Dear Sayed: 1st Sunday of Advent (2016)

The Church has now moved into the Season of Advent. It is a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus, often a time in which we prepare our homes for the receiving of guests, as a tradition of Christmas hospitality. Spiritually, we prepare ourselves to welcome Jesus into our hearts.

It was a great privilege to begin this advent season in the way we did today. My daughter and I attended a card-making workshop, hosted by our dear friend, Fiona, whose contacts will send them on to various places, including the MITA in Parkville, Vic. It was a treasured time of creativity, friendship and for me, personal prayer. Here is the day, in my daughter’s words:

Today Mum, Fiona and I made Christmas cards for people in detention centres. We made about 20 handmade cards with all sorts of Christmassy decorations. There were cards with Christmas trees, candles, stars, buttons and many other things. There were many people we wrote to, but I wrote to Sayed, a young 6-year-old and Azizullah, a 13-year-old. It’s quite upsetting to hear that many people, especially young children, are put into detention centres. Around Christmas time, in the detention centres, they don’t even get a mention about Christmas. In the cards we put our names, what city we live in, and that we are thinking about them. I hope that you too can take the time this Advent and Christmas, to pray for the people who are in detention centres around Christmas. –Pia, 11 years

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With our handmade cards for our asylum seeker friends in detention.

Children never cease to amaze me. I am so grateful that I get to witness this daily. On the car ride home, Pia and I were talking about what we did in the afternoon. The conversation went on to the plight of these people who are locked up and given no presents, no decoration and no joy. It was then that she exclaimed, “How can a 6-year-old cope!”, fighting back tears, her voice breaking with emotion. A little while later, she said to me in a voice still shaken, “This music explains the situation.” The song that was playing was “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?” from the soundtrack to Disney’s Frozen (a highly recommended film, if you haven’t seen it!), sung by the optimistic and bubbly Anna, wherein she tries to connect with her estranged sister Elsa, who has a tendency to isolate herself. The song starts out incredibly playful and carefree, but the point at which my daughter commented, is an instrumental interlude to mark the tragic death of the characters’ parents, at sea.

I listened some more, to my daughter, and to the music. Then I heard these lyrics:

Please, I know you’re in there,
People are asking where you’ve been
They say “have courage”, and I’m trying to
I’m right out here for you, just let me in
We only have each other
It’s just you and me
What are we gonna do?

Dear Sayed, dear little one. Dear Azizullah. Dear Adam, dear Leila, dear Ali, and to all of you whose names we do not know. Please, I know you’re in there. People are asking where you’ve been. They say “have courage”, and I’m trying to, I’m right out here for you… we are right out here for you. And praying with and for you. We send you love and open hearts, especially in this advent time.
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This Advent, how will you open your hearts? How will you prepare a home and make space for Jesus and his family? May this time be a mindful journey of contemplation and compassion. It will be busy, but here we are at the beginning of it: how will you stop for a moment, to listen to the Spirit of God?

 

I’ll Ride With You

This morning in a central Sydney café, a group of people were taken hostage by armed men, believed to be militant Muslims. (Read here for live updated reports.)

That there is a hint of religion involved or what claims to be the message of Islam as a motive for the siege has created waves in the wider community. For some, it is a unified solidarity standing up against terrorism and racism. For others, it is fear.

And so started a movement through social media: “I’ll Ride With You”. You can read how it began when one woman noticed another taking off her hijab in public so as to protect herself from outward recognition.

We can take so much from the story, and say so much about today’s events, but in the quiet of the night, this story has shed some more light on the meaning of Advent and the forecoming feast of the birth of the Christ.

It all comes back to us in how we treat one another, in how we live with each other. Here is companionship in everyday life.

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We are busy during this time of year,  so terribly busy, and we all have our tasks to get through. But this story has shown me that as urgent as our meetings and deadlines are, more imperative is the awareness of our need to pause and connect with each other, to say to another, “Whatever you’re going through, it’s ok. I’ll ride with you. We’ll journey together.”


Let us remember and pray for the hostages and their families, the negotiators and security forces as well as for the perpetrators themselves. Love is stronger than hatred, light more saving than darkness. Let us work and live for peace among ourselves.

Reflection: We are Everyday-Teachers Met with Hope

I do not consider myself to be a teacher or leader or spokesperson with authority but this morning, it occurred to me that part of Christian-living means that we are everyday-teachers met with hope. To be Christian is to be hopeful and by our example in choosing God, we become as models and teachers to one another.

