The Advent Wreath, by Jennifer Profitt

Candlelight_AdventThe Advent wreath, which graces my kitchen table this month, reminds me with the warmth of glowing purple candles of Christmas approaching. Nightly as I say a grateful prayer of blessing upon the meal before me, the increase in candlelight with every new Sunday magnifies the growing message that Jesus is coming.

This late autumn I have been blessed to have friends welcoming in new little babies into the world. The arrival of these new babies, the growing excitement to meet them, to hold their tender selves in the new World outside the protective one they have known for the last 9 months, is thrilling. Something in my spirit catches at the sheer joy of it all.

How easy it is for me to conjure the image of Mary awaiting the birth of her child –especially in the last weeks before delivery. How easy it is for me to grasp the joy of others who anticipated His birth.

As exciting as it is to welcome any new child into the world, to appreciate the wonder of tiny fingers and wrists, to share in the joy of a family that adds another little one. Here is where I marvel most: Mary’s little baby who will be called Jesus, who will be surrounded by his mother’s arms and held so closely to her that His tiny ears hear her heartbeat, this little one will be the Savior of us all. Yes, the Savior to someone like me, the very woman who this month enjoys her nighttime meal with flickering purple candles and anticipates His arrival in participating in an advent remembrance tradition some two thousand years later. What a wonderful way to acknowledge that Jesus is coming to the world for everyone.

Jennifer Profitt
Spirituality & Psychology Retreat Facilitator
Oldenburg Franciscan Center

Cultivating a Waiting Spirit, by S. Mary Beth Gianoli, OSF

waitingcrib

I don’t like to wait.  I never have and I probably never will!

However, Advent has always been a special time for me.  Maybe it was the way my parents approached that time that made waiting bearable and even exciting.  We had a lot of family traditions celebrating Advent including the traditional Advent wreath, Advent calendars, and Advent resolutions.

When I was very young, my dad made me a little wooden crib out of some scrap lumber.  The crib was for baby Jesus and my job was to get it ready for his arrival.  Every day that I fulfilled my Advent resolution I got to put a cotton ball into that crib.  If I didn’t have a good day, I had to put a wooden toothpick in the crib.  I wanted to have a lot of cotton for the little baby to lie on so I did my best to keep my resolution.

Not only did this simple practice help me to adopt some positive behaviors, it also helped me to wait patiently for the Babe of Bethlehem.  I surely didn’t want that baby to arrive until the crib was ready!

I still have that little crib.  Although I have replaced the cotton balls with straw, I still try to keep my Advent resolutions … and wait patiently for the coming of the newborn King.

S. Mary Beth Gianoli, OSF
Leadership Councilor, Sisters of St. Francis Oldenburg

Recognizing our “Advent People,” by S. Margie Niemer, OSF

The Apparition of Christ, by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Apparition of Christ, by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The holiday season is a time when most of us think of significant people in our lives.  Some are deceased, some have played a part at a particular time in our lives, some have always been a part and continue to bless us in the present.  The Advent season features accounts of the lives of people who played a role in the time leading up to the birth of Jesus: Anna & Joachim, Elizabeth and Zachary, Mary and Joseph.  Perhaps the most controversial is John the Baptist.

John lived in the desert, had no paying occupation, ate odd things, and preached to anyone who would stop to listen. His message was hard and grim, brooding and dark. His preaching could be described as a warning: repent or be lost.

But this was John’s purpose in life, the reason he was born.  His job was to close the Old Testament.  Jesus recognized this when he told the people that up to John’s time, the law and the prophets were what mattered.  With the coming of Jesus, that chapter is over and the Kingdom of God begins.

We are invited into that Kingdom as builders, not as passive bystanders.  Who has helped you become a Kingdom of God Builder?  Those people who taught and encouraged you are your Advent People.  This week, remember to pray in gratitude for them.

Margie Niemer, OSF
Leadership Council, Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg

One Advent, Not Two, by S. Maureen Irvin, OSF

Peace&Hurry

As we begin the season of Advent, many of us feel torn. We sense a conflict between our desire to really celebrate the season by reflecting on the readings of the Church and concentrating on the spiritual meaning of Advent and Christmas, and the fact that we are constantly bombarded by the advertisements, the carols and the decorations that begin earlier each year. There is some wisdom in the encouragement that “if you can’t beat them, join them.”  The super-busy, hectic, all-consuming preparations for and celebration of the holiday of Christmas are probably not going to change, but they do not have to dampen the real spirit and meaning of Advent. This year, I am determined not to have the usual tug-of-war.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I posed to my family, how they would suggest maintaining a calm and peaceful balance between the spiritual and secular preparations for Christmas. My brother, Dan, suggested fully entering into all of the shopping, baking, gift- wrapping and parties of the season, but also consciously setting aside a time each day or each week to pray and reflect on what it means to have God incarnate in our midst. It doesn’t have to be a long period of time, but just a dedicated time to which we can be faithful.

My sister-in-law, Karen, advised constant mindfulness. She encouraged that while baking or wrapping or decorating, we enter into the experience fully. Don’t think about what else is on the “to-do” list or what you will do when you complete this task. Just do whatever you are doing with great mindfulness. Enjoy the lights, the colors, the aromas, the textures, the music, the friends, family and co-workers, the delicious foods and festive drinks. All are gifts from our loving God. All are a part of human experience and part of our natural world, which God wanted to share completely—hence, the incarnation.

My own idea is to look for the symbolism is what we see, hear and do. Candles can remind us that Christ is the light. Children’s voices can speak to us of hope, joy and love, while also calling to mind Jesus’ birth and childhood. Wrapped gifts can represent the multitude of gifts, yet to be discovered and realized from God’s bounty. Decorations show that this is truly an important feast for which we want to “deck the halls.” Parties and festive food and drink can represent the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, Christ, our spiritual food.

The beautiful season of Advent is to be lived, not just endured or tolerated.  It is one season that holds incredible richness, not two seasons (one secular and one spiritual) that compete for our attention. Let’s make every effort to really celebrate all that we experience these days as we await the Feast of Christmas. Relax, enjoy, be mindful, be calm and at peace.

May you have a happy and holy Advent season!

S. Maureen Irvin, OSF
Congregational Minister
Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg

Windshields and Rear View Mirrors, by S. Sharonlu Sheridan, OSF

The designers and manufacturers of cars work to make their product safe, convenient, and comfortable, among other things. They have added little goodies like lights that go on automatically when the key is turned, and stay on for a full minute after the key is removed:  windshield wipers that have several speeds depending on the rain falling, windows that open automatically on the driver’s side, but require manual return to the closed position, so that children (or adults acting like children) do not get their heads caught in a rising window.

One thing you will find in all models is this:  the windshield will be very much larger than the rear view mirror, and rightly so.  We need to see what is in front of us in order to be sure we are going where we want to go, and safely.

The rear view mirror shows us where we were and what is following us.  Those are very important things to know, but not as important as what is ahead of us.  So the mirror is smaller.  In addition the picture in the mirror is distorted, unlike the clear view we have through the windshield.  Well, the view will be clear unless we have allowed mud, dust, rainspots etc. to cloud it.

By this time you have probably surmised where this is going when applied to the life of the person driving.  If you were to look at the rear view mirror most of the time,  you would be a prime subject for an accident.  You cannot always be looking back.  That image is a convenience, a checkpoint, but not a direction.  The windshield is there for good direction.  But even so, the direction may be distorted by  the things mentioned above. In any venture, keep your eye on what is ahead of you.  Check now and then on the past, but do not dwell there.  And be sure that trivial things do not distort the clarity of  your vision.

We all have things in our lives that we regret.  For some it is a fleeting remembrance that pops up and fades.  For other it is almost like the filter through which they view everything.

I may have told this anecdote before, but I think it bears repeating.

Jess had repented of many evil things in her life,  and when she died she was still full of remorse fo them.  When she was face to face with Jesus she began tearfully to enumerate all of them.  Jesus said to her, ‘I do not remember those things! I only remember that you loved me.'”

St. Paul says this. “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind, but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal.” Cor. 3,13-14

Blessings on pursuing your goal,

Sharonlu OSF
Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg

Pleasant Incense, by Sharonlu Sheridan, OSF

IncenseBowlIncense can have different effects on people. Some cannot stay in church on Holy Saturday night or Easter because of the incense burning in the ceremonies. I can understand that. I do love that fragrance, though, and would not like having it eliminated. Not only the scent, but to see the smoke rising as our prayers do delights me.

Here at the Oldenburg Franciscan Retreat Center, we try to accommodate as many people as we can. One thing we did was place a vessel, as the one pictured, in the lobby. The bowl-like vessel is made of wax that has been hand poured and embedded with natural essences and natural and silk botanicals. It is designed to release a unique long-lasting aromatic fragrance of garden sage, and purple basil with a touch of rosemary and thyme.

In the lobby, the vessel was put on the lower self of a table holding flowers and a small figurine. It was not noticeable, but each person entering the building remarked on the pleasant atmosphere and asked what the scent was.

This led the Center’s décor manager to request similar vessels for each of the halls on the bedroom floors. We chose Woodland potpourri and the mild fragrance seems to be part of the air we breathe, as if we were in a pleasant garden. What I like best about the wax vessels is that we do not need to light them nor watch them disappear as the wax is consumed. The vessels just sit there, just are. There comes a time, of course, when the fragrance is lessened. The directions say to take a dry washcloth and rub the vessel all over. Then the fragrance is once again active.

What about us? What can we learn from this seemingly inert thing? If after doing our ministry, we find that we haven’t had an original thought for several months, years, decades; it is time for the brisk dry rub of renewal. That may be a sabbatical, or a retreat or even a vacation.  Do not forget to slough off the old and make way for a more beautiful fragrance to emerge.

Peace and Joy,

Sharonlu OSF

Play Ball!, by Sharonlu Sheridan, OSF

StealingSecond

The score is 8 to 6, favor of the white team. It is the bottom of the ninth; there is one man on third and one out. Blue player has just singled safely. Tension is high. What will happen? Is the blue player thinking of stealing second? Will the pitcher catch him on the way? Will blue get back to base before the throw is caught?

In the stands, the fans see the whole picture. The pitcher switching back and forth, hoping to catch the blue player off base, aiming a pitch to first base, and then to the plate. Meanwhile the blue player has taken a good lead off, hoping the pitcher will miss it.  If not he will have to return to first base PRONTO!

This back and forth goes on several times, and finally blue speeds off to second while the ball is still in the pitcher’s hand. He dives to second base, and then the thud of the ball in the second baseman’s glove. SAFE! Whew!!! And the fans roar! This is the kind of excitement that brings fans back again and again.

Let’s take a look at that first base runner. He is always safe as long as his foot, hand or any part of him is on first base. But if he is to make headway in the game, he must get to second base, where he can be safe again. This can happen in several ways. The blue batter could get a hit, and that would advance our runner to second, at least. Or, the pitcher might throw four balls, walk the batter, and force the first base player to second. A third option is when a batter is hit by a pitcher’s ball. The batter advances to first and forces our blue runner to second.

The most exciting move to second would be if our blue runner could steal the base. That has the fans experiencing heart-stopping-tension for the 3 or 4 seconds it takes to accomplish this.

All of this is dependent on the willingness of our first base runner to take the risk. I do not know the statistics about how often a base stealer is caught and gains only an out for his team. I think more are caught than make the base. But make it or not, the runner has taken a great risk. That risk entails letting go of a safe place. More than that, he takes this risk before hundreds of people… thousands if you count TV coverage.

I have had to take risks, so have you. Mine were very small and my percentage of wins is about 50-50. My percentage of losses is also 50-50. That is not the problem. It is when we do not take the risk that we must examine our reasons. Frederick Wilcox wrote, “You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”

If a risk issue arises for you, look at it carefully. Why do you think you cannot take over the chair of the bake sales? Why can’t you give a little talk to the parish council? What is keeping you from reaching out to a neighbor?

Some wonderful things happen when your risk bears fruit. Oh, there will not be fans screaming, clapping, and jumping up and down. However, you will find your own heart dancing. And if it does not bear fruit?  You will be like Edison who had over a thousand tries before the light bulb was a reality. More than that, Jesus had his share of wins and losses.  He weeps over Jerusalem, remarking that all he wanted was to gather her under his wings.  In the garden of Gethsemane he asked that the cup of suffering be taken away.  He loves you and me, really loves us.  We delight Jesus at times, and at other times He tries to gather us under his wings and we skitter away.

Stretch your horizon! Take a risk.

Peace,

Sharonlu OSF

Gardening, by Sharonlu Sheridan, OSF

petuniaHave you ever planted a garden? If so, you know the toil required to initiate the soil for planting, the tedious work of seeing that the seeds or seedlings are placed in the ground to their best advantage, water just enough but not too much, the weeding and careful watch for aphids and other things that “bug” flowers and food. Then comes the praying that rain will come and sun will shine to nourish the tiny plants, but also hoping that there will not be too much of either rain or sun.

A garden takes a lot of work. However, when the flowers bloom or the tomatoes ripen it calls for that grand feeling of self-satisfaction that indicates that you have participated with God in the creation of this beauty.

Consider this.

The day was blisteringly hot with humidity at a high level. I appreciated the air-conditioning of my car, and was surprised by the blast of heat as I opened the door. I had parked in front of my workplace where cracks in the sidewalk were often found, but not dangerously wide to be hazardous.

By my back tire, standing perkily at four inches was a tiny pink petunia. How it stood the heat was miracle enough, as there seemed to be nothing to nourish it. But there it was in the center of what was the most perilous part of the grounds. Why a car, my car, had not obliterated it was almost unbelievable.

I stopped for a moment to marvel at it. It was a thing of beauty, certain to die soon. However there it was and remained for several days. Cars came and went; the sun was unbelievably hot: there was no rain at all. Yet the pink petals remained fresh and lovely, proud and perky, beautifully pink and totally without human connivance.

The little petunia came because the good God had a task for it to perform. Several people saw the little flower, and stopped to admire it. Seldom would they do that for a bed of petunias! Looking at ONE and the situation it was in, brought them to attention. They marveled that it could thrive, and decided God had something to do with that. Have you ever looked at the person who is in the wrong place and seemingly useless and tried to discover what they offer?

Contemplation has been a central part of our gatherings here in Oldenburg. To stop, be silent and let your thoughts be controlled by God. You realize many things you did not even know you knew! Sometimes we find a beautiful pink petunia where before there was only a crack in the concrete.

Peace and Joy to all of you,

Sharonlu OSF

 

One Way, by Sharonlu Sheridan OSF

OneWay
The day was perfect as far as Ashley was concerned. Blue skies, a few white puffy clouds and sun shining brightly. She had put the top down on her convertible and just enjoyed the drive. Cars going the opposite direction whizzed past her. Traffic was very heavy, but she was being careful. So when a police officer stopped her she was confused.

“Where do you think you are going?” the officer asked.

“I’m not sure,” said Ashley, “but I think I am late. They are all coming back.”

“Lady,” said the police officer. This is a one-way-street and you are going the wrong way!”

What one-way-street are you traveling?  Check closely.  Is it the one you want?  Choose the street that will get you to your goal.  All those worrisome things that pound their way in to our thinking are going the opposite way. So we must learn to work around them.

Sometimes it seems that the whole world is whizzing past us.  The temptation is great to go with the flow.  However, the less traveled road, the one that keeps bumping into things that swerve us from our final destiny, is the only one that will get us where we want to go – heaven.

Drive Safely!

Peace,

Sharonlu, OSF

Repeat, Re-phrase, and Write it Down, by Sharonlu Sheridan, OSF

All of us have had some experience with people who have a hearing loss. When we have to deal with our own loss, we realize others do not understand what happens when hearing wanes. So the Reflection this week is on information coming from my own experience.

I was in my 50’s when my housemates in Gaylord, Michigan told me I did not hear well. I did not notice it, except that I asked to turn the TV up in the evenings. Therefore, to satisfy them, I made an appointment with a specialist in hearing disorders. The result of the test showed that I had loss that could not be repaired by surgery. My left ear had 75% loss and the right ear 60% loss. The cause was aging and heredity.

You may have heard people say everyone talks as if they have mush in their mouths. There is a reason for that. The first thing lost is consonant sounds, especially the initial consonant. Someone may be talking about a bell in the new building, and I would have heard fell instead of bell. I would mistakenly think that someone fell in the new building. You catch on quickly though, and watch the mouths of speakers. The “b” sound and the “f” sound clear things up for me by the position of the lips of the speaker.

If clattering dishes in a restaurant annoys you, know that people with hearing aids have that sound increased so that they wince with pain.

What do we do with our deaf friends? Here are a few tips:

DO:  Speak clearly at a speed slightly slower than normal.
DON’T:  Mumble or exaggerate your words.

DO:  Keep eye contact.
DON’T:  Cover your mouth or look away.

DO:  Speak at a normal volume or slightly louder.
DON’T:  Shout.  This will distort lip patterns. Deafness causes a loss of pitch, not volume.

 DO:  If there is more than one person speaking, take turns to talk.
DON’T:  Speak over each other- this is very difficult for a deaf person to follow.

DO:  If they do not understand the first time, repeat it, and if needed try rephrasing it.

Remember; DON’T be afraid to check that the deaf person can understand you. Keep  this motto in mind:  Repeat, Rephrase, and Write it down.

Having hearing aids is a lot like putting your fingers in your ears as you did as a child. Your voice echoes in your head and gives you a different sound than when you speak and hear your voice at the same time. That same sound in my head happens with every word I speak now. Because of that, I speak much softer when I am wearing hearing aids and when I take them out my voice raises considerably. That is why I take them out when I lector. Otherwise, I seem to whisper into the microphone.

I was so glad to hear things after I received my hearing aids that the ticking of a clock was like music, and hearing bird’s song lifted my heart. I have to admit though, that removing my hearing aids makes for a lovely silent world; a world perfect for contemplation and meditating. So there are good things that happen even with handicaps!

Love your ability to hear and use it well. I can no longer go to concerts or listen to music in the car. All those “noises”really rattle my head. BUT, when the Academy has an outdoor concert, I can enjoy that very much because the sounds are not bouncing back and forth against walls or car doors.

Everyone has a handicap. Some are more noticeable than others. Love yours and put it to work for you and the Good, Wise, Gentle God who gave us each what we need.

Repeat, Re-Phrase, and Write it down.

Much love to all,

Sharonlu OSF