Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Magic of Christmas Cards

Today we received another cheerful Christmas greeting with a photo of people we love, and I smile when I see it.

I've been pondering this all day -- we can put an envelope in a box and send it very reliably, even to and from obscure places thousands of miles away, for less than the price of a candy bar. And this particular envelope found its way to us even though it was addressed to our old place. Its cross-country travel, including the redirection to our current home, took only a week. Receiving mail is one of those things that is so easy to take for granted, but when I really stop to think, it's pretty amazing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Powerful Alliances

I love the story of George and Alice in the TED Talk below. She was determined to solve a tough problem and he was determined to help her. These two very different individuals formed a powerful alliance, with world-changing results. As Heffernan says, "the truth won't set us free until we develop the skills and the habit and the talent and the moral courage to use it."

Heffernan: "I wonder how many of us have -- or dare to have -- such collaborators." I wonder this, too.

I wonder when in Heffernan's other story Joe began to recognize his allies, and how.

I wonder how we distinguish between allies and enemies.

I wonder if you have had someone help you like George helped Alice.

I wonder what the word conflict looks like, sounds like, feels like for you.

I wonder how you reacted to Heffernan's description of such collaboration as a kind of love.

I wonder what problems you have to solve.

I wonder who you might invite to help you by disagreeing with you.

I wonder how we can best enjoy the benefits of those who think similarly while also guarding against forming echo chambers.

I wonder how often I prioritize my own comfort above what truly matters by avoiding what has the potential to be productive conflict.

And I am grateful for the "Alices" and "Georges" and "Joes" in my life -- individuals who intentionally engage, who bring their whole selves to our interactions, who are attentive enough to recognize our differences, loving enough to speak authentically, intentional enough to communicate effectively, and trusting our relationship enough to disagree.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent Hope

On Sunday we lit one candle of the Advent wreath, bringing first light to the perimeter of the circle. This small flame will be joined by the remaining candles as the story continues to unfold through the coming weeks, but we're not there yet; it's not time.

This lone candle shining quietly on the wreath represents hope. Hope is not the expectancy of assumption or entitlement, but it is recognition that good may yet come about even in what seems like a very dark time. Hope's strength is most truly known when the outcome matters deeply and remains yet to be seen.

Such hope resonates with my soul, especially as I walk together with others through seasons marked by darkness of depression, grief, anxiety, health issues, unresolved conflict, bitterness, addiction. As I sat pondering the hope candle on Sunday, I thought of people I love in the midst of such times. In some of those situations, the light of hope is still just a flicker, but great light begins with a flicker, and I am abundantly grateful for such hope.

"The people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land
of the shadow of death
a light has dawned."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Advent Wondering

We've been reading the "Anticipate" devotional for Advent this year. When we reached the first "I wonder..." question in the part written especially for families with children, Mark and I looked at each other with wide-eyed expressions and gleefully exclaimed "Batman!"

It was a shared memory from early in our married life, soon after we moved to this area. The two of us had begun leading a children's worship program called Stories of God at our church. Created by a denomination more liturgical than ours, each week's lesson followed a consistent pattern, which provided wonderful structure for working with these 4-7 year old children. Part of that pattern was the "wondering time" -- thoughts posed at the end of the story to help the children connect with it. Similar to questions, the thoughts presented during wondering time were meant to model exploring a parable for meaning rather than simply dictating it.

I don't remember which story we were telling, but probably The Good Shepherd, or maybe The Lost Sheep. Anyway, it was definitely a sheep story, because the first wondering question was this: I wonder if these sheep have names? The children looked at me with puzzled expressions. They were quiet for several moments as they considered the question. Then one's face lit up with excitement as he responded: "Batman! I'll bet one of them is named Batman!" At that, the whole circle of little faces lit up, each with similar ideas.

I suppose this is what the child development experts talk about in those education and psychology texts when they describe the "concrete stage of development." For the most part, young children simply are not ready to come up with the more abstract understandings of parables on their own. As a result, the "wondering time" was a fascinatingly unpredictable part of a generally routine Sunday morning program. Sometimes the responses went far afield, occasionally they found fertile ground, and usually they were somewhere in between. And ultimately, it was in the midst of such variety that I discovered their great value. After all, there's not much point to asking questions we already have all the answers to. Really good wondering time provides space for the unknown, nudging us past simplistic answers and cultivating our souls for growth.

Advent and Christmas are seasons of wonder. Not every question has a clear answer, but authentically pondering them can be significant. Like I learned while leading Stories of God, I want to experience wonder and grow up into it, to pursue understanding while leaving space for mystery.

I wonder where I'll see God at work during this Advent season.