Saturday, December 3, 2011

Small Signs of God - Morning Stillness

  Why is the morning so still? Why is the time between darkness and dawn so very quiet? The night voices begin to quiet themselves and the morning voices , like me, are hesitant to start moving. Stillness.  I open my eyes and leave the warm space to listen and wait. As the first rays of light peek through the trees, the morning noises, one by one, come to life. Another day. Another new morning reminds me of the words from Isaiah, "Morning by morning He wakens - wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught."( Isaiah 50:4)
I have learned the quiet before dawn is what rescues me from the perils of the day. The stillness and quiet waiting are when I hear the voice of God, assuring me that the One who brings his first rays of light to creation is also bringing me a ray of light, a ray of hope, a ray of guidance.  It is the example Jesus gave to his disciples where, "In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35.) The Christ child teaches us.
I cannot help but wonder about those who miss the quiet before the dawn. Admittedly, sometimes I am one of those, but choosing to miss the lonely, quiet place of silence is dangerous. Henri Nouwen, in his book Out of Solitude says: "Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures."
Where is the place of "somewhere?" The answer lies in my Advent reading for today.
"God wants to open the heart before it opens itself to the world; before the ear hears the innumerable voices of the day, the early hours are the time to hear the voice of the Creator and Redeemer. God made the stillness of the early morning for himself." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is In the Manger)
Open my heart, God, to your day and let me always show up as you wait for me in the stillness of the early morning.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Small Signs of God - The Visitor

I regretted being away when the phone call came. My daughter called laughing, "There's a bird in our house. What do I do?" After instructions were given for shooing the feathered friend back to his habitat, I called back a few minutes later to check the status and inquired, "What kind of bird was it?" She said, "It was a cardinal, Mom." Stunned, I hung up the phone. Stunned and pleased that the shy, quiet red bird came close enough to my door to enter, sit on the arm of my sofa, circle the room and exit gracefully.
For sixteen months I observed the movement of cardinals. I watched the rhythm of life outside my window move through the seasons while inside life stood still. Always, there would be a cardinal to cheer me, to offer solace and hope. Each time they would visit a tree branch or the feeder, some message would come forth and I would write my thoughts:
November 2007
There is a canvas outside our living room window that Fall has painted. The river birch leaves are the color of mustard and closer to the window a holly loaded with red berries. As Megan and I view our “painting” it comes to life with a bright red cardinal, working among the berries in the holly tree. I wish I knew more about birds, but I do know that the cardinal spends the winters here in Atlanta. Yesterday, there must have been 1000 birds overhead, fleeing for the winter. Other birds, like robins, sort of stay around, but hide themselves. I always felt bad for the robin, remembering the child’s verse, “The North Wind will blow, and we shall have snow, and what will the Robin do then – poor thing? He’ll sit in the barn, to keep himself warm, and hide his head under his wing – poor thing!”
Could the winter habits of birds be teaching me something about suffering? Warren Wiersbe says that in suffering we tend to fall into three categories of coping. We can escape – flee when the cold winds come. We can endure – hide ourselves under our wings – poor things! Or we can enlist – find an evergreen loaded with nourishment to shelter us from the storm. We, unlike birds, have a choice.
I will choose the cardinal this winter. Escaping is out of the question, enduring is drudgery, but enlisting is taking the winter on, finding the bright, red berries in the cold, singing when the wind blows cold, and trusting that Spring will certainly come. I am not surprised at wonderful and amazing God – He not only gives the wintering cardinal the instinct to nest in the protected denseness of the holly, but also provides food right outside the door of his nest and places it all for us to view. How much more does he provide for us? As the song says, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me."
For a cardinal to actually come into my house was, for me, a visit out of the ordinary. Maybe you have had such a visit. Others had those visits. Isaiah was visited by God's counsel 700 years before the birth of Jesus. He must have been so profoundly moved by his vision he wrote in Isaiah 9:6, "For a child has been born for us." Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and wise men all had visits out of the ordinary. But the smallest visit to earth was Jesus himself - a tiny, out-of-the-ordinary child who came for us. And He still calls us today, saying, "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me." Revelation 3:20
I open my door today with hope - even in the cold - and invite Him in.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Small Signs

I am almost a week into my Advent readings, but the words from the first day replay in my mind:
"I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God's saving power....Our temptation is to be distracted by them....When I have no eyes for the small signs of God's presence.... I will always remain tempted to despair." (Henri J.M. Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal)
Loud and impressive events call our name - especially from the Thanksgiving holidays until we greet the New Year. Why is that? We attend concerts , home tours, light displays and parties. We celebrate at church with extra events, musicals and services. We plan outings and shopping sprees before dawn ( I only did that once.) We look around to see if we could just add one more "touch" to our already decorated home.
We don't mean to be attracted to the loud and impressive but we are. I just returned from a visit to the largest private home in North America - the beautiful Biltmore Estate in North Carolina. Wowed by the decorations and number of Christmas trees, I came home convinced that I, too, should have something festive in all my rooms - well, until I started upstairs to the bedrooms and realized my boxes were empty. Maybe, I thought, I could just add a small touch to each room--a vase of evergreens in my own, the Christmas "Joy" pillow in one daughter's chair, the outgrown Nutcrackers guarding my son's dresser and a stuffed Frosty The Snowman snuggling on another child's bed. All small signs of the season I love. All small signs of this season of joy - anticipating and waiting for the celebration of Christ's arrival in Bethlehem.
Do you have eyes for the small signs of Jesus this Christmas? My devotional challenged me to see one small sign every day that God is present in my life. Today it was a friend who asked me to pray with her. We sat by her fire and thanked and requested and praised - and wondered about the small child who grew up and changed eternity, and then changed us. Quiet and unimpressive to the world, this small sign of eternity went quietly about the business of his life and I am the recipient of that wondrous love.

The small sign comes again to all of us. Where do you see Him?