Monthly Archives: December 2011

Merry Christmas!!!

“Pious imagination and nostalgic music rob Christmas of its shock value, while some scholars reduce the crib to a tame theological symbol. But the shipwrecked at the stable tremble in adoration of the Christ-child and quake at the inbreak of God Almighty. Because all the Santa Clauses and red-nosed reindeer, fifty-foot trees and thundering church bells put together create less pandemonium than the infant Jesus when, instead of remaining a statue in a crib, he comes alive and delivers us over to the fire that he came to light.”

-Brennan Manning (“Shipwrecked at the Stable” from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas)

May your Christmas be filled with glorious pandemonium…

Love,

Micha

I’ll be taking this week off from posting while we celebrate. I’ll see you on January 2…

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How He Entered

“…a son, a male child, who will rule all nations with an iron scepter.”   -Revelation 12:5

He entered, not a barn, not a hay-filled nursery,
but a galaxy, a kingdom groaning for his rule.

He arrived, not from a young woman, trembling
and homeless, but a queen enthroned in stars.

We saw him, one fleshy hand raised in reflex,
as if in his infancy, we might grasp deliverance.

He was found, not in David’s town, not in swaddling
cloths, an unknown child wiggling in straw,

but as a hero in royal thread, a sorcerer,
whose tap of scepter sends the dragon scurrying in fear.

He came, not to angelic song above hills of sheep,
not to glittering starlight that drew kings,

but to a symphony in which treble clefs are undone,
in which the blaze of fire melts the physical to gold.

He came, not to silence, not to bowing camels,
not to carolers in moonlight, not to candles,

not to peace, not to our praises, our prayers, our holy.
He came not to power, not to battle, not to shouts of glory.

He came in weakness, in furious rule, a God in infancy.
He came. Receive the mystery.

© Micha Boyett Hohorst, 2010. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint or post without attribution. These poems are available at byfor.org.
This is the last poem in a series of five Advent poems I wrote for John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle. See the first poem here, the second here, the third here, and the fourth here.

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Christ’s Mother Reflects, His Childhood

“and for him to see me mended / I must see him torn.”  -Luci Shaw “Mary’s Song”

He stood at the door, wet-faced and panting.
in his hands three baby birds. They’re hungry,
he sniffed, nested them in a bowl with grass,
fed them worms until they died. After, I held him
for an hour, his soul too much for this world.

Who doesn’t want normal for her son?
Yet he chose the lonely of the children, played ball
with the friendless. He was quiet, sat with me
long hours, watching: the grass, the anthills, the sunset.
Sometimes his sigh at such beauty went down too far.

Do you know where I lived before I found you?
He asked once as we sat on cold stones
watching fireflies, Joseph inside with the little ones.
I breathed long and answered. No, my love, I don’t.
I scanned his face with my eyes: a spark, a smile I didn’t know,
as if his chest’s glow might burst, blind me in its radiance.

We never spoke in metaphors: Not light of the world,
not cornerstone, not sacrificial lamb.
When I found him at his studies, face down toward
Isaiah’s words, he looked at me and laughed.
For my sake? I wondered. His own shock?
A memory of the words he would fulfill?

Later: the teaching, the miracles, the homelessness
he chose. How to follow the child you raised?
How to warm yourself in his light
without catching flame and melting?

Drink his blood, eat his flesh, beg his body
to release from the wood it lay torn upon.
Recognize the great pain he’d always carried,
how his split soul all along was mending mine.

© Micha Boyett Hohorst, 2010. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint or post without attribution. These poems are available at byfor.org.

This is from a series of five Advent poems I wrote for John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle. See the first poem here, the second here, and the third here.

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Love in This: An Advent Reflection

It was “Ring of Fire” in my head that day as I moved through our house, 3-year-old at my heels. I was singing…

Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring.
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire.

Maybe I could’ve gotten away with such lyrics leaking from my mouth on a random Wednesday morning while I folded laundry, but the words were too good for August to ignore. This same boy who introduces himself to strangers as, “Hi, I’m August. I like yucky things, like germs and volcanos and fire,” is the boy who says, “Mama, I really like that song you’re singing!”

That day I pulled up the YouTube video of Johnny singing in black and white and we spent the rest of the day stuck on, “Down down down down down!” as we went about our tasks, August on his knees in his room, Playmobile knights in hand, a song he didn’t even know he was still singing in his mouth.

