Preparing for Lent

Awkward Season cover

Hi, Friends,

Lent is only a few weeks away. Ash Wednesday falls on March 9th this year. I have some suggestions for a Lenten journey, in case you are still considering the path you will take this year.

The Awkward Season – an online retreat with my friend and colleague, Pamela C. Hawkins. I’ve not written a Lenten book, but I wish I had written this one. 🙂

The retreat will be offered by The Upper Room and It begins on March 9. Cost is $40. You can find out more about the retreat here.

The Gift of Sorrow – The March/April 2011 issue of Alive Now magazine contains a “Guide to Lent” within its pages. You can order single copies of the issue for your use during Lent. Cost of a single copy is $3.95 (if you need 10 or more copies, there’s a 50% discount). Call 1.800.972.0433. (You can order a subscription to Alive Now by calling the number above or ordering online.)

On the Alive Now website “Daily Reflections” assist you in taking some time with God each day. (They are available on the website and also via email.) And beginning on Ash Wednesday, we’ll be adding some additional content to the “Daily Reflections.” One new piece is “Audio Lectio,” a weekly recording of lectio divina using an excerpt of the gospel reading from the lectionary. Come pray the scripture with us.

What IS Lent, Anyway?! — If you’ve got some questions about Lent, I recommend the article, “Lent 101” by Rev. Penny Ford. Here’s a link to the article on the Alive Now website.

Blessings to you as we prepare to walk with Jesus through days of struggle and toward the Resurrection. I hope to see you on the way.


Top 10 Reasons to Celebrate Advent


10. You get to start celebrating New Year’s early.

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year for Christians. [Liturgical — from liturgy, which means the forms and functions of public worship.] The dates of Advent vary each year, but it always contains the four Sundays before Christmas Day. This year Advent starts on November 28.

9. Christmas Procrastinators Rule!

If you observe Advent, you have a legitimate reason for putting off all sorts of things — decorating, putting up your Christmas tree, buying presents. (Be sure to get your Mom’s present, though …) In the Christian realm, Christmas-celebrating doesn’t start until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But then you have 12 whole days of Christmas afterward! Christmas ends with Epiphany (January 6), the day when we remember the Wise Men arriving to worship the Christ child.

8. Go ahead, all the other Christians are doing it!

Well, OK, not all Christians are observing Advent. (One Christian even asked me if Advent was a Jewish holiday.) But Advent’s been around since the early centuries of Christianity. In recent years, more denominations are starting to observe Advent — kind of recapturing our history.

7. Offers an excellent alternative to decorating with red and green.

The colors of Advent are purple or blue. You may see these colors in your church vestments (the cloths on the altar or podium), in the stoles worn by your pastor or choir, in the color of the candles on the Advent wreath. These are royal colors, calling to mind the Coming of the Son of God.

6. If you LOVE candles, you’ll LOVE Advent!

Lots of folks celebrate Advent by using an Advent wreath. It’s often four candles on a circular wreath signifying the four weeks of Advent. A candle in the center is the Christ candle, lit on Christmas Day and Epiphany. Usually the four candles are purple or blue. If you celebrate Gaudete Sunday on the third week, that candle is pink. (Gaudete means “rejoice” in Latin.) The Christ candle is white.

5. Learn new words to impress your friends.

What more could you ask for? Advent, liturgy, Gaudete, Advent wreath, liturgical season, vestments. You rock, linguistically speaking.

4. Learn new seasonal songs.

When you celebrate Advent, wait until Christmas to sing all those Christmas songs (“Silent Night,” “Jingle Bells,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer,” and other liturgical favorites). There are TONS of great Advent songs that most people don’t know so well. … Like, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” and “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” You can even sing some Advent texts to Christmas tunes (if you can’t wait to hear them).

3. Because I wrote 2 cool Advent books.

I really wanted this to be the number one reason, but I’m trying to work on my humility. But I DID write a couple of cool Advent books. The Uncluttered Heart: Making Room for God during Advent and Christmas. The first one was called Child of the Light: Walking Through Advent and Christmas

2. Gets you in touch with Jesus’ story.

The whole reason for observing the liturgical seasons is that we get to hear Jesus’ entire life story every year. For those of us humans who tend to forget important things like Love and God and Christ, this is definitely a good idea. During Advent, we remember the events leading up to Jesus’ birth.

1. Great remedy for pre-Christmas stress.

Advent’s primary message is to wait, listen, get in touch with God, and prepare our lives and hearts for Jesus’ coming. For speeded up, stressed out people (that would be most of us), this is an intriguing invitation. Observe Advent — and get more in touch with God.

You’re invited to observe Advent this year. Light the first Advent Candle — and lower your stress — starting November 27, 2011.

Get Ready for Advent:

Join Me in an Online Advent Retreat

Fall in Nashville
Fall in Nashville (Scarritt-Bennett Center)

Help spread the word!

The Uncluttered Heart Online Retreat, Nov. 28, 2010 – Jan. 6, 2011
Cost: $40 – includes digital book, small group facilitation, online software

| Sign Up for the Retreat |

This online retreat is co-sponsored by The Upper Room and A gracious group of volunteer facilitators join me in leading the retreat. These facilitators are church leaders from all over the country. Both clergy and lay, they bring their love of Advent and Christmas, as well as open, compassionate hearts. I’m looking forward to sharing the season with them and with all those who sign up for the retreat.

