14 January 2018

Being Steeped in the Sacred: Transformed Not Conformed

With a fresh, new year beginning, one has a blank slate to start with. One has the opportunity to make new goals and fresh hopes and dreams for the year. For me, I keep things simple. I want to read more books this year and spend less time online. The time I am online, I want to be focused time, so I can do what I want or need to do, and then get off. I want to cultivate a daily Bible reading rhythm and study the Holy Word more, so the rich Truths of the pages of that Holy Book can seep deep into my heart, spirit and being. I want to blog regularly, and cultivate creativity in my life as well. Teaching myself hand embroidery and sewing things I love and knitting warm and cosy scarves and cowls. Those are the things that fill my heart with joy and gladness.

For a year now, I have been wanting to start a Sunday tradition of sharing a Bible study/devotional type of post. I didn't have a plan for a long time and still don't. But I'm going with the flow. When I read something that encourages my soul or come across a verse or passage that brings me to wonder at the beauty of God, then I want to share that with others. Today is a great day to begin, and this verse is the perfect place to start. Especially with a new year just barely beginning.

I am happy to introduce you to a new weekly series here on the blog entitled, "Being Steeped in the Sacred". As you read this post, I think you will understand why I chose that particular name...


Do not be conformed to world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Most every follower of Christ has a treasure trove of verses. Passages of Scripture that have spoken directly to the depth of your soul. Passages of encouragement, conviction and beauty. This is one of my verses. Long ago, I claimed it and tucked it inside my heart, to keep and treasure. 

In the words that we read here, we are reminded that as Christians we cannot live like the world. We are not to be moulded by the pressures of the sinful world. We are to experience a transformation- a new way of thinking made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. The words "by testing" show us that we are to be discerning, that way we will know what is good, true and right. We cannot call ourselves Christian and yet live the way the world does. Your life must show evidence of your faith. James 2:24 reminds us that we are not justified by faith alone, but justified also by our works. The phrase "by faith alone" is used only once in the entire Bible, and when it is used in James, it says that we are NOT saved by faith alone. We must take the Bible for what It truly says and not reform what it says to fit our lives, to justify what we are doing or believing. The Word is Truth. 

Take to heart this explanation, "The Church teaches that salvation is a process of becoming holier and holier through time. All of this is a work of grace that God performs in our hearts through faith. Works done in faith are the natural completion of believing in Christ. As we trust and do God’s work, he instils within us more grace so that we may become holier and so be ready to meet him at the end of our life." 

We do not make ourselves holy; God makes us holy. It is Christ Who sanctifies us, giving us endless grace as He perfects us and makes us holy and entirely blameless. Becoming holy is a journey that lasts a lifetime; not a one-time-occurrence. "Jesus did not teach that salvation came from man obeying God’s law apart from God’s grace. But neither did Jesus teach that salvation consists only of being justified by faith in him"

How can one renew their mind? First and foremost, by living in the Word. When you brew a cup of tea, you place a tea bag in a cup of boiling water. The longer the tea bag sits in the hot, steaming water, the stronger the tea will taste. The darker the colour and more potent the scent. The same is true for a woman of faith. The longer you sit with the Word open, reading it, soaking it in, pondering it, the stronger your faith will grow. The closer you will be with Christ. You will become more holy, more like Him. Indeed, renewing your mind. 

The more time you spend in the Word, steeping yourself in the wisdom and truth that it beholds, the more your life, your works, will line up with God's Word. Your works flow from your heart, from your faith. Both are essential for salvation, for one cannot get to heaven by believing alone. After all, Satan believes in God, yet he is not in heaven. The Sacred Scriptures show us the right way to live, a way that is pleasing to God. We must simply, sit, and steep ourselves in the Truths found in the pages of that Holy Book. When we do, we renew our minds, and in turn, journey a bit more towards holiness and becoming more and more like Christ.

28 December 2017

A Christmas Tea || Savouring the Christmas Season

Christmas Day is over, but the season is just underway. Do get comfy, perhaps pour a cup of tea or hot chocolate, and settle in for a Christmas tea.

