December 2013

There is room

by Steve Brock on December 27, 2013

Christmas Eve Candle

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m standing in a darkened church a thousand miles from home, or at least the place I currently call home. I stand here in silence with a few hundred others, each of us holding a solitary candle, this sanctuary a flickering contrast of light and shadow.

Our final verse of “Silent Night” hangs in the air as the pastor tells us to be still and do something so few of us these days do: embrace the silence and the presence of the One whose birth we celebrate this evening.

I think on the short meditation the pastor has just spoken. He tells us of that night two thousand years ago when Mary and Joseph traveled under much different circumstances to a small town that had no room for them. The story is familiar, perhaps too much so, until he makes this point.

The place where Mary and Joseph end up, where she delivers a most remarkable child into this world, is a place that seems to have room. Plenty of it. Room enough for the weary couple. Room for the animals likely unaccustomed to the company. Room for the shepherds who come to behold the child declared to them in the most wondrous of ways. And most of all, in that stable, room for the very Son of God.

The pastor goes on to tell of a tradition in Ireland and other countries where on Christmas Eve, people leave a candle burning in their window. They declare with a single flame of light that Mary and Joseph would be welcome there, that there is room in their house for God. There is room for the One who grew from that tiny baby into a man who made room in his life for others. For the broken, the outcast, the lost and the hurting. People like you and me.

And so, as I look at my own and the candles held by others around me on this Christmas Eve, I marvel at the light and silence and how all of us who have come here as distant strangers can feel so close in this half-light. I think of the words spoken as we passed our flame to the next waiting candle: “Jesus Christ. The Light of the World.” And I wonder.

I wonder how long this moment will last. I wonder if in the coming New Year, I will go my usual ways and let the cares and stresses and yes, even the travel, cause me to forget what has been revealed this special evening. I wonder if there will be room in my life for what matters.

And then I realize that I have a choice. I cannot always choose my circumstances, but I can choose how I react to them. I can’t control what comes my way, but I can decide to some degree how I will spend my time. Most of all, I can trust that the One who made room for others two millennia ago is doing the same thing for each of us today. Emmanuel – God with us – today.

There is room.

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The lost art of noticing – Part 2

by Steve Brock on December 13, 2013

I may not notice every female convict that comes my way. But I do pay attention when things jump out at me. Literally.

I was on a hike at Smith Rock State Park near Redmond, Oregon a month of so back and I saw, or rather sensed, rapid movement near my feet. The area has its fair share of those long slithery creatures with the rear end rattles so I paid a good deal of attention to what was causing the motion. Instead of a snake, however, I spotted this small tree frog frantically hopping to avoid becoming one with the bottom side of my shoe.

Tree Frog

I noticed it because it surprised me and stood out from the norm. Such occurrences usually garner our attention. But what about an ordinary day when nothing unordinary seems to happen? What do you notice then?

Usually not a lot. And that’s a shame because when we stop noticing, we stop participating. We go through life as numbed spectators or rather, life passes us by unobserved.

Not the best way to live.

So how do we change this? Recently I started reading a book called, Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God by J. Brent Bill and Beth A. Booram. The book looks at how to encounter God with all five of your senses or, as they put it, “to help more of you experience more of God.” We tend to engage God primarily through our minds. This book helps you expand on that.

Early in the book, they have an exercise I’ve found remarkably helpful for improving my ability to notice and be a player in the life all around me. Here’s an abbreviated version of their exercise

First, wherever you are, take a minute to observe what’s around you and write down two or three things that you see, smell, taste, feel, and hear. Simple, yes? Now comes the fun part.

Do the same thing, only instead of just noticing these things, pay attention to them with love. As the authors note, “When we look with love at something, we regard it. We notice the nature of it; we respect and appreciate it for what it is.” (p. 19)

This seems like a small distinction, but try it. Right where you are, look, smell, taste, feel and listen as you did before, but do it with love. When I tried the exercise, the first round I noticed our ukulele on the shelf. The second time, I saw the same musical instrument but became grateful for the gift of music, for joy it brings in playing and listening. Seeing the same object with love transformed how I perceived it.

This exercise works particularly well with the people you know best and often regard or notice the least. See them with love and you will find that life no longer passes you by but is right there before you. With you. Around you.

God packs more wonder into the narrow confines of the space you currently occupy than you can imagine. But you can begin right now to see it – to truly notice it – if you do so by paying attention…with love.

Try it.

And see.

 

You can read Part 1 here

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