So last Friday night, after dinner, when we blew out the three lit Advent candles on the table, the boy snuck back to the slowly hardening wax and stuck his finger in to feel its warmth on fingertip. He walked to my husband.

“Daddy, there’s love in this” he said, holding his waxy finger toward Chris’ face. “You know why? Because that song says ‘love is a burning thing.'”

The other day I read in Isaiah 9, “Those who lived in the land of deep darkness– / on them a light has shined.”

Every light is a burning thing, right? Our most necessary light, the life-giving sun, is a consumer, the most dangerous fire of all. We cover our skin from it. We shield our eyes from it. And then we beg it to come toward us, to warm us, to bring life again to this dark winter-ridden land.

This is Advent. We don’t just passively wait for the light; we actively engage with it. We cup it in our hands, we light the candles. We pray for enlightenment, that we may understand this God who sends his son, that we may see the miracle that we usually miss.

We beg for light because our souls know there’s love in it.

Our souls know when the star shines over Bethlehem, when the angels awaken sleepy shepherds with Glory, when a baby cries in the filth-filled barn, there’s love in it. The darkness is consumed, the path is revealed, the star hovers above the secret place where the baby is born.

And we stand beside our children on Christmas Eve and watch the wicks on every handheld candle whoosh into flame across the dark sanctuary. We hover around the little hands holding fire, imagining the one spark that might set the place ablaze. Then we remember to sing, to hold up notes with the voices beside us. And in that moment when we look up from the children, when we release the momentary fear, when we sing of the “Virgin, mother and child.” We sing of the “holy infant…” and we see that yellow glow in the room that was blind before. We remember the light. And we blow out the candles. The overhead lamps click on.

But we drag our fingers through the warm wax, the reminder that for a moment we held something holy, something dangerous and life-giving, something that marks us by its heat. And on that fingertip, that pointer finger warmed by quickly hardening wax, we know the secret. We know love is a burning thing.

And there’s love in this.

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{Practicing Benedict} Humility

“Holy Scripture, brethren, cries out to us, saying, ‘Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled,and he who humbles himself shall be exalted’ (Luke 14:11). In saying this it shows us that all exaltation is a kind of pride, against which the Prophet proves himself to be on guard when he says, ‘Lord, my heart is not exalted, nor are mine eyes lifted up; neither have I walked in great matters, nor in wonders above me'” (Ps. 131:1).

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 7

Just in case you assumed that St. Benedict and I would never have any arguments, I’m here to let you know that he and I don’t always agree. You would think that his chapter on humility would get me all gooey and weepy, that I’d be crying to myself about how far I have to go in the contemplative life. And, I probably will end up crying about my need for humility, but not because St. Benedict has inspired me to.

Chapter 7 lists 12 intense steps to humility. They’re not for the faint of heart and they include a lot of talk of hellfire and fear. See, his emphasis in Chapter 7 is heavy on on fear of hell directing the monks toward humility. It’s an emphasis that runs very close to self-hate, which doesn’t mesh with the kind of humility I see in Jesus.

The humility I see in Jesus is led by love. Love for the Father results in love for others. The kind of love for others that is sincere allows us to see the people around us (as Christ instructed) as Jesus himself. And that leads to action.

If Benedict and I agree on anything in Chapter 7 it’s that humble action leads to humility. If we want to get our minds off ourselves, then we sacrifice, we give up our comforts and offer ourselves. We serve with our hands. We cook for others; we wash dishes. We, as Benedict says, make the choice that, like Christ, “I have come not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (John 6:38).

Humility, then, becomes reality, seeing things as they really are: Not that we’re worthless, but that we are desperately beloved. We have been rescued by our creator, who became flesh and gave himself for us. So we, in our flesh, give ourselves away.

Oh, Benedict, I want to whisper to you that those 12 steps are wonderful, it’s just your motivation that’s off, friend. Humility is not born of fear but of joy.

In December 20th’s reading of Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, Brennan Manning shares a story of Saint Francis and Brother Leo walking down the road. Francis has noticed that Brother Leo is depressed and Leo has admitted to being overwhelmed of the work of “ever arriving at purity of heart.” St. Francis responds:

“Leo, listen carefully to me.  Don’t be so preoccupied with the purity of your heart. Turn and look at Jesus. Admire him. Rejoice that he is what he is–your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior. That, little brother, is what it means to be pure of heart. And once you’ve turned to Jesus, don’t turn back and look at yourself. Don’t wonder where you stand with him.

