Touch the sand in the wreath pan. Consider the desert. Consider your own desert times in your life and in this week.
The desert is a place without abundant vegetation or life; the desert is a stark reminder of what we would lack if not for God. The desert is not our normal place to be. Recall Abram’s way of building altars in the wilderness to worship and thank God. Our sand-desert times become moments of humility and gratitude, as we recognize that all of life and its blessings come from God.
Recall Moses hearing God speak from the burning bush in the wilderness. The barrenness of our sand-desert times helps us to be more able to notice and to recognize the desire of our hearts; to reduce our distractions and busyness; to allow God “space” in which to work. In order to be more attentive to God, we choose to live with more simplicity.
Recall God’s words through Isaiah, promising to do a “new thing.” Place the candles on the wreath. At this time, the four candles are lower in the pan and not easily seen. The Christ candle on the center flute reigns above all. The candles remind us of our lowliness and meekness. We put our trust in Christ.
When we acknowledge our own barrenness, we become humble. When we recognize our abundant life-giving God, we are grateful. When we choose a simpler way of living, we become more attentive to God’s work in our lives and God’s voice in our hearts. When we seek to follow God’s lead, we recognize our lowliness and meekness and let Christ reign over us. Even if we are called to venture into new, unfamiliar territory, we can trust that God leads us, guides us and loves us.
The first candle in the sand then becomes our symbol of PEACE.
Light the first candle. Read Mary’s story. Luke 1:26-38
“Let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38 NRSV)
Mary was specially called by God to enter new and unfamiliar territory- her own desert journey. With the angel’s surprising news, Mary’s life changed completely! Mary was going to give birth to Jesus, son of God. It certainly seems this would not have been part of Mary’s plan for her life. The angel’s words were a holy interruption to the life she knew and expected hers to be. She, too, was called to enter a desert of uncertainty.
Imagine what Mary may have wondered… Why me? Why now? How will this happen? How will I explain this to Joseph, my family, my friends? Will I be able to provide for this child? How should I prepare for this baby? But Mary’s reply is trusting, lowly and humble, “Here am I, a servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Her example of complete, trusting obedience brings peace.
May we be aware and attentive to the “holy interruptions” that surprise us. Like Mary, we have our own desert times of changing or uncertain futures. We have times when our holiday preparations or even our life plans are interrupted. But we can reply to God, “Let it be with me according to your word.” No questions asked. We can journey forth through each day, allowing the interruptions, taking time to notice God at work, and building an altar of gratitude at each resting place. We can heed and obey God in lowliness, trust and humility. Remember Mary’s words this week.
Focus for the rest of this week:
Pray for the peace found in pure, trusting, humble obedience. Try to simplify one area of your life, or fast from something that distracts you in these next few days. Be aware and grateful for the empty times or empty feelings that have drawn you closer to God.
You will need greens for your next layer- holly leaves, evergreens, or any other greenery (I use artificial). If you’d like a little color, get some berries, too!
3. Venturing Into the Desert- Leaving Our Fears Behind
Read Isaiah 43:18-19
We may be called to journey into the desert wilderness, but we will never go alone. We may face uncertainty, but we need not be afraid. God plans to do a new thing. God will make the way for us and provide refreshment for our souls.
What are some fears you may have about entering the barrenness or emptiness of the desert? Ask God to show you your inner fears. Then ask God for the loving trust only God can provide. We are in good hands.
Spend some time in “desert” solitude this day to be still with God- and to attentively listen and trust. Find a quiet corner or a special place to just be in silence with God, even if only for ten minutes. End your quiet time with a prayer of thanks for God’s constant presence.
2. Choosing to Enter the Desert- Leaving Our Distractions Behind
Notice that the sand is pure and empty of anything else. Like the sand, the desert is a place of barrenness. There are no distractions, nothing to keep us from simply being still and noticing God. Many have purposely ventured into the desert as a way to empty themselves with the intention of seeing God more clearly.
Read Exodus 3:1-5
When Moses led his flock beyond the wilderness to the mountain of Horeb, he noticed a burning bush that was not being consumed by fire. Perhaps Moses would not have noticed the bush if he had been on familiar ground- and less attentive to his surroundings. God spoke to Moses from the bush, calling the place where Moses stood, “holy ground.” God then shared big plans for Moses, asking him to help the Israelites.
What keeps you from noticing God’s presence and action in your life? What particular distractions keep you from being attentive to the “burning bushes” where God may be speaking to you?
How might you spend this Advent with a bit more simplicity? Where will you find “holy ground’ moments? Where and when can you take off your sandals to pause and to listen?
