Mary Pandiani writes: “Sabbath is taking time … time to be holy … time to be human.”
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A poem by Christopher Ball.
By Christopher Ball
part of the Selah Community
in the return
of the One
and is to come
is to look beyond
throbbing with anticipatory,
and frigid darkness
vibrating with primordial Spirit
the essence of our very being
woven together tenderly
By Mary Pandiani
…Learning to trust what emerges,
So that gradually
You may come to know
That deep in that black hole
You will find the blue flower
That holds the mystical light
Which will illuminate in you….
A Blessing for Loneliness
About thirty years ago, a new tradition began at Christmas time. In the Western Hemisphere, the night of the Winter Solstice, Blue Christmas becomes a time to honor the sadness that accompanies the season. On this day, we acknowledge those who no longer celebrate the Christmas season with us in person. Entering into a ritual of quietness, we light candles in remembrance. It’s a time to grieve amid celebration for the season.
This year, Blue Christmas touches close to my heart. Several deaths in the last few months have impacted me, most significantly a dear friend of thirty-two years and my mother-in-law of my late husband. I celebrate this Christmas without them, and it’s not easy to do so. While I can still enter the joy of the season, my heart is heavy with grief upon grief. This realization holds my attention nearly every day. Tears well up from deep inside.
I use the word “honor” in sadness purposefully. Sadness does not take away the joy from the season. Just as Mary and Joseph experienced joy and sorrow on their journey, from hearing from the angels, trying to find a place to stay for the night, and giving birth to baby Jesus. Holding both is a paradox. And I am reminded there is sadness and joy in the life story. I want to make a note of this reality and honor it.
The poem by John O’Donohue, A Blessing for Loneliness, invites me into what the darkness of grief and sadness offers. Ending with the “blue flower” in this blessing, he captures my imagination with mystical allure. In Romantic poetry, the blue flower symbolizes the artistic and emotional striving for the infinite. Connecting to Blue Christmas, I remember my longing for the infinite, even amid my sadness. Can I trust that what emerges, whether in the grief or the joy of the season, will be a gift from God? I find solace in knowing the pain I feel is equal to my love for those I miss. And could it be, from the darkness, I might know light?
This is the hope of the season and our lives; a light has been brought into the world. I celebrate the light while honoring the darkness. My prayer on the longest night of the year is to continue to learn what it means to trust God in whatever happens, whether sadness or joy.
By Sandy Shipman
I understand the waiting of Advent, the wanting, the waning hope. Aching for justice, mercy, and love while experiencing division, judgment, and hate. We pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” like the Jews of Mary’s time praying for the Messiah. We pray and wait for the powerful and mighty to save us. Who would have thought that God would deliver the Messiah not from the mountaintop but from inside a human? That was unexpected.
Now, we have this annual practice of the whole church waiting expectantly for Jesus to come from inside Mary during the Advent season. Candles and choirs and scripture readings. But back then, most people didn’t know the Messiah was coming so soon. They had work and oppression and Laws on their mind. They had hope for the Messiah in the same way we do. Perhaps thy kingdom come, someday, later, in the future. But today, we have work to do, battles to fight, and morality to uphold and defend.
Mary was another teenager who got pregnant before marriage. I imagine she was shunned and judged and deemed less than. Few suspected the Spirit had entered her, that Jesus was alive within her. How might the conversations, the interactions have changed if the neighbors had known that God was so near?
I recently created art with a teenage girl, an amazing artist. She was kind, inquisitive, protective, and she made me laugh. She was also a six-year veteran of the juvenile justice system. And pregnant. I imagine she is shunned, judged, and deemed less than. I can hear the neighbors discussing virtue and choices and patterns of behavior. What if we knew the Holy Spirit was living inside her? What if we believed Jesus was alive within her? Would our conversations and interactions change with God so near?
Would we travel great distances and bring the child gifts? Do we?
What if, in all our conversations and interactions, we behaved as if we believed God was alive in each of us? What if we kept the Law and loved one another?
