Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year! Look FORWARD!!!

After thinking about whether to write about my favorite gadgets from 2008 or a New Year's message which really stands out to me, I'm thinking I'll write the latter first :-) For many of us, this was a really really looooooooong year, wasn't it? And I don't mean just jam-packed full of fun and joviality. It was a hard year in many ways, though it also had its own joys.
It's funny. We journey through Advent in preparation for the joy of Christmas and then bam...New Year's is upon us and we're looking at those Resolutions again, often feeling varieties of failure about the ones we made with such diligence last year(s) and didn't *keep*, or they just didn't stick, or whatever. So here we are on the cusp of a brand spanking new year stuck between the residue of what we didn't accomplish last year and the need to come up with some goals for this new one only hours away ready to pounce upon us.
I'd like to suggest what might be a radical new idea. Instead of creating resolutions of what you "should" or "need" to do, why not instead come up with a few of what you shouldn't? Like a list of New Year's Nonsolutions, or Unsolutions. Then pare them down to a basic concept or two, because you know they really will fall into a couple of categories which are more manageable to consider than a whole bunch of things. A few things you covenant that you WON'T do next year. Things that by NOT doing will benefit you and those you love and the world around you.

What do you think? Personally, it's the direction I'm going to take. Oh this doesn't mean I'm planning to dive off the wagon and go nuts with carbohydrates and totally forget about the idea of exercise. But are you grokking with the slight but really huge difference here? [I love that old term "grok"....if you read science fiction you'll remember means something even more internal and intense than just *understand* something...if you "grok" something, it means you can practically see/feel it through/within the person you're sharing the idea with because you experience the concept in a real way instead of just intellectually "understanding" it.]

Before we step into the New Year, though, we do need to make peace with the last one, to take responsibility for it and to put it where it really lives: in the PAST. We need to say thank you to the things that have blessed us which we continue to carry as part of ourselves and to say good bye to the things that weren't so good for us whether we were the ones who *did* them or not.
I have recently learned (thanks to the help of a friend) how to imbed a Youtube video directly here. Really listen to this song. You've probably heard it on a couple of TV shows in the background as they're ending. Now the fabulous group "Il Divo" has recorded it in Spanish. But you need to really hear the words in English. It's "Hallelujah" [BTW "Hallelujah" means "praise the Lord" in Hebrew] written some several years ago by Leonard Cohen and then recorded by the late Jeff Buckley. A whole bunch of people have sung it since, but I love this particular performance.
It's a perfect sound track for taking stock of your own personal 2008, making peace, saying "thank you" as well as "good bye" and all the things you need to do before you close the book and look FORWARD into the unyet written 2009.

It's basically the story of David in the Bible. Oh how we can relate. Man did he ever blow it over and over again in huge ways, yet was redeemed and blessed. Sure there were consequences, as there are for us (that's what I mean about taking responsibility before saying goodbye, taking what we needed to learn from 2008 and then moving FORWARD).

Please oh please take the time to click on the link, sit back and listen and drink in the song. I hope it blesses you as much as it does me. I pray that 2009 will bring peace, healing, growth and joy to your lives as well as things of your hearts desires. Really consider that concept of resolutions of "Not Do's" instead of "Should or Will Do's". :-) Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Time to Plant and Tend Your Garden!

