Building a Nest
By Wendy Bryant,
By Wendy Bryant,
By Zoanna Pearson,
I remember the year my son came home for Christmas
we lived a continent apart
My excitement was tangible
my expectation vibrated
I planned meals that he would enjoy
I baked his favorite cookies
His bed was made with soft sheets
new towels were laid out just for him
His coming was all I could think about for weeks
I anticipated his arrival with eagerness
How do I prepare for the King of all Kings
do I sit in prayer, waiting for his arrival
remembering his journey from seed to divine human
Can I imagine opening the front door and seeing him standing there
accepting his gift of a perfect leaf or tiny feather
Or perhaps, he’ll come early, roll up his sleeves and help
asking about the recipe or why I dislike pecan pie
Do I set the table picturing him in the seat of honor
do I bless the food not as I eat it but as I prepare it
Will I thank him for all the hands that touched it before me
ask blessings on each person who sits with him today
No glitter, no twinkling lights, no ornaments or festive packages
candles, aroma, soft music, laughter, gratefulness
Oh, welcome, Lord Jesus, I’m so glad you came
By Kathleen Heppell,
While we prepare for sleep and night watch of our sheep, the fire warms us. Sky cloudless, black, yet bright with stars… We whisper… how such beauty takes our breath away.
A blinding light. Bright as day. Stunned. Paralyzed. Will we die? “Fear not.” we hear, shaking as we fall on our faces, our arms covering our heads. These words… we try to make sense of what we hear and have seen.
Lifting our heads, we see an angel announcing Rejoice! Rejoice! The Messiah is born this night in Bethlehem, as scripture foretold. Wrapped snugly in clothes, lying in a manger.
Our Savior lying in a manger?
The sky becomes brighter as the heavenly host sings, filling us with joy as we have never known. We hear Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.
And then they are gone, leaving us with baaing sheep, our fire, and one another.
We must see our Savior. No one wants to be left behind, yet our sheep must be protected. We don’t argue in our usual ways; a hush among us as we decide who will go into Bethlehem. The fastest run toward the sleeping town to the stable at the inn guided with a knowing in our hearts.
We stop in front of the opening. Panting, we gather ourselves. How to enter this place with the promised Savior within? This smelly stable is Holy. Our overflowing joy gives unfamiliar confidence. We enter in silence. Oldest to youngest, our torches held high.
There he is, a baby lying in a manger, wrapped in snug clothes. Nearby his parents sit up, rubbing their eyes, questions on their faces. “The angel of the Lord told us our Savior, the Messiah, was born this night. We have come to worship.”
They nod in understanding, with curiosity and awe on their faces. We fall to our knees. Foreheads to the ground, we praise the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, Adonai, and in our midst, Immanuel, just as was promised.
Strange… the smells of animals would be incensed to our God. Somehow we know our presence, the offering of our hearts and voices, is pleasing to the Lord Most High.
We excitedly share more of our story with Mary and Joseph. Tired as they are, they, too, praise our God, who keeps His promises. We leave as dawn begins to kiss the earth. Travelers and shopkeepers on the road look at us as worse than the dirt they walk on. They hear us praising God to the highest heaven; we don’t care who we awaken.
Shrinking back from the stench of our clothes, they cannot miss the glory shining, like Moses, upon our countenance when they look at our faces. “Our Savior is born this day in the stable just down the road. The angel of the Lord told us; the heavenly host sang praises. It was the darkest night yet shone brighter than the noonday sun!”
Trying to take in what we are saying, they can see our joy. Some shake their heads, “Shepherds! The heavenly host coming to them? The Savior of the world born in a stable? How can that be?”
We tell them, see for yourselves, providing directions… While some seem curious, most keep shaking their heads. They don’t seem to want to see for themselves.
Yet nothing dampens our overflowing joy. Returning to our flocks, we tell everyone.
As we watch over our sheep, we ponder within ourselves and to one another how is it that He chose us, lowly shepherds, to hear and see this good news. How did He choose this young couple, peasants, to be His parents? How is it that the Messiah was born in a stable? And we ask, when will He deliver His people?
We know within our depths… at the right time… this baby will grow up to lead us and redeem us.
