Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Just One Candle

Our older son sings in his school's "honor" choir and one of their songs for their Christmas tour and home concert is "Just One Candle" by Teresa Jennings. I love its harmony. It starts with a solo, then a duet, and then progresses to the full choir. What great symbolism for how the flame of one candle can spread from "wick to wick", from person to person, when it is shared.

If I light just one candle and you light just one, too,
and we pass the flame from wick to wick,
from us to you and you...

I am also drawn to the song's message, especially in the midst of the "darkness" in our world today. When I was watching them perform this song, I found myself in tears, touched by the words and realizing that it really takes a simple act by you and me and everyone else in the world...

And if we keep it going around the world,
you'll see the world is glowing with the light
that came from you and me!

Christmas continues to become overly commercialized and is more and more defined by greed. And really, if we look at the world's issues and problems today, most if not all of them stem from this insatiable human appetite to gain more, even when we already have more than enough.

If we light just one candle and pass the flame to you,
all our light would glow from place to place,

and we would glow there, too.

If we would only light even just one candle...
...by taking time to listen.
...by recognizing and respecting our differences in culture and faith.
...by laying down our arms.
...by looking beyond our wants and seeing the needs of others.
...by considering "what we can give" more than "what we can get"
...by choosing acts that bring light to the world instead of casting dark shadows.

And when we keep it going,
the light will show the way
to touch the people 'round the world
by shining night and day!

It is our tradition in many of our churches to light candles on Christmas Eve. I love this tradition! As we each light a candle this Christmas, I invite you to consider its deeper meaning, calling you and me too light candles with our lives all throughout the year.

Friends, we have it in us to bring light to this dark world. His name is Jesus, Emmanuel- God with us. May the flame of the Light of the World, Jesus, burn in the wicks of our lives. May we share that same flame to this world so desperately in need of light.

Here's a YouTube video (not my son's choir) of the song:

With one candle, just one candle.
Yes, one candle burning bright.
With one candle, just one candle,
we can fill the world with light.

Will you light even just one candle and help fill this world with light?

Have a Meaningful and Merry Christmas!

Your fellow disciple,

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Blue Christmas Run... for those in the dark

This Saturday, I will be running the Willow Solstice Marathon in Willow, Alaska for the third straight year. Last year, I did it as a prayer run, playing on the theme of it being held on the winter solstice, the longest night (or at least the Saturday closest to it) and dedicating the run to those who are in the "longest nights" of their lives. I plan to do that again this weekend.

I am reposting excerpts from a blog post I wrote a year ago because my words then are still my words now as I again dedicate this run in prayer and solidarity for you who are living in darkness right now.


I am running the Willow Winter Solstice Marathon this Saturday. It will be another prayer run for me. This time, I'm running for those who can't.

Let me explain. From its name, the Willow Marathon is held on a Saturday closest to the winter solstice, the day when the darkness is longest. In some churches, a Longest Night or Blue Christmas service is held and is specifically planned to minister to those who are in the midst of darkness during this season of joy and cheer. It is for those to whom Christmas is a burden because of certain life situations they are in.

For those of you who are in the longest nights of your souls, for you who are living in the darkness of your life situations, I dedicate this run to you.

This is for you who have lost loved ones, and you who are going through difficult times.

This is for you who are going through painful divorces, you who are worn-out trying to work it out and you who are going through stressful life transitions.

This is for you who have been diagnosed with sicknesses, you who are going through treatment and you who are in recovery.

This is for you who are lost and you who are struggling for direction.

This for you to whom Christmas will never be merry and bright because it is a painful reminder of tragedy, abuse and conflict.

I run in solidarity with your darkness and pain. I will be praying for you through the dark night. I know that the suffering I will go through in running those 28 cold, snowy miles will be nothing compared to the pain you are in right now.

I will pray with the hope and assurance that the next day would be longer and the night would be shorter. I will pray with the hope of increasing light for you and your situation.

For those of you who don't feel any compelling reason anymore to continue running the race of life, I will run the race for you and with you. There is hope, my friend. That is the real good news of Christmas.


Scripture reminds us that "the people who lived in darkness" in the original Christmas story, "saw a great light!" Hold on to that hope.

Your fellow disciple,

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A time to listen

I used to run with earphones and listen to music. I do not anymore. On one level, it's a safety issue. I would like to be fully aware of my surroundings and be able to react accordingly. When I run on streets and sidewalks, I would like to hear if a car is coming or if a fellow runner or biker wants to pass me. When I'm on the trails, I certainly would like to hear it if a bear or a moose is close by.

There is also a deeper level to my giving-up earphones, one that's more spiritual. I've said before that running for me is a spiritual discipline (read here). When I run, I am able to commune with God. A long run allows me to clear my mind and process my thoughts and emotions. There is something about the sound of my feet hitting the ground in sync with my breathing that soothes and centers me. To that cadence, I say a mantra that's based on Philippians 4:13, my life verse. Having earphones and music would not allow me to that. On this level, I would like to be fully aware of what God is saying to me while we commune.