As I mentioned in previous posts, this Advent season, I read a couple of books and participated in an online Bible study. This was the first time I really leaned into Advent, not including last year, which wasn't such a good experience for me. I shared about that in the last tea post. This year, thankfully, was much different. Better and beautiful. And there were a few things that I learned and took away, and in turn, want to share with you.  

This year, one of the things that I wanted to learn more about was the Church's liturgical year and living according to the liturgy. I learned a bit off and on through the year thanks to different books and resources and online articles and blogs. But, I learned the most just this past month. I didn't expect to learn about liturgical living as I went through Advent, but I did. God's little gift of beauty and purposeful design. 

(warm Swedish mulled fruit cider with a scrumptious caramel baked doughnut...our Christmas Eve delicacies)

I didn't grow up in a home where Advent was practised. Christmas for us began right after Thanksgiving and once Christmas Day was over, well, that was it. I always had major day-after-Christmas-blues and many years felt really depressed and down after all the hoopla and celebrations had lasted for so long. It just seemed to go and go and go, and then all of a sudden, it was over. It's almost like a shock to the system. 

November came this year and I began to listen to Christmas music and celebrating along with everyone else. I watched a few Christmas movies and specials on TV, but nothing too much. (Mostly because I find the majority of Christmas movies really depressing and sad.) But, when Advent finally began this year, I decided unconsciously to hold off and wait until the actual Christmas season began. I did this without even realizing I was doing it! Each night I would read my Advent Bible study and the books that I wanted to be my seasonal companions. I was loving Advent, for the first time!

On Christmas Eve, I began to finally see the beauty and wisdom of the Church's liturgical year. There is amazing wisdom in that tradition and practice! I couldn't believe it! When the world is ready for Christmas to be over and when folks can't wait to put their decorations away, turn off the music, and get back to normal, the Christmas season is really just getting started. They're tired of it and over with everything before anything ever really begins. There is beauty in the season of Christmas. When I hold off on most of the festivities until Christmas itself, I find myself not getting tired of hearing Christmas music or seeing decorations. 

(My sister baked a totally-from-scratch Caramel Mud Pie for Christmas Day, and you'd be surprised to find out what's in it! One ingredient...sweet potatoes! It's absolutely heavenly!)

Before I continue, please know that I do not follow any legalistic approach to this. I am a Christmas lover and couldn't imagine not having my house decorated all December long. My mom says that I am the type person who would love to bring the tree out in October if I could, and that's probably true. I still listened to Christmas music before Christmas Day, just not as much. I chose to save my "big time listening" until the season itself. The point to all this is that there are wisdom and beauty in the tradition of living liturgically. For me, it brings God into the midst of everyday, ordinary rhythms and dailiness. It is a beautiful way of bringing heaven to earth and tasting a bit of what we have to look forward to. It is a gift...and one to be treasured, protected and cherished. I am simply planting a seed in your heart and mind that Christmas doesn't end on Christmas Day. What if we celebrated it for the entire season it deserves? 

This Advent taught me that there is beauty in living liturgically. And that Christmas is so much more than a day; it is as a season full of celebration and joy and gladness. I find it miraculous that the Christmas season just so happens to be the season we find ourselves when the new calendar year begins. What a splendid way to start off a new year than with celebrating our Saviour's birth!

How am I savouring the Christmas season, you ask? Well, we are still enjoying our decorations and cookies. I have listened to my favourite Christmas music and watched movies and shows that make the season special. My room is all sparkly and twinkly with fairy lights. The manger is sitting on the hearth, waiting for the wise men and shepherd boy to be added in the coming days. I am reading a delightful and whimsical Christmas story at the moment, which is filling my heart with joy!

I hope you are finding tremendous joy and bountiful blessings in this Christmas season, friends! I hope your heart is filled to the brim with the knowledge that He came for you. I hope you know His love and grace. And I hope as we head into the new year, you will continue to bask in the miracle of Christmas. Because it is a miracle, indeed!