By Beth Griffith,
By John Kiemele,
The Rolling Ridge Retreat Center
and the Selah community
Light streaks across galaxies, time and skies
Eyes blink, feet stop, hearts squint
Light squeezes through shadows in slivers and shards
Knots unravel, twists unwind, turns unbend
Light bursts through and holds her face
Pains pause, injustice sighs, tensions fade
Light cries joy and goodness and enduring peace
Gentleness clears her throat, forgiveness reaches, wisdom shimmers
Light from the stars draws light through all scars
Darkness shudders, dreams widen, love winks
Light comes on purpose
Light creates lift
Light renews life
breath by breath
beat by beat
hope upon hope
Editor’s Note: John Kiemele founded the Selah Center in 2006 and served as its Executive Director until 2018, when he moved with his wife, Marissa, to live in New Hampshire. John is the program director at the Rolling Ridge Retreat Center in North Andover, Massachusetts. Marissa continues to practice medicine. Selah Center is part of a growing international movement centered around contemplative living. DRB
By Sandy Shipman,
She struggles with perfection, wants every detail just so. It sounds like criticism.
The counselor says to love.
Anxiety fills his mind. Overwhelms. He lashes out.
The counselor says to love.
She wants answers. Clarity. Solutions. Fix it!
The counselor says to love.
He wants peace and retreat. Life interrupts. He withdraws.
The counselor says to love.
She wants obedience. Conformity. Goodness.
The counselor says to love.
He wants respect, honor, legacy.
The counselor says to love.
She wants, he wants, they want, yearn, ache, grasp, fight, flail.
The counselor says to love.
ON THIS SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT, we light the candle of peace. A state of being that means tranquility, mental calm, and serenity. We bring our request before God in asking for peace, no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. Christmas is typically a time of celebration and joyous expectations.
By Debora Buerk
Editor, Here & Now
& Selah Companion
For Christians, Advent is a time spent preparing for Christmas. For many of us, this can include decorating our homes, putting up a Christmas tree, creating an Advent calendar, writing Christmas cards, gathering with family and friends for dinner, and giving gifts.
The word Advent originates in Old English from the Latin word “adventus,” or “coming”—the arrival of God in human form, umbilical cord, and all.
While some are tempted to think of Christmas as an event to be observed at the end of the calendar year, they would miss the origin and meaning of Advent.
We don’t know when the period of preparation for Christmas, now called Advent, began. It existed from about 480, with the Council of Tours in 567. What we know and celebrate is a time of preparation for Christmas Day, when we celebrate the birth or beginning of the Christian liturgical year.
Advent anticipates the “coming of Christ” from three different perspectives:
This third meaning, I believe, was the focus of the early church—to wait for Christ’s second coming. This, however, has become downplayed among today’s Christians.
What if our focus shifted to waiting, anticipating, and preparing for the King’s return to earth, the defeat of Satan and sin, and peace on earth? Now that would be something to anticipate and celebrate.
So this Advent season, as you decorate for Christmas, sing the carols, and light the advent wreath, try to anticipate—look forward to Christ’s return and, with it, peace on earth. What if we wished each other a “Blessed Advent” as a prelude to “Merry Christmas?”
In doing so, we can simultaneously give and receive the love of God to each other—as we anticipate and draw near his birth.
I wish you a joy-filled Advent for all of us in the growing Selah community.
By MARY PANDIANI
Pauses hold possibilities, hope, healing, and perspective. Encounters engage all of who we are with the one who created us. Growth happens in love which moves us towards wholeness through the freedom of God’s abiding presence.
This is the invitation Selah offers through its unique charism—the gift given to others—the pause, the encounter, and growing together. Our intention statement below reflects the space from what is to what can be, a new moment, pregnant with the power of the Spirit who imbues life, abundant life:
Our name, Selah, is birthed out of noticing the value of pausing before responding. From the Hebrew Psalms and Old Testament books, Selah means to lift up within a song of praise and in times of lament. It gives space between one stanza and another to offer breath amidst what is given.
By being a “welcoming community,” we reflect the value of hospitality that welcomes those who want to come to the table of what we offer and who we are. These values reinforce that we believe all belong to God, and as a community, we hope to accompany those who want to know God in deeper and more meaningful ways.
For the verbs, we choose “pause,” “encounter,” and “grow together”—verbs that sustain our priorities of what it means to be part of Selah.
Pausing offers the opportunity to be present to those around us, to ourselves, and God.
Encountering means that God is already present in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, along with the ongoing work of the Spirit, who is the Divine presence. Through spiritual practices, we find the necessary scaffolding to prepare our hearts, minds, and bodies for God’s presence.
The pausing, the practicing, and the awareness that comes with contemplation flourish in places where we gather with others to share in the presence of God. Our hope through pausing, encountering, and growing together leads us to greater wholeness and loving others.
This contemplative life is not meant for ourselves alone. In the fullness of God’s loving embrace, we can extend ourselves in uncomfortable and challenging places, knowing that the stretching and risking lead to healing for wholeness, reflecting in the person God has created us to be.
