Prepare the Way of the Lord- A Devotion for the First Week of Advent based on Handel’s Messiah

walk path water sunPrepare the Way of the Lord
Readings and Reflection for December 1-7

SONGS FROM HANDEL’S MESSIAH:
Comfort Ye and Ev’ry Valley
And the Glory of the Lord

SCRIPTURES to read this week:
Isaiah 40:1-5
Luke 1:57-80
Matthew 3:1-12

REFLECTION QUESTIONS for this week:

  • What in you needs to be lifted up or made low?
  • How are you preparing the way for those suffering from falsehood, prejudice, and injustice? Those yet to believe?

PRAYER:
The time is now, for you have called
The place is now, for you have spoken

Yes, it is a wilderness, a desert even
So dry, so rough, so uneven
Yes, the gap is so very wide between the high and the low

But, you have called, O God. You have spoken.
Not an if or when or maybe. Not even a try.

You have spoken shall

Every valley shall be lifted
Every mountain shall be made low
The uneven shall be made level
The rough shall be made smooth

So we will persevere in this wilderness of preparing
We will not forge a path or blaze a trail but make a highway
A highway for your coming
For your glory, O God shall be revealed in this place
And all shall see it
All shall see it together
~ Shall, by Lisa Degrenia

************
Prepare the Way of the Lord
A Devotion for the First Week of Advent
based on Handel’s Messiah © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Prayer Practice- The Gratitude Tree

It’s my joy to welcome my friend Jen Willhoite to the blog today. We met through a book writing collective called Bookwifery. Everyone there is in the process of birthing books. (What a terrific metaphor. It’s definitely labor!)

Jen is brilliant, tender, and one of the funniest people I know. One minute you’ll be trying to write down every ounce of beauty and wisdom pouring forth from her soul, the next you’ll be in the middle of a huge belly laugh.

Jen lives in California with her family and pets. She loves pizza, rollercoasters, and sports.

Jen’s main ministry is sharing how-to’s on the Ignatian examen (her main discernment tool) as well as illustrated stories featuring existential quandaries and her own friendship with the Divine.

Be sure to check out Jen’s illustrations and prayer resources available at her Etsy shop. I absolutely love her step by step examen cards and highly recommend them to you. And be sure to follower her on Instagram @cobbleworks. You’re also most welcome to subscribe to her newsletter.

May you have a powerful experience with God through the simple prayer practice she provides below. It’s perfect for Thanksgiving and throughout the year. – Lisa <><

Gratitude Tree complete Jen Willhoite

A One-Step Examen: Gratitude Blooming Even in the Struggle
I invite you to practice the examen for a week and just do step 1, gratitude. I’m sharing something with you and my hope is that it helps build this faith muscle for you. It is my Gratitude Tree and I use it regularly to write down all the things that I cherish in a day, but especially on tough days where I’m running out of hope, answers, and light to live by.

I intentionally use a tree for this exercise because it lets me give thanks for things in various stages of growth.

  • For opportunities peeking out, but not yet ripe and present in life, I write them at the end of the branches.
  • For small seeds of hope I hold deep in my heart, I write them under the soil.
  • For the stable things I can count on nearly every day, I write them on the trunk.

You get the idea.

Although it might sound counterintuitive, I also invite you to write down your challenges—let them live among the things you hold dear. Draw them close to big blessings. I do this as a reminder to myself that God welcomes my whole life and loves my whole self just as I am.

The examen, in its entirety, asks us to look at places in our lives where we feel connected to God’s love and places where we feel separated from it. Acknowledging both of these places helps us accept our reality, share it with God knowing it is held in loving embrace and make room for the possibility that even challenges can be transformed into blessings. It is a step toward surrender and trust to let our worries mingle with that which we are grateful for. It shows us that our lives are still unfolding, there is still hope and love is growing always and in all ways.

