We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds.”

May we find our way as we approach the holidays and as we travel through our lives all the way home.

God Sings All the Time

Now this is a true story.  About a week ago, I was driving to work and thinking about Christmas plans.  I suddenly remembered a song from one of the “Great Songs of Christmas” record albums from the 1960’s, the kind of album that you bought at a tire store, like Firestone or Goodyear.  We had lots of those albums, all over our house, and my sisters and I knew every song by heart.  The song that came unbidden to my mind was “Sing Hosanna, Hallelujah” as sung by the New Christy Minstrels.  This was one of our favorites as kids, but I hadn’t heard that song for many years.  When I got to work, one of my sisters had posted on Facebook “Does anyone remember the Christmas song ‘Sing Hosanna, Hallelujah’?”  I was taken by the synchronicity…  With the help of our other sisters we reconstructed what we remembered about this song.  I found the lyrics online but no music.  I looked on iTunes–no luck.  Most of those old tire store records have disappeared from our homes.  Our parents have both died and so there is no mom’s or dad’s closet to dig through any more.  I yearned to hear that song, knowing that would bring a moment of re-experiencing that early Christmas joy.  Last night I Googled this song one more time, and I found it on You Tube.  I heard the music and saw the picture of the album.  As I listened, my heart stirred and I rested in the completeness of not only the song my family loved, but also the completeness of my family’s love–those on earth and those in Heaven, all so very close together in spirit and in the greater love of God. 

Very early this morning I was dreaming that I was at my computer and the web site I was reading in my dream was titled “God Sings All the Time.”

May we see the Grace and may we hear the Song.



“In the deep mid-winter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone…”  These words from Christina Rossetti’s poem were written in 1872.  They have been sung as a Christmas carol by James Taylor and others.  They are perhaps an odd choice of words for this beginning, for this welcome–yet we are even now moving toward mid-winter, moving toward the shortest day of the year. 

Now is the season when darkness falls earlier and earlier each day; now I feel sleepy earlier in the evening.  I dream of hot chocolate, fuzzy socks, soft blankets, and I dream of dreaming.  I want to curl up in a cave and hibernate like a bear.  Yet, even now, new life is waiting deep in the dark, even now something new is stirring…deep in the mid-winter.  The season of Advent has begun, and we wait all together in the dark–waiting for light, waiting for peace, waiting for joy. 

My hope is that Apparent Grace might be a place of sustaining nurture for those who care for others–for clergy and their families, for those who work in health care, for teachers, for family members who care for other family members, for others who find their way here.  As we serve others, the grace we offer can seem distant to us.  And, yet this same grace is within us, visible or invisible.  It may be apparent to us only within our souls, but apparent it is–in this life and in the life to come. 

Apparent Grace will also offer spiritual direction for individuals and groups, retreats, and workshops for caregivers.  I am hoping to be of service to those who serve.  I am a spiritual director trained in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and a psychiatrist drawn to the interface between health and spirituality.  I am married to an Episcopal priest and we have one daughter.  Along with my family and my sisters and their families, I had the honor of being a caregiver for both of my parents in their final years.  All of these journeys have led me into facing a Grace so bright I could barely see.

For now, know that I welcome you and invite you to settle into the darkness and join me in waiting for the light–the Holy One who will be born again this season, in our world and in our lives.  May we know Apparent Grace and may we rejoice in the wholeness and holiness that is around us and within us.