Divine Spark

One  secular year closes: the next bursts open.  Life unfolds and enfolds; moments melt into one another in days and weeks and months.  What is remembered somehow shapes what is understood, what is to come.   And so the secular and the religious converge in the first days of January, each providing the chance to rethink the past, live fully in the present  and build towards the future.

Both the secular world and the world of faith offer so much that is enriching and deepening, that enhance daily life experiences.  There are the acts of kindness: a store clerk spending extra time with an elderly customer; a child saving a treat for the parent; a teenager shoveling out a neighbor’s car.  These are moments of purpose, of placing another ahead of self.  In the secular world, these exist as human kindnesses, but in the world of faith each one speaks of the broader context.  Each one reveals the divine spark,  echoes Teresa of Avila’s conviction that we are the hands and heart of Christ.  That breath of difference in perception creates a whole new possibility for the person of faith:  it is a link to Christ, a deepening of that intensely personal awareness.  Every act of kindness opens the chance for more in that relationship.  There are links, too, to those who strive for the same, who know the presence of God in the simplicity of interaction.

To notice what is happening in the world, in the lives of others, is a gift.  There is courage in the faltering steps of the aging, strength in the arms of the young mothers,  resilience in the eyes of the disabled.  It is all waiting to be seen, appreciated, understood.  Learning from one another is a critical aspect of humanity.  It is empowering and powerful.  There is no doubt that discovery of the wonders of one another is possible.  Daring to see the divine in the mundane is the gift of faith.  Trusting that the divine is present in the mundane is the function of faith.  Capturing it now and then is what sustains the life of faith.

It all happens in the secular world because that is where we are.   Faith is the heart force, the soul strength, that makes the ordinary extraordinary.  It distinguishes between looking at something or someone and really seeing something or someone.  It opens the possibility of making a real difference in the lives of one another.

New Year’s is the dare to develop that vision, to notice what is happening and to respond with attentiveness and presence.  It is the chance to live out personal beliefs without note or celebrity, to accept anonymity with humility, and to practice over and again acts of genuine compassion and kindness.  It is a secular celebration but an invitation to live in a world of faith as well.


Final Sunday of Advent.  The taste and scent of Christmas tantalizes: the reverberation of one very simple story cascades through centuries. That very real, very touching story most intimately bounds humans one to another.

Jesus’ birth was a highly anticipated and yet somehow unexpected event that immediately altered lives:  Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth’s.    The Gospel accounts vary, but the essence highlights a young couple, miraculous news of  the birth,  sharing shock with family, a required trek to Bethlehem, and an inn without a room for even the  most vulnerable.  There is a poignancy to it, a tenderness that is captured  in holiday pageants and child-like creches.

Most deeply human, the story transcends race and ethnicity, geographic locations and class structures.  It opens where each life begins, with  birth.  And it continues with the challenge of new demands; it  illustrates compassion and cruelty, and it opens a doorway to grasping the great common denominators among all human beings.  Those very first  breaths of a newborn inspire awe of  the  miraculous and expose the raw reality of the common bond among all humans.   New life is there as an invitation; Christmas is the moment to celebrate that deep, incredibly powerful sense of what it means to be human.

The Christmas story, the one from the Gospels, is a link between centuries and cultures, a demonstration of the critical nature of family and the power of love  unbounded.  It is a story of hope, of continual renewal, of promise.  By its very nature, the story encompasses each of us.  Each of us starts as part of that miracle; we become  part of a greater tapestry of humanity.   Christmas is about the very gift of Life, and it is about how the gift is recognized, celebrated and struggled with.

Amid the strains of “Silent Night” this Christmas, that sacred birth will be remembered once more.  This time, in a world suffering so much grief and brokenness, may it be a reminder of the deep and intimate bonds that link each human being to the next.


It was just after the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and we were wedged into the lobby a crowd coming in for the next performance.  His voice was soft and reflective.
“Maybe,” he said, “I need a little more joy in my life.”

Joy is the theme of the third Sunday of Advent, a moment past hope and embracing possibility.  Joy is not the denial of heartbreak or the absence of suffering.  Joy is that subtle awareness that slips past mere pleasure or happiness to attentiveness to goodness and beauty in creation.  It is being able to see the miracle that life is….to smile at the antics of a child or capture the colors of sunrise in heart of hearts.  Joy is communicable:  it is the smile that makes a difference, the caring touch that dissipates confusion.  Joy is the magic of old friends and the  freshness of a newborn, the warmth of a home and the wildness of the ocean.

