Monthly Archives: December 2012

Holiday Travel

2012 Dec 19 - xmas trees eve 141So many are leaving for holiday travels today.  I hear roller suitcases on the sidewalk below my window and know that folks are heading out to the airport after work today.  It is a wonderful time of year to be together and, in most cases these days, being together means travel of some kind or another.  So, travel safely and remember to pack patience and joy so that we don’t get annoyed by the normal disturbances of modern travel – to say nothing of the weather!

2012 Dec 19 - xmas trees eve 209One of our sons will be joining us here in DC for the holidays and we are excited for his arrival.  Because we will be spending time together, celebrating, and visiting local sights, I will not be blogging for the upcoming week.

Come back again next year and let’s continue the conversation!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!  May the blessings of our God, who has come to live among us, bring you grace and peace during this season and always.

Evening and Morning

2012 Dec 19 - xmas trees eve 221Last evening I set out for my walk late in the day so I could capture some of the National Mall in evening light.  It was unseasonably warm and I enjoyed the slower, winter pace in and among the monuments.  As I walked, I marveled at the beauty even in the winter landscape.

2012 Dec 19 - xmas trees eve 181

There was quite a contrast of emotions for me as I walked past the White House and saw all the holiday decorations – then looked across the street to see all the flags at the Washington Monument at half staff in honor of the victims of the Newtown shootings.  I said a prayer for them and wondered to myself if there would ever be an end to such senseless killing.  And, I said a prayer of hope.  We can always hope.

2012 Dec 20 sunrise 005As I prayed last evening, I wondered what hope looks like.  Not being a morning person, just by accident, (or maybe in answer to prayers) I caught some of the extraordinary sunrise this morning.  I had to grab my camera and snap the picture right through my window just as a reminder that hope is eternal and the sun does rise each day signaling a new beginning.  And I thought to myself, this is what hope looks like.  This is the grace of hope painted across the morning sky.

What a difference in emotions from last evening to this morning.  There is grace in Advent – and there is hope for our world.

Our Prayer

2012 Dec 2 Basicalla 055We often think of our prayer as being quiet time and a time set apart to be with God.  And, that’s not a bad understanding of prayer.

But prayer can also be so much more.  Advent is an exercise in teaching us how to wait, to long, to prepare and to enrich our prayer – our time with God – and our time in this world, in this place.

Dorothy Day, who is now being considered for sainthood, thought that prayer was so much more than words.  She believed that we also have to live our prayer and act on it.  She thought that the actions of our lives and the work that we do can be our prayer.  According to her, our prayer can be a witness to our life, to the work we do, the things we love and care for.

The way Dorothy prayed allowed her to see Christ in the many disturbing disguises he wears in this world.  Because of her prayer, Dorothy could see Christ, and could reach out and serve him in the hungry and needy people standing right in front of her.

2012 Dec 2 Basicalla 072Has our waiting and preparing during this Advent advanced our understanding of prayer?  Has it allowed us the grace to pray through the work that we do and to see Christ and serve him with the very actions of our lives?

This is the preparing work of Advent.  And, there are still six days left.


Difficult Times

When words fail and there is nothing we can say, perhaps the words of wisdom from someone else gives us hope and inspires us.  I’d like to share the words of Fr. Mike Ryan from Seattle’s Cathedral who preached yesterday on the terrible events of this past week.
 2012 Dec 2 Basicalla 048

Homily for the Third Sunday of Advent

December 16, 2012

 I had a homily all prepared for this weekend and was ready to give it until the horrific event of this past Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. That changed everything. Somehow, I knew I couldn’t preach today without saying something about that event that has forever altered the lives of those families and shaken our nation to its very foundations.

This is the Sunday we call Gaudete Sunday, “Rejoice Sunday,” but how are we to rejoice in the wake of that unspeakable tragedy? And how are we to find a path forward amid such darkness, death, such inexplicable evil?

And those families who lost those twenty beautiful little children and other loved ones, too: how are they — in this season when we celebrate light shining in the darkness, hope in the midst of despair — how are they to find any light, any hope, at all?

I have no ready answers for any of this. I don’t. All I know is that at moments like this we need to come together in prayer, and we need to reach out in love and prayer and in every way we can to those sorrowing, grief-stricken families. Perhaps in doing so, we will light for them a flame of hope no matter how tiny or dim.

That is what we do this morning. We come together as believers or as people who struggle to believe, and we find strength and comfort in simply being together, praying together, and in celebrating together the rituals of our faith. We listen to Advent readings that dare to speak of rejoicing even as we are feeling only great sadness. We want to believe, but find it so hard to believe, the words of the Prophet Zephaniah who proclaimed to the people, “the Lord is in your midst…He has removed the judgment against you…you have no further misfortune to fear… you need not be discouraged.” And we want to heed the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice! Have no anxiety at all.”

But how — in this broken world of ours — how is it possible to rejoice? How is it possible not to fear or to be discouraged?

One thing is certain: we cannot keep hope alive by ourselves. We can only do it with God’s help and with the help and support we give to each other in community.

And then, I think it may be helpful to know a little background to those readings. When the prophet Zephaniah spoke his words of hope to the people of Israel he was speaking to people who were in the midst of some gravely troubling times. They had suffered appalling losses to foreign powers and had been brought low and humiliated time and again by ruthless forces of occupation that made a mockery of their faith and ridiculed their religion. It was against that background that Zephaniah told them not to fear or be discouraged, but to “rejoice with all your hearts because the Lord has taken away all judgments against you….”

And maybe it’s helpful, too, to know that when St. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians and told them to “rejoice in the Lord always… and to have no anxiety about anything,” he was writing to them from Rome where he was in prison awaiting trial.

nd then there’s today’s passage from Luke’s gospel. The crowds, eager for answers, ask John the Baptist, “What shall we do?” And the Baptist answers by telling them not to worry about themselves but to have a concern for and to take care of others. If you have two cloaks, he says, share with the person who has none at all, and do the same with any food you may have. And when tax collectors and soldiers question him about what they should do, he tells them to be just and honest in all their dealings.

“What shall we do?” That’s our question, too, isn’t it?   We really want to know what we are to do when we feel so helpless, so adrift on some very stormy seas. And it’s hard not to wonder what the Baptist would tell us if we had the opportunity to ask him ‘what we are to do?’ I can’t be certain, of course, but something tells me that he would speak to us about regaining our moral compass as a society, about shunning the ways of violence that are aided and abetted by the easy availability of the most lethal kinds of assault weapons. And I think that John the Baptist might well point his prophetic finger at us and tell us to get our priorities straight and to find humane, enlightened ways to help individuals and families who live with mental illness.

That’s my hunch. And, I know, none of what I’ve said makes this moment any easier, nor does it soothe our sorrows or calm our fears. But maybe it offers a tiny glimmer of hope. And maybe it gives us a new resolve to embrace our faith more intentionally and to live it more authentically. We need each other and we need to do more than just wring our hands about terrible things that happen. Those things happen in a society that we are part of, a society that we have the power to influence and to change — maybe not in big ways, but certainly in real ways. And we are part of a Church that preaches the gospel of love and justice and peace, but this gospel must first become our gospel, our way of life, before we can ever hope that it will have its impact on society.

My friends in Christ, on this Advent Sunday, in the midst of a world with problems and challenges both agonizing and seemingly unsolvable, a world where glimpses of light are all too quickly eclipsed by darkness, in this vastly imperfect world of ours and of these vastly imperfect lives of ours, there is still room for hope — great hope, because God’s love has always been more powerful than even the greatest of human evils and it always will be.

Advent dares to speak of light in the midst of darkness, hope for the world in the face of a tiny child, hope for the world in faces like yours and mine. Hemingway once wrote that “life breaks all of us, but some people grow at the broken places.” May the Body of Jesus broken for us in this Eucharist bring healing to all our broken places, and hope to broken hearts, and to our broken world!

 Father Michael G. Ryan



Visit the Cathedral’s website

Advent Pilgrimage

Since living in Seattle for 35 years, thoughts of the Advent Season bring memories of cold, dark, rainy and cloudy days.  It just doesn’t feel like Advent if it’s not raining and cold.  So, with bright sunshine and cool temperatures in this part of the country, we made an Advent pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The National Shrine is an extraordinary edifice which houses numerous small altars depicting religious art from all the cultures that make up our country.  If you ever come to DC it is a “must see.”  Our pilgrimage took several hours and left us consumed with emotion.

This is where a picture speaks a thousand words:

Beauty is grace!



Prepare this Advent season to embrace the beauty in your life.

Fun with Nuts

One of the advantages of this “retreat” in DC is that I have more time to explore and experiment with recipes and foods in the kitchen.  Last winter I discovered America’s Test Kitchen on PBS and have become a devotee.  They have challenged me to take more risks and try different things I would ordinarily never consider.

Enter the nuts.  In trying to find sweet treats to send to our kids for Christmas, I saw a show about candied nuts.  I was intrigued and quickly decided to add candied nuts to the box of treats familiar to their childhood.  Needless to say, the nuts were a huge hit.

So, I’ve decided to add them again this year – only varying the kinds of nuts I use.  They are simple to make, fun, and the results are amazing.  They can be used to sprinkle over salads, add to granola, use as topping for ice cream or muffins, or to simply enjoy by themselves as a wonderful snack.

How to make them, you ask?