God bless you, and send you a happy new year! See you in 2018, dear friends! I can't wait to journey with you through another year...joy be with you!

23 December 2017

Love and Joy Come to You, and a Happy Christmas, Too

The decorations are all out in all their splendour. Each gift is carefully and beautifully wrapped. Christmas music fills the air, and yes, I do believe I needed to put on a hat as I walked out the door today. It's truly beginning to feel like Christmas. All the preparations are well underway, and everything is ticked off the list, except for the dinner preparations. I have a list of things to be cooked and baked from scratch for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We have gone with a casual, and fun, dinner of nibbles on Christmas Eve, and the traditional turkey dinner for Christmas Day. We have side dishes that need to be prepared and a caramel mud pie that needs to be baked. The kitchen is definitely a place of hustle and bustle this weekend! I must say that all the holiday scents are absolutely delightful! 

With all that said, there is no Advent Tea post for this weekend, but don't worry...I have a couple of Christmas teas planned for the Christmas season, and I can't wait to share those with you.

The light of the Christmas star to you,
The warmth of home and hearth to you,
The cheer and goodwill of friends to you,
The hope of a childlike heart to you,
The joy of a thousand angels to you, 
The love of the Son and God's peace to you.

·An Irish Christmas Blessing·

May you have a beautifully blessed day of celebrating the birth of our dear Saviour. May your heart be filled with the Love, Beauty, Hope, Joy, Peace, and Goodness that came down in the form of a tiny baby in a dark, dirty manger that Christmas morning many years ago. May this Christmas season be a blessed one for you and yours. May His light shine through you and may your lives shine brighter because of His birth. May the coming year be one that is filled to overflowing with blessings, joy, love, happiness, goodness and beauty. May a thrill of hope fill your heart and may you greatly rejoice in His birth!

Love and joy come to you, and a happy Christmas, too! Blessings and peace to you this Christmas season, dear friends! I look forward to another year of blogging and getting to share and journey with you. I'll be back next week for the first of two Christmas teas...hope you'll join me then!

JOY to the world, the LORD is come! O, come let us adore Him! For He will bring us GOODNESS and LIGHT! 

22 December 2017

We Wait and Wonder

We wait and we wonder...

In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you watch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you've never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.
·Frederick Buechner·

But God, when He comes- He shows up in this fetal ball. He who carved the edges of the cosmos curved Himself into a fetal ball in the dark, tethered Himself to the uterine wall of a virgin, and lets His cells divide, light splitting all white. He gave up the heavens that were not even large enough to contain Him and lets Himself be held in a hand. The mystery so large becomes the Baby so small, and infinite God becomes infant. The Giver becomes the Gift, this quiet offering. This heart beating in the chest cavity of a held child, a thrumming heart beating hope, beating change, beating love, beating the singular song you've been waiting for- the whole dizzy planet's been spinning around waiting for.
·Ann Voskamp·

We wait and we wonder. May your heart be filled with wonder and awe as we wait these last few days of Advent for the celebration of the coming of the Saviour.

17 December 2017

The Third Tea of Advent || Cultivating Joy & Cheer This Advent

Of all the four weeks of Advent, I do believe that the third week is my favourite. The theme of this week is JOY, and I love everything about that. If anyone should have joy and live with joyfulness, it is a Christian.

Last year was my first year observing Advent in a real, personal way. I went through an Advent book and journal and fully threw myself into it. I read a lot from different writers about Advent and through that came across a number of perspectives and opinions about how Advent should be observed. The most common perspective and approach to Advent that I found was one of depression, despair, darkness. I read how Advent was a time of deep longing and a realization that the world was dark and in deep despair without it's Saviour. From my readings, I came to the conclusion based on what I had learned that I needed to put myself in that place- a place of darkness, depression and despair during Advent. And somehow this was pleasing to God.