Joy is a motivator.  It is simultaneously intrinsic and extrinsic, and it is undeniably contagious.  It is neither drug-induced nor ignorant of harsh realities.  Instead, Joy has a harbor deep in the soul and the heart of human beings.  Joy is an invitation to believe more deeply, to explore more fully, and to trust that in spite of everything, there is more to human experience than grief, loss, pain and suffering.  More than an antidote, Joy is a presence that animates the soul and the person.  It balances the harshness and illuminates the darkest spaces.  It is tender and compassionate and bids each of us to be more. It has depths and roots in experience and memory, and so it is more than fitting that so many different types of circumstances are reminders to celebrate the goodness of humanity, the growth of human persons and the possibilities that lie within every one of us.

Born of beholding, Joy gifts the world with courage to define each day anew and the desire to live goodness in every aspect of being.  Joy means trusting in the goodness of self and others, recognizing, encouraging and nurturing that.  Joy, on this third Sunday of Advent, believes in the best of human hearts and the kindness and generosity of a tender and loving God.


Second Candle

Second Sunday of Advent.  Another candle lit.  Waiting.  Hope.  Promise.

The very idea contrasts with our secular lives: bursts of incivility, tangles of Tweets, accusations and finger-pointing.  Immersed as we are in the process of re-defining the meaning of equality and freedom, edgy intolerance and painful exposes are to be expected. Growth is messy; gains cannot come without sacrifice, and suffering is virtually inevitable.  History has carried social ideals towards a new frontier, but the definition and the structures  are not yet visible.  There is the crumbling of what was and the wondering of what will be.  There are losses beyond the imaginable and leaps beyond the possible.  In the midst of all that,  suffering is quite visible: there is  mourning, denial, frustration and anger, violence and hurt.  There are spaces where healing is not enough, reconciliation seems impossible, and uncertainty and ambiguity reign.  Empathy has no voice, compassion no direction.

And so the second candle is lit, a flicker of hope, a personification of promise, an invitation to re-situate Life’s experiences.  The whole of the human family has known such struggle.  Fault and failure are hallmarks of every society; angst and agitation are characteristics of change.  Advent is that subtle invitation to realize that larger whole, to dare to choose perspective and balance.  It is a reminder that darkness and searching are simply part of the human experience. But it offers more than that.

The second candle is an invitation to look past the human and linger for a time with the Divine.  It is the chance to explore the idea that there is something greater than what is human, something beyond what is intellectually or scientifically measurable.  It is a whisper of faith in a God imbedded in the mystery of human experiences.  Present but unknown, active but unacknowledged, powerful but humble,  waiting and wanting.

The second candle teases darkness  with its tender beginnings, opens a path  towards an intangible More, leads to deeper and more meaningful questions.  Paul wrote,  “When I was a child…” in 1 Corinthians 13, and so circumscribes the very journey of human life.   The second candle’s flame dances with the decades of so many lives.  It is a reminder that no matter who you are, or when you are, or what you are, the promise of a loving God exists.

The second candle is a dare to begin, to believe, to hope and to find the More in the very reality of  the world we live in.



Advent Stillness

Her voice is soft and firm.  She is clear as a listener, even more clear as a speaker.  Her 85 years are hidden in the land line; she mentions peacefulness, incredible gratitude, the  Diminishment which  is her constant companion, and Stillness, which offers each of us the invitation to know who we are.  Her life has been lived within  the seclusion of a monastery; her vision embraces a world brokenness and hurt.  Enclosure and contemplative life have deepened her understanding of the journeys shared, burdens carried, moments lived.  “It is the first Sunday of Advent, a new beginning, ”  she says. “You need to find that stillness, that quiet where God can show us who we really are and where we can know that God is with us.”

We talked for a little over 45 minutes, she from the confines of a faraway monastery, me in a parking lot.  The conversation ended, but the new year is just beginning.

In this season of Advent, there is the chance to take the time to locate true quiet, real space, and know, if even for a second,  the touch of the divine. This is the time to carve minutes and hours of Stillness from frantic hours of activity.  In Stillness, the last moments of frenzy can find rest; constant interfacing can yield to alone time.  Breathing can  define its own purpose, name its pace.  The whole self can, at last, taste a sweet completion measured only by attentiveness.  The point is to try it, to test capacity for it, to know the expenditure of time and the exchange of doing the ordinary for the sense of trying the extraordinary is well worth the effort.

Stillness is like a well to be drawn upon: something there, to be accessed and utilized, drawn upon and attended to.  It is a silent friend, a companion, a comfort.  It can become an escort through the journey of life.  Like the best friend who can touch base anytime and know familiarity and constancy, Stillness has the capacity for giving and enriching every aspect of life.  Stillness can visit in trials, mentor in suffering, companion in transitions, celebrate in those moments of triumph.

Stillness dares us to face Diminishment, to name fragility, to move forward with purpose and patience and to look back with forgiveness and empathy.  Stillness is a risk as much as a promise, and Advent is the time to begin the adventure of discovering its depth.