Around Thanksgiving PJ and I saw this cool TV news story about a guy who diligently tends what he calls two “gardens”: one is a vegetable garden, and the other is a service he provides daily on the highways of California for people who have broken down, run out of gas or have flat tires. His truck is plainly marked so people know he’s *for real*. He accepts no money for this service he cheerfully renders whenever he sees someone pulled over, obviously with a car that’s stopped working. He simply gives each person a card asking them to help others whenever they can, in whichever way they can. That’s all. Simple, profound, real and amazing. So like Christ. Sure, it’s easier for this guy because he’s retired and has the time for this full time service and somehow has the funds for the gallons of gasoline and antifreeze/coolant he dispenses, and the varieties of fan belts he replaces. But surely, somehow, on some level we can all plant and tend gardens like this, too, in ways which are safe for us and helpful for others. We just have to be watchful and open for opportunities. Because, my friends, you may have been noticing this too: more than ever people are becoming more callous, crass and de-sensitized to the needs of others. If we ever needed to plant seeds of kindness and regularly tend and be generous in giving out of the fruits, it surely is NOW.
Last week after leaving a meeting and doing a fast errand at Staples, I joined countless others in the parking lot whose cars were covered over with a thick misery of snow which was liberally coated with ice, and sleet still coming down. Lovely. I’d come away from the house without gloves, but at least I had a scraper! With the car running and defrosters heating up, I dug in with the scraper, trying to ignore my cold hands while remembering the law about clearing the roof of the car too. Just as I was finishing up with my car, a man came out to start this same work on his SUV, only he had gloves but no scraper. It would be a hard go for him getting through all that ice. The least I could do was just step over and help….so I did. “Let me give you a hand with that….at least I have a scraper,” I said, beginning with the passenger side as that was closest to where I was standing. As soon as all that area was cleared and I’d begun working on the driver’s side, the man said with no particular feeling, “That’s ok….my wife’s driving”. (!!!!) I only looked at him for a second [I didn’t glare….really…..I was too stunned] and then just started in on the driver’s side. I think he reconsidered what he said because, a little embarrassingly he followed up with, “Um…..I guess I shouldn’t have said that.” I smiled and told him I thought probably he’d like for his wife to be able to see where she’d be driving him and we both continued on in silence until his car was acceptably cleared.
My hands were fine. All the scraping was fine. It had been worth it, especially with this particular man. Who knows what his life is like to casually say something like that….to a woman who was pitching in to help his scraperless-self out of an icy, snowy mess. When I got into my car, though, my brief prayer liberally included his wife.
Many of you are generous in so many ways. I’m merely trying to call attention to another vital area which takes little time or energy and provides much satisfaction for you as well as providing acts of kindness and faith which will sow seeds that will change the world. Really. Jesus chose one person at a time. More than 2000 years ago He selected only 12 disciples who diligently spread His gospel throughout regions of the world, calling more and more ordinary people, and Christianity continues to grow as the huge force of goodness, grace, love and salvation in our world today. One person at a time. Please remember this whenever you might think to yourself, “well, it’s only me….what can I do…what can I give….what do I have to offer…I’m only one person”.
There’s a scripture in 1 Peter I’d like to share and then morph it around to fit this situation about 2009 being the year you diligently plant your *garden* and generously, creatively share from it. “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8). Put this scripture together with a quote from Eli Weisel: “Evil happens when good people stand idly by and do nothing”. I know you’re getting the picture here. But let’s turn the concept to face into the joy of it: LOVE happens when good people step up and do something. Just a little something. Scraping here, a kindness there, a smile or soft word….whatever fruits you creatively grow in your garden and share generously with the world. Why not let 2009 be the year you intentionally plant such a garden. Become more aware, sew the seeds, share the fruits and reap the harvest. You will be blessed. Happy New Year! Happy New YOU!
Karen Brook Westhaver +

Friday, December 26, 2008

Have some fun: What's your favorite Christmas Carol?

Notice the term is "Christmas Carol", not holiday song. See, "Jingle Bells" or even "White Christmas" doesn't really count, though that last one's a pretty song. Nope, a Christmas carol is distinctively well, ahem, religious in a quasi sort of manner. You know what I mean? Something you may remember from singing in a choir sometime in church, or if you went to a Christian school, or a school where they allowed songs which celebrated the *Christ* part of Christmas. But not "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" or the above mentioned "Frosty", "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" or other ones I seem to be blocking on at the moment.

When George Winston (very cool pianist with a distinctive open sound) came out with his album entitled "December", I'd never heard of this guy. Never heard of his music, didn't know anything about the album. But I loved the cover. It's the only album I ever bought purely because the cover struck me as something of beauty and made me think there must be good music inside. And wow was I right.

Every year I love to dig out his renditions of "The Holly and the Ivy" and "Some Children See Him" among others. See, George is very cagey about his written music. Oh yes, he does write it down, often with the help of a guy named Chip Davis. BUT he doesn't often release these written pieces and I grab them up when I can find them. I'm not so hot at playing by ear, but give me notes and I can generally make something of them. George Winston's notes, however, are deceptively simple to hear. MUCH practice is required, at least for me. But then, I can't stand to play something and have it just sound only kind of like it's supposed to. You know? Not that I'm a total perfectionist, but something's got to sound goooood. And at least also have the spirit of the piece and make the listener feel inspired, cheered or blessed by the hearing of it.
So here's the challenge. I wish I could give a prize, but, won't it be fun to check back here and see what stuff people have pulled out as their favorite Carols? That's kinda a prize in its own, don't you think? Go ahead.....even if you can't spell "Wenceslaus" (as in Good King Wenceslaus) or whatever, just have at it. Have fun :-) If we don't keep these carols alive in one manner or another, we're eventually going to be destined to hearing only "Frosty" "Rudolph" and "Santa" at Christmas time. And that would be, just, well.....wrong :-(
If you post stanzas of verses in your comments, I'll print them all. Hey,'s not too late. There's 12 days of Christmas. At least. Remember, the concept is to keep the spirit of Christmas all year long. I can't wait to see what folks might write back! Enjoy!!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mantra for the season...for all the time

Insomnia. Not a a good thing. Lots of you know this "up close and personal", I'm sure. We have a sort of club, don't we? But the meetings are all held individually, keeping a kind of watch through the night until maybe, just maybe, sleep might come. And oh yes I've had this all evaluated and treated etc. Blah blah. You may well know the concept and if so, I'm sorry. There is something unique about being awake in the middle of the night, knowing there are countless others who are awake as well. There is a prayer which is sometimes said toward the end of a late night evening service (called Compline) which if sleep is elusive for you, too, you may relate with also: "
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and
give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give
rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted,
shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen."

