Tag Archives: Advent

More light

More light seems to be the theme of this time of year. The winter solstice was the other day, so every day will now get longer; the four candles of the Advent wreath are lit; the Menorah is getting brighter every day; and tomorrow, we celebrate Christmas—more light.


Thinking about the light of this season makes me think of where I have experienced light throughout the past year.

The first thing that comes to mind is my sister and her two grandbabies. When these babies were born in 2021 (one in November and the other in December), my sister offered to mind them two days a week. Her children took her up on her offer. She asked me to be a back-up, and I happily agreed. Spending Mondays and Wednesdays with my sister and her two grandbabies has brought a great deal of light into my life. The babies are pure joy, and my sister’s generosity inspires me. Every time I see the babies, I see some new development, and they remind me that God is always doing something new—in them and in me.

Was there something new in your life this year that was a bright spot?


This year has been one of abundant travel, starting in January with a trip to Arizona to hike in Sedona and to visit family. Then in spring, I spent a month in Europe, and then I spent a second month in Europe this fall. In between those European trips, I visited friends in Pennsylvania, and a friend from Delaware visited me. Travel expands me and reminds me of the importance of taking risks in order to keep growing.

Did you have any adventures this year?


I also completed an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality this year, a program that began in 2020. The program was intensive and arduous, and there were times when I wanted to drop out, but I persisted, and I am glad I did. I learned a lot through all the readings and lectures, and now I have joined a peer supervision group for on-going support and to continue developing my listening skills and ability to accompany people on their spiritual journeys.

What is helping you to grow spiritually?


Recently, I have been noticing how often I use the word invitation, as in “I got invited to be the guest speaker for a nonprofit fundraiser,” and “I was invited to meet with a nonprofit consulting firm,” and “I got invited to be one of the dancers in a nonprofit’s version of DWTS.” I said yes to all three of these invitations, each of which was a surprise invitation, and each of which challenges me in some way. These invitations remind me that God is still shaping me and that I am still growing into the person I was meant to be, doing what I was meant to be doing. And each invitation reminds me that the best is yet to come.

Where are you being invited to grow?


God winks

God wink is an expression I first heard when I moved to Michigan eight years ago. A God wink is one of those serendipitous events, something totally unexpected, which has a hint of divine intervention in it.

Since moving here, I have heard God wink on several times, but not used the phrase myself until the other day.

Two days after I came to the aid of the woman who fell off the ladder—and knowing only my first name and my street name—this woman went house to house on my street to find me. She wanted to thank me for helping her. One of my neighbors pointed out my house to her, and she pulled into my driveway just as I was coming home.

We chatted a bit and she thanked me (and gave me a lovely gift).

“No one else who would have helped me,” she said.

“I wasn’t supposed to be here,” I told her. “I was meant to be in Europe this week, but I canceled because of Covid.”

And then I gasped. “This was a God wink,” I exclaimed.

The next morning, the Liturgy of the Hours had a reading from St. Ephrem, who wrote, “When the Lord commanded us to be vigilant, he meant vigilance…against lethargy and timidity.”

Being vigilant is a theme for me this Advent, and I think of helping the woman who fell off the ladder as an example of being vigilant.

When she visited me, she told me a car had been parked in front of her house the entire time she was hanging lights. There were two people inside the car, and they only drove away after I had left her. Even though they were closer to her when she fell, neither of them got out of the car to help her.

Reading St. Ephrem’s words, I wondered about being vigilant against timidity and if the people in that car were too timid to come to her aid.

Timidity is defined as “a lack of courage or confidence.” Perhaps they lacked either courage or confidence.

One of the gifts of aging for me is having the confidence to respond in a crisis. I may not have medical training, but I can tell when someone needs medical help—and I can certainly call 911 or drive someone to Urgent Care.

Are there other times, though, when I lack courage or confidence? When I am, in fact, timid?

John the Baptist comes to mind. He lacked neither courage nor confidence, but boldly proclaimed his message of repentance.

Advent is a time to take a step back from daily life and look at where we might need more courage and confidence to speak of love, forgiveness and hope. Advent is a time to pray for the grace to be vigilant against timidity and to act on the urgings of the Holy Spirit to extend a helping hand.

When we act with courage and confidence, we can be conduits of God winks.

To be chosen

Were you one of the kids who was a top-pick when teams were chosen or a last-choice?

I think I was chosen early because I was tall and athletic, but what I remember most about the choosing process was the anxiety of waiting to see what would happen.

I would stand in the back of the group, both because of my height (not wanting to stand in front of anyone) and also my fear that I would not be picked (it would be less obvious that I was not being picked because no one had to walk around me). I wanted to be picked so I would know I was seen and valued, and I was also anxious about whether I would be a help or a hindrance to my team.

That memory came back to me when I was preparing to write an Advent reflection for my alma mater based on the readings for December 8.