In a heavy pan put 1 and 1/2 cups of water and add 1 cup of sugar; 1/2 cup of brown sugar; 1 tablespoon of cinnamon; 1 teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder; and 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg.  Heat the sugar mixture until it boils and then add 3 cups of the nut of your choice.  (I have used almonds, walnuts and pecans – all with wonderful results!)  Turn down the heat a bit and continue cooking the mixture as it boils while stirring continuously to avoid burning.   After about 15 to 20 minutes the mixture will boil down and adhere to the nuts.  Continue stirring until the mixture becomes dry – completely dry – and the nuts are thoroughly coated.  Pour the coated nuts out onto a wax paper lined baking sheet.  Break up any clumps with the back of a spoon and allow them to cool.  Enjoy!

This Advent preparation has left a cinnamony aroma in the apartment and reminds me of the grace that comes when I work in my kitchen to make gifts for others.

What does grace smell like for you?

Continual Work

Several months ago we watched a movie entitled Of Gods and Men.  I was reminded of it again yesterday as I read an article about it.  While not seeming like it, there is a scene that can provide a beautiful Advent reflection.  The story is true and it tells about a group of monks living in Algeria during the wars and terrorist activities there in the 1990’s.

Toward the end of the beautiful tale of their life and work in the monastery, the monks have to come to terms with what is happening around them.  While discussing and debating if they will stay amid the war and terror or leave, the monastery’s leader asks his monks to think of their continued presence in the monastery as the continual work of Incarnation.

The monks elect to stay and as they go about their prayer and work their leader tells them:

. . . each of us discovered that to which Jesus beckons us.   It is to be born.  Our identities go from one birth to another.  And from birth to birth, we’ll each end up bringing the world the child of God that we are.  The Incarnation, for us, is to allow the reality of Jesus to embody itself in our humanity.

The work of bringing Christ to birth through our lives could not be more beautifully spoken.  It is the continual work of allowing the reality of Jesus to embody itself in our humanity.  And, that’s what a well-spent Advent helps us to do.  It helps us become more aware of who we are as children of God and how we must allow Christ to enter into our reality, here and now, and allow Jesus to take up residence in our humanity – every moment of every day.

It is a daunting exercise.  It is the continual work of Advent.  It is grace.


Reading some notes my husband brought home from a leadership conference, I was reminded all over again, about the importance of conversation.

We tend to think conversation is trivial, and that real work is doing something productive.  What we fail to remember is that the work of conversation can be productive and can possibly achieve results far beyond our expectations.

The words of Margaret Wheatley inspired me again.  We would do well to reflect on her simple suggestions.

“I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again.  Simple, honest, human conversation.  Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate, or public meetings.  Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well.  What would it feel like to be listening to each other again about what disturbs and troubles us?  About what gives us energy and hope?  About our yearnings, our fears, our prayers, our children? . . . Human conversation is the most ancient and easiest way to cultivate conditions for change – personal change, community, and organizational change, planetary change.  If we can sit together and talk about what’s important to us, we begin to come alive.” 

Perhaps we should put our minds to trying this.

It’s a great Advent exercise.

Share your heart and listen well as others share theirs in simple, honest conversation.

And, who knows what grace the future may hold for us.

December 6th

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas.  It is a feast day that I have loved since I was a child.

When I was five years old my family moved to Germany and that’s where I was introduced to St. Nicholas on this date.  German children honor the spirit of the Bishop Nicholas because he favored children and championed their cause in a world that largely thought them insignificant.  Bishop Nicholas, so the story goes, would bring food and little gifts to poor children to help them survive the cold winters.  He would ride by on his horse in the dark of evening and throw gifts through open windows, or leave them on the doorsteps of homes where children were cold and hungry.

To this day, St. Nicholas is honored as the patron saint of children, and children in many lands throughout the globe put their shoes out on their doorsteps in hopes St. Nicholas will ride by on his horse and leave them something.

It is a tradition that we carried on with our own children, and so this day has many special memories.  When the children were young, I used to occupy them with washing the dinner dishes, or baking cookies after homework, while my husband would quietly sneak out the back door with a small bag of goodies for each child and go around the house to deposit them in their waiting shoes on the front porch.  Then he would rap on the door with a long stick and run back around to be in the house when the children realized someone had knocked.

Is it any wonder that Santa Claus comes from the memory of this great man who had such compassion and such love for children?

We would do well to remember where the tradition of gift-giving originated.  Who is hurting and hungry in our family, our neighborhood, our city, and our world today?  Who needs our attention and the gifts of our generosity, our time, our love?

In the spirit of St. Nicholas, let us do what we can this Advent.  Such grace of generosity has been with us through many centuries and will continue still if we open our hearts to extend our generosity as well.

Advent Evening

There are some things for which there are no words . . . like a beautiful Advent evening.  Filled with memories.  Filled with promises.  Filled with hopes and dreams for the future.

“Turning to his disciples in private Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.  For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.'”     (Lk 10:22-24)We sat last evening on the Tidal Basin and ate a picnic dinner in the uncharacteristically summer-like weather in December in DC.  We marveled at the colors of Advent in the sky and reflected in the water.  We pondered this Advent in our lives and took in the immense beauty of what we were seeing as the sun set slowly in the winter sky.

What do you see?  What do you hear?