Waiting in Peace

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
    "For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"*

An extraordinary Christmas story from World War 1 tells of a Christmas Eve truce forged by soldiers on opposite sides of the war. Taken from several different sources, including letters written home by soldiers involved, the story goes that on Christmas Eve in 1914, British troops heard German troops across a field singing Christmas Carols. The Smithsonian account writes that “The first signs that something strange was happening occurred on Christmas Eve. At 8:30 p.m. an officer of the Royal Irish Rifles reported to headquarters: ‘Germans have illuminated their trenches, are singing songs and wishing us a Happy Xmas. Compliments are being exchanged but am nevertheless taking all military precautions.’” 

Another account, written by Private Frederick Heath gives this account of the night: “All down our line of trenches there came to our ears a greeting unique in war: ‘English soldier, English soldier, a merry Christmas, a merry Christmas!’” 

“Come out, English soldier; come out here to us.’ For some little time we were cautious, and did not even answer. Officers, fearing treachery, ordered the men to be silent. But up and down our line one heard the men answering that Christmas greeting from the enemy. How could we resist wishing each other a Merry Christmas, even though we might be at each other’s throats immediately afterwards? So we kept up a running conversation with the Germans, all the while our hands ready on our rifles. Blood and peace, enmity and fraternity—war’s most amazing paradox. The night wore on to dawn—a night made easier by songs from the German trenches, the pipings of piccolos and from our broad lines laughter and Christmas carols. Not a shot was fired.”

Christmas 2014, one hundred years after the truce, a British company created an advertisement based on the event. The video poignantly shows a reenactment of the Christmas Truce brought on by hearing enemy troops sing Christmas Carols on a cold, weary and war-torn night.

A strange and extraordinary peace. The next day, fighting resumed and commanders sitting safely inside their plush offices were none too happy about the reports that came out of the night. Nevertheless, for a few hours there was peace in the midst of war.

The ad has been viewed 23 million times, an indication of how desperately we long for these stories of peace in the midst of war. No matter how contrary we are, as humans we come to points where we are aching for peace. Whether it is peace in our families or peace in our friendships, whether it is peace in politics or in ideas, we come to places of weary cynicism. Is there nothing that can help us forge peace? Is there any hope for humanity when we can barely stand our neighbors, let alone the person on the other side of the globe or the opposite end of the political spectrum?

We are hungry and thirsty for these kind of stories, for knowing that there is hope for peace in the midst of war, there is hope for peace in families and marriages, hope for peace in church conflicts and disagreements, hope for peace in our own hearts.

Into this world that longs for peace came a Savior. A baby – small, unassuming, vulnerable. Hardly a threat save to an insecure demagogue, who so feared losing his kingdom that he had every male child under two years old killed. A small baby who came into a world of occupation and displacement, a world of outside rulers and internal threats. A baby, prophesied to be the Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. Is it any wonder that so many years after the miraculous birth of the Prince of Peace, a cautious peace was forged in the middle of a battlefield?

This second week in Advent, in this season of waiting, we wait in peace. May our hearts turn with longing to the only one who can create lasting peace. May our hearts turn to the one who enters gladly into our lives, not only during the Christmas season, but every day that we will have him. God incarnate, long expected Jesus, born to set his people free.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."*

*Words are from the poem Christmas Bells by Henry Wadworth Longfellow created into the song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

Photo by Sunguk Kim on Unsplash

Windows in Rockport

RockportFor our family, Rockport is a place of light and peace. It is a part of our lives that symbolizes rest and renewal. From walks along the rocky coast, to walking through the art galleries, shops, and restaurants in the small center of the town, Rockport provides solace in a world that is often too busy and chaotic.

On a recent weekend as we walked through the town center, I took these photos. They are not professional, but they do give a glimpse through the window of why we love this place.

May they bring peace to your weekend.

What are your places of peace? I would love to hear about them through the comments. Thanks for dropping by.

Windows Rockport

        

Refusing the Peace of Christ

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Refusing the Peace of Christ

Robynn recently returned from a dream-come-true trip to Prince Edward Island. While she was away she wrote this…

Sunday morning I woke late. It was lovely to sleep in. The quiet cottage whispered good morning silently. I crawled out of bed, made a cup of coffee, and popped into the shower. As I was getting dressed I looked at the clock. I realized I had plenty of time to get to church. I added earrings and lipstick to Sunday up my outfit a little, grabbed my bible and bag and headed out the door.