In Luke 1:26-38, the phrase “…you have found favor” made me think of Mary searching, trying to find favor with God. I thought of people who talk about seeking or searching for God, as one might search for clues in a scavenger hunt. 

But the reading from Ephesians (1:3-6, 11-12) tells us that it is God who chooses us, that “in love he destined us for adoption.”


Finding favor with God, I believe, is more about being pleasing to God and about receptivity—being open to the goodness God wants to give. We don’t have to search for clues to find God; we have already been chosen.

We can put up roadblocks to receiving God’s favor—perhaps a resistance to change or a sense of our unworthiness. I think back to my anxiety about being chosen for a team as a child and see how my fears and insecurities probably blocked my ability to be my best. And I can look at other moments and events in my life and see where my resistance served as a shield to block God’s favor.

As I thought of Mary hearing that she had found favor with God, that God was pleased with her, I thought again of the prayer a friend had given me: Lord, help me to accept the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it is. Mary, I think, accepted the truth about herself and was able to be open to receive God’s favor.

Is there anything that is keeping you from being open to receiving God’s favor?


Falling off a ladder

“I don’t know where you came from,” the woman said, with wonder in her voice, as if I were an apparition.

“I was just on my walk,” I explained. I walk by her house most days, although I had never paid particular attention to it. Our neighborhood has a few basic house styles, so none really stands out.

What I noticed that day, though, was a woman in front of the house, falling off a ladder.

I ran to her, and she seemed stunned. “I hit my head on that thing,” she said, pointing to the meter. She had also scratched her face and banged her knee.

“Do you want me to call an ambulance?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “I’ll be fine,” but as she tried to stand, we both could see she was not fine.

“Don’t move,” I instructed her, and I got a chair off the porch and then helped her into it.

“I don’t know where you came from,” the woman said again, and I wondered if she had a concussion.

I asked if anyone else was home and then got her daughter to get ice packs.

The woman had been stringing Christmas lights from the eave, and the ladder had sunk into the wet ground and toppled.

She would not agree to medical treatment, although she did call a neighbor who is a medical assistant.

I left her, but her words, “I don’t know where you came from,” have stayed with me. How often does someone show up just when we need help? How often does a stranger just happen to be in the right place at the right time?


Earlier that day in prayer, I had asked how I am to prepare for Christmas.

Advent is a time to stay awake (Matthew 24:42) and be vigilant (Luke 21:36).

The woman falling off the ladder reminded me of the story of the young executive driving his new sports car—perhaps a bit too fast—down a neighborhood street when a brick hits the side of his car. He slams on the brakes, jumps out and starts yelling at the kid who threw the brick. “Why did you do that?” he shouts.

“I am sorry, Mister,” the boy says, “but no one would stop when I was calling for help.”

The boy then points toward some parked cars and explains that his brother had rolled off the curb and fallen out of his wheelchair. “He is too heavy for me to lift.”

The young executive went over to the injured brother, lifted him up and got him resettled in his wheelchair. The boys thanked this stranger for his help and headed toward home.   

The executive returned to his sports car and saw the big dent from the brick. He decided not to fix it though and left it as a reminder not to move so fast through life that someone has to throw a brick to get his attention.

Was this woman falling off a ladder my brick?


Preparing for Christmas

This weekend, we begin the season of Advent, four weeks of preparing for Christmas. One of my past parish ministries was writing a reflection for our weekly church bulletin. Advent reflections could be my most challenging because the Pastor encouraged us to focus on preparing for Christmas, instead of celebrating Christmas throughout December. “Advent is a season,” he would say.

This was a reflection I wrote at the beginning of Advent one year that resonates with me this year:

“As we begin this time of preparation for the birth of Jesus our savior, I am so very aware of the suffering throughout the world, in our cities and neighborhoods, and in our homes. Peace seems elusive; despair seems pervasive.

“The Advent readings, though, remind us that we are a people of hope from a tradition of hope. The light of Jesus overcomes the darkness of despair.

“Advent is highlighted in the Church year as a time of waiting which is something that many of us are not particularly good at doing. We have become a people of instant communication, instant replay and instant gratification. We have fast food, EZ pass and express lanes. We tend to want what we want when we want it. For many, this is most true during the month of December.

“This Advent, I invite you to try something different. I invite you to deliberately try to slow down and experience the season of Advent. I invite you to put off celebrating Christmas until the end of Advent and to use this time as an opportunity to become stronger in our faith, more rooted in our traditions.

“Here are some suggestions for the weeks ahead:

  • Spend a few minutes every day with the Sunday or daily scripture readings.
  • Save and don’t open the Christmas cards you receive during Advent. Open a few on Christmas Eve and then a few more during each evening during the Christmas season.
  • If you decorate the outside of your house, do not turn the lights on until Christmas Eve.
  • Create an Advent wreath for your home—three purple candles and one pink.
  • If you put up your Nativity set during Advent, wait until Christmas Eve to place the baby Jesus figure in the scene.
  • Simplify your gift-giving practice. Give more handmade and symbolic gifts.”