Are you courageous enough to step closer to those burning bushes and listen for God? Even if God calls you to risk or surrender or change?
The First Week of Advent: PEACE
(If you haven’t already done so, please read the Introduction in my earlier blog post.)
Pour a layer of sand into the bottom of the pan. The sand will serve as a symbol of the desert and the desert times in our lives. Our desert times are experiences of barrenness in our lives or souls. These experiences may sometimes come into our lives as intruders, as in times of uncertainty, grief, insecurity, tedium, or loss. These experiences may simply be feelings of emptiness, a desert aridity, with no apparent reason. These experiences may come of our own choosing, when we feel called to change our normal way of living, to take on barrenness or sacrifice for spiritual reasons. Take a moment to consider how your journey to the desert might be taking place. Have you been forced to the desert because of difficult life circumstances? Are you already in the desert through a general feeling of emptiness? Or are you choosing to enter the desert to grow in your spirituality?
For now, leave the votive candles out of the pan. This week, let this barren pan remind you of the desert and why you are spending time there.
Read Genesis 12:1-9; 13:14-18
God called Abram to leave his homeland and journey through the desert wilderness to a land that God would show him. In faithful obedience, Abram left his homeland and its familiar ways to venture to a new and unknown land.
Think again about your own desert invitation. How have you been called to leave “normal” behind?
In what way might God be calling you to take a new and unknown journey this Advent? What familiar way of life (or way of thinking) will you need to leave behind in order to follow God’s lead into the desert?
At every temporary resting stop, Abram built an altar to worship and thank God.
What blessings are bringing gratitude at this point on your life’s journey? What gifts might you find in this contemplative desert time? Take a moment to thank God for the gifts you already notice, and ask for awareness to see those yet to be discovered.
As I was pulling boxes of Christmas decorations out of our closet earlier this week, I came across an old doll from my childhood. It was one my grandmother had made, and the memories of my dear grandmother and the happy moments of my youth came flooding back to me. The doll is a cherished treasure, but because it had been tucked away in the closet I had not thought about it for some time.
In our Advent readings and devotional times, we often focus on preparing our hearts and lives for the birth of Jesus. And yet we know the reality: Jesus Christ has already come and is already present- within us and among us! Preparing for Jesus’ birth is always a worthwhile challenge for us. But these devotional times will be more like “cleaning our closets,” about discovering or uncovering the Jesus that is already here, already within us.
Have we tucked Jesus into the back of our ‘heart-closets’ for safekeeping until we need him? How has the clutter of our lives blocked his ever-available presence? Have we perhaps even forgotten he is here or where to find him? Are we hesitant to bring him out into the open, choosing instead to keep him tucked away until he can serve our purposes? Are we keeping him on the back shelf until we think we will be ready for him? Could we be afraid to allow him to be an active presence in our lives? How does the image of the closet reflect your own awareness of the presence of Christ?
When I first saw an image of an Advent wreath made from a Bundt pan, I liked its simplicity and the way it draws our thoughts to hearth and home. This wreath brings to mind loving service and hospitality- the hospitality of working in our homes to prepare for family and friends; the hospitality of working on ourselves to welcome and accept others in our lives; and especially the hospitality of cleaning the clutter in our ‘heart-closets’ to make them more hospitable for Jesus’ presence and guidance in our lives.
The Bundt pan will become a complete Advent wreath over the next four weeks. We will focus on the four themes of Advent- peace, hope, joy and love. Each week, we will add a layer to the wreath that symbolizes the blessing we will prayerfully consider. (The pans will be reusable when we are finished.) I will offer brief devotionals on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, with the candle lighting and Mary’s story on Wednesday. (Wednesdays will have longer devotions.) The rest of the week will be time for reflection on our own.
Let’s spend time with one another. Let’s share our experiences, insights, images and encouragement with one another on this blog, or my “Watching for Christ” Facebook page. We can learn and grow from one another. (I appreciate reading other insights!)
Let’s spend time with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her example has much to teach us about genuinely embracing God’s plan and God’s son, and in turn, embracing everyone, including ourselves.
Let’s spend time within our own hearts to ponder and wonder- as we continue to prepare for this most joyous celebration of Jesus’ birth!
May this Advent season bring us renewed peace, hope, joy and love. May this Advent reveal to us how much Jesus is already present in our lives. May this Advent season help us to uncover, rediscover, embrace, and generously share the love of our ever-present Jesus Christ.
