Sunday, December 17, 2017

Pure Joy: The Dance of the Turkey Vultures.

Today, the third Sunday of Advent, the pink candle in the Advent wreath is lit. It represents joy. It stands amongst the purple candles as a reminder that even in a season of expectation and preparation joy can burst forth.

A few weeks ago, as the early morning darkness turned to light, Andy and I were treated to the dance of the turkey vultures. It happens only once or twice a year. Our garden must be on their flight path and they roost for the night in our tall pine trees. We are unaware of their presence until dawn breaks then suddenly two or three appear, followed by another small group, then another and another, perhaps thirty in all. Then they dance, they loop, they twist, they glide and soar on the thermals. It is a display of pure joy. An early morning dance that we count a privilege to watch. It lasts, perhaps, fifteen minutes followed by an odd few stragglers. Then they are gone.

As I ponder the lectionary readings and reflect on this day where joy is the focus I am reminded of the dance of the turkey vultures. For me, it captured joy. Joy often breaks in unexpectedly as darkness turns to light. It is a moment, an instance in time, captured by an intensity of well-being and happiness that can only be described of as joy.

The readings today encapsulate that feeling of joy. The texts include the reading of the Magnificat which is an account of the wonderful meeting of Elisabeth and Mary (Luke 1: 39-56).

As Elisabeth hears Mary greet her on arrival, she feels the quickening of her baby. She acknowledges it with those well-known words, “the child in my womb leaped for joy.” This is followed by Mary’s rejoinder, “My spirit rejoices in God my saviour.” It is a moment of joy for both women. Although, the breaking in of joy was a moment in time as the baby danced in the womb, the impact was huge in the lives of both women. It brought forth an outpouring of praise. I’m sure the experience remained with both women for a lifetime.

Joy always seems to elicit a response in others. As we watched the dance of the turkey vultures we, in turn, shared their joy. As Mary arrived it evoked a joyous response from Elisabeth, which in turn, brought forth a further response from Mary. Joy seems to bring forth more joy.

During this third Sunday in Advent, and in the approaching Christmas season, I hope many will be amazed by joy. I hope there will be moments to treasure. I hope the privilege of those experiences will bring deep and lasting enjoyment. It may only be a moment in time, a fleeting happening, yet the memory is precious. Joy came, and because of it, life is a little richer.

(Photo: North-East Ithaca, JPF)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Expectation, Preparation and Hope

I can feel expectation! It is in the air. It manifests as a sort of excitement, preparation and hope.

The squirrels feel it. From our daily practice of starting the day in the hot tub Andy and I watch them scurrying up and down trees carrying pine cones. We watched one little one yesterday with a pine cone in its mouth racing at the picket fence. We expected it to crash as there was no way it would get through, yet without hesitation the little creature turned its head sideways, went through the fence and continued, hopefully, to build a good supply of food to get through the cold weeks.

Then as we walk the pugs in the evening the darkness is broken by the full moon, the twinkling stars and myriads of coloured lights adorning houses and gardens. Light is shining through the darkness. We talk about how lovely they look. Somehow it seems that this year there has been more lights, even earlier than usual, it feels part of the expectation that is in the air.

It is not surprising then that today, the first Sunday of Advent is celebrated. The season of Advent, is full of expectation, preparation and hope. The first candle in the Advent wreath is lit, a purple one that represents hope.

It is with hope in our hearts that the four-week journey to Christmas is begun. It is a time for preparation. It is a time to be full of expectation. The lectionary today is apocalyptic writing (Mark 13: 24-37). I think it is a mistake to take this sort of writing and look for detail, or try and impose a timeline on it or, even, look for disasters that point to the end of the world.

I would add as an aside here that I have read interpretations that say that apocalyptic texts in this gospel point to the crucifixion and passion week. There is an interesting play on words here with cockcrow, dawn, sun going dark, etc. (see Mark 15:33 for example). Certainly, would be worth pursuing but not for today.

Today, I want to remain with the air of expectation, preparation and hope. I want to savour the season. I want to enjoy the moment.

Yet, it must be tinged with a little realism. Christmas time has over the last few centuries been hyped up into an art. Paintings, Christmas cards, tableaus and TV commercials often portray the ideal Christmas. Families together, overflowing tables and an abundance of gifts around a brightly lit tree.  This depiction falls far short of the realistic situation for many people.

There is an increase in reported domestic violence (, children go even hungrier ( and think of the turkeys, 300 million are killed most of them after living short lives in unspeakable conditions (

In our home, as foster parents, we have had many children who have only dreaded Christmas. There have been no presents, not much food and a lot of fear. Therefore, in my excitement, my expectation, my hope, I cannot ignore the plight of others. I need to hold these things in tension.

The message of the lectionary text is to be aware, as it is phrased to “keep awake” (37). It is the message of advent, part of the expectation, part of the preparation and part of the hope. This advent I want to live in the moment, I want to be filled with great expectation and hope yet I want to be awake to those around me. To notice their lives, maybe in some small way to bring a glimmer of light into their darkness.

“May God’s goodness be ours this day.
And well and seven times well
May we spend our lives.”
(Way of Living, 55)

Photo: The little red squirrel in our garden earlier in the year.