I had this keen sense of being drawn to the Catholic church in the center of town, St Dunstan’s Basilica. Although I am Protestant I enjoy an occasional Catholic service. I love the liturgy. I love the profound sense of the holy that Catholics have preserved for the church universal. I love the idea that believers world-wide gather across the globe and repeat the same words—the Apostle’s Creed, the Our Father– in different languages and dialects, but the same words nonetheless. My globally scattered soul finds deep pleasure in that.

I entered the service twenty minutes late. All the churches we had passed on the island had notices indicating a standard eleven o’clock start time. These were all country churches. Apparently the city churches started earlier. I slipped into the back row and joined the creed midway. I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth…. The words washed over my spirit. My heart heard and affirmed, I did believe. Tears gathered in my eyes and spilled down my cheeks as the organ started up. Choir members sang the prayers and recited the hymns. A lay person led the intercession. My tears continued as he prayed for Christians in Iraq and Syria and Nigeria. Lord hear our prayer. He pleaded for the sick, the grieving, the broken hearted. Lord hear our prayer. He prayed for the family, the community, the church around the world. Lord hear our prayer.

Soon after the green robed priest invited us to exchange the Peace of Christ with one another. Although I don’t have a great deal of experience, extending the unfathomable peace of Jesus with friends or with strangers, in the context of community, is one of my most cherished moments in a liturgical service. It’s one of my favorite parts of the mass. There is something profoundly significant in touching another person and declaring over them, “the peace of Christ”. It’s what we all long for. The ache inside each person is really only ever satisfied in the peace of Christ. There is holiness in the hand shake, or the kiss, or the embrace that is cloaked in that peace.

Imagine then my shock when I turned to the elderly gentleman on my left, looked him in the eye, extended my hand, and poised my lips to proclaim peace over him, only to see him deliberately shut down his soul, scrunch up his shoulders, fold his arms certainly across his chest and turn away from me. It was as if the whole sanctuary was a mass of people offering each other cold glasses of refreshing water on a stuffy warm morning and the man on my left took his glass of water and threw it in my face! I couldn’t have been more startled! How could he so adamantly refuse the peace that passes all understanding?

Earlier that morning I had read an old familiar verse in a new translation, “Search me, oh God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” God knows our hearts, our anxieties. He isn’t perplexed by how we process our pain. He sees the ways we hurt and he longs to lead us through. As I watched my neighbor at St. Dunstan’s shut himself off from that peace of possibilities I wondered after his heart. What anxious thoughts was he battling? What hurtful ways was he accustomed to?

It further begged the question–have I ever purposely refused the poignant peace of Christ? Have there been times when I’ve tried to seal myself off from the intrusive Spirit of Jesus and the thick peace he promises? Sometimes it’s easier to worry. Sometimes the familiar chorus of my anxious thoughts gets stuck in my brain and it’s the only song I find to hum. I’m afraid the hurtful paths in me are easier– more familiar, more recognizable– to walk on than turning onto the everlasting trails.

Many times, if I’m honest, even this spring and summer, I’ve intentionally refused the powerful peace of Jesus.

I turned instead to the man on my right and shook his hand. His eyes lit up as they met mine and he spoke the peace over me. The woman two rows in front turned and stretched her arm toward mine, “the peace of Christ,” she greeted. On the other side of my sad somewhat surly strange pew-mate, his wife bowed her head forward, met my eyes with a combination of resignation, sorrow and redemption, and mouthed the words, peace of Christ. They slid over her clam-tight husband, brushing his soul as they passed, before they landed and settled on me. I prayed that peace, personal and powerful, would penetrate his pain. I prayed that same peace would land on mine as well.

O Peace of Christ come….Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer!

 

Getting Away, Turning Away

 

Getting Away draft 2

A week and a half ago I sat on a small balcony in Hollywood Hills in the shadow of the iconic Hollywood sign that hovers over Los Angeles. Tourists travel up this street hoping for clear shots of the Hollywood sign and perhaps the one in a million sighting of a movie star.

The trip came at a point where I most needed it. The winter has been long and much of what transpires doesn’t make it into my blog – nor should it.

But for 5 days I rested. I rested with palm trees before me and a sun overhead. Long walks, harder hikes, and gastronomic delights filled my days. Getting to know our son and his wife in their own space was our great joy. Los Angeles, a city that can chew you up and spit you out, has given them tremendous opportunities and they are grateful.

We went to the ocean on Saturday, first taking a walk on an open, sandy beach. The air was chilly so we wrapped ourselves in sweatshirts to ward off the cold. Waves, sand, peace – my soul deeply needed all these.