Your friend, Karen
Now that Thanksgiving and Black Friday are over, we can begin thinking about Advent! The First Sunday of Advent is this weekend! We will begin The Bundt Pan Advent Wreath Reflections on Sunday; I’ll share the first one later tomorrow. Don’t forget, you’ll need a bundt pan, 2-3 cups of sand, and 5 votive candles for your first layer of the wreath. I look forward to sharing and learning from you!
You may also find the Reflections on my Facebook page, “Watching for Christ- Advent Reflections.”
Beginning on the first Sunday of Advent, November 27th, you’re invited to watch for Christ in a creative way. I created this devotional/study, Preparing Our Hearts and Homes With the Hospitality of Mary for friends a few years ago. Our inspirational thoughts will center on an Advent wreath; more specifically, a Bundt pan Advent wreath!
The Bundt pan will become a complete Advent wreath over the four weeks. We will focus on the four themes of Advent: Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love. Each week, we will add a layer to the wreath that symbolizes the blessing we will prayerfully consider.
You will need a Bundt pan, or any pan with a doughnut shape. For the first week, you will also need 2-3 cups of sand and 5 votive candles. I’m inserting a photo I found online to give you an idea (but you won’t need the red berries).
These devotions will also be on my Facebook page, “Watching for Christ.” I hope you will join us! May this Advent season bring you renewed peace, hope, joy and love.
Do you share my curiosity to see what’s beyond your current view? To see what’s around the curve or over the next hill? I can recall times, especially while hiking, when I’ve regretted not having enough time or enough energy to hike to the next overlook. What beauty or inspiration might I be missing because I can’t see further? I never want to miss any new views!
Here in West Virginia, there are many mornings when thick fog impedes our sight. But when the fog lifts, from our balcony we can see the green lawn that stretches across to a bordering creek. Along the creek is a thick line of trees, and beyond the trees is a cow pasture on a hill. Since moving here this summer, I’ve been curious about what new sights we would see once the trees lost their leaves. And now that season is here!
So far, an old barn, a small shed, and additional trees have been revealed as the leafy foliage begins to thin. We also have more opportunities to see the cows grazing in the open spaces. Our sunsets are more strikingly visible and expansive. I have loved seeing these new sights, but I’m also aware that this new season is teaching me…
Even with our increased range of vision, we are unable to see beyond the pasture hill. I’m learning that even as we mature and grow, as our vision expands, there will still be “views” beyond our sight. This idea speaks to me of the kingdom of God, how we can see glimpses of the kingdom, even as we can’t fully experience it yet. But here is the new revelation for me:
Jesus said that God’s kingdom is here, God’s kingdom is now.
I know that if I were to climb across the pasture over the hill I would see some new sights, but my view would also include many of the same scenes as before- fields, trees, buildings, and people. The earth stretches over a sphere of changing landscapes, but each landscape is on a continuum with the one before, while gradually and uniquely evolving. One really cool thing about the kingdom of God is that we are already on this continuum, too! We are already part of the kingdom and we will continue on, gradually evolving, in ever-changing landscapes.
The beauty of God’s loving presence is here, no matter how far our field of vision extends. God’s presence is within us. God’s presence is in our souls and in the fragile shells that encompass our souls. God’s presence is surrounding us in the fog, is as close as the grass, and is expanding beyond to the creek, the trees, the pasture, and up the hill. God is in the people who are on this journey with us. God is in this very moment. God then stretches to infinity beyond it all! And so will we.
As curious as we may be, we no longer need to search beyond our vision for the kingdom of God. We only need to feel what is already deep within us, to see what is right before us, to love what is all around us, with a heart in tune to noticing how God’s loving presence is present. And perhaps the more we notice and participate in kingdom living- here and now- when it is our time to leave this earthly realm we won’t need to climb the next hill, but simply turn our heads and smile in recognition.
A dear friend shared this story with me years ago… She was the youngest of three daughters, and often felt “less than” her older, talented sisters. As younger siblings often are, she was at times the recipient of teasing, criticism, and unsolicited advice from her older, more mature, and “wiser” siblings.
In later years she invited her family to her home for dinner and, of course, she hoped to please her family- but she also hoped to demonstrate her capable talents as a homemaker and gracious host. As they were eating dinner, one of her sisters asked, “Where did you get these pork chops?” My friend immediately began defending her choices of grocery stores, cooking methods and recipes. Her sister looked at her quizzically and then assured her, “No, I really LIKE your pork chops!”
