Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy New Year!

Today, Sunday, November 30, is the first day of the church new year. The first part of the church calender begins with the season of Advent, which begins today and goes until Christmas. (See previous post for more about all this.)

We've written an original weekly Advent meditation.

We'll also update the blog daily through out Advent with daily reflections that include art, music, and videos.

Here is the first reflection based on the scripture being read in many churches today.

Sunday, November 30th
First Sunday of Advent
Conscious Living

"Jesus said, ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’ "
—Mark 13: 32-37
(Read the whole chapter of Mark 13 to get a larger sense of the story)

Part of the Christian story is the idea that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. Some people take this idea very literally, and there is tremendous Christian mythology about how exactly the world will end (think The Left Behind series). According to the Bible, Jesus made predictions about the destruction of the Jewish temple and about a time when there would be (among other things) plagues and famines, false messiahs, and persecution of those who followed him. Of course, all of these things and more have already happened in the two thousand years since Jesus was alive. Jesus’ suggestion that people must be ever ready was not merely a helpful hint in the face of these pending disasters, but also important advice for life.

Whether or not all the details of the various ideas about the end of the world ever come to fruition, the truth of every human story is that there will be unexpected events, tragedy, and death. Many religious traditions share Jesus’ admonitions towards constant vigilance. Ideas that our lives are precious and finite, or that we must live in the moment, that all things whether good or bad are only momentary are common across not only religions but philosophy as well.

Conscious living is one of the hardest things we are called to, but it is such an important part of life. Try this week to keep awake. This is not advocating insomnia, but rather the conscious presence in every day waking life. Feel every breath in your lungs; taste every morsel that comes into your mouth; look into the eyes of friends and strangers. Be awake.

The idea that we are slaves keeping track of a household that the master might come back to at any moment is terrifying in many ways. However there is also some truth in this imagery. Jesus told this story not to scare people, but to raise their level of consciousness. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by the complexities and implications of life that we become numb to our everyday existence. The call to keep awake then, is not meant to scare people, but rather to awaken them to the mysteries that surround us. What comes to us when we live consciously is both terrifying and beautiful. It is amazing what your life becomes when you live with your eyes open.

God we do not want to squander our lives. Help us to wake up. And to be ready to welcome you with open arms where ever you show up this week.

Activities to try on for the week to make a space for more conscious living

* Practice breathing. One way to do this is to pick something that comes up frequently in every day life and to notice your breath when you interact with that thing. For example, you might focus on water or sunlight or laughter. Every time you experience that thing, pay attention to your breath. You can also check out the website for some links to breathing exercises.

* Journal. Writing about your day can help make you more aware of what happened to you and how you experienced it. You can journal in a notebook or on your computer or on napkins. You can share your journal with someone or everyone or no one. Just write your own life and see what happens.

* Enjoy Silence. Turn off the TV, radio, or computer. Go for walks, read, meditate.

* Connect to someone you love. As you prepare for Christmas, think about how you might reach out to someone you care about. It could be someone you see everyday or someone you have not talked to in a long time. How could you give them a gift that would show how much you care about them? Could you write them a letter? Make them a coupon book of activities you might enjoy together? Think of a way to deepen your relationship.

* Practice compassion. All over the world there are people whose waking lives are torn with hunger, violence, and suffering. Many of these people do not have the luxury of quiet walks or journal time. What can you do this week to reach out to someone whose waking life is more like a nightmare? Be mindful every day of these people who are often overlooked.

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