Through this intention, we listen for God’s invitation to this place of wholeness and loving others. Knowing that it is not by our efforts, we live into God’s embracing love and grace that beckon us into deeper places of community with one another, ourselves, and God. In a world of rhetoric and noise, a place of speed that over-speaks and interrupts, a society that wants certainty without its gift of mystery, Selah offers a posture of listening through the pause, encounter, and growth.
And yet…waiting is at the heart of this season called Advent. We anticipate the joy of once again celebrating the Light that has come into the world. Receiving that good news with joy requires preparation. Advent allows us to join others and God while we wait and prepare. In the waiting, can we also be alert to the wondrous light that seeks to shine through every ordinary moment? Advent is a time to pay careful attention to that gift of Light.
By Zoanna Pearson
I wonder what you thought when we changed Christmas into “The Holidays?”
When the star on the tree top became a decoration rather than The Star of Bethlehem?
When we sang Santa Claus Is Coming To Town instead of Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel?
When are we more concerned with wrapping gifts than lighting the Sabbath candle?
We create such turmoil in our souls juggling our schedules to fit in one more party, one more gift exchange, host one more dinner
Sweet Baby Jesus, you came to us helpless, humble, a newborn, a swaddled Messiah.
Holy Spirit, help us imagine this birth to —
feel the warmth of cattle breath,
hear the lullaby of bleating lambs,
smell the earthiness of clean hay,
taste the nourishment from a nursing Mother, see tears of joy in the eyes of a new father,
I am wondering if this Christmas might be different?
If there may be moments each day when we stop to truly imagine and enter into the birth of the Infant King
So our souls may be stilled
and in awe, we remember.
By Edie Finnell,
One of my favorite picture books is Pearl Buck’s Christmas Day in the Morning. It tells the story of an older man remembering Christmas past. He recalls when he was a young boy who wanted to give his father a gift to show him how much he is loved. He takes time to consider how much he values his father and longs to give him something special, even though he can afford very little.
In a flash of excitement, he surprises his father by doing his father’s chores. The boy gets up in the early dark of morning and performs all his father’s chores in the yard, and sneaks back into bed. As a reader, I anticipate, with the boy, the moment his father realizes what has happened. He receives the gift with surprise and wonder, deeply touched by his son’s selfless, meaningful act.
This story makes me wonder what it would be like to give gifts in such a mindful way. In recent years, holiday gift buying has become more of a to-do checklist and a “buy now” click.
With three daughters, I’m often more concerned about equity than the actual gifts themselves. I wonder what it would be like to pause more during this gift-buying season and think more about the person and less about the gift.
Instead of checking off a box and ensuring I have my bases covered, what if I were to take a moment to say a word of blessing for each daughter in gratitude about their place in my life? It is a small practice, yet like the boy in the story, gift-giving can be a transformative experience of letting someone know they are deeply treasured and loved. I can forget this during the hurried pace of the holidays, but I long to remember what matters. Perhaps the seemingly tiny act of pausing extends such an invitation.
May this season, which can be complicated, offer moments of pausing to remember those you love and have loved and move you to breathe deeply in gratitude for the gift of their lives.
By Lynne Benson
a Selah Companion
I love playing with language, words, derivatives, and meanings and considering what is intended. So, my little brain put together “advent” – looking forward to what is about to happen. This advent season stirs the beginnings of what I can offer to my friends when I send out Christmas greetings. I want to give something of meaning, and value, something of myself that took effort, thought, and the work of my person. So, the last few years have been devoted to painting pictures for greeting cards. While it might not have the intended meaning extended to the receiver in quite the way I began the work; I am drawn to what comes to mind as I look at life.
My first attempt was of Christmas ornaments hanging from the limb of a fir tree. It is something that most people recognize, no matter what tradition, culture, or country of experience. So many things come to mind. If I want to decorate my world with my attitudes, actions, and presence, I realize I cannot hang in midair but need support and dangle in midair, hopefully showing off the reflected light of the other brilliance around and show that I get to be part of a great whole that graces that tree. Not alone, hanging, dangling with others to make a more beautiful whole.
The candle painting from a different year displays light in a dark place. Truthfully, my favorite part of the picture is the rounded glass holder that catches the drippings. Something about how it catches the light and roundness warms me, a reminder that it doesn’t shine on its own. It holds something of substance that supports a wick that runs through the waxy pillar that, by its composition, warms the hardened to a softened texture and lightens the dark. Nothing of that pictured object works by itself.
