Thank you for being a faithful reader. "Gather the Pieces" will return on Monday, January, 8.
I pray each of you have a holy holiday season.
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Conner Prairie is a living history museum located five minutes from my house in Fishers, Indiana. The popular vacation spot is a village where costumed interpreters recreate life as it was in 1829. Even though I've visited Conner Prairie many times, participated in numerous programs, even volunteered as a seamstress for a few months, I always enjoy watching the village change through the seasons.
Each spring the animal barn is filled with bulging-bellied mothers waiting to give birth. Goats, cows, and sheep are nesting in anticipation of new life.
Last May, I came to the animal barn excited to see what was new. I noticed a mother sheep resting in a corner of the barn almost buried in straw.
"Why does the sheep have so much straw around her?" I asked the volunteer in the barn.
"She is preparing to give birth. The straw keeps the dust settled so when the lambs are born, they do not aspirate dust, which could lead to difficulty breathing, and possible death."
Reflecting on this lesson from the barn later in the day, I thought about Mary the night Jesus was born. I believe there were more preparations for the sheep about to deliver than there were for Mary. Surely there was dust in the stable where Jesus was born. Straw, animals and dust go together. I wondered if Jesus aspirated any dust following birth.
On the surface, Mary's preparation for Jesus' birth seemingly looks sloppy and haphazard - riding on a donkey during the ninth month of pregnancy; walking around Bethlehem trying to find a place to stay, eventually settling in a stable for animals. All of these circumstances are quite different from the preparations that are available to expectant parents today who start planning for birth soon after a pregnancy is discovered.
Jesus' birth was really the culmination of Mary and Joseph's whole lives. Both knew God, both had hearts that were open to God's leading in confusing circumstances, and both wholeheartedly gave themselves to God with faith and trust in God's design for their lives. Jesus' birth was not completely a beginning, but an ending and a beginning for two persons who walked closely with God.
The workers in the barn at Conner Prairie prepared the area so the mother sheep could birth her lambs safely, but the preparation that brought Mary and Joseph to a similar place - a barn and a stable - came from spending years of time with God, seeking God at all times and celebrating - even in confusion and uncertainty about what the future would bring - God in person.
Prayer: God, You appear in many places, even as unusual as birthing Your Son in a stable filled with animals and covered with dust and straw. Guide our seeking and trust in You so that we can emulate Mary and Joseph,who took confusing news and responded with faith. Amen.
For Your Reflection:
1. How do you prepare for the birth of Christ - in your home, spiritually with friends, in your church, in the community? What new practices can become traditions to welcome Christ in your heart?
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Many scriptures designated for reading during Advent refer to light.
- Isaiah 9:2 - The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
- John 1:5 - The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.
- John 8:12 - Again, Jesus spoke to them saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
Once I had an experience of light and dark simultaneously when Mike and I flew to Portland, Oregon, to celebrate our youngest daughter's thirtieth birthday. One the return leg of our trip from Denver to Indianapolis, we departed at 6:00 p.m. We flew in light most of the way; however, about an hour before landing, I looked out the window and noticed darkness gathering below.
I was in an interesting place 30,000 feet above ground with darkness below, while seeing light from the sun above. Remembering times of darkness in my life, I knew that despite what I was going through I eventually would see a breakthrough to light. Light was hovering above the darkness like I witnessed in the airplane - I just couldn't see it or feel it.
I am reminded of John's words about light and darkness at the beginning of his gospel. John 1:5 says, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
John is saying that whatever darkness we experience in life - our own sin, loss, challenging circumstances, impaired relationships - it is not strong enough to block or extinguish the light of Jesus, the source of light, strength, encouragement or whatever we need to get through life's unexpected events.
Shortly before we landed, the pilot came over the loudspeaker and said, "We are preparing for our final descent before landing."
As the plane got closer to the ground, darkness gradually engulfed the cabin. However, when I looked out the window one more time, I could still see light. I saw in reality the words of John 1:5. My experience holding darkness and light simultaneously will serve as a reminder and encouragement that no matter what I encounter, the light of God is there too.
Prayer: God, thank you for moments when we see and realize your truths through experiences in your kingdom. You paint pictures to illustrate scripture giving us an image to carry and remind us always of your presence. Amen.
For Your Reflection:
1. Even moments of deepest darkness have the light of God's presence. What times in your life have held light and dark simultaneously?
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Sue Monk Kidd is one of my favorite authors. Years ago she began writing for Guideposts and Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life. Her books include When The Heart Waits, The Mermaid Chair, and The Secret Life of Bees, which was made into a movie in 2008.
Sue is from the south and her writing reflects the culture and tradition from that part of the country.
Her latest book, The Invention of Wings, is about a young slave, Hetty, and her mother, Charlotte, a seamstress who works for a wealthy family in Charleston. At the beginning of the book, Hetty explains that the family who owns a pregnant slave names the baby. However, when the mother looks at her child resting in a basket where slave babies rest while their mothers work, a name might come to her based on what the baby looked like, on what was happening in the world, or a personality trait the mother noted.
Hetty was given the name "Handful" by her mother. As the story evolves, Handful is shown to be a strong-willed, determined little girl who grew into her mother's perceptions of her character. Hetty is referred to as Handful throughout the book.
Most infants today don't rest in baskets, but in cribs or little seats that rock electronically. Perhaps mothers and fathers today who watch their infants sleep or play get an idea of his or her personality and find a nick-name to call the baby, reflecting what they see in the child. Sometimes nicknames stick and the child is called by this name rather than the given name.
When Jesus was born, we are told Mary laid him to rest in a manger, a container of straw for animals - not the most sanitary place for an infant. When the angel, Gabriel, came to tell Mary of her pregnancy, Gabriel also revealed the baby's God-given name.
I wonder if Jesus also had a "basket name" or "manger name," given by Mary and Joseph as they watched him grow during those first days and weeks of life?
Jesus came to be known by many names as his ministry evolved. Just like "Handful" described the personality of one of the main characters in Sue Monk Kidd's book, the names given Jesus by those who wrote the Bible identify his character: "Prince of Peace," "Good Shepherd," "Bread of Life." These names go deeply into Jesus' core and give us metaphorical ways to relate to God's son.
There are over two hundred names for Jesus listed in a recent Google search including the following:
- Lamb of God
- Holy Child
- Alpha and Omega
- Blessed of God
- Bright and Morning Star
My Favorite Name for Jesus
"Bread of Life," is my "basket" or "manger" name for Jesus.
For decades, baking biscuits has been one of my favorite activities. When our kitchen table was full with two little girls, I made a batch of biscuits twice a week to accommodate the appetites of our family. Bringing biscuits to others, something I like to do, conveys the love of Jesus and represents the name of Jesus to which I connect.
Sometimes during the holiday season, you will see a Nativity set in someone's front yard, at church, in a store or in your home. Pause for moment and if you can find a small set, hold in your hand the figure of Jesus resting in a manger.
- What name of Jesus from the list above do you connect with most?
- Why does that name have meaning for you?
- How can spending time reflecting on this name deepen your experience of Christmas?
As you hold Jesus, what "manger name" do you give him? What story is behind the name?
Prayer: Jesus, you came to this world and were placed in a manger. The "Bread of Life" rested in a food bed for animals. However you come to us in the name we call you, we hold you dear as you hold us close always from our "basket days," to our ending. Amen.
For Your Reflection
- Write the "manger name" for Jesus on a piece of paper. Place the paper in your Bible, on your desk or in a place where you can refer to it during the early months of the new year. What additional thoughts come as you linger with Jesus' "manger name"?