Anyway. I understand the waiting. The wanting. The waning hope.
Let’s surprise everyone with God’s Love delivered once more from inside a human. You. Me. Thy Kingdom Come.
Light Comes on Purpose
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
Here & Now is taking a sabbath for the rest of August.
By Debora Buerk
Curator & Editor for Here & Now.
Debora is part of the Selah Community
In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between work and rest,” writes Wayne Muller in Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest.
Millennia ago, the tradition of Sabbath created an oasis of sacred time within a life of unceasing labor. This consecrated time, Muller affirms, is available to all of us, regardless of our spiritual tradition. We need not even schedule an entire day each week. Sabbath time can be a sabbath afternoon, a sabbath hour, or a sabbath walk. Sabbath time is time off the wheel when we take our hand from the plow and allow the essential goodness of creation to nourish our souls.
We have lost this essential rhythm. Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something–anything–is better than doing nothing.Wayne Muller
Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest
Discussions about the Sabbath often center around moralistic laws and arguments over whether a person should be able to play cards or purchase liquor on Sundays. In Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, Walter Brueggemann writes that the Sabbath is not simply about keeping rules but rather about becoming a whole person and restoring a whole society. Importantly, Brueggemann speaks to a 24/7 society of consumption, a society in which we live to achieve, accomplish, perform, and possess. We want more, own more, use more, eat more, and drink more. Keeping the Sabbath allows us to break this restless cycle and focus on what is truly important: God, other people, all life.
Walter Brueggemann, Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary and the world’s leading interpreter of the Old Testament writes: “Thus I have come to think that the fourth commandment on sabbath is the most difficult and most urgent of the commandments in our society, because it summons us to intent and conduct that defies the most elemental requirements of a commodity-propelled society that specializes in control and entertainment, bread and circuses … along with anxiety and violence.”
We used to sing the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy.” But perhaps we should be singing, “Take time to be human.” Or finally, “Take time.” Sabbath is taking time … time to be holy … time to be human.”Walter Brueggemann,
Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now
Here & Now and Selah Center is Taking a Sabbath
In the spirit of taking an intentional break from the rat race for rest and rejuvenation, the Here & Now blog will join with the Selah Center in taking a sabbath for the remainder of August.
We encourage you to consider taking a sabbath from social media. You might instead read Wayne Muller or Walter Brueggemann’s books.
We look forward to publishing again in September.
By John Kiemele
part of the Selah Community
I had an appointment at a downtown office, parked the car and was crossing the street when something caught my attention: A woman was leading a llama down the street. This is not a regular occurrence where I live, so of course I paused to look. Okay, I stared.
Here was a llama, with its shimmering, well-groomed coat, shiny halter with ornamental lead, tall and stately with a rather regal, clip-clopping along.
Strangely enough, it seemed like everything in this particular moment belonged. And there I stood, smiling at serendipity. When I entered my intended appointment, I inquired if anyone had noticed the lady leading the llama right outside their office window. They had not noticed, and with the tilting folders, an army of sticky notes, and the humming machinery, I understood.
How easy it is to miss such scenes when regular life piles in around us. How often, I too, miss these unsuspecting slivers of life tucked into simple street crossings. And yet, seeing that llama that day, I realized that every moment holds a potential surprise. Every moment echoes from Love and begs my heart to wonder about something more. To move with attentive openness to unfolding life. To be alert to slivers of mystery that make me smile at llamas—and keep wondering,
About John Kiemele
John Kiemele is a wellbeing educator and spiritual director who currently companions individuals, teaches various seminars and lifestyle classes, leads contemplative retreats and serves as Program Director at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center. Focusing on contemplative soul care, John gratefully walks alongside individuals, small groups, classrooms, and congregations. Recognizing how intentional pausing and listening unlocks life, John strives to engage the whole person – body, mind, soul – in the lifelong process of living well. John received his Ph.D. in education/spirituality from Talbot School of Theology, with post-doctoral emphases in Spiritual Direction, Mindful Self-Compassion, the Enneagram Spectrum, and Wellness Coaching.