Advent is nearly here. I am preparing my heart, mind, spirit, and manuscript for preaching on Sunday at West End United Methodist Church here in Nashville. On Tuesday, December 1, I’ll lead an Advent workshop here at the United Methodist Center. I appreciate your prayers in the coming days.
Now — are you ready for Advent? Have you found your Advent wreath? Bought your Advent candles? Picked out a devotional booklet of some sort to use? Identified some community to travel with through this season?
Open My Heart – An Advent Prayer Song
I offer you this Advent prayer song I’ve written to help me open my heart to God. Feel free to learn it to sing out loud or in your heart. Or just say the words to yourself as a prayer. Blessings to you as we prepare to enter Advent 2009.
Open wide the doorway to my heart, O God. Fill me with hope.
Open wide the windows of my heart, O God. Fill me with peace.
Open up the corners of my heart, O God. Fill me with joy.
Soften up the edges of my heart, O God. Fill me with love.
Update (11/25/09): Here is a link to a .zip file of the music that you can download and use personally or corporately. There are five files — one for each week of Advent (hope, peace, joy, and love) — and one file that includes all the prayers together. Permission is granted for personal devotional use or for use in local church worship services or study settings. Please include copyright notice whenever the words are printed.
The books (The Uncluttered Heart) are being ordered. My calendar is getting full. Must be the season of preparation — for Advent. (Funny that you have to prepare to Prepare.)
We’ve launched the web site for The Uncluttered Heart. Here’s a link to it. At the web site, readers can sign up to receive communications from me during the period that they are reading the book (from Advent — November 29 — through Epiphany — January 6). People can receive a text sometime each day — with a short reminder of the focus of that day. Or they can receive an email that has that same reminder and also a photograph. If readers are so inclined, they can have a conversation about the readings at The Uncluttered Heart web site. I hope you’ll check it out.
I’ll be preaching at West End United Methodist Church on November 29 (the first Sunday in Advent). If you are in Tennessee, come and worship. Services are at 8:45 and 11:00. I’ll be doing a book signing in between.
On Tuesday, December 1, I’m leading a 1/2 day retreat at The Upper Room on the book. If you’d like to join us, you are welcome. The retreat is being opened up to the community in Nashville. We’ll follow the morning retreat with lunch and then we’ll be going out into the community to do service. Contact me or Sherry Elliott if you’d like to participate.
On Wednesday, December 9, you’ll find me at Belmont UMC for their Wednesday night gathering. Or you can join us for Sunday school at Edgehill United Methodist Church during each Sunday in Advent. Judy Smith and I will be leading the classes.
(OK — I’m tired just writing this. Pray for me, ya’ll. I may need some extra help this year to make space in my heart for the coming of the Christ child.)
One morning in the early spring, my phone rang. My friend, JoAnn Miller, asked, “Do you have your camera today? The wildflowers are in bloom.” That afternoon, she drove me on a special tour of the wildflowers along highways of middle Tennessee. JoAnn took us through parks and clear into the next county to find the wildflowers.
As we drove through the rain that day, she said to me, “Now, around the next curve, you’ll see a whole hillside of Dutchman’s Breeches.” Or “Up here on the right is a bright red flower called Fire Pink.” Or “Later in the spring, the Bluebells will cover the sides of this river bank.”
I was amazed at her knowledge of these tiny, delicate gifts from the creator. We drove over 50 miles, and JoAnn knew which roadside to watch for the Trout Lily and which hillside to see the Shooting Star just coming into their peak. She showed me a glimpse into her world, where her open eyes and years of patient watching have led to a gifted knowledge of springtime beauty.
How many worlds do we miss because we don’t take the time to pause, look, and learn about the immense creation around us? Praise God for the lowly wildflower and for those, like JoAnn, who really see them.
Lately I’ve been reflecting that my time at The Upper Room has given me more than a just steady job for more than 20 years. I find myself talking to my web development colleagues about organizing a web page using “The Mind of Christ,” “The Heart of Christ,” and “The Hands of Christ.” Or I’ll discover that I’m trying to figure out the right web application for teaching Lectio Divina. “Weird!” I think to myself. “I sound like Stephen Bryant [the boss of The Upper Room]” It’s not a bad thing … but when did that start?
Even more than the breadth of knowledge about spiritual things, my spiritual self has been formed by working here. I don’t know why it surprises me that my relationship with God has been influenced by this place and these people. In my time working here, I’ve been mentored and nurtured by some of the most knowledgeable, creative, and humble spiritual leaders in the Protestant world.
I’m grateful for these gifts … and extremely sad that we are going through another round of layoffs of our staff. Since the beginning of the year, we have lost 14 staff people, whose jobs have been terminated because of the sinking economy. We are in a time of great change, great grief. We cherish your prayers … and we need God’s love, presence, and healing.
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.
Last week I emptied a chickadee nest out of the bluebird box. And I’ve been feeling terrible about it ever since. Every spring, the cavity-nesting birds stake out potential homes and build nests in them. When I found the chickadee nest in the bluebird house, I did what a bluebird house landlord is supposed to do — empty the box so that a bluebird can build there. But who am I to say who should live there? I’ve been debating this in my mind every since I dumped out that beautiful nest of grass, fur, and moss.
But today I looked in the box — and there’s a chickadee nest there again. Thank goodness … I feel as though I’ve been forgiven. Grace abounds.
It’s been cold and wet here in Nashville. For a long time. Seems like the whole earth has been holding its collective breath waiting for spring to burst forth. We’ve been in slow motion … watching, waiting, barely daring to breath … hoping for the trees to open up their blooms and announce the end of winter. This week, spring is finally here.
I went out early this morning to shoot some pictures of the ornamental pear tree across the street. Nashville is full of these trees. They are almost the first tree to bloom in the spring and nearly the last tree to turn red in the fall. I don’t think I’d ever noticed until this morning the variety of colors in their blooms. Their white outlines dot the dormant, gray hills of the entire city. Once the pear trees are in full bloom, the redbud trees are soon to follow and spring is well underway.
Today, the day was clear and the sun was warm. I could almost hear the sighs of satisfaction from all of creation. Whew. Spring and her flowery beauty have finally arrived.
I get to work at home every so often — it’s a wonderful perk of my job. Today I spent the day writing, doing some finish-up work on the manuscript of my upcoming Advent book — The Uncluttered Heart (watch for it from Upper Room Books early this fall).
I heard the tree frogs this afternoon and the second daffodil was blooming in the front yard. I first noticed the tree frogs Saturday or Sunday night — it was about 25 degrees and just a few hardy frogs were peeping. The first daffodil was blooming on Saturday, when a cold front came through and dropped a dusting of snow on it and the rest of Nashville.
I love to write while sitting at the kitchen table. The table looks out on the back deck — the feeding birds, the tops of the trees which line the hill below our house, the occasional squirrel getting a drink from the bird bath or hopeful cat hanging out under the deck railing. I’m grateful and mindful of God’s awesome creation.