by Jessica Kramer, guest contributor
“Mom’s birthday breakfast” (photo: Jessica Kramer/Flickr)
Christmas is almost upon us. In seeking God during this time, I have sought renewal in the darkness of winter, in the stillness in which to hear God. This fourth week of Advent brings promise of harmony, that the (often disjointed) pieces of our lives, hearts, and emotions might be joined into a single, but rich and layered, sound of joy.
This devotional exercise is designed for the fourth week of Advent and centered on a week-long meditation on, or exercise in, harmony. You can do the exercise alone or with your family. You can talk about it, write about it, or simply think and pray. Please adapt it to what works for you.
Preparation: Gathering Harmony
Collect a small group of meaningful objects from around your home. Let them represent the areas that make up your spiritual life. You’re not limited to four objects, but, as a starting point, use the four categories — God, Earth, family (however you choose to interpret it), self — to guide you.
Your objects can be decorative items, pieces of nature, photographs, books, mementos, quotes, food, art, candles, or even just a word on paper. Choose objects that are meaningful to you.
Day One: Display and Reflection
Choose a place in your home to display and arrange your objects. This can be a central place or an out-of-the-way place, but it should be a place that will allow you some quiet as you spend a little time here each day.
As you arrange your chosen pieces, place them in whatever way is pleasing to you. You might put them in a line, a circle, stack them, or pile them. Do what feels right and looks right to you.
Once you’ve finished, think about their meanings. How do they speak to each other? How do they work together? What harmony, or lack of harmony, do you see? Some categories may overlap while others feel separate. How does it feel to see these areas of your life represented in front of you?
As you start this new week, think about what true harmony with loved ones, God, and the world around you would look like in your life.
Day Two: Self in Your Hands
Before you read the poem below, pick up the object you’ve chosen to represent self and meditate on it for as long as you need. Feel it in your hands. Think about where it came from and why you chose it.
What makes you feel at peace with who you are? What grounds you? What would it take to feel in harmony with yourself?
“Love after Love”
by Derek Walcott
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Day Three: Love of Family
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
— Colossians 3:14
Think about the object you’ve chosen to represent family. When I began to collect objects for my display, what I first noticed is the overlap. My personal journal represents self, but it was also a gift from my mother, so it could represent family as well. All of the objects I’ve chosen could actually be linked to family or friends, and in some way all represent the love and caring that has threaded itself through my life.
Love binds the important people in my life together, in a way that nothing else can. Our actions and deeds toward one another may not always be perfect, we may struggle as the quality of those relationships passes in and out of focus, but underneath it all there is a basic and vital love that endures.
Because this humble and homespun love
— just as you see it, simple, unadorned —
is what keeps our feet on the ground,
is what engenders the fruit of our nonconformity,
and throws us a lifeboard amidst the shipwreck.
Every so often our love blazes like thousands of stars,
gets dressed up to go out and uncorks
bottles of effervescence, cases of laughter.
You see, every so often, when the moment is right,
our love recalls that is it, like we are, a survivor.
What would it mean to you to focus on harmony and love, above all else, in relationships with your family and friends?
Day Four: Earth’s Offerings
The poem below may be a familiar one to you, or it may be brand new. Mary Oliver uncovers a bit of what nature (the Earth) has to offer us; its power to reach us in ways not much else can, to comfort and to heal.
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Pick up your Earth object. It may be a small stone picked up on a walk, or a seashell, or a dried flower. Whatever it may be, think about the memory of calm it represents and of feeling your place among nature. When is the next time you will allow yourself to take that walk again?
Day Five: Christmas Eve
Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention…
— from Marie Howe’s poem, “Prayer”
What would it take for us to be in harmony with God? It is so easy for us to do battle, to be unsure, to have a love/hate relationship with our capital “G” God.
Think about your God object and how difficult, or easy, it was to choose. How do you see God? How do you experience God? Remember a moment when you felt, whether it was strongly or just a glimpse of a glimpse, that you were in harmony with God, that everything felt as it should be. Maybe it was today, with your family, with friends, or at a Christmas Eve service. Maybe this week has been the most hectic of your year and experiencing God in a real way feels like a distant memory.
If the promise of Christmas tells us nothing else, it is that God is here:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’
— Matthew 1:23
God will be, and has been, and is now with us.
Look again at your display of objects. Having reflected on each of the four this week, are they where you want them to be?
Day Six: Christmas Day
Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’
— Luke 2:4-20
The Christmas story is one we have heard many times, but let us hear it again: Christ is with us. His birth story is a story of God’s desire to be connected to us, not in a far-away, godly way, but in a close, intimate way, in which the divine is paired with all that is mundane and earthly. In this story, God chooses to be a part of our messy, human lives. And maybe shows us that they aren’t messy at all, but intricate, beautiful, and connected.
Think, once again, about the objects you’ve brought together representing God, Earth, family and friends, and your own sense of self. Imagine these pieces existing in harmony, not just as they sit in front of you, but out in the world in your life every day.
Consider your intentions toward maintaining harmony in the coming year. You may want to keep your harmony display intact as a reminder. As things change, rearrange the elements. Add or take away. Let yourself have quiet moments of reflection and may you carry harmony forward in the days and year to come.
Jessica Kramer is a writer, poet, and proofreader living in Indianapolis, Indiana. She was raised Southern Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky but currently calls the United Church of Christ her spiritual home. You can read more of her writing at Lemonade Is Taken.
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