How often do we hear or observe a few words or actions, and immediately leap to the wrong conclusion? I remember one particularly embarrassing moment for me. I was attending Buckeye Girls’ State, a week-long learning experience in government and election processes for high school girls. I’d made some new friends who were staying in the dormitory room across the hall from mine. One night, I fluffed some pillows into a body shape under my covers, and quietly went over to their room. We were laughing and talking when we saw the hall lights come on. Soon we noticed feet regularly pacing by our room through the space under the door. I slid under a bed just as the door opened and the adult chaperone hastily turned on the light, looked around, and explained with great irritation, “We are missing a girl!”
She didn’t see me and finally turned off the light and closed the door. I began breathing again! But I knew my relief was short-lived, because eventually I’d need to turn myself in. I couldn’t just sneak back into my bed and pretend nothing had happened! With a pounding heart, I went into the hall, found the chaperone and confessed where I’d been hiding. Her eyebrows raised as she exclaimed, “We didn’t know YOU were missing!”
I laugh about this now, but oh, how I’d jumped to the wrong conclusion! My leap led to consequences that I know were justified but that I could have easily avoided.
On a more serious note, how often do we leap to our own conclusions and assumptions about others? And sadly, it often seems that we leap to the worst assumptions! How often do we assign intent to another’s actions? A driver cuts in front of us in heavy traffic, and we believe he intended to do so- and oh, we are offended!- when maybe he just made a mistake. All too often we make those wrong leaps which only cause unnecessary heartache or trouble, or at least some (well deserved) painful embarrassment.
Today I hope to be more mindful of the leaps I make. To pause before jumping to the wrong conclusion. To listen a bit longer, to weigh what I observe with more grace and love. To notice what is influencing my reactions negatively and unnecessarily. To clarify the questions instead of reacting hastily or defensively.
To keep the questions simple.
Where did you get these pork chops?
I was blessed to have a few more encounters with my guardian angel, The Black Guy, before we moved to West Virginia in July…
In March, I met up with him as we walked our usual route at the park. He asked how I was feeling, and when I told him I was doing very well, he knowingly exclaimed, “I told you so!” Of course. My guardian angel knew I would be!
As we chatted, I kept thinking, “This is a holy, sacred moment. I need to pay attention.” He shared several stories that really touched my heart, as usual with his very colorful language. One was a modern-day parable of people who are too busy “waiting for the Lord” that they pay no attention when he comes to them. (“He DOES come- as the poor, the hungry, or as one who hopes to help a friend in need.”) Another was his idea that our heads are here for four reasons: to think; to let the sun shine on us when we’re feeling blessed; to also allow the rain to fall on us; and sometimes for birds to ‘s—‘ on us!
When he said that we are all here for a reason, I was finally able to tell him, “This sounds corny, but I consider you my guardian angel!” He readily agreed to what I was saying:
K: “You have yet to tell me your name-”
TBG: -“The Black Guy!”
K: “You show up at random times to bless me-”
TBG: “-like the time at Kroger- you didn’t expect to see me there!”
He humbly shared a brief summary of his time as an orphan. He was actually taken in by mobsters, who taught him ways to survive and who truly cared for him. “They’re better people than those suits on Wall Street!” he exclaimed. He showed me his gold chain and watch- treasured symbols, I believe, of his young life with this group, the feeling of being part of a family.
My heart was profoundly touched by his last story. The Black Guy has PTSD from serving in the Viet Nam War. He had recently told his psychologist that all of those struggling with PTSD have faced death. Death was not the fear they carried, not the problem they faced. None of them are afraid of dying. They are afraid of living!
Eventually we went our separate ways, but when I returned to the spot where we had talked, I made the sign of the cross and thanked God for my guardian angel, The Black Guy.
In April, I ran into him again! This time, I told him that we would be moving to West Virginia to be near our daughter and her family. I thanked him for blessing me. He simply said, “Tell your daughter about The Black Guy.” I asked him how he was doing. I suspected that something was amiss, but he just shrugged and said he felt as if he was here “to bless others by taking on their pain.” He’s a selfless man, my guardian angel. As we parted, he said he wouldn’t say good bye, but “Vaya con Dios” (God go with you!)
Our final farewell was early in May. The Black Guy was wearing a scarf, and as we passed each other, he pointed to his head and said, “It’s coming back!” I learned later that he was referring to MY hair, but as I walked further I became concerned that he’d had a reccurence of his cancer. I turned back to check on him. He admitted that there were white blood cells in his urine but assured me that he wasn’t going to worry. “If I go, I go,” he said. I quietly replied, “Well, if you do, just know… ” He looked at me and repeated, “Be sure to tell your daughter about The Black Guy.” We nodded in silent recognition and understanding. That was the last I saw him. Vaya con dios, my friend.