CLICK HERE for a PDF of a blank version of Jen’s Gratitude Tree to use yourself

For those of you who’d like to go deeper
Gratitude is expansive, a spiritual yeast that grows reality right before our eyes. It often starts with courtesy but quickly deepens into our daily bread because it feeds our hope and lets us share that hope with the world.

When we practice gratitude, we might name one singular thing only to awaken to the fact that it is connected to the universe of things. From this intertwined place of comity, grandeur, vulnerability and particular joy, we begin to realize that we have entered an intimate conversation with the Holy and that we are safe here. We call this process “prayer” and its effect is relationship. The Ignatian examen guides us through and to both. Its first step, unsurprisingly, is gratitude.

Gratitude is a potent form of honesty. When we give thanks, we are telling the truth about ourselves, if only in part. In our appreciation, we admit that something matters so much to us that we can’t let it slip by without recognition. So giving thanks is deeply personal and revelatory. And like truth, it is freeing rather than controlling. Consider this:

Gratitude does not diminish or soften our desolation. It is not a pair of rose-colored glasses.

Gratitude does not pretend our suffering away. It is not a form of denial.

Gratitude does not encourage us to ignore the negative and only look for the positive. It is not a pair of blinders or a silencer.

It is a giant conjunction, a companion. It comes alongside our pain and confusion and expands our horizon so that we see a fuller sense of reality in the present moment. We might say, “I feel disconnected from my work. I am grateful I have friends I can share dinner with tonight.” Our friends may not heal the fracture we have with our jobs or have an answer to the existential reality of what we are doing with our lives, but appreciating and acknowledging them even as we feel discomfort somewhere else immediately shows us that while suffering is a part of our reality, it is not the whole of our reality. (Personally, I consider this a small form of deliverance and salvation and I rely on it regularly lest I live in glass-half-empty consciousness.)

This thing that seems to start with mere pleasantry can root us quickly and firmly into a foundation stronger than ourselves. Simple and honest statements about what we cherish about our lives nurture joy within us and our vision expands. This helps us feel safe. This helps us find sanctuary. This helps us consider that there may be more than what our initial desolation told us was going on in life. We start to wonder, “If the sunshine is present even when storm clouds are in the sky, could it be that life is more than sheltering from the storm?” Hope lives in the “could it be…” bit. Hope lives in that space where we wonder if the shadow may not be the whole picture. And it’s gratitude that gets us wondering.

With practice, naming what we are grateful for ushers us into a place of deeper connection where we can admit more of our feelings and more truths about our present moment—the shadowy cloud parts and the sunlit parts. It’s not long before we find ourselves falling into honest conversation and union with our deepest selves and the Sacred (which is what the examen is—a structure for a sacred conversation). No wonder St. Ignatius made gratitude the first step in the examen! It gets us out of our corners and reaching out to God…within our hearts and around us in life.

Learning to Pray- Thank you, God

Thank you god for

Imagine yourself as a little child. You didn’t need to be taught how to ask for help. You were born knowing how. Asking for help was as natural as breathing. We just have to remember to ask.

What wasn’t so natural was saying, “Thank you.” We have to be taught and reminded.

Consider this moving truth about saying, “thank you” by author Ann Voskamp.
“All the brokenness in the world begins with the act of forgetting — forgetting that God is enough, forgetting that what He gives is good enough, forgetting that there is always more than enough to give thanks for.”

Wow! So, learning to pray is actually re-membering. This takes place when we remember to give thanks.

Finish this sentence. Thank you, God, for…
Finish it ten times. Ten thousand times.
Literally, count your blessings.
We re-member by remembering the goodness in our lives.

Now finish this sentence. Thank you, God, for your…
That one extra word shifts our attention to the One who provides every goodness.
We re-remember by remembering the Giver and the gift.

Ann Voskamp continues
“Though we forget, though we’re prone to chronic soul amnesia, You never forget us, You never abandon us, You never give up on us. You have written us, our very names, on the palm of Your hands, written even me right into You — though we forget, You re-member us, You put us & the broken bits & members of us back together again. We are re-membered in You — You who engrave Your love letter to us right into Your skin…. right into Your beating heart.”