Parenthood is a domain in which I find myself living this out. What looks like clutter and a mess of children’s things became for me, an actual encounter with hope. At school, they’ve been learning about Advent. At the shops, they ask for advent calendars with chocolate inside. A few weeks ago I found a neglected plush advent wreath I had bought years ago and decided it was time to mend the broken pieces and make a replacement for the one candle that went walkabout. And today I found rather unassumingly among the mess, a deliberately placed solitary purple candle, with the other three tucked away.

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Someone’s little hands had removed the four candles I had put in place so that they would not go astray and rightfully let one stand.

I am continually humbled by the presence of children, for their wisdom and simplicity. But today, it is hope that stands out for me. Children do soak things up, they do listen to what we say and watch very closely what we do. But when we can see the connection that has been made, for me at least, it is a sign of God’s hope in the world, the kind of hope we hear echoed in the words of St Paul to the Corinthians:

I give thanks to my God always on your account
for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus,
that in him you were enriched in every way…
God is faithful, and by him you were called to fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:4-5a, 9)

With St Paul and like St Paul, I give thanks to my God for the graces given to each one of us, especially through children. The FCJ Sisters began from this lived experience of caring for children and always through instruction, formation and education. To be Christian is to be hopeful: not only because we await the presence of God-with-us through Jesus Christ, Emmanuel at Christmastime, but also because of God’s first faithfulness and love for us found in everyday moments.

Now God creates all things but does not stop creating. God forever creates and forever begins to create and creatures are always being created and in the process of beginning to be created. | Meister Eckhart

As we begin this new liturgical year, as we make way to commemorate the beginning of the Jesus story, let us be mindful that wherever we are on life’s journey – young or old, new to the faith or seasoned – by our actions, example and beings, we are teachers to one another, co-creators of life and sharers of good news.

The Advent

Aside

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The Advent

by Anthony de Mello SJ

The events of history were controlled
for my coming to this world
no less than for the coming of the Savior.
The time had to be ripe,
the place just right,
the circumstances ready,
before I could be born.

God chose the parents of his Son
and endowed them with the personality they needed
for the child that would be born.
I speak to God about the man and woman that he chose to be my parents
until I see that they had to be
the kind of human beings they were
if I was to become
what God meant me to be.

The Christ child comes, like every other child,
to give the world a message.
What message have I come to give?
I seek guidance from the Lord to express it
in a word
or image.

Christ comes into this world
to walk a certain path,
fulfil a certain destiny.
He consciously fulfilled what had be “written” for him.
As I look back I see in wonder what was “written”
and thus far been fulfilled
In my own life,
And for each part of that script,
However small,
I say, “Thanks”
To make it holy with my gratitude.

I look with expectation
and surrender
at all that is to come
and, like Christ,
I say, “Yes. Let it be done.”

Finally I recall the song the angels sang
when Christ was born.
They sang of the peace and joy
that give God glory.

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As we travel more closely toward the Feast of Christmas, may we continue to be mindful of all that we have been given in terms of graces, insight and memory. May we continue to strive to walk with God and follow Him, and to do so especially with those who need our help.

Thank you for your support and encouragement, input and contribution. We would like to wish you a happy holy and Merry Christmas, filled with the peace of Christ and the joy of salvation.

Advent at Twilight: Taking God into our Home (4th Week of Advent)

Advent at Twilight: Keeping-Company.com

4th Sunday of Advent: Taking God into our Home

Written by Geralyn Tan for Keeping Company. 2013.

The coming of Christ invites a response of hospitality and welcome, something that is present in every journey. We have come to the fourth and final installment in our Advent retreat. This week’s reflection, to use the journeying motif again, looks at the stage of homecoming. In any journey out, we rely on the hospitality of others to give us food, accommodation or company. But when we return, hospitality and homecoming to ourselves are just as important.

Consider for a moment, your identity as a person of faith in God, in light of the following verses from the Second Reading (Romans 1:1-7):

Through him we have received the grace of apostleship,
to bring about the obedience of faith,
for the sake of his name, among all the Gentiles,
among whom are you also, who are called to belong to Jesus Christ;
to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.

Keeping this in mind and heart, listen to O Come, Emmanuel as performed by The Piano Guys.