For those of you who are occasional or more regular members of the insomniac guild, I hope that prayer ministers to you. There's something peaceful about it to me, even though I'm not in the weeping or generally not in the working catagory which it references.

BUT. For all of us not only in the hecticness of this holiday season, but wrestling (at least at times) with the overall difficultness which comes with winter and life in general these days, there's this other saying which keeps coming to the forefront of my mind like a mantra when needed. I used to know who wrote it, but a quick Internet search only showed me that tons of other people know this phrase as well, but no author is mentioned. Don't you all have people in your life which cause you inwardly to go "grrrrr"? Perhaps outwardly, too. Hey! A yawn just came on! But before I sign off I have to share it with you in the hopes it may help someone retain (or regain) their peace in stressful times:
"Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind
of battle".
For me, it helps with getting get back in touch with compassion when it's gotten a little overly stretched. I hope it'll do the same for you,
too :-)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Be True to your Personal Truth...or at least discover what it can be to enhance your life

The holiday season is a great buffeter of persons. This is an equal opportunity situation and no one is exempt. Sooner or later fatigue, demands/expectations of others, overly scheduled time combined with lapses in various disciplines, and whammo. It all reaches critical mass and you've become crisp around the edges, at the very least. You've seen the brittle people, the strained expressions, the frozen smile, the furrowed brow. Maybe you've seen this face in your mirror! Ouch. Hopefully the goal then becomes modified to include a return to some kind of discipline including more rest, silence and prayer plus a deliberate quest for joy. Not the razzle dazzle kind of glitz which passes as joy for some. But that's fake stuff and tiring! It also leads to a feeling of emptiness...not what you're going for at all here.

Personal truth is more than just a code of conduct, but that's a good place to start if this is a new concept for you. A guy with Toltec ancestry became an MD and lived in the world of modern medicine until something led him back to his Toltec roots and he wrote a book entitled "The Four Agreements". He also morphed back to his origins and I'm not sure if he even practices Western medicine at all. In order to glean the most important stuff in the book, you don't have to buy it, or even read it. Here are the agreements in their totality:

(1) Be impeccable with your word; (2) Don’t take anything personally; (3) Don’t make assumptions; and (4) Always do your best. Wow! Really something, right? Elegantly simple, unique in their purity and total distillation of the best common sense around. A perfect foundation to build your own personal truths upon or an anvil on which to craft your own core inner beliefs as your Personal Truths. See, this is about YOU, yourself and how you deal with "incoming missiles" from others, especially when your stressed...your response in the things you tell yourself about who you are and how you live. While the wonderful words of Jacob in Micah 6:8 are a great beginning ("He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God."), I think we need more specifics broken down to be able to apply it to specific everyday circumstances.

Well, just some hopeful words after a trying day. Remember...this season is an equal opportunity stressor :-) Hope this concept is freeing, enriches your life and give you a context to help process the various flotsam and jetsam that gets flung in your direction every day. Enjoy! And work on getting more silence and prayer woven into your day. Give it a try!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"In the bleak midwinter..." Time to Look Forward

It's not even officially winter yet. Somehow it doesn't "feel" like Christmas either. None of the "happy happy, jolly jolly" stuff of other years. Isn't it funny how that seems to wax and wane with other ongoing *seasons* or rhythms in your life, or events of life flowing all around you, sweeping you up making it take bunches of energy just to stay focused with your feet under you?

For a couple of years, before the economy bottomed out, even, for spiritual reasons, PJ and I have kept a "smaller Christmas". Small on decorations and small on gifts except for others. As others' pressures build in the holiday season, we have found it more important personally to stay as focused as we can on the whole reason for the season....the Christ in Chritmas. We have one candle in the kitchen window and I have to say I miss the candle in every window image. It is so welcoming. But I can't justify the electric extra for that. When the price of Christmas trees went through the roof a few years back we decided the focal point was going to be our nativity scene instead of a tree, and we've stayed with that. In fact, even that's become more simple. Last year a close friend gave us a set of polished olive wood figures from Israel of Mary, Joseph, the manger and the baby Jesus. Those, together with a contemporary metal tree have become our "nativity" atop our low mantel in the TV room. It fits perfectly both in the room and in our hearts.

Still, something is harder, different this year. Can't quite put my finger on it. Today I read this poem, though which is something I'm going to carry with me for the next few weeks into the New Year. Here it is, and I hope it blesses you as it did me:

"I know
it's hard to be reconciled
not everything is exactly
the way it ought to be.

but please turn around
and step into the future
leave memories behind
enter the land of hope"
-- Zbigniew Herbert, from A Life

Make sure this Christmas you intentionally set aside some time just for you to spend at the manger. Drag aside the old weariness and other things weighing you down, sit and rest as you gaze into the face of Jesus. Then, close your eyes and look.....with the fresh newness that can only come from a baby. Now expand that vision and look at the world as the Infant Jesus does. See His wonder, hear His delight.....feel deeply His warm loving smile as He gazes at YOU. Embrace that feeling and hold it deep in your heart. You know, we don't have to reserve a trip to the manger for just Christmas. It is the very best part.