Friends, I ruined my own Advent and Christmas last year. Every single day I was in a bad, sour mood. I was deeply depressed, unlike I had been in a long time. I was desperately sad and always down. I cried a lot and my poor family didn't know what was going on with me. Christmas Day came and I finally began to feel better...Advent was over. It took me several months, though, to get back to my normal self. Through the book I was reading, as well as all the other resources that I found, I had come to believe that God was pleased if I was in a low place. After experiencing such misery, I decided to make this year different. Over the past year, I have learned a new, and better, perspective on Advent. I choose to see Advent as a time when joy builds with each day, when anticipation grows each week, and when the celebration is picking up momentum with each passing moment. As I mentioned above, the teachings I had embraced previously taught that the world is a dark place. It is in despair and desperate for a Saviour. Friends, that was true two thousand years ago before Jesus came, and it is true today. But, that doesn't mean that we can't have joy or live with joyfulness. Here's why...

It is an unfortunate thing in many Christian circles and churches for people to believe that Christians can't or shouldn't live with joy. We can't be cheerful and happy. We can't have fun or celebrate. That is a terrible way to live. The Bible is full of verses about joy, being joyful and living with a joyful perspective and attitude. In fact, for a Christian to live opposite of that is a downright shame. That's not to say that everything is always perfect or that life never happens or messes never occur. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world, but God is redeeming us and the world now, in every moment of every day. And that right there is reason enough to have joy and be cheerful.

Sally Clarkson has much wisdom to say on this very topic. Take a look at a few excerpts from her newest book, The Lifegiving Table. Keep reading on and we'll discuss some more about joy and what wisdom these thoughts have.

I believe that God intended us to experience the full range of beauty in the world as a testament to His generous love for us. To neglect delight, feasting, and celebration is to neglect worshipping God in the way He intended us to.

Fun is often overlooked in the intentional life. The ability to play- to laugh and enjoy little things in life- is reflective of the image of God in our lives. It reminds us that we are not here as cogs in the universal system, but as children of a loving Father who loves to watch His children laugh. I firmly believe a life without fun, friendships and pizza nights is a life not fully lived as God intended it to be.

Christians, sadly, have believed for far too long that they are more spiritual and holy if they don't enjoy life, have fun, celebrate holidays or laugh loudly. However, one of the most wonderful ways we can worship God is by being joyful and cheerful and celebrating and having fun. Sally Clarkson writes, "Christians sometimes feel a pressure to be 'spiritual' all the time. But to separate the spiritual from the ordinary is to say that Jesus is not King over those everyday moments in life. We should learn from Jesus to embrace the mundane moments- even the silly, fun ones- and find God's fingerprints of grace within then. If we can do this, we will learn to see God in a fuller dimension."

She goes on to say, "Of course we are called to be instruments of His peace, to live righteous lives, and to care for others. But ultimately, our calling is to bring glory to God and to let Him perfect us into the image bearers He always meant us to be. I think that sometimes we can bring much more glory to God by being cheerful and delighting in the world and people He has given us than by living a 'useful' life where we trot grimly around with a martyr complex that annoys everyone we encounter."

I don't know about you, but I have no interest in being around someone who is always glum, cheerless and negative. I have been around people like that, and it's not an encouraging atmosphere. They don't point you towards heaven, nor do you feel inspired to follow God after being around them. After all, who wants to follow a God who calls you to be in deep despair or depressed all the time. Not me. Over the last few years, I have come across these types of people both in real life and online, and I make a special effort to avoid them. They don't build up, nor do they do anything to help grow or build the Kingdom. They're best left to keep themselves company in their sad little world. When we enjoy life, are joyful and cheerful and celebrate with gladness all that each day holds, we bring the utmost glory to God. It pleases Him and brings joy to His Father-heart. I'm sure of that.

Clarkson continues, "I think that sometimes people are afraid to have too much fun or to celebrate life. Yet it is only when we do this fully, from the heart, that we understand the joy of the Lord, the God who gave us the ability to be satisfied, to laugh merrily, and play games and eat to our hearts' content."