Perhaps the older you get the more grateful you are for these times of peace. You have learned how to cope through the late night phone call that announces a crisis; you have learned how to live through tantrums and fevers; you have learned how to live through job losses and job promotions, times of less and times of more. But in all this it’s critical to also know how to find and appreciate moments of peace, times where you turn away from all that seems important and toward the more lasting, moments where all of life stands still and you breathe. 

A quote I recently read says “In order to understand the world one has to turn away from it on occasion.” Being away helps me understand more of the world that I live in, helps me to relax and identify what is urgent and what isn’t, most of all revives me and reminds me I can do this thing called life.

I am back – the weather is a coast away from what it was in California and life accosts me with the urgent and the important. But turning away was a gift. Standing still in peace and rest restored and revived.

How about you? Where have you been able to turn away in order to better understand your world?

Monday Muffins: Stacy brings us Pesto Feta Muffins today and they look amazing! Head to http://www.foodlustpeoplelove.com/2014/03/pesto-feta-muffins.html for the recipe.

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“Embrace the Chaos”

Lowell used to tell visitors to “Embrace the Chaos” when we lived in India. Anyone who’s ever been to India can quite quickly agree that there’s always so much going on! Just stand on a street corner in Old Delhi and try to identify all that you see and smell and hear and you’ll be hard pressed to not admit that it feels a little chaotic, a little out of control!

I guess this week I’m feeling some of that sort of chaos…but of course we’re still far from India!

When my dad comes to town we find projects for him to do. He loves to stay busy and we love to have the work done. Dad can do anything really. He works with wood, electricity, plumbing, tinkering, motors, moving parts, engines, paint! You name it, my dad can do it!

This visit we thought he and Lowell would build us a deck. The back porch has been precarious since the day we moved in. The plan was to knock it down and build a new porch with an attached deck. Being good citizens meant applying for a permit. There was some confusion about the placement of the posts and the size of the porch. The permit people took some time in approving our plan.

Meanwhile dad destroyed, at my request, our ancient box style closet in our bedroom. Our bedroom is small and it seemed to me that we should knock out the closet and put up one of those more streamlined, tidy looking, “easy to install” closet kits you see all the time on TV. But then the permit for the porch arrived. All work on the closet came to a screeching halt.

All of our closet stuff was in our son’s room. Our son was all over the living room floor. Mom and dad stayed in our room. We slept in Adelaide’s room. Adelaide slept in with Bronwynn. And we still have a guest who’s staying in Lowell’s office.

Nothing was where it should be.

Lowell went out to borrow his dad’s truck so he could load up the lumber they’d need. On the way home he discovered he had forgotten his phone. On the second attempt back toward home the old truck blew a tire. His dad had neglected to throw in the spare.

This week we’ve also had dance rehearsals and recitals. Adelaide auditioned for a specialty dance company earlier in the week as well but yesterday I got a phone call from the dance school that Adelaide hadn’t made the dance company she had auditioned for. I knew I’d have to break that news to her later in the day.

To top it all off I was scheduled to speak at a live webinar with a friend on expectations and burn out. I discovered that our headset was broken. My computer is still dead (did I mention the hard drive expired while I was away?). Thankfully I could use Connor’s new machine but it has a new fandangled version of windows on it and it seemingly does random things at odd moments. After getting kids out the door, painting two walls in our bedroom (because since the closet is down it would make sense to paint now!), and settling everyone else, I zipped over to Best Buy to purchase a new headset. With a new headset in hand, Connor’s machine, my notes, I drove through the drive through for a sandwich (I forgot to eat!) and raced to the church in search of some quiet. I couldn’t figure out how to navigate the internet but one of the pastors quickly helped me sort it out.

It was a day!

It was chaos!

And if we’d been in India Lowell would have said to embrace it!

When I was preparing to speak on the spiritual habits of Silence and Solitude for the retreat I was just at (the irony is not lost on me!) I happened upon these verses in the gospel of Mark,

“That evening after supper, many sick and demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And he healed many who were ill; and cast out many demons…and in the early morning, while it was still dark, He arose and went out and departed to a lonely place and was praying there”.

Talk about chaos: “And the whole city had gathered at the door!” That’s how I felt yesterday. The whole town was banging on the door of my sanity–paint buckets and stacks of stuff, daughters and dance rejections, the truck and the tires, piles of wood, piles of clothes, piles of people, electric drills and saws and hammers, broken headsets and dead computers. Mom can you take a look at this new game? Robynn can you run to the store and get? Where do you want me to put this? Mom I need you to remind me. All of it banging at the door.