"There is a time to speak and a time to listen." (Ecclesiastes 3:7b, my paraphrase). And I believe the time to listen is now. During the season of Advent we are called to wait and to "be still and know that God is God." And as we pause and reflect, I believe we are also called to listen.

In the Bible, much of God’s activity is through voice. The creation story tells us that God spoke the world into order. “Let there be light. And there was light. Let there be this… Let there be that…" Speaking was understood as an activity of God. God was a voice. God spoke to people. That’s why we verses like “Hear, O Israel,” and “The Lord is in his Holy Temple, let all the earth keep silent before him,” and “Thus says the Lord,” and “Let him who has ears let him hear.” Because God connected to people by speech, by sound, by voice, people were called to listen to God. 

Do I actually believe that people heard God’s voice speaking to them directly? Absolutely! Why not? I think to believe otherwise is to limit God’s ability to connect with us. Besides, I’ve known people who clearly heard God’s voice.

My grandmother suffered through a marriage that was plagued by my grandfather’s infidelity. Yet she stuck it out with him until his death. She was a very prayerful woman, waking up everyday at 3:00 a.m. to "talk to God." Shortly after my grandfather died, she told me that in one of her prayer moments, she heard a voice telling her, “Elay, your burdens have now been lifted.” And I believed her. I still do. God speaks to people.

But, there’s another aspect to God’s speaking to us. Apart from hearing God in the spiritual, supernatural realm, we can hear God in daily, ordinary life experiences. When I read the Bible and of God speaking to people, I see it, too, as people understanding their circumstances and their situations, and making sense of the voices and sounds around them as the voice of God. 

Leonard Sweet, in his book "Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who's Already There," says that to hear God is to be open to the possibility that God may be speaking to you in and through everything that you would least expect God to use. A baby crying. A fire engine’s siren. An unexpected remark from someone. A bell that says your not wearing your seatbelts. Th
e first step to hear God is openness to the possibility that “it might be God.” 

Hearing God is listening with our hearts and minds, watching out for God in the sounds we hear and asking, "What is God trying to say to me?" And sometimes, it is hard to filter through all the sounds, to hear the voice of God when there is just too much noise. For with all the noise that we are exposed to, silence is now a "commodity” that we have to pay big bucks for in order to have.

Sweet suggests we take time to turn-off the noise in our lives so that we can hear God. What are the "noise makers" that we need to turn-off, in order to hear God’s voice more clearly? Technology? Screens? The 1001 things on our to-do lists?

And often we have to admit that the noise and the voice we need to turn-off, is our very own.

One of my pet peeves is when people are quick to speak but slow to listen in conversations. Sometimes it comes by way of an insincere yet incessant "uh-uh", pretending to be listening but actually sounding more like "Keep going. Are you done? Now, listen to what I have to say." Other times, I just get cut-off mid-sentence. It's as if they're saying that what they have to say is more important than what I am already saying. It’s even worse when they try to finish my sentences for me as if to say that they already know what I will be saying. And even if half the time they actually do know what I'll be saying, can't I at least finish my sentence and train of thought (which I so carefully crafted in my mind, translating from my native language to English)?

Thomas Hawkins said, “Listening involves suspending our own thoughts, opinions and agendas, being receptive and entering momentarily into the speaker’s life, world and experience.” 

Sometimes we just cut God off mid-sentence, finishing it off with our own words, acting like we already know what God is trying to say and wanting us to do. In listening with our hearts and minds, we are called to suspend our own thoughts, opinions and agendas and receive openly what God has to say.

And when we have turned-off the noise, Sweet says, we have to tune-in. Remember how we used to tune in to a radio station? We fiddle with the dial, fine tuning it until we find the right setting where there was no static. Nowadays, of course it’s all programmed, on the web and digital.

But we aren’t digital, and so we have to tune-in daily to God’s frequency. And the way to do that is with what we call spiritual practices or spiritual disciplines- prayer, searching scriptures, worship, fasting, fellowship, acts of mercy and justice. Through these practices, we are able to tune-in to God’s station and are able to hear God’s voice clearly. These practices give us the tools to discern if a sound is the voice of God or not.

What do we need to unplug and turn-off in order to tune-in to God? 

The season of Advent is a season of watching and waiting. It is a time of sitting with our hopes and fears, our prayers and and our deepest desires. It is also a time of deep listening to the God who continues to speak to us even now. May it be so.

I pray that this Advent season would be a meaningful time of hopeful anticipation and deep listening for all of us. For there is a time to speak and a time to listen. And the time to listen, to God, is always now.

Your fellow disciple,