In the First Reading, Isaiah prophesies the coming of the one named Emmanuel. We are told the meaning of the name in Matthew’s gospel – God-with-us. Through the birth of the baby Jesus, God enters physically and bodily into our world.

God wants to be part of our world. God wants to be part of us. How do we welcome God into our homes, into our hearts?

The Christmas rush is upon us but there is still time to throw off the cloak of darkness and put on the light, which is to live according to the gospel of love. There is still time to bring about the peaceable kingdom where justice and peace reigns. In this Sunday’s gospel, we hear that Joseph wanted to divorce Mary quietly (because she was pregnant by another), that is, in private and out of the public eye, sparing both of them too much humiliation. Are we courteous with one another, especially our next of kin? What about the people we welcome into our homes over the Christmas season? And what about those we include even after the festivities have wound down?

Recall the apprehension of Mary in the reflection for the First Sunday. Though unnerving, Mary and Joseph set out on the journey, modelling for us to do the same, while with the assurance of following in the light of God. Now in the Fourth Week, the name and nature of God is proclaimed. God is with us, God is for us and God wants to remain with us for eternity.

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As we end this retreat, we do so with gratitude for our time together in prayer and sharing. We continue to ask for God’s graces throughout the coming days as we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord.

Advent at Twilight: The Coming of the Lord is at Hand (3rd Week of Advent)

Coming of the Lord is at Hand | Keeping-Company.com3rd Sunday of Advent: The Coming of the Lord is at Hand

Written by Geralyn Tan for Keeping Company. 2013.

We’ve been on the journey for some time now. We began our Advent journey by walking in the light of the Lord. We looked at what that means in restoring right relationship in the example from Isaiah, yet the readings from the Third Sunday of Advent – Gaudete Sunday – remind us that although our journey is well underway (and we cannot turn back), there is much more to come in the promises of joy and light! This is the dynamic of light and shade, of in-between time, where we live in hope for what is to come.

Listen to David Arkenstone’s rendition of Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring:

Time has been an underlying theme. The coming of the Lord is at hand, but we are not passive players. The waiting that we do involves that we wait patiently, as in the exhortation of the Second Reading:

Be patient, brothers and sisters,
until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient with it
until it receives the early and the late rains.
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

We are given some indication of how to wait patiently and productively by reflecting on the ways in which God deals with his people. In both the psalm and the gospel passages, we hear that God is merciful, just and compassionate. The God of the Old Testament and the coming Christ we read about in the Matthew’s gospel is one and the same, whose presence in our lives is not impartial. In other words, the action of God is very much at work in our lives.

And so too are we are called to care for one another.

We ought to remember that Mary and Joseph, for all their holiness, were also like us in their waiting. It’s not as though the baby was fully formed inside of Mary and she waited till she got to Bethlehem to give birth. Jesus, fully human as we are, but divine, would have gone through the same process of development all humans go through. And this period of gestation has particular elements of selfless giving and relating, one to another.

Before Jesus is born, a hidden world of interactions takes place inside his mother’s body. Whatever she eats, he takes in. Whatever she hears, he will also hear. And whatever she experiences, he is able to respond, in a kick or stretch here and there. Imagine the role of Mary as nourisher, protector and carer of the unborn child.

Note again, what the scripture says about God looking after us. His people are uplifted, the hungry are fed and justice is secured for the oppressed. And so too are we called to do for others in their favour, to look after them.

Mary and Joseph are also messengers of God. Inside her body, Mary carries the Word Incarnate.

How are we messengers for God? And in what ways do we carry this good news, this message in our lives?

VIDEO: Boyd Varty’s ‘Ubuntu’

There is an African term that seeks to express the interconnectedness among people known as, ‘ubuntu’.

In the following TED talk, wildlife activist Boyd Varty shares insights into this understanding, in a timely presentation, hours after receiving the news of the passing of Nelson Mandela.

It needs no real introduction except to say that here is a heart-expanding example that God lives here, with us, on this earth. Perhaps you can reflect on the idea as part of Advent.

Please watch it to the very end.

Reblogged: SINEAD’S ADVENT PRAYER

SINEAD’S ADVENT PRAYER Thank you, Lord, for the….

Thank you, Lord, for the rainbows and the sky.
Thank you for stuff both inside and outside.
And thank you for Jesus, the Word growing in Mary’s tummy.