Wow again.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear ones. In the comments, share how you’re finishing these sentences. May these simple sentences help you re-member and give thanks all year long. – Lisa <><

*************
This is the second in a series of posts on Learning to Pray. Click here for the first post, God, please help.

Learning to Pray- Thank you, God © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Enough, a Thanksgiving Message (Psalm 23)

Sermon Series enough 1110 x 624

Enough, a Thanksgiving Message
Scripture: Psalm 23
Notes from a message offered Sunday, 11/24/19 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.

When you think of the word “enough” what comes to mind?
a. Enough = Too Much. Something that’s bothering you that must stop.
Pat – “I’ve had enough of this moving”
Jo – “It’s what I tell my three dogs when they bark nonstop.”
Song: No More Tears/Enough is Enough (Barbara Streisand, Donna Summer)

b. Enough = Too Little. Enough always tied to the word never.
Fanci – “Enough is a word that … has a connotation of power, because [the one] who has enough holds power over [the one] who does not.”
Scarcity. What you need is unattainable.

Song: Never Enough from The Greatest Showman
All the shine of a thousand spotlights
All the stars we steal from the night sky
Will never be enough, never be enough
Towers of gold are still too little
These hands could hold the world but it’ll
Never be enough, never be enough

Psalm 23:1
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.    

It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t want things, long for things, work for things. It means I shall not “be in want.”

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. The Lord is my shepherd, there is enough.

c. Enough = Peace, Satisfied, Contentment. I have enough. There is enough.

Where do you find yourself with the word “enough.”

As I read the psalm, listen to all the things God provides

Psalm 23 (NRSV)
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
3 He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Notice all the things God provides
Verses 2-3, rest for body and soul
Verse 3, guidance and wisdom beyond knowledge
Verse 4, companionship. God’s abiding. We are never alone, never forsaken.
Verse 4, God protects
Verse 5, daily needs, every good gift
Verse 5, healing, blessing, and calling
Verse 6, goodness and mercy, now and forever

I Have Enough = Contentment
Trust there is enough- It’s a key that opens everything. This is a very different narrative than the narrative of our consumeristic culture.
enough time
enough love
enough money
enough talent
enough food
enough opportunity
enough grace

Richard Rohr Quote
Once you move your identity to that level of deep inner contentment, you will realize you are drawing upon a Life that is much larger than your own and from a deeper abundance. Once you learn this, why would you ever again settle for scarcity in your life? “I’m not enough! This is not enough! I do not have enough!” I am afraid this is the way culture trains you to think. It is a kind of learned helplessness. The Gospel message is just the opposite— inherent power.

I can trust I have enough (contentment) because I trust that God is enough (commitment). Everything the world tells you will be enough, that will make it so you are enough and have enough, will fall short of God and will fall short of your need.

The Lord is my Shepherd- I have made that commitment. You are the Shepherd and I am the sheep. I’m part of Your flock. Read Psalm 23 again, counting and emphasizing the references to God.

When we read Psalm 23 in this way, we hear the Psalmist’s praise of God and commitment to God. God, I trust you. I have enough because you are enough.

This leads down to our core identity. I am enough. I am enough that the Lord is my Shepherd. I can’t earn it. I can’t buy it. I am enough because God delights in me and says I am enough. Our identity and value and access to grace itself all a gift. This dispels the scarcity that there isn’t enough and I’m not enough.

Read Psalm 23 again, counting the personal references, all the things that are true about you. God is enough and I am enough. Both these truths are equally proclaimed in this incredible Psalm.

This Thanksgiving, remember this.
I have enough = I am Content
God is enough = I can make a Commitment to God because I trust God
I am enough = God says so and it’s now my Core Identity

When we remember this we are re-membered. All the brokenness comes together.

Ann Voskamp on Facebook
All the brokenness in the world begins with the act of forgetting — forgetting that God is enough, forgetting that what He gives is good enough, forgetting that there is always more than enough to give thanks for.