I remember writing this piece while I was drinking my morning coffee from my Christmas mug, so very aware that I am one of those people who feels uncomfortable with the not-yet, who likes to jump ahead. I am reminded of the words of Teilhard de Chardin.


I was supposed to be in Europe right now, but I decided against going because of covid. So, the thirteen days I had planned to be away are now free. I will use this time for baking, knitting gifts and writing Christmas cards. I will try to be more patient. I will set up my Advent wreath and ponder light and hope.

How will you celebrate the season of Advent?

In this place, at this time

We have entered Advent, the season to prepare spiritually for Christmas. Advent is a time of watchful hope—think of a pregnant woman in the last trimester, waiting for the birth of her child. Every day, as her belly grows, so do does her anticipation of meeting the child growing within.

One of the women at work is pregnant, and her due date is December 27. Watching her excitement grow as her due date approaches helps me get in touch with the spirit of Advent. She is positively bursting with promise.

Advents invites us to join in that kind of joyful anticipation.

So how do I summon that kind of anticipation in my own life? What new life can I anticipate with a sense of urgency? What is growing within me and bursting to be born?

Good questions.

More than anticipation at this particular time, I am feeling anxious. There is the pandemic, which is spreading like wildfire where I live.

And then I am having my kitchen renovated (you will not be the first to ask why I would undergo a major construction project during a pandemic). The work is going fairly smoothly, but the upheaval is a bit distressing (the contents of my kitchen cabinets are stored through the house, and I have limited cooking capacity).

And then there is my ninety-four-year-old mother. Friends joke that she has nine lives; she is indomitable. While she easily denies her limitations (“no diminishment,” is her mantra) I find myself watching closely for signs of decline, and that kind of vigilance makes me anxious.

When I opened my prayer book on Wednesday morning and read Isaiah 25:6-10 and Matthew 15:29-37, these words jumped off the page—in this place; at this time.

It was a reminder that in the midst of whatever is happening in my life and in the life of the world, I am called to pay attention to God’s work, to what God is doing, here and now.

The coronavirus will pass and my kitchen project will be finished—these are passing things. My mother will be my mother—a force who lives on her own terms and will die on her own terms.

More important than what is happening outside is what is happening inside. Like the baby growing in the womb, God invites me to look inside, to see if my heart is aligned with God’s work of wiping away tears; of tending to the lame, blind, deformed and mute; of feeding those who are hungry.

Shifting my focus from the details of everyday life to the expansiveness of God’s view, I asked God, “What am I invited to do in this place, at this time?

When my friend Jim got brain cancer eight years ago, I asked God that very question, and the response was that I was to love unconditionally, to forgive without limit and to let go.

When I live like that, I will be non-judgmental, merciful and free—and ready for Christmas.

More light

What makes you come alive?

What ignites the passion within you?

Each of us has a spark, sometimes burning brightly

And sometimes barely an ember.

A word, a touch or a look can ignite the flame,

And reveal our deepest desire.

Seek love and kindness and generosity.

Listen deeply.

Pay attention.

Notice what you notice.

Then your flame can shine bright enough to light your way

And the way for another.

Chances are

“It grabbed me and would not let me go,” a man said during a radio interview. I don’t remember what he was talking about, but I resonated with the phrase. So often, a word or image grabs me and sticks like glue, whirling around my mind and intruding into my thoughts for days or even weeks.

Recently, the phrase chances are has taken hold of me. First a friend mentioned she was reading a book by that title. Over the next few days, I heard the song by Johnny Mathis—not once but twice—and then those two words were used in a sermon. Chances are.

Being mindful for me means paying attention to this kind of thing. Being mindful means noticing what I notice, and I noticed this phrase. Why? What invitation is it offering to me? What meaning does it hold for me?

Johnny Mathis sang this dreamy love song in the 1950’s, and I only recall the first line.


Google tells me that the phrase means that something is likely to happen but is not certain.

So what is likely to happen in my life? Or is the emphasis more on what is not certain?

At random times, this phrase pops into my mind, unbidden and seemingly unconnected to anything that is happening at that moment. It has grabbed hold of me and won’t let go.

I pray for insight and guidance. I want to be open to what is likely to happen. I want to be receptive.

We have entered the season of Advent, a time of anticipation and watchful waiting. It is the perfect time to ponder the words, phrases and images that catch my attention and stay with me.

Last weekend, I officiated at a wedding, and before the ceremony, the young man who was reading from 1 Corinthians told me he had practiced the reading that morning and one line jumped out at him.


“I kept reading and re-reading that line,” he said, his voice marveling at what almost seemed like magic to him. “I love that line,” he added.