My tree was intended to have a whimsical feel to it. While in the cold, it holds up the softness of the snow, a tree that is a remembrance of nature, a symbol of the season we often bring into our homes to remind us of a holy-day (holiday), yet in some ways, seems a disconnect with the true meaning as it was kind of a non-biblical, non-Christian way of commemorating the birth of Christ which likely happened in a different season anyway.
The picture beckoned something else – warmth; I wanted life to speak into what seemed cold. While bunnies are not often out and about during this time, it just seemed fitting to have the little guy depicted. Not only does it symbolize warmth to me, but they emerge in little bundles of fur into adolescent fluffs during the spring on our property. I watch for them as they give me such delight. Life. Warmth is expected after the cold and dark of winter. I look forward to the winter solstice as a reminder that the daylight hours will begin to lengthen. The tree by itself seemed lonely. The presence of the rabbit is a bit of hope; in turn, the tree is a bit of shelter: Christmas is the season of hope for our Shelter.
All considered, the conclusion is Emmanuel – God with us. As I have compiled my thoughts in writing this, all these pictures bring the realization that we are not alone. And isn’t that what God meant when it was said, “Come,” “I am with you,” “You will be with Me,” and “I will be with you”? We are not alone.
My painting teachers often point out the need for light. It is critical when painting realism that you consider “where your source of light is.” It determines shading, the hues used, where the light hits the objects painted, and whether your finished illustration “makes sense.” One of the most stirring things in pondering creative handiwork is the eye. Imagine: If the pupil of the eyes is too close together in a portrait, you can imagine what that person looks like. More like a toon, I’d say. If they are raised, the point, or the “apple of the eye,” as some name it, must be in the correct position for the viewer to know where the person is looking, and you tend to look in that direction and wonder what is being looked at. Have you ever heard of someone being the “apple of one’s eye”? That speaks to preciousness. I find it funny that we also call it the pupil – a place of learning. It is also a place that uses light and adjusts to it, and the cones of the eye allow for color to be perceived. The eye’s structure, function, and workings are nothing short of miraculous. By the way, our pupils widen in darkness to catch whatever bit of light possible. My cat’s eyes become more beautiful when those huge, dark pupils enlarge. His face looks more dear to me. Do I strain to see the Light who calls me precious, and will the learning of my gaze widen with amazement at Beauty? Do I see the Light more clearly?
There are techniques such as the rule of thirds and the “s” curve to provide movement, so your “eye” will travel across the picture, clearer and more distinct in the foreground, less so for distance. So many things that I have learned to help me to “see” my world differently, including the tremendous variations of green there are when I look at a wall of trees through the “eyes of my heart,” and meaning grows more profound. Until someone pointed this out, I never would have recognized that, and now my awareness has been piqued for all kinds of details. This creates profound wonder in the beauty I don’t want to miss and helps me see there is so much more to the world than I realize. My Light is growing brighter, showing more details, and shining greater wonder into the beauty surrounding me. And thus, begins my lessons on creativity. They continue.
By Evelyn Gerardo Challis
a Selah Companion
An unexpected card this week with contact information. I had sought her for years, remembering that phone call long ago when she left a message, tentative in trust, expressing gratefulness for the gifts I sent as I sensed her vulnerability, not realizing she was grieving the death of her love. And unknown to me at that time, a profoundly spiritual death of another love. For years.
Years ago, parents coerced her, unmarried, to adopt out her child; rejection of daughter and grandchild due to fear and shame; lacking boldness to embrace her life and the grandbaby’s life; instead, thrusting mother and child into a lifetime of confusion, shame, anger, rejection, the search for belonging.
A child was born. He once was lost. And now he’s found. She, unable to find him for years because family collusion with church authorities denied her access to the truth. And now he’s found, through the miracle of years of love and persistence.
Christmas reminds us: To be persistent in love; to be a presence of peace; to be a sign of tenderness and strength in a fragmented world; to bring hope where sorrow and despair prevail; to rejoice that we belong. We are wrapped in the authenticity of Christ’s life, Christ who understands our humanity. Who does not judge but loves. Who does not reject but assures us that we belong.
Christ is born and embodied in the grief and sorrow, pain, and isolation of all humanity. Christ is born and embodied in the authenticity of yearning and desire to continue searching for love. Christ is born and embodied in reconciliation and forgiveness, the claiming of truth, and owning of decisions that lead to separation. Christ is born and embodied in the courage to restore relationships. Christ is born, and this Christmas brings relief of one sort to this precious family, partnered with the grief of years apart, yet a new naming and embracing of one other as mother and son. Mother and son.