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by Christine Sine

We think of Advent as a time of us waiting for the birth of Christ, yet in some ways it is just as much a time of Christ waiting for us – waiting for us to notice him, to take time to acknowledge him and to more than anything, waiting for us to allow his light to shine through us.

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Week 4 of Advent from John Lewis’ book, Finding the Treasure in Christmas: A Guide to celebrating Advent for Families 

Special Activities:

  • Put up your star or angel at the top of your tree. Hang an angel ornament on your Christmas tree, mantel or shelf (If you have already put these up, point them out).
  • Read a suggested story from the New Guideposts’ Christmas Treasury, in Appendix II.
  • Watch: Rudolf (Theme: Rudolf ’s bright nose acts as a star to guide his team); A Christmas Carol (theme: the three spirits act as stars to guide Scrooge to the truth); Miracle on 34th Street (theme: it takes the gift of faith to see and believe); The Polar Express (theme: again, it takes the gift of faith to see and believe).

Read:

  • Light the fourth Advent candle, which is the “Angel” or “Star” candle. Read Matthew 2:1-11; Luke 2:8-16 as you do. Listen for how the star, scribes, and angels helped others find Jesus.

Reflect:

The Magi lived in a time when people looked to the stars for answers. They trusted them enough to travel thousands of distant miles to following a star that came from the East. When they arrived in  Israel, they did not know exactly where God’s divine gift would be found. They naturally first stopped and asked for help in Jerusalem, Israel’s prestigious and historic capital. The priests in Herod’s court shared with them the prophesied location where their King would appear: “in Bethlehem of Judea.”

These Eastern experts of the stars would have been shocked: Why would Jesus be found here in a little backwater town and not in the religious center of Jerusalem? Why would the ruler of the universe make His entry into their world as a poor baby boy?  Yes, the Magi-like us all- would never have discovered Jesus on their own. They needed help, to find the location of the King, and to also get past their own perceptions of what He should be like.

But the Magi were not the only ones who required assistance to see clearly. Angels had to tell Mary and Joseph about the divine conception, the baby’s destiny, and their need to flee to Egypt. Not even the shepherds would have discovered Jesus on their own.  And centuries later, we still need help to overcome our misperceptions that often blind us to the truth (Isaiah 9:2). Personal speculations alone cannot lead us to find Jesus in our own Bethlehems, but here is the good news: the God who sent angels that first Christmas still wants to help us find and delight in His Son. God no longer uses stars but His indwelling Holy Spirit to point us to Jesus. As the church comes alive in seeing Jesus, the mission of the star becomes ours as well: we point a waiting world to the only One who can still bring a new hope to the human heart (John 15:26). And when one of the least or lost discovers their place in God’s family, the angels still rejoice.

Do/Discuss:

  • Put together a little treasure hunt to find a Christmas treat. Make the clues hard enough that the kids will need a little help and clue from you on one or more of them. After they find and eat the treat, remind them that without your help, they may not be eating!
  • Share: How did a person, relationship and/or circumstances this past year help you see divine truth or experience Jesus more? Or, how did God use you as a star or angel in someone’s life to help point him or her to Jesus?

Sing: 

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

Pray:

Lord, when we are lost, You see our need. You know our blindness and send us stars to bring us to Jesus. Thank You so much for the family, friends, circumstances, and “stars” You have used to guide us home. We ask You to point us to Christ through the Spirit as You guided the Magi that first Christmas. Lord, where we see others still lost, others who have never looked up and seen Your star or heard angel’s voices, may we be stars pointing to You. Give us courage. Amen.

John Lewis lives in  Tacoma, Washington and is a father of three grown children and husband of one Christmas-loving wife. He is the director of  Kingdom Story Ministries and passionate about seeing the next generation of Jesus followers grow and stay faithful over their life time. Building meaningful and enduring traditions during the Advent season, the month before Christmas, was certainly one way their kids found long term faith roots. Those 15 years of trial and error, singing carols and squirming in their seats, reading and sharing, putting up the tree, lights, ornaments and star one week at a time, they were well worth the effort. Though far from perfect, we offer to you our flexible approach and variety of ideas for developing Christ centered Christmas traditions. May your kids, year after year, grow anticipate the faith element of Christmas alongside all the fun of the season; may their roots run long and deep for the challenging life they have ahead of them.
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by Christine Sine

In the beginning the Word already existed.
    The Word was with God,
    and the Word was God.
2 He existed in the beginning with God.
3 God created everything through him,
    and nothing was created except through him.
4 The Word gave life to everything that was created
    and his life brought light to everyone.
5 The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:1-5 NLT)

I read these words as Tom and I took off from Seattle for an early morning flight to Pennsylvania a couple of weeks ago. Then I looked outside the window and was awed by the sunrise over Mt Rainier – light emerging in the darkness. Such a powerful reminder, a bringer of hope and anticipation to my soul.  Light DOES shine in the darkness, I thought and NOTHING will extinguish it.

I went on to read:

Our world, our lives, are punctuated and permeated by the divine presence. We need to live in the reality of this, rather than the illusion that the world, our inner world, is still in darkness. We need not feel like we are abandoned by God in a world of darkness… The Word which spoke from without now speaks from within …. For us, post-Incarnation human beings, this processionals (of transformation) has already begun” (Celtic Advent 732)

As we head towards Christmas this week through the last days of Advent it is so reassuring to know that nothing will ever extinguish the light of God, either in our hearts and in our world.

This year seems to have been filled with so much darkness- so many mass shootings that we have lost count; so much heartache for migrant families hoping for a new life in countries that do not want them; hurricanes, droughts, fires that have extinguished life before its time, the threats of climate change, political upheaval and animosity have all overwhelmed us, often with despair. The darkness seems to shroud our world and drain our hope.

Yet there is hope. God’s newness is emerging and will one day burst into our world like the sun rising in a new dawn. That is the hope of Advent and the promise of Christmas that still shines brightly in our hearts and in the dark dawn of our lives.

Sun setting over Puget Sound

Interestingly as we flew back to Seattle a couple of days later, we landed as the sun was setting and this was the scene outside my window. Wow — not only does the light shine in the darkness of the dawn but it also illumines the darkness of the sunset. So much hope and promise in these images.

Newness Is On The Way

As I thought about all of this, the following prayer bubbled up within me:

God of promise and hope and renewal,

God of love and joy and life.

Plant seeds of light within us.

Let them emerge from the darkness,

like the sun rising with the dawn,

giving new life,

where none seemed possible.

Newness is on its way.

Your Word, spoken from without,

Now flames within.

Your light birthed,

in the darkest places of our world,

and the hidden cracks of our souls.

Let the brightness of your Son shine,

In us, through us, around us.

Let your Spirit nourish and grow it,

until wholeness pushes up

through the broken surface of things,

and green shoots emerge

with the promise of life and hope and truth.

What Is Your Response

Watch the video below. Listen to the words and contemplate the new life within you and within this world that God planted through the incarnation of Christ. What does “newness of life” mean for your you? How have you planted seeds of light during and this Advent season and how do you anticipate living out this newness in the Christmas season?

Newness of Life - YouTube

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by Christine Sine

As many of you know I love Christmas baking. It is a very contemplative practice for me as it gives me a chance to pray for all the friends who will receive these either as a gift or through hospitality.

This year I have tried a few new recipes that I wanted to share with you. I think that they could become as popular as my shortbread. Both of these use ingredients from our garden, which is an added delight that encourages me to look forward to next year and hopefully a bountiful year of produce.

Apple cranberry bars

Apple Cranberry Bars PASTRY

3 cups All purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons custard powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

4 ounces butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1/2 cup milk

FILLING

3  cups stewed apples (or pie apples)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1/2 cup dried cranberries

2 tablespoons honey

Method

1. Sift dry ingredients into a bowl, rub in butter until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. 

2. Add sugar, mix well. Beat egg and milt together, add to dry ingredients, mix to a firm dough.

3. Knead lightly on a floured surface

4. Roll out 2/3rds of pastry to line a greased 13×9” tin

5. Put cooled apple filling into pastry. 

6. Roll out remaining 1/3rd of pastry, cut into 1/4 “ strips and arrange in a lattice fashion over apple

7. Bake in a moderately hot (375F) oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and cook a further 20 minutes or until pastry is cooked 

8. Dust with icing (confectioners) sugar. The apple absorbs the sugar leaving a snowy covering on the pastry

9. FILLING: Put ingredients into a small pan, stir over low heat for 3 minutes. Cool. 

10. Cool in pan before cuttingSource:

Adapted from Australian women’s weekly Best Ever Recipes

Sweet Cherry Almond Bars 

Sweet cherry almond bars

Fruit Filling

1 3/4 lbs pitted cherries, halved or rough chopped (about 2 1/2 cups) I used frozen cherries which tend to produce more liquid so increased cornstarch to 3 teaspoons. I know fresh cherries would have been better but in December in Seattle they are not available unless you want to go with ones imported from the Southern Hemisphere.

4 tablespoons sugar

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 tablespoons cornstarch

Shortbread dough

2 cup flour

1/2 cup almond meal or almond flour

2/3 cup raw organic sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs (I hate to waste egg whites so like to use the whole egg instead of just the yolk as suggested in the original recipe.

2 teaspoon almond extract

8 ounces cold butter, cut in pieces

Topping

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Method

1. Set oven to 350F. Lightly spray an 8×8 baking pan. 

2. Stir together the cherries with the sugar, lemon juice, extract, and cornstarch. Set aside, tossing occasionally to encourage some of the juices to start flowing.

3. Put the flour, almond meal, sugar, salt, and baking powder into the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine.

4. Add the yolk, extract, and butter, and pulse or process to combine just until the dough comes together, it will be crumbly.

5. Press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of your pan to form the crust. 

6. Top with the cherries. Then crumble the remaining dough evenly over the cherries. 

7. Top with the sliced almonds and bake for about 40 minutes until the dough is just golden and the filling is bubbling.

Let cool before cutting.

Adapted from https://theviewfromgreatisland.com/sweet-cherry-almond-bars/

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Advent Week Three Podcast Listen Now

Advent Podcast Week Three - SoundCloud
(1517 secs long, 22 plays)Play in SoundCloud

Listen to Mary September reflect on the pain of separation from her family and home. Join Karen Ward in her reflections on Advent and Tracy Howe Wispelwey’s beautiful song. The closing meditation comes from Waiting for the Light: An Advent Devotional.

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Tom and I are hosting our annual Open House on Saturday. If you are in Seattle feel free to drop by!

One of my favourite recipes for this event is Scottish shortbread. I make at least 4 batches each year for the open house as well as for gifts. I only make shortbread at Christmas time, a tradition well in keeping with my Scottish heritage which linked shortbread with the Yule season (Christmas to New Year’s, called the Hogmaney). It was carried by “first‐footers,” those who visited from house to house in the wee hours of New Year’s morning. For good luck this first footer should be a dark haired person — a tradition I know my grandmother rigorously adhered to.

Surprisingly when I went looking for a recipe on line that I thought my grandmother would approve of I was horrified to see how there were so I thought “Time to post my own recipe” There are 2 secrets to good shortbread – there is no substitute for butter, and a little rice flour gives a good crunch. I prefer this to cornstarch which makes it “short” but not with the same texture that I love in this recipe. I also like to use real sugar (castor sugar in Australia) rather than confectioner’s (icing) sugar as I much prefer the texture. So here it is – passed down from my Scottish grandmother, a double quantity so that I never run out. It keeps well in the freezer too:

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup ground rice or rice flour

2/3 cup sugar

1 lb butter

Cream butter and sugar until light and creamy in a mixer or food processor. Stir in sifted flours in two batches. The mixture will become quite stiff. If your mixer cannot cope combine the ingredients by hand. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead lightly until smooth.

There are lots of ways to cook Scottish shortbread. I divide the mixture into quarters, and make 4 rounds in my 2 cookie sheets. I prick the rounds with a fork and use the fork to decorate the edge. I cook at 300F for 45minutes to an hour until the shortbread is light brown. Cut immediately into wedges (the recipe says 8 but I cut into 12 ) Stand for 10 minutes then remove from tin to a wire rack to cool.

Alternatively mixture can be pressed into 2 greased 11×7 tins. Mark in squares and prick with a fork. Bake at 300F for 45 minutes. Cut immediately into squares but leave in tin for 10 minutes then cool on a wire rack.

I have also used Shortbread molds – I have several. They need to be well rubbed down with cornflour before pressing the mixture into them. This is really hard and very time consuming so to be honest I no longer use my molds. And guess what — the shortbread tastes just a s good.

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by Lilly Lewin

The entire Christmas story is about Interruptions….

In the beginning of Luke’s gospel, Zechariah and Elizabeth had their lives interrupted…by an angel, which means nine months of silence and a baby born to two elderly parents. And even with the joy of having a child after so many years of being barren, and shamed by the lack of a baby, they had to be willing to allow God to tell them how this child should be raised. Not as a good Jewish son at home, but in the wilderness eating bugs and honey. A prophet.

Next, Mary had the ultimate interruption. An angel, a promise and a willingness to say yes to God’s plan above her own. Both Mary and Joseph allowed God to interrupt and intercept all they’d hoped and dreamed about for their lives together! Their entire lives were upended by the announcement of the angel that Jesus was on the way.

And later the Shepherds, minding their own business in the fields, were interrupted by the announcement of the Angels that a child had been born in Bethlehem. A child who would change not only their lives, but the lives of the entire world! They immediately leave their fires and their hillside camp and hurry to see the babe in Bethlehem that the angels have sung about.

Do you experience frustrating interruptions too? I hate interruptions! Even though my life is full of them, I’m learning to accept them.

I used to say that the person who works at a church, especially the admin of a dept, or the admin of the church itself, their first gift needs to be the gift of interruption.

Someone is always popping by the office in need of something, even if it’s just “to talk” to someone, and usually the people who call, or walk in, do not have appointments. But we have to deal with it, right?  But what if the interruptions ARE the story. Because it seems that The entire Christmas story is about Interruptions…and how people respond to these “God-gifts” of interruption!

How about you? How do you feel about interruptions?

Do you receive interruptions as irritations, or can you see them as Gifts?

Are we willing to receive the “Gift of Interruption” this Advent? This Christmas?

Are we willing to allow God to interrupt our plans, our ways, our hopes,

And even our dreams?

Are we willing to be willing?

Are we willing daily to have God interrupt what we had planned?

What about us?  Are we ….

Willing to leave our comfort zones? Willing to go where God sends us? Willing to listen to dreams …. God’s dreams, not just our own? Willing to change plans in mid-course?

I’m so bad at this…I want what I want, and I want it now!

I like change on paper, but it is much harder to live out in real life. I too often want to make my own path, and not trust Jesus for his plan.

Allowing God to direct our paths means we control freaks have to LET GO, and give control over to the One who can see beyond tomorrow, completely!

In 12 step programs we agree to be “willing to be willing.” Can we agree to be “willing to be willing” to allow Jesus to interrupt us, and direct us this Advent and Christmas?

Can we be willing to be willing to receive the gift of interruptions?

What do you need to do in your life today, this week, this season to receive the gift of interruption?

What areas of your life are being interrupted in order for you to prepare him room? Are you willing to see these interruptions as gifts rather than curses?

In what areas of your life do you need to have faith in order to Believe, to Go to go where he sends you…to go to Bethlehem?

Today I need to repent because I’m so not ready to obey…

I’m so bossy and think my ideas are better, and I am so unwilling to be interrupted, or to acknowledge that the interruption is from Jesus.

The beautiful thing about Advent is that God has the map! God knows the way to Bethlehem, and even beyond to Egypt! God plans ahead and knows the bits that will scare us to death. God just wants us to be willing to be willing! God wants us to have the faith to Go where God sends us, and to see the adventure in the interruptions.

As we light the third candle in our Advent Wreath this weekend, the candle of Joy, let’s practice receiving joy in the Gift of Interruption.

.

As a helpful reminder, put a gift bow somewhere you will see it daily….beside your bed, on the dash of your car, or on the mirror in your bathroom. Let the gift bow remind you to receive the gifts of God, even the interruptions as gifts from Jesus.

And, as you wrap presents, pray for each person to receive the gift of Jesus this Christmas and ask Jesus to help you receive the gifts he has for you this Advent season, even the gift of interruption!

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by Christine Sine

Advent is half over. We still wait for the arrival of the Christ child. But to where will we welcome him? Do we really want him taking up residence in our homes or is easier to relegate him to the stable, to see him as an outsider, not really part of the family? Seeing Jesus in an out of the way place where disreputable people like shepherds can come to worship without us having to worry about them messing up our homes makes life easy for us. We get that glow that tells us Jesus is here but there is very little commitment required of us. 

According to New Testament theologian Kenneth Bailey in his wonderful book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Middle Eastern cultures are known for their hospitality and Joseph was coming home with a new wife and an expected first child so there is no way they would have been relegated to the stable. The whole family was gathering, aunts and uncles, cousins and brothers and sisters. All of them coming home. Yes there was a census that brought them together but in a fun loving culture like this it would not have diminished the welcome or the excitement of a homecoming gathering. The expectation of a baby to be born in their midst would only have increased the excitement.

As Kenneth Bailey explains, the Greek word (katalyma or kataluma) translated as inn in Luke 2:7 does not mean a commercial building with rooms for travelers. It’s a guest space, typically the upper room of a common village home.

“A simple village home in the time of King David, up until the Second World War, in the Holy Land, had two rooms—one for guests, one for the family. The family room had an area, usually about four feet lower, for the family donkey, the family cow, and two or three sheep. They are brought in last thing at night and taken out and tied up in the courtyard first thing in the morning.

“Out of the stone floor of the living room, close to family animals, you dig mangers or make a small one out of wood for sheep. Jesus is clearly welcomed into a family home,”  See the entire article here

It was to this simple village home that the shepherds and wise men alike came. Shepherds despised and regarded as unclean by their society, are visited by angels and invited to join the great home coming celebration that marks the coming of the child who will become the Messiah. That they were welcomed and not turned away from this home is remarkable. This is good news indeed for the outcast and the despised.

Then the wise men come, according to Bailey, rich men on camels, probably from Arabia. And they come not to the city of Jerusalem where the Jews thought God’s glory would shine, but to the child born in a manager around whom there is already a great light. The wise men come to find a new home, a new place of belonging that has beckoned to them across the world. This too is remarkable and good news for people of all nations who long for a place to call home.

Bailey tells us that the birth stories of Jesus “de-Zionize” the Messianic traditions. Hopes and expectations for the city of Jerusalem are fulfilled in the birth of the child Jesus. (p54).

The new family, the community that will be formed around this child, does not look to the earthly Jerusalem as its home, but to  the heavenly Jerusalem which will come down from heaven as a gift of God at the end of history. (Revelation 21:1-4). And it is to this home, a place with no more tears, or oppression or starvation that all of us are beckoned by the birth of Christ.

I love this imagery. Even in the birth of Jesus we are called towards a new family and a new home. There are family and friends and animals. And special invitations by angels for the despised and rejected, and a star to guide the strangers and those who seem far off. The new family and the home envisioned in the birth of Jesus is inclusive of all accept God’s invitation.

What will it take for us to really welcome Jesus into our homes this Christmas season?

Let’s recognize Jesus as a part of our family.

I have friends who always leave an empty chair at the dinner table when they hold a festive meal. It is a symbol of the fact that Jesus is the unseen guest at all our meals, the family member who is always present even when we cannot see him. It makes me wonder if at this time of year we should set up the manager in the centre of our dining room tables in preparation for the birth of a baby into our families, a constant reminder that Jesus came to be a part of our family and welcome us into God’s eternal family.

Let’s be willing to invite all those who come with him.

They too are part of our family. We cannot welcome Jesus without also extending our hand of welcome to those who gather round the manger – the disreputable and despised, the foreigners and aliens.

These days when a baby is born many young couples keep it cloistered away for the first couple of months, afraid that it will be exposed to germs that it has no immunity to. Most parents would certainly not welcome those who came to see Jesus – first the animals and then the homeless shepherds who slept in the fields at night. Who do we exclude from our families because we are afraid they will contaminate us and the babies in our midst? 

I love the French custom of santons, in which clay models of villagers are positioned around the manger bringing their gifts to the Christ child.  Imagine all our neighbours, those we enjoy and those we don’t want to have anything to do with, clustered around the manger, invited into that place of intimate hospitality with God. I encourage all of us to consider creating our own “santons” this Advent and Christmas season, santons of words, photos, and actions, not figures of clay.

Emma Morgan adapted this idea for her church in Australia. You can read her account of what she did here 

I am more convinced than ever that it matters a lot where we think Jesus was born, who was with him and how we relate to him.

What is Your Response.

Sit and think about what kind of Jesus you are waiting for this Advent season. Visualize this baby being born into your family. How would be be welcomed? Who would be welcomed with him? Who would not be welcomed into the family circle around him.

So as we light the first candle of Advent, the candle of hope, listen to Kathy Troccoli as she encourages us to go light our world because, as she says we are a family. 

Go Light Your World - Kathy Troccoli - YouTube

(This post is adapted from one I wrote several years ago after reading Kenneth Bailey’s book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes). As an Amazon Affiliate I will receive a small amount for purchases made when you click on this link.

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 For the past 4 years, Cedar Park MB Church in Ladner BC, Canada,  has held a contemplative service to mark the beginning of Advent. My good friend Tom Balke just sent the outline photos to me and the pastor, Lee Kosa has graciously given us permission to share on Godspace:
The service includes Scripture, lectio divina, silence, and reflective worship.  People were seated in a circle with a candle in the middle.  A painting of Mary being visited by the Angel was also displayed. 
 
This year the theme of the responsive reading was “Open my heart to you, O Lord.” The idea is to provide people with a breath prayer to use throughout the season of Advent (see below).

Toward the end of the service, people were invited to come up and take a little package with a gold colored Advent related verse inside (see photo). After a few moments to reflect on the passage, people around the circle each read their verse aloud. 
Responsive Reading
Father, as we enter this season of Advent we come scattered. It is difficult to focus on the coming of your son Jesus into our lives. We yearn for your presence to not only break into the world, but into our lives.
Open my heart to you, O Lord.
At times our hearts feel closed to you.
Open my heart to you, O Lord.
In the midst of our worries, loneliness, strained relationships, illness, and grief.
Open my heart to you, O Lord.
In the midst of the hollowness of our consumer society, we find it difficult to share the good news of the coming of Jesus.
Open my heart to you, O Lord.
Deliver us from aimless chatter and from fear of silence.
Open my heart to you, O Lord.
In this season of heightened demands and expectations we yearn for your peace.
Open my heart to you, O Lord.
In the midst of the frenzy of purchasing gifts, visiting friends and family, and arranging activities.
Open my heart, O Lord.
As we find ourselves surrounded by pressures at work or lack of work.
Open my heart to you, O Lord.
In the midst of a suffering world with so many fleeing and seeking refuge, like Mary & Joseph long ago.
Open my heart to you, O Lord.
In the same way that you prepared Mary and Joseph’s hearts for the birth of Jesus.
Open my heart to you, O Lord.
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by Christine Sine

This morning I have been thinking about the wonder of breath. I read one of my breathing prayers and sat in silence for a few minutes breathing in and out slowly. Listening to the sound of my breath, imagining it flowing into my body and deoxygenating my cells. Not surprisingly this had me reaching for another of my Advent prayers from the past. (Also one of my favorites)

Breath is miraculous. It is life. It is the very essence of God. Yet it is not this I have been thinking about. The cries of those who can’t breathe freely ring in my mind. So many people whose breath has been cut short by fear and terror, by fire, flood and starvation. Images of polluted cities whose air is slowly killing their inhabitants come to me. Asthma sufferers. Refugees fleeing their breathing strangled by hate and violence.

This is the season we not only wait for the one who gives us breath, we wait for the healing and wholeness that comes when all are able to breathe freely and deeply without fear and without the strangling impacts of hate, abandonment and marginalization.

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