Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Christmas Tree Blessing

I've really enjoyed Traci Smith's Seamless Faith for it's everyday suggestions about how to incorporated conversations and easy rituals into family life. The following is a seasonal example as we approach Advent and the annual installation of Christmas decorating:
This tradition allows families to bring a moment of spirituality to the secular tradition of decorating the tree. Try having a different family member read the blessing each year.

Designed for All Ages

Time Investment: 1-2 minutes


1. Blessing (printed below)

2. Christmas tree (before decorating)

3. Manger scene/crèche scene (optional)

How To:

1. Before the tree is decorated, gather everyone together around and read the following blessing:

God who created the bird in the air, the fish in the sea, the stars in the sky, and the trees in the ground, bless this tree as we decorate it and make it a joyful symbol in our home. May its branches remind us of the shade and shelter you provide for us and for many creatures. May its trunk remind us of your strength. May its light bring us peace. May we remember your gift to us this season, the gift of the baby Jesus. Amen.

2. Optional (see note below) – After decorating the tree, set up crèche or manger scene below the tree.


In the United States there seems to be a sharp division between secular Christmas traditions (the tree, the stockings, Santa) and Christian traditions (the manger scene, attending church, singing Christmas carols). As the tree is the focal point in many homes during Christmas, blessing the tree and setting up a manger scene under the tree (as opposed to gifts) can highlight the Christian significance of the day, something culture has lost sight of.


· Print the blessing on an ornament and say it as the ornament is hung on the tree.

· Write a new blessing each year and collect them from year to year.

· Cut down your own tree and say this blessing before the tree is cut down and brought home.

· Adapt the language of the blessing to the age of your children or your own traditions and culture.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Around the Thanksgiving Table

Gratitude is kind of becoming a thing, but just because something’s trendy doesn’t make it a bad idea.  A regular practice of gratitude, as with any regular practice or spiritual discipline, begins to shape our outlook on the world.  As Douglas Wood writes in The Secret of Saying Thanks, a picture book about gratitude:
“The more we say thanks, the more we find to be thankful for.
And the more we find to be thankful for, the happier we become.
We don't give thanks because we're happy. 
We are happy because we give thanks.”

Carolyn Brown, from Worshiping with Children, who I’ve mentioned often as a great resource, suggests that just as we plan for and prepare our meal on Thanksgiving, we should also consider preparing for a time of giving thanks as we gather.  While we are together with our families or friends, we have an opportunity to use a little time before, or along with, or even after our meal, to be intentional in naming our gratitude.  Some of the suggestions below are Carolyn’s and some are mine.  Maybe you can use them or maybe they’ll inspire you to come up with your own thanksgiving tradition.

·         One person says a prayer they have thought about in advance expressing the family’s gratitude in words and ideas that will make sense to and include all the people at the table.
·         Invite the people coming to the meal to prepare a few sentences or short prayer about their gratitude and have a ‘round’ of prayer.  If you hold hands, the pray-er squeezes the hand of the next person when she is done.  Conversations among family members as they prepare these prayers can be more important than the prayers themselves. 
·         If you haven’t had time to prepare, or want to be more spontaneous, ‘popcorn’ a prayer around the table.  Including a corporate call/response after each gratitude like, “For all I’ve said and so much more…” “…We give God thanks,” can invite everyone to participate, even if each person doesn’t have something personal to add.
·         Sing a Thanksgiving song together as your prayer.  If it will be a new song to some at the table, practice it together (maybe at meals?) earlier in the week.  Print a copy of words which children have decorated at each plate.
·         Brainstorm a list of the blessings of those at the table.  Then sing the “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” as your Thanksgiving prayer
·         Use a psalm of praise like Psalm 126 or one of the lectionary’s other suggested texts as your thanksgiving prayer.
·         Decorate paper napkins with drawings of things for which they are thankful.  Or create a place card for each person at the table with a drawing or words of thanks on it.
·         If you are well known to each other around the table, offer thanks to others at the table, or to God for the people around you, being specific about what things you are grateful for. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

To Remember is to Work for Peace

Tomorrow is Veteran's Day in the United States.  I grew up in Canada, where my experience was with Remembrance Day, also celebrated on November 11.  Similarly, it is a day to celebrate and give thanks for those who gave their lives in war, particularly in the World Wars.  In Canada it is traditional to wear a red poppy as a sign of remembrance and respect.  You may have noticed these poppies if you've been following the recent news of the Canadian elections; all the newly elected officials, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, are wearing poppies.

The symbol comes from the poem "In Flanders Fields," by John McCrae.  It speaks of the poppies growing between the cross-marked graves of soldiers killed in the trenches of WWI Belgium.  It's a poem I copied and decorated with red poppies along with "Lest We Forget" posters. I actually gave this very little thought as a child, but now revisiting it, I realize that it calls those who live to ‘take up our quarrel with the foe’!

It is appropriate to remember deaths as a result of war.  It is in fact important to remember: war kills.  Our remembering should be an act of saying ‘no’ war, to loving our enemies, to reconciling rather than to continuing the ‘quarrel’! Jesus' way is the way of peace and we, his followers, remember so that we can work and walk in that way.  Mennonite Central Committee Canada has for years been offering red poppy-alternate buttons for peace-minded followers of Jesus to wear.  They are a witness and a reminder of exactly this call on our lives.  “To remember is to work for peace.”

Many schools have assemblies that offer stories about war 'heroes', or invite military recruiters to make presentations during this week.  What alternative narratives are we offering?  What peacemakers can we remember who worked during times of war or who make peace in our communities?  What stories can we tell and celebrate?  Who are the people in our lives and in our families who have said no to violence and embraced peace instead?  What small acts of peace-making can we do this Veteran’s Day?  

Check out One Thousand Acts of Peace for small acts of peace you could do this day and ever day.  And this video from MCC Canada.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

I can barely handle it

I spent too much time looking at pictures this morning. I found I could not stop gazing at the joy and beauty and tenderness captured by Jim of our blessing service for the children of the congregation. They are indeed all of our children. My absolute favorite pictures are those of people delighting in the children in their arms who are not their own. I can barely handle it, you guys. This is what I’m talking about when I say you are saints! We bear this beautiful gift and joy together.

Yet even as we dwelled in and cradled the sweetness of new life, we began to understand that we are also holding the tenderness of great pain and grief. Lives have been lost this year, my friends. People we love are no longer with us. It broke my heart. You broke my heart. Each poem, each name, each candle and the knowledge that there were poems, names and candles unread, unsaid and unlit in folks who stayed seated. I can barely handle it. We bear this terrible weight and sorrow together.

I am so grateful I can barely handle it. I bless you. I bless you. You have blessed me so much.