What a sad state modern Christianity is! We think it is bad to have fun and for our lives to be filled with joy, cheer, and happiness. I wonder how much this breaks the heart of God. The Father who desires good, good things for His beloved children. The One who wants so badly to give us the desires of our hearts and to make our dreams come true. He is the giver of all things good, and I wonder why don't we just take Him up on His gift. Why don't we accept with gratefulness and gladness the gift that He is freely giving? By living in such a martyr-like state, we are indeed bringing shame to the very name of God and are not living the life He intended for us to live. He came so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Why don't we act like it? Why don't we live fully in His goodness and grace? It's there for us to take, embrace, and accept, and yet we would rather take the life filled with darkness, despair and depression. As Christians, we are now in the light, yet why do we keep going back to live in the dark? If laughter is a gift from God, why do we act as though it is a curse? And we do so all in the name of Jesus. That's not what He wants for us.

People are always seeking ways to suck the joy and cheer from their lives it seems. Folks choose not to celebrate holidays like Christmas or Halloween. Parents take the magic out of their children's childhood by saying "no" to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost, and the Tooth Fairy. Kids aren't allowed to read Harry Potter. There are many other examples, yet none of them has sufficient ground or substance. While parents and folks who choose to live in this way may say that they do so thinking they are making good choices for themselves and their families, in reality, the real reason is that they think these are great ways to be more holy or Christian than those who don't. These are what lots of people I know would call "holy-rollers" or "holier-than-thou", and I'm afraid to say that these choices and lifestyles and attitudes don't do anything positive for the Kingdom, in fact, they turn people away.  And any childhood that doesn't have the magical aspect, that encourages kiddos to play make-believe, and develop a huge imagination is a real pity and a true shame. Why are we on the constant search for ways to suck the joy and cheer from our lives? Too many "no's" and not nearly enough "yes's". And again, all in the name of Jesus and holiness. Poor, poor, pitiful us. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Finding joy in sucking the joy.

If the Holy Scriptures say that He came so that we might have life and have it abundantly, we need to take Him at His Word and live an abundant life. With joy, cheer, gladness, and gratefulness. The Bible is the Word of God. It is holy. It is complete. It is good, and it is true. No other thing is needed for us to know what He teaches and desires for us. We need to start taking Him at His Word and stop putting a comma where He put a period. We need to stop adding "buts" and start simply saying "yes" and "thank you". It's a simple as that. As my Grandpa always said, "It's people who love to try to complicate the Christian faith. It's really simple. Follow the Bible and that is all." And to that, I shout a hearty "AMEN!" And I rest my case.

Joy is good. Cheer is pleasing to Him. It's what He desires for us. Therefore, it's how we should live. Period. And thank God for it!

How often do we forget this exuberant and celebratory nature of God? Why do we walk around with dour faces at church as though our displeasure will somehow please God more than being His hopeful, cheerful, grateful children?
(Sally Clarkson)

As we light the third, PINK!!, candle this week, may the words of the prayer below ring with joy in our hearts and may the joy of the Lord fill us this week and always.

A Prayer for the Third Week of Advent

God, our Father, please forgive us for not freely accepting Your gift of joy and all that is good. Forgive us for choosing what we think brings You glory when the very thing that we say "no" to is what brings You glory the most. Fill our hearts with an everlasting joy and cheer abounding. Help us to live a life that shouts to the world that "He is good!" Give us life and give it abundantly. Give us the eyes to see the blessings that fill our days, whether they be small or big. Give us hearts bent toward You and joyful spirits and a hunger to celebrate all that You give us. We come to You with grateful hearts, filled with gladness for what You have done for us. We come with arms open to receive the beautiful gifts You long to give us. We say "yes" and "thank You". 

May your third week of Advent be a most joy-filled one with cheer flying around like confetti!

God bless you, dear one.

Peace, and joy, be with you!

10 December 2017

The Second Tea of Advent || Cultivating Wonder This Advent

Over the past first week of Advent, I have sat most every night with open Bible, open devotion book, and with my heart and spirit attuned to the Voice of the One Who was born in that dirty stable. As we enter into this second week of Advent, there is one common thread that has been woven throughout the messages I have read this past week. And that is wonder. 