Though we forget, though we’re prone to chronic soul amnesia, You never forget us, You never abandon us, You never give up on us.

You have written us, our very names, on the palm of Your hands, written even me right into You — though we forget, You re-member us, You put us and the broken bits and members of us back together again. We are re-membered in You — You who engrave Your love letter to us right into Your skin…. right into Your beating heart.

In the name of the only One who ever loved us to death and back to life again… In Jesus’ name… Amen.

********************
Enough, A Thanksgiving Message © 2019 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Palms Down, Palms Up ― A Prayer of Letting Go

left human hand photo

Photo by Jonas Ferlin on Pexels.com

A few short weeks ago I discovered Kaisa Stenberg-Lee on Instagram. I was immediately struck by her tender spirit and creative, hands-on prayer practices. I’m thrilled to welcome her to the blog today and for you to get to know her and her work through this guest post.

Kaisa is a gifted spiritual director and workshop leader, born in Finland, educated in the Netherlands and Wales, and now serving in Denver, Colorado. Kaisa also enjoys “walking in nature, drinking tea, reading, trying new Korean cooking recipes, biking, embroidering, watercolor painting or whatever other craft my hands have landed on at the time.”

This post was originally written for and published here. Be sure to check out her other writings and prayer resources on her beautiful website, Kutsu CompanionsMay you have a powerful experience with God through this simple practice. – Lisa <><

Palms Down, Palms Up ― A Prayer of Letting Go
This simple prayer is supported by bodily movements that express the inner postures of the heart. I have modified Richard Foster’s “Palms Down, Palms Up” prayer, and added some elements to it. In essence, this prayer helps us to bring our worries to Jesus and express our longings to him.

The Prayer follows four movements:
1. Hands on the stomach for grounding and tuning into our inner center. 2. Hands on the lap, palms facing down as a symbol of releasing and letting go of concerns and worries.

3. Hands on the lap, palms up to signal readiness and desire to receive from God.

4. Hands on the heart to express gratitude.

“Palms Down, Palms Up” Guided Prayer
1. Settle down and sit comfortably on a chair or cushion. Close your eyes. Gently place your hands on your stomach. Take a few deep breaths. Notice how your body moves to the rhythm of your breath. Deepen your breath so that you can feel it fill your chest, stomach and rib cage with air.

Now start paying attention to the whole of your body, your feelings, and thoughts. Do you notice any tension, pain, numbness or tightness in your body? Does anything worry you or make you afraid? What else do you feel? Where can you feel those emotions in your body?

2. Lower your hands to your lap, palms facing down. Let this turning of the hands be a symbol of your wish to turn any worries or concerns that you might have to God. Give the worries to God and say to him in your own words quietly: “I let go of this … frustration/ anger/ fear/ worry/ guilt, or whatever it is that you want to let go off,” and give it to God. Don’t rush this. Keep turning those things over to God as long as they keep coming to your mind. God is near. He is reaching out to take over the carrying of your burdens.

Can you let go of your fears and worries? Can you trust him to carry them for you?

3. Once you have handed over your burdens to God, and your mind has come to a still, turn your palms up as a sign that you are now ready to receive from God.

Relax, and imagine placing your hands, palms up, into God’s caring hands. Feel how you are being held by God. You don’t need to go anywhere or do anything. You are safe. You can fully relax and trust that you will be taken care of, and that you will be provided for. Enjoy the feeling of God holding your hands in his hands, and loving you.

Imagine God gently whispering to you, “(Your name…), what do you want?” Tell him in the quiet of your heart what you desire. What do you want him to do for you?

Wait for His response. You might feel like he has something to say to you too, or that he simply wants you to know that he cares for you and that you are safe with him.

4. Finally, lift your hands to your heart and thank God for being with you and loving you.

Resources:
Seeking the Kingdom, Devotions for the Daily Journey of Faith by Richard Foster
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster