Scooch In Closer

We have been so blessed to be with our families this Christmas. This is an uncertain time for many and plans continue shifting with each passing day. While Mary and Joseph were not battling a pandemic, they certainly knew something about plans changing, and then changing again, and again.

While at my parents home, my mom had put out a new nativity scene. It’s a unique set from my uncle who passed away this year. She had carefully placed each figure so they all could be seen and admired. It was clear that this set had a special place in the room and we were all drawn to it when we first got there.

Later on in the day, my mom came into the kitchen, laughing. “Someone went and rearranged the nativity. It’s ok though, I’ll fix it later.” I went to look at it and laughed myself. All her careful spacing was gone. Instead, there was a crush of figures and animals all vying for a place in the simple stable.

There was this energy about it. The animals were huddled together, for warmth? The wise men appeared to be more craning their necks for a better look instead of inclining them in reverence. The shepherd is scooched so close to Mary he almost looks like he’s touching her depending on the angle you approach from.

We left the nativity just like this for the duration of our stay. As we were getting ready to leave, I was thinking about what to write for a Christmas message for you all. Immediately, this thought about how this version, this vision of the nativity, is probably closer to the truth than the staged one. Imagine the shepherds, they heard the good news from the angels and were astonished. They rushed to Bethlehem. Do you really think they stood far outside the door, peeking in over one another’s shoulders? When the wise men came, did they send their gifts via messenger?

The visitors were compelled to come and see. In artwork up and down the centuries we see this scene depicted. There is a closeness, an intimacy, surrounding the Holy Family. That is what my kids captured in their nativity scene. Not only were the figures edging in as close as they could, but you as the viewer have to get closer to see into the action. “What’s happening? What are they all looking at? Why are they pressed in so close?”

As we journey in these last days to Christmas, I have to stop and wonder, which nativity scene am I participating in? Am I keeping Christ at a distance, even in this moment of the sweet little Christ-child? Am I only peeking in, not allowing myself to fully enter the mystery of my Savior coming to me? Or, am I walking in, sitting down next to Mary and looking into Jesus’s eyes? Am I coming to Christmas Mass with all the anticipation and excitement of the shepherds and wise men? Or, am I caught up in the amount of glitter my daughters’ dresses are going to leave on the pew and the cracker crumbs the little boys will sprinkle behind them?

This Christmas is, yet again, not what we would call “normal.” But Jesus is still coming. He is still waiting for you to scooch in closer, to come and see. This has not changed and will never change. I hope you are able to make it to Mass on Christmas Eve or Day. And when you go, I hope you spend some time with the nativity scene there. Take a few moments and really look, really participate. See Mary’s bent head, her eyes fixed on Jesus. See Joseph standing or sitting with them, protectively keeping watch over his precious family. See Jesus, the innocent child, come to save us all.

If you need a prayer to say when you spend time with the nativity , I’ll leave the lyrics to a lovely song by Rebecca St. James called “A Cradle Prayer.” Here is the link to the music if you would like to listen to it.

Jesus I love you my Lord my life
Where would I be without you
Here in the quiet, the still, the night
I am in awe of you

Trials may come and friends they may go What really matters is you my Lord
Beautiful Savior my God, my friend
I am in awe of you
Lord I am in awe of you

Why would you, Creator and King, come as a baby for all, for me?

https://genius.com/Rebecca-st-james-a-cradle-prayer-lyrics

I am wishing you a very Merry Christmas. One full of intimacy, even at a distance. One full of love and family, even if it’s through a window or screen. One full of Christ’s love, which is with you always.

To Be “Knitworthy” – Advent Journals are HERE!

First, the exciting news, Advent Journals for 2021 are here! I have to keep things fun and interesting, and I have to work with what God is inspiring me to write. So this year, there’s only one Advent Journal – Embrace Your Own Pace. For those of you who enjoy the Lectio Divina style journals, fear not. Because those are something God consistently placed on my heart to create for 3+ years, there are now 3+ years of journals to choose from. This upcoming liturgical year that begins this Advent happens to be Year C. All of the previous years’ Advent Journals can be found here.

This year’s journal is linked at the end of this post. As usual, there is no fee, no sign up requirement, no strings. This is a totally free resource to help you encounter Christ during the Advent season.

I wanted to talk a little bit about why I feel so strongly about keeping these journals free to anyone who wants to use them. And, since so much of my creative energy has been poured into knitting lately, I have another knitting story to share.

There is a thing in the knitting world. It seems pretty dominant, I’ve seen it referenced on a number of podcasts (yes, there are multiple knitting podcasts out there), YouTube channels, individual designers and frequently on Instagram. It is this idea that there are people in your life who are, “knit-worthy.” Or, perhaps more accurately, there are people in your life who are “un-knit-worthy.”

Here’s the deal. Nothing handmade is quick if it’s being done well. Knitting, done well or not, is one of those crafts that just takes time. There are those outliers who can knit a sock in 4-5 hours. But that’s just one sock, last I checked most people have 2 feet needing covering. That’s upwards of 10 hours of work for a single pair of socks. And those are the quick people. It usually takes me at least double that time. So if socks can take someone an entire day’s time to knit up, imagine how much time it takes to knit a shawl or sweater. This isn’t taking into account the cost of the yarn, which has a wide range of box store to unique one of a kind indie dyer or hand spinner. To receive a knitted gift is a big gift. It is, to use the cliche phrase, “a labor of love.”

Now, it seems that the knitting world has created some imaginary standards for who is “worthy” for such a gift. These standards, or expectations, include things like:

  • Will this person wear the gift?
  • Will they put the all wool sweater in the dryer?
  • Will they show off the garment/gift to other friends?
  • Will they praise my work and abilities?
  • Will they appreciate the amount of time and effort this gift took and treasure it always?

These are pretty high standards. Ben and I were talking about this phenomenon in the car last week while on a multi-day trek to San Antonio and back for a friend’s wedding. When we buy a gift for someone, of course we hope they will use it. We hope they will take care of it and appreciate the time we spent picking it out for them. We hope it doesn’t end up in their work White Elephant party a few days after we gift it to them. But, these are hopes, not expectations.

Interestingly, when you go on Etsy to purchase a gift that was handmade, the shop owner does not list out any type of expectations to go along with their item. They may recommend washing or care instructions, perhaps they will suggest a way to use or wear the item. Ultimately, however, they know they have no control over how the person purchasing their item will use it, gift it, or otherwise be inclined to destroy it. The transfer of funds from buyer to seller is the point. Once the item is purchased, the seller moves on and so does the buyer.

As Christmas approaches, and as we continue to hear with anxiety about “global supply chain shortages,” the theme of gift giving will be occupying a lot of space in our brains. I would like to challenge you, as I am challenging myself, to consider what the appropriate state of mind a true gift giver ought to be. In order to do this well, it would do us all a lot of good to consider what gifts we have been given, most importantly the gift par excellence – the gift of Jesus.

The gift of Jesus isn’t something we earned. We were not worthy, righteous, or even hitting the minimums. St. Paul very clearly lays it out for us:

For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Romans 5:6-8

Our salvation, through the extravagance of God’s mercy and grace, isn’t conditional. It does not come to us only after we make certain promises or meet a list of expectations. It is a free and completely unmerited gift.

Stop and ponder this idea. If we are going to be giving gifts during the Christmas season, what is their purpose? What are they supposed to symbolically represent? Some would say that our tradition of gift giving comes from the Magi’s gifts. Others, the very gift of Jesus. Either way, the gifts that we are honoring were given without expectation, without reservation.

With what spirit do you usually give gifts? Are you giving from your heart? Are you giving to be noticed or appreciated? Are you giving in the hopes of getting? Are you giving out of obligation or from a spirit of generosity and love? Whether bought or made, what your recipient does with their gift isn’t really your concern. That’s hard to accept. The spirit in which you give, this is where we have the opportunity draw closer to God and to one another.

I’d love to hear about your gift-giving experiences. Have you ever found yourself more concerned about what someone will do with a gift, rather than the act of giving itself?

I am so pleased to be able to gift to you this year’s Advent Journal, Embrace Your Own Pace. As I said, this is completely free. My only request, and it’s because of copy right requirements for the Scripture references within the text, is that you please not print off a bunch of copies to pass out to all your friends or neighbors. Please direct anyone interested in this journal here, so that they can print off their own copy. But in truth, I am trying very hard not to expect anything in return for this journal. It is something God placed on my heart to create and I am gifting it back to Him as I share it with you.

Embrace Your Own Pace Advent Journal 2021

Embrace Your Own Pace is an opportunity to walk your own journey through Advent, but with a spiritual guide. It’s a bit like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books from when you were a kid. There are four guides, or paths to choose from. You might find that one path matches with the pace of your life and you stay consistently on it from start to finish. Or, you may find yourself changing from one path to another as they intersect and your pacing needs to adjust. Briefly, here are the guides:

  • Joseph: Joseph’s pace is one of daily activity. Each day, there is an action to participate in that draws you closer to God and to the relationships you have. They also are designed to highlight the overall theme for the week.
  • The Magi: This path is a more intellectual path. Scripture and readings from saints and Church Fathers have been chosen for your reflection and growth. There is journaling space for the Magi’s path (though any path is welcome to use it, of course.)
  • Mary: Mary’s path is one of deeper pondering. Like the Magi, there is Scripture to reflect on, but also like Joseph’s there are some actions to consider participating in. Above all, Mary’s path is inspired by how Mary “pondered these things in her heart.”
  • The Shepherds: The Shepherd’s path is one of simplicity. Each week, there is one thing to do daily, or one prayer to say daily. These are small things, but hopefully habit building in that they will continue to gently reorient you to God in the midst of a busy schedule.

Below you will find two options to download. One is the 8.5×11 print. This will print the booklet in sequential order. If your printer has double-sided capabilities, or you are confident in printing odds and then evens to save paper, I highly encourage you to do so. The second version is the true booklet print. When you scroll through the document, the pages look all mixed up. I won’t tell you the amount of brain space booklet printing now occupies in my brain but I might have been forced to forget how to tie my shoes to account for it all. Needless to say, you have to print double-sided for the booklet to come out properly.

I wish each of you a blessed and peaceful Advent. May it be full of generosity and gift-giving that fills your heart with love for God and one another.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Ode to Joy

There are some songs everyone knows. They are more than classics, they are somehow part of the fundamental human experience. One of those songs is Ode to Joy, by Beethoven. It has so many different lyric sets, is sung in nearly every key and language. When you hear this song, you know the rhythm, the next notes, even if you aren’t a musician. 

This morning, a new pianist was sitting at the piano before Mass began. She was playing Ode to Joy. However, the tempo was a bit off. Not all the chords resolved exactly on point. Some parts were a bit faster than necessary, others slower. As a musician, I found myself judging the music. “It’s not bad,” I told myself, “but it sure isn’t great either. Is this what we are in for all of Mass?” Can you hear my sigh of relief when the regular pianist walked over for the entrance hymn?

What a way to start the Eucharist. While I consider myself a musician, piano is not my instrument of choice. There is no way I could play Ode to Joy, or any other piece of music for that matter, with as much competency as the young woman did before Mass began. There I was, judging her mistakes and inconsistent melody, while my own life’s song was full of discord. 

I enjoy analogies to life being a grand song, or a large tapestry – that life is some great work of art that we all participate in but are unable to see or hear the whole of, that is God’s job. But how often do we find ourselves trying to assume the role of the master, while we are but students? 

At the conclusion of Mass, my sigh of relief turned to a sigh of doubt. The young woman was back and at the piano. Ode to Joy was the final song. She had been practicing before Mass. “Oh man, I hope this goes ok.” I thought to myself. 

What a doubter I was! The cantor announced the song, everyone raised their books and voices. It was beautiful. Were there wrong notes, maybe. Did I hear them? No. I was too busy being embraced by the swell of music coming from my whole community. Together, we made this music in praise to God. Together, we became one voice. Was every voice on pitch, probably not. Was my own perfect? For sure not! 

God intended us for community. To work together, to sing together, to praise together. Not one of us is perfect and it is not our place to judge one another’s lack of perfection. I hope that at some point today, you feel the embrace of your community as you work together, whoever and wherever your community is. Together, we are striving to get to the Kingdom of God. 

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com