I am spending this season in Ann Voskamp's book The Greatest Gift. This book has proven to be stunningly beautiful and hope-filled. Revisiting the prophecies of the Old Testament has been so good. I love seeing how God wove the story of redemption all the way through the entire Bible. The Scriptures are filled to overflowing with a story of hope, grace, and endless peace. And through it all, I see a common thread of wonder. Awe.

It all begins with the story of Creation, found in Genesis. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The Bible opens up with God creating the world. Just reading those words awakes a sense of wonder and awe. As I read the Creation story, I am bewildered at how anyone can believe in evolution. The Bible is clear when It says that God made everything, including man and woman. Honestly, I find it quite disturbing! From the mountains that reach up to the sky to the sea that goes on forever, to the sandy shore that knows just when to stop and hold back and the stars that just hang from nothing. When I ponder the conception of a baby, I realize that it has little to do with the man and woman and much to do with God and His tender hand touching the union of a loving husband and wife and pouring grace into her womb. I sit back and watch the seasons change in all their unique glories. From tons of snowflakes, all different and special, falling from the sky on a cold Winter's morn to the fresh buds popping up in Springtime, from the vivid colours of crisp Autumn leaves dancing in the wind to a rich sunset on a hot Summer evening. Through all creation, we see the hands of a Master Artist. Evolution completely takes God out of the picture and goes completely against everything written in Scripture. It minimizes God, and is an entirely anti-Christian way of thinking and believing. It's time we start taking God's Word for what it is...His Word. Period.

In Voskamp's book, she writes, The authority of God made all of creation. But it was the affection of God that made all His children. Dear friend, you were lovingly made by a loving God for love and to be love. Love is so gently and yet so obviously written all over the story of God's creation of the world, and most of all, of His creation of humanity. You didn't just appear; you didn't evolve from apes (or whatever else someone might tell you). You are here for such a time as this. You have a distinct purpose and are part of God's grand story. Wonder. Awe. If the story of creation doesn' spark endless wonder and reverent awe for the Creator of the universe, I honestly don't know what will.

John Calvin said, "As soon as we acknowledge God to be the supreme architect, who has erected the beauteous fabric of the universe, our minds must necessarily be ravished with wonder at His goodness, wisdom, and power. We must be sure of the infinite good that is done to us by the Lord Jesus Christ, in order that we may be ravished in love with our God and inflamed with a right affection to obey Him and keep ourselves strictly in awe of Him."

Those words from Calvin struck something deep within me. I think we often associate wonder, imagination, and awe with children. Sometimes, we can buy into the lie and false notion that embracing those things in our lives somehow makes us immature, childish, and foolish. However, I believe the opposite to be true. What better time is there to embrace awe of our great God, to see His world with fresh wonder and to develop a Christian imagination than that of Advent? After all, this is the time when we pause to ponder the first coming of the Saviour.

Living with wonder is living in the endless worship of God. And it has the power to change our lives. Endless thanksgiving. Endless praise. An endless celebration of Him and all that He declared "good". Endless worship. Take to heart the words of Frederick Buechner, and allow them to dwell in your heart and mind as we enter this second week of Advent: "The birth of the child into the darkness of the world made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it."

One of my most favourite songs is "Don't Let Me Lose My Wonder" by the Gettys. Read these lyrics, and may they become the prayer of our hearts:

I’ve seen days melt into nights in circles of lights,
I’ve watched a spider spin a star between the window box flowers,
I’ve heard you laugh and cry in a single sigh,
And a story form within.
Don’t let me lose my wonder,
Don’t let me lose my wonder.
I saw her broken dreams inside but helping others fly,
I saw his eyes without a doubt though other lights faded out,
And though her calling roared, such graciousness poured
From the vision of her soul.
A baby cried through the dark beneath a jewelled spark,
I knew Your voice upon the hill and heard my lostness still,
I found my home in the light where wrong was made right
And You rose as the morning star.