Here are our facilitators:

  • Mark Babb — Jackson MI
  • Ginger Bennett — Biloxi, MI
  • Suzanne Elliott — Chambersburg, PA
  • Scott Endress — Houston, TX
  • Michael Henderson — Cayce, SC
  • Carol Kleber — Wantagh, NY
  • Lisa McGehee — Richmond, VA
  • Marcia Middleton — Albany, NY
  • Dawna Petersen — Bloomington, IN
  • Ingrid Quigley — San Jose, CA
  • Pam Wiggins — Porter, TX
  • Lorenza Williams, Jr. — Philadelphia, PA

Participants will receive daily encouragement and receive support from others on the journey. The class begins on November 28, 2010, the first Sunday of Advent, and continues until Epiphany, January 6, 2011. Participants should plan to login daily at a time of day which is convenient to their own schedules. A missed day may be made up the next, but the discipline of daily study will be valuable to the journey through Advent.

| Sign Up for the Retreat |


Will I need a book for the retreat?

You won’t need a book — the book’s content is included in the retreat.

What if I did The Uncluttered Heart last year?

It’s up to you — the retreat may be just what you need for this year. The online retreat contains similar material you received last year, but by participating in the retreat, you’ll have the chance to be a part of a small group. If you long to be a part of a group and one is not available to you, then you may want to prayerfully consider joining the retreat.

What do I need in order to participate in the retreat?

A computer with an internet connection that you can access every day. (You’re not alone — technical assistance is available.)

What if the retreat is not for me?

No worries — the retreat may not be for everyone. I hope you will participate in The Uncluttered Heart by using the book and The Uncluttered Heart website. I’ll be posting daily content and sending text messages to remind you to connect with God throughout the days of Advent and Christmas.


Please let me know if you have other questions. I’m looking forward to spending Advent with you.


Glimpses of the Holy

Taize cross
Taize cross

Yesterday afternoon I sat with other staff around the edges of the Board of Directors meeting for The Upper Room. Once a year, the board of Upper Room Ministries has its official meeting, hears about the work of the organization, and helps guide us in our work.

Victor Perez (International Spiritual Director, Walk to Emmaus) started the meeting with a devotional time that blew me away. He had everyone turn to the devotional for yesterday, August 6, 2009, in The Upper Room magazine. Different sections of the devotional were read by different voices — the long scripture was read in Spanish. The short scripture was read in French. The meditation itself was read in English. The prayer was prayed in Korean. And the thought for the day was read by our youth delegate in English.

It was powerful enough to realize that yesterday around the world people were reading that same meditation in all those languages, plus at least 36 more. But I was sitting in the back near the two women who were doing simultaneous translation of the proceedings — one translating to French for a board member from Congo. The second was translating into Portuguese for a board member from Angola.

During this time of meditation, the two translators were standing on each side of me, speaking quietly into their microphones, completing my impression that I was sitting smack dab in the middle of the world. It felt a bit like I had stepped into the scene from Acts 2 — all those different languages bringing to me the word of God. “Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?  Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,  Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,  Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.'” (Acts 2:7-11)

Meeting Sarah Wilke

We’d “had church” and could have gone home after that, but then we got to hear our new World Editor, Sarah Wilke, introduce herself to the board and to us. She joyfully and enthusiastically shared her spiritual journey with us. At the end of her sharing, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung led us in praying for Sarah and her ministry. We all stood and all of us, board members and staff, raised our hands toward her and poured prayers and love toward her. How remarkable … what a holy moment.

Ms. Mae

I had one more glimpse of the holy yesterday. Both our church’s pastor, Judi, and intern, Andrew, are out of town on vacation. So I got the call that our oldest member of the church has entered the final stage of her life. My neighbor, Deen, and I went by last night for a short visit. We sat with Ms. Mae and her daughter. I held her hand and we prayed with gratitude for Mae’s life and for God’s love, grace, and comfort to be especially present during the coming days.

O Holy One, I don’t know how it is that you blessed me yesterday with these glimpses of your presence in the world, in my life. But I’m grateful. Thank you for giving me open eyes and an open heart that I might witness you walking among us. Thank you. Amen.

I’m wondering — Where have you had glimpses of the holy in recent days?

Good Friday

Dogwood blooms
Dogwood blooms

Today is Good Friday. The dogwoods are in full bloom today. There’s a legend about the dogwood tree — that it was the tree used to make Jesus’ cross, but that his crucifixion transformed the tree to its current size, form, and blooms. It could never be used for that purpose again, its blooms a reminder of that event.

My mom loved dogwoods, but they weren’t native to Oklahoma. I remember that she tried to grow one in Mangum (just about as far as you can go in Southwest Oklahoma before you get to Texas). That little, spindly tree hung on as long is it could in that hot, flat land. I think it got run over by kids on bicycles a couple of times and then it died over a dry winter.

Thank you, God, for dogwood trees.

Lent and Social Media

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article about a friend who gave up email for lent (“Fasting from Email“). We’re just a few weeks into this year’s Lent and Lenten practices are getting a quite a bit of press, thanks to a number of religious leaders coming out with the suggestion that people consider giving up Twitter, Facebook, or texting for Lent.

I use Twitter, Facebook, texting, and email and don’t feel called to give up any of them for Lent. But I find this discussion very helpful and healthy. What is Lenten practice about? Why give up chocolate or Twitter? Or take on more prayer or a Lenten study? It’s about finding the things that block me from God’s presence and giving them up. Or it’s about taking on something that will strengthen my relationship to God.

It’s easy to hear judgment when I hear that church leaders are calling the faithful to give up technology for Lent. That’s why I found really helpful this conversation with Father James Martin, associate editor of the Catholic weekly magazine, America. Listen to this story from NPR’s Saturday Edition.