Sinead Goroncy (five years old)
10 December 2011

This advent, compose your own advent prayer, or poem, psalm or drawing.

Picture source | Per Crucem ad Lucem

via SINEAD’S ADVENT PRAYER Thank you, Lord, for the….

Advent at Twilight: Justice will reign (2nd Week of Advent)

New Zealand by air. Justice will reign. Keeping-Company.com

2nd Sunday of Advent: Justice will reign

Written by Geralyn Tan for Keeping Company. 2013.

The coming of God’s reign will bring peace. It will bring harmony, and restore a balance where all will be put into right relationship.

Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.

Justice will show itself as deep peace, profound tenderness and overwhelming compassion.

There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD.

Listen to On That Holy Mountain by Joe Mattingly, which expresses so hopefully not only the ideals of peace and justice, but the promises of them too, provided we are faithful.

In the Gospel passage, we hear of John the Baptist, who lived and preached in the wilderness, outside of towns and villages, far from the comforts the people of Jerusalem, as an example, might have known in the city. One can imagine the coarseness of his appearance. He did not choose fine silk for his clothes or fattened calf and extra-virgin olive oil with pita bread for his diet. He was a stand-out sort of character and he did not fit the norm.

Yet people went to him. They went in droves, outside of their comforts to listen to his preaching and to be baptised by him. Why? Perhaps he was charismatic and could tell a good story. Or perhaps he challenged the people to ‘walk the talk’.

We have seen in the beautiful examples of Pope Francis, the work he does in restoring right relationship, in bringing about the kingdom of God. His embrace of the poor, the excluded and the little ones offers and gives to them, a profound sense of love. Vinicio Riva, the disfigured man whom Francis embraced has spoken out saying that he only felt love. In describing the encounter, he said that it felt like eternity.

In our daily encounters then, we are invited to seek out the poor and the needy, so that we may be bearers of Christ’s light to them through mercy, compassion, tenderness and welcome. In producing good fruit as evidence of our repentance, in walking the words of the good news, we help to bring about this peace.

In what ways might we be as an experience of heavenly peace and harmony for others? In what ways have you experienced this deep sense of unity?

Advent at Twilight: Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord (1st Week of Advent)

Marking the first week of Advent, we are to throw off the cloak of darkness and walk in the light of the Lord.

O house of Jacob, come,
let us walk in the light of the Lord

Advent Reflections at Keeping-Company.com

1st Sunday of Advent: Let us walk in the light of the Lord

Written by Geralyn Tan for Keeping Company. 2013.

The journey we make in Advent is like any other journey: a time of waiting, uncertainty and even trials. In the Second Reading, St Paul urges us, “…to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11) We are to put on the armour of light and to throw off the works of darkness, as if a cloak that covers us. To walk in the light of the Lord is our desire this week, and our aim is to remain faithful to this decision in preparation for the coming of the Son of Man.

Consider the experience of Mary, young and pregnant (in today’s context, a teenager mum-to-be) and on this journey with Joseph into parenthood.

Listen to the song Breath of Heaven by Amy Grant.

Consider the real presence of light in the lives of Mary and Joseph, but also the shadows of uncertainty.

Mary and Joseph make their way to Bethlehem. Obvious trials await them: difficult travel terrain, exposure to the desert elements and vulnerability to any number of potential threats. Their journey, although we know as the way of God, was for them, a gutsy act of faith and trust. They didn’t have our comforts and conveniences – no trains, no cars, and not even a cart to ride in. Wherever they went, they went on foot. I don’t know if there were signs showing them the way (certainly not the street signs we know), but imagine the vast openness of the land that is the desert, where the only certain way was forward.

But even that in itself was debatable: how would they really know they were heading in the right direction until they came across a landmark? Suppose that Joseph had a sketchy memory of the route back to his hometown? We can also note the interior journey of this couple. Impending motherhood and fatherhood has its own mystery. Sometimes there is strong faith, assurance and confidence; but there is also doubt, uncertainty and difficulties.

Our lives are very much represented in their story. We journey through life, it is ongoing, and sometimes we know what we’re on about or where we’re heading, and at other times we are not so sure. Only one thing remains constant: that the presence and love of God that always calls out to us, is always trustworthy and ever-faithful. We simply have to make the decision within us to put on the armour of light; to stay with God or not. To follow the way of the Lord is to walk in the light. May we keep our whole selves on the journey toward the light of Christ.