How did Jesus respond? He had already had a full day….his chaos continued on into the evening, after supper, in to the night. Jesus responded to each person. He healed and ministered to the hurting, the sick, the confused, to the oppressed. He brought freedom and peace. But in the morning, knowing his own soul and his own needs, he woke early and went off on his own to pray.

When I arrived at the church, my phone buzzed with an incoming email. I paused and took the time to read it. A friend had emailed me the prayer she had prayed for me. The words for peace and rest and restoration, in the midst of the crazy, washed over me. I sat in the car alone and breathed. I shed a few tears. I let those wash over me too. There was a moment to stop and I did. I sat quietly and prayed out my own heart’s prayer: for endurance, for joy, for the capacity to embrace it all!

I survived yesterday’s chaos. Today will have its own share, I’m sure. When it’s all gathered at the door, I hope, I’ll remember to pause, breathe, pray. I think that’s the way we embrace it.

A text message I got yesterday from a friend read, “Just lean into chaos and find shalom”. That’s what happened when I sat in the car. I found a small piece of shalom.

A Rare Moment of Quiet

Insta-Love

Quiet moments in my life are rare. I have a big family and though the kids are older, at any given time I still have a couple of them at home. My job is busy and full of people. I live in a city that teems with people on weekdays, and on weekends there aren’t many quiet moments.

But I found myself with a moment of quiet yesterday morning. All I heard was the ticking of a clock in the dining room. I never realized how loud the ticking was. The quiet was welcome and disturbing at the same time. In the back of my mind I felt I should be ‘doing’. Because sitting, meditating, thinking? All of those are counter-culture — contrary to the way the world operates.

In a world that says “Do”, I need to learn to “Be”.

In a world that says “Go”, I need to learn to “Stop”.

In a world that says “Get”, I need to learn to “Give”.

In a world that proclaims “Self”, I need to remember “Others”.

In a world that rewards noisy arrogance, I long for quiet confidence.

So in the quiet, I reach out for words to affirm what my heart knows full well. I am not disappointed for I find them from the prophet Isaiah who lived and prophesied in a world that heard a lot of noise.

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!
 

The quiet is no longer disturbing, instead I soak it in the way I soak in the sunshine from the window –  For this is life-giving, soul-strengthening, confidence-producing quiet.

Waiting it Out….

I woke to brilliant sunshine reflecting off piles of snow. It’s hard to believe that 24 hours ago we were in the middle of a blizzard, snow coming down at two inches an hour.

But that’s how storms are. When you’re in the middle of them, you think they’ll never end.

The snow was slow in coming. At first light Friday I looked out my window and there was nothing but a hush and the ominous grey look of a storm yet to come. The morning was well underway when it picked up; medium size flakes, whirling around, slowly sticking to the cold ground.

Since Wednesday afternoon I had heard about what could be the “storm of the century”. With an already full refrigerator, matches, candles, Boggle, Bananagrams, and several one thousand piece puzzles, we had little to prepare — we were ready to wait it out.

And wait we did. I baked bread. Then I baked cookies. Then we did a puzzle. Then we played games. Then we watched movies. Then we played more games. And all the while we would periodically look out the window and comment on the storm.

But restlessness sinks in. Realization of the aftermath begins to accumulate. The ‘What ifs’ start pounding on the door. We begin to fray at the edges.

So we baked, read, watched movies, played games again. And again.

With storms there’s a lot of waiting.

How do you wait out a storm? How do you fill the empty space and empty time so the restlessness does not overpower?

Storms of the mind and soul are more difficult than storms of the weather. There are empty spaces, empty time, churning thoughts. And it’s during empty space that my mind can twist truth, empty time that my soul can turn sour.

While the tools of a weather storm are food, candles, matches, flashlights, full tank of gas, water, easily prepared foods – how can one prepare for storms of the soul? Walk through the storm without the mind going crazy with worry and fear?

What are the tools of soul storms?

Tears, Truth, and Time. Tears – those housekeepers of the soul that help us release fear and anxiety; truth – sharp piercing messages from the word of God that both sting and comfort; time – waiting it out, baking, reading, living through it even when you’re fraying at the edges – all those things that you do during a weather storm.

And one day we wake to brilliant sunshine, clarity, peace — the soul storm is over and it’s hard to believe that 24 hours before the soul was dark, swirling with turmoil.

Because that’s how soul storms are. When you’re in the middle of them, you think they’ll never end.

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During the Storm

Blizzard 2013, Boston
After the Storm