“Perhaps there is an invitation to you in those words,” I suggested.

Chances are this same thing happens to you. What do you make of it when it does? Do you allow the words or images to swirl around you? Do you take time to reflect on what catches your attention?

Like Mary, John the Baptist and the other people in the Advent stories, God reveals something of the divine through our personal life experiences. What grabs us and won’t let go may be part of the process.



Lately, I have been aware of the invitation to reframe situations and issues.

At the day of reflection I facilitated last month, one of the volunteers shared that she felt unprepared for the ministry she had recently begun. She lacked experience and feared she would not meet the expectations of her ministry site. She said she was “not good at” doing what she was being asked to do.

I suggested that she reframe the issue and instead of saying, “I don’t know how to” or “I am not good at…,” she might say, “I am learning to…” or “I don’t have much experience with this but I am willing to try.”

Reframing the issue and seeing herself as a learner changes her expectations of herself and also sheds light on assumptions she has made about others’ expectations of her.

I became aware of my need for some reframing when I stopped to pick up a package at a local store. I was impatient while I waited for my package, grousing as if I had been stuck in some limbo for forty days—or even forty minutes, when it was actually closer to four minutes.

My impatience stemmed from a lack of understanding the process, and that made me feel vulnerable. Rather than accept and embrace my vulnerability, I became defensive.

Step back, Madeline, I thought. Become a learner.

Being a learner presumes that I would not know how the process works—I am, after all, still learning. Being a learner shifts the focus from assuming I should know how things will go to assuming I don’t know and am willing to learn. It enables me to be curious and to wonder, and to ask questions of those who do know, allowing them to share their knowledge.

Not all situations that would benefit from reframing are that obvious or easy to discern another approach.

I am stuck in a negative loop concerning upcoming travel and am having difficulty letting go of my expectations based on past experiences of flights being cancelled and luggage being lost. The anxiety is not helping, but how to reframe the situation is unclear.God-Advent-trustAs we begin Advent, I feel invited to reframe my expectations around the ways God enters my life. I want to look from a different perspective and see with new eyes. I want to approach this season with a sense of curiosity and wonder and be surprised at the gifts God will bring me.

I want to make this Advent a time of holy anticipation and joyful waiting and be open to every experience of God breaking into my world.

The young volunteer last month taught me to be on the lookout for situations where I am limiting God’s intervention by my own closed mindedness, my fears and expectations. I hope that by stepping back to get a different perspective, I will be able to see the potential in every person and situation.

I pray for the grace to experience what is possible.



Abide in love

My Advent reflection book contained portions of a story by Bishop Ken Untener called the Dream Fixer. The reflections were about our being God’s dream, and the ways we are broken dreams. One piece read:

Let me put it in terms that have a familiar ring to them because they’re taken from the story of…Jesus.

~I am the sheep that wandered off into the wilderness, alone, hungry, afraid.

~I am the younger son who took the inheritance and squandered it…

~I am the one the robbers beat and left half dead on the road to Jericho…

 As I pondered each of these people from Scripture, it came to me that while I can easily imagine myself in these sympathetic roles, I can also see that:

~I am the failed shepherd.

~I am the older son, resentful and angry.

~I am one of the robbers, using someone to my advantage.

It seems natural for me to align myself with the innocent victim—and more challenging for me to see myself as the less sympathetic person. But, I can be both.spirituality-forgiveness-LentPreparing for my retreat last month, the phrase, abide in love (1 John 4:16) came to mind. I have been pondering the many manifestations of love and also thinking of February as the month of love, so it did not surprise me that this phrase popped into my mind.

Loving family and friends seems a like a good first step in the practice of abiding in love. Being loving toward those closest to us can be enough of a challenge, but I believe God’s calling is to go deeper and wider.

God calls me to love myself, to see myself as God sees me and to accept God’s version of me. God calls me to love those seemingly unlovable parts of myself—the failures and anger and aggression. How do I take responsibility for my failures, my resentment and my aggression? How do I love myself in those unlovable places?

And, as important, how do I love others who fail or are angry or cause harm to others? Can I see them as God sees them? And love them as God loves them?spirituality-forgiveness-LentAbide in love instructs me to do just that. To live in love, to continually dip back into the love of God to remind myself what it means to see people as God sees them and to love them as God loves them—that is the invitation and the challenge.

When I can embrace the failed, angry, aggressive parts of myself, perhaps I can have more empathy for those traits in others. Maybe a greater awareness of my own darkness will make me more understanding of others, more willing to forgive, more willing to be compassionate and accepting.

My Advent reflection fits into my retreat invitation—and into a Lenten practice.spirituality-forgiveness-LentLent is a time of conversion, a change of heart. The fact that Lent began on Valentine’s Day this year magnifies the invitation to abide in love.