May your week be one filled with beauty and blessing. May you seek to cultivate a spirit of wonder and awe in your life as we ponder the coming of our Saviour. May the wonder of His love and the beauty of His creation encircle us. May we see Him in the small, ordinary moments of each day. And may the birth of the Holy Child, and all the peace, hope, love, joy, and beauty that He brought into the world give us not just a new understanding of life, but a new way to live it as well.

A Prayer for the Second Sunday of Advent

Jesus, as we prepare to welcome You again this Christmas,
speak Your words into our hearts and lives, that by our preparation for Your birth,
we might proclaim what still needs to be made ready if our world is to become more like Your Kingdom.
Soften our hearts, calm our fears, and give us courage to proclaim Your coming in our broken world.

I hope you have a marvellous second week of Advent, and I invite you back next week for yet another tea time. Until then...

Peace be with you, friends! 

03 December 2017

The First Tea of Advent || Cultivating Peace and Calm This Advent

Here we find ourselves on the first Sunday, the first day, of Advent...finally. Thanksgiving came early this year, which meant that Advent would be coming late. Last year Advent seemed to go on forever, while this year, it is a rather short season. This past week was a sort of in-between week, a gap week. It gave a bit of time to prepare to prepare. A little waiting before the waiting actually begins. In my family, that meant a week to get all the decorations out from the attic and get most of them in their special places for the coming month-and-a-half. Now, we are. Advent is finally beginning...

In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you've never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.
·Frederick Beuchner·

The journal I am going through this Advent began on Thursday, the feast of St. Andrew. For the past few days, the readings and reflections have been preparing my heart for the Advent season. And as I was reading, I began to ponder. When I think of Advent, the words peace and calm come to mind. I think that this is the perfect time of year to cultivate those into our lives, even if just in small ways. And those tend to be the most effective and meaningful ways, anyhow. What are some practical ways to cultivate peace and calm into our daily lives?

Well, here's what I'm doing to bring them into my life this season:

We can start by adding in some quiet moments. Moments to read and ponder Scripture. Moments to drink from the living Word of God. Time to pause and be still and know that He is God, just as the Psalmist said. In order for there to be any peace to our days, we must set aside some time for God. We need to fill our own cups before we can begin to pour out into the lives of those we love. His Word gives life to our spirits and during this time of year, that is a necessity. Even if you only sit for five minutes, be still and attune your heart and spirit to His voice. In Friday's Advent reflection in "Rooted in Hope", Elizabeth Foss writes, "Know that God can do loaves and fishes miracles with your small parcels of time, if only you are willing to offer Him what you have. Before Advent gets swallowed with the ordinary to-do lists of seasonal hustle, sit in prayer and see how you can tune your heart to the beat of the Lord's, and ensure that the best gift you give this season is your life, given for others in charity."

This can be a busy time of year. For my family, personally, we don't have any special events to attend or anything like that. But there are things that we like to do every year...traditions, rituals, special things. I don't want to become overwhelmed by feeling like I have to "do it all", when in fact if I did "do it all" I wouldn't enjoy any of it. And that defeats the whole reason for doing anything in the first place. The traditions that I enjoy and love are meant to bring joy, happiness, laughter, and cheer to the season. Not make me feel drained and overwhelmed. So, moments of quiet, sitting with an open Bible, and heart open, as well, to His love, that is a perfect way to cultivate peace and calm in my life.

While the world shouts that we need to do more this holiday season, the Lord says otherwise. May we spend this Advent season seeking His presence in the stillness, and may we quiet our hearts enough to hear His voice. For then we might hear Him whisper just how deeply we are loved.
·Elise Howe, In Endless Song·

I desire a quiet and simple life, and Advent is no excuse to let those desires go flying out the window. One of the biggest areas in which peace and calm disappear from our lives is by spending too much time in front of a screen. A personal goal I have set for myself this season, and one that I plan to carry over well after Advent is long over, is to lessen my daily screen time. For me, this only includes computer time. As I have mentioned in the past, I do not own or use a smartphone, so that temptation doesn't even exist. I also don't count TV in this because I don't count TV as screen time, as crazy as that sounds. For me and my family, TV is something we enjoy, and it adds moments of relaxation and fun to our days. We don't have it on all the day long, but in the evenings and before bed, it is a way to calm down; so, it adds peace and calm to our days.

However, computer time is a totally different matter. There are two ways that I plan on lessening my time in front of my screen. First, I plan on being purposeful with my time on the internet. It can be easy to go on just to look up a recipe or check my emails or find an address, and then before I know it, I've been on for half-an-hour. I don't want to spend my whole life enslaved to technology. In fact, I want to minimize technology in my life in great ways. When I am intentional and purposeful with my time online, I am able to reach my next goal in the pursuit of lessening screen time....by spending less time in front of a screen. Obviously, these two go hand-in-hand. When I only use the computer for what I intended, I get off so much quicker. I'm not wasting away in front of a screen! There are things that I find beneficial and encouraging about the internet, such as blogging, but I don't need to fritter away hours doing useless things. I can spend a suitable amount of time doing what I enjoy, get off and then...

I am convinced that doing something with your hands and busying your mind with good things are the best ways to add peace and calm to our days. Reading a (real!) book, baking a batch of cookies, writing in your journal, cleaning, and tidying, crafting, and the list could go on for miles. Getting away from the loudness of the internet world and doing something that actually engages you with beauty, people, and life will benefit you in ways you don't even know. Light a candle and sit in the soft glow. Sit beside the twinkling fairy lights of the Christmas tree. Savor a cup of hot tea and linger. Curl up with a good (real, physical) book and a warm blanket. Put on some cosy pyjamas and watch a favourite movie. Pull out a beloved family recipe and bake some cookies. All these things are good and have tremendous possibility to add peace and calm to your days.

Another must in my book for cultivating peace and calm is getting out in creation. Even if it is freezing cold outside, bundle up with all the cosy scarves and gloves you can find, and take a walk. Nature, I'm convinced, is one of God's greatest gifts to us. In nature, we find God. Every single time. Taking notice of how the outside world embraces the seasons with beauty and grace will bring refreshment to your spirit.

Cultivating peace and calm into our lives this Advent isn't rocket science. It does take some saying "no" to certain things and saying a hearty "yes" to others. There are things in this world and in each of our lives that aren't necessarily bad, but at the same time, they aren't exactly adding much to it either. Those things need to be put in their place so we don't become a slave to them. There are far more lovely things out there that we need to bring into our lives more and more. Those things are gifts, however small they are. Beautiful, sacred gifts to be cherished.

Advent marks the New Year in the Church. The Liturgical calendar begins again at Advent, so I can't think of a better time to bring some more peace and calm to our days...and then, of course, continue that well after Advent is over and the ordinary days of Ordinary Time begin once again.

Well, this tea is coming to an end. I invite you to spend some time this first week of Advent pondering how you can cultivate peace and calm in your own life. I shared the ways that I intend on doing this for myself here, and I would love to hear your own ideas below.

As we light the first purple candle on the Advent wreath today, may we join hearts with the Psalmist in being still and knowing He is God. With that first candle lit, the light begins to overcome the darkness. Peace, Who was born in the manger, is making Himself known. We begin to taste a small bit of the mystery of the Incarnation. Of God becoming man in the form of a tiny baby. Of the Ruler of the universe, the Saviour of the world, being wrapped in cloths. Ann Voskamp so beautifully writes, "He gave up the heavens that were not large enough to contain Him and lets Himself be held in a hand. The mystery so large becomes the Baby so small, and infinite God becomes infant."

A Prayer for the First Sunday of Advent

Great Giver of all that is, 
show us how much we have received through Your abundant generosity.
Satisfy our restless hearts with the assurance of your love for us,
that we will grow to desire Your potter's hands shaping and moulding us.

Happy and blessed Advent to you...join me here again next Sunday for the second tea of the season.

Peace be with you ♥