“The sadness of not being perfect, the discovery that you really are sinful, is a feeling much too human, even borders on idolatry. Focus your vision outside yourself on the beauty, graciousness and compassion of Jesus Christ. The pure of heart praise him from sunrise to sundown. Even when they feel broken, feeble, distracted, insecure and uncertain, they are able to release it into his peace. A heart like that is stripped and filled — stripped of self and filled with the fullness of God. It is enough that Jesus is Lord.”

After a long pause, Leo said, “Still, Francis, the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.”

“No doubt about that,” replied Francis. “But holiness is not a personal achievement. It’s an emptiness you discover in yourself. Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where the Lord can create anew…Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins. See only the compassion, the infinite patience, and the tender love of Christ. Jesus is Lord. That suffices. Your guilt and reproach disappear into the nothingness of non-attention. You are not longer aware of yourself. Like the sparrow aloft and free in the azure sky. Even the desire for holiness is transformed into a pure and simple desire for Jesus.”

Oh, that this Christmas we might renounce everything that is heavy and see in our newborn Savior “the compassion, the infinite patience, and the tender love” that changes us…the love that brings us to true and deep humility.

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Thankful Tuesday: Christmas Travel Edition!

  • Having a friend like Jamie in Austin, who was up all night with her 4-month-old and still willing to drive us to the airport at 4:30 am. Yay for friends who love us
  • Boys who go to sleep on airplanes and choose not to scream. Thank you, children.
  • The gift of being able to see family we love, even though they are so far away.
  • Hugging my husband’s little sister and sharing a chair with her because there are too many of us to fit.
  • Spending a Monday night eating cheese (did I mention I can eat dairy now? nine months without was long and I’m so thankful!) and laughing with three of Chris’ five(!) siblings, dad and step mom.
  • Eating pot roast at 10 pm.
  • A late-night round of catching ice cream bites with our mouths across the formal dining room table.
  • Uncles who play knights and wrestle with August.
  • Seeing Brooksie mesmerized by the height of the Hohorst men. (My husband looks short as the 6′ 4″ one.)
  • A make-do high chair. (Tying your baby to a chair works fine.)
  • Early morning fire in the fireplace.
  • The promise of rest.
  • Being able to spend these few days here before we head to Chris’ mom’s for Christmas.
  • Have there ever been two families more different than Christopher’s dad’s family and mine? Only grace could give both of us a home with either.

It’s almost Christmas! And it’s Thankful Tuesday. What are you thankful for?

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Darkness

“For Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall rise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee, and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”

Handel’s Messiah (from Isaiah, chapter 60)

“Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb, / Now leaves His well-beloved imprisonment.

-John Donne “La Corona”

We are all some mother’s child,
all born through great pain,

then a flood of release, an unbearable empty.
I sang a broken song, a wail of psalm

until you came. We were cold, alone,
this man who will raise you, and I.

No mother, no midwife, one blanket,
a borrowed pot of water on the fire.

Did I not expect you would cry with me,
you who had willed every infant’s cry?

Did I not expect you would need me,
your body suddenly cold, craving my skin?

You bobbed your head along my chest
in search of milk: ordinary, human.

Where were the trumpets, where the showering
of gold? We three were hushed in the dark,

my blood trickling to the ground, my husband’s silent tears,
your infant body learning to swallow.

And in this, somehow, Glory.
My God, you deserve more than the two of us,

torn open and shivering with you in the dark.

This is from a series of five Advent poems I wrote for John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle. See the first poem here and the second poem here.
© Micha Boyett Hohorst, 2010. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint or post without attribution. If you or your church would like access to these poems for worship, they are avvailable at The By/For Project.

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Because I love Jesus so much…

We’re talking about Christmas songs at the lunch table. I say, “My favorite song is ‘Silent Night’. I like to sing it when it’s Christmas Eve and the church is dark except for all the candles glowing in every person’s hands.”

“I don’t like that song.” My three-year-old says.

“But it’s really beautiful.”

“Hmmmm.” He takes bite of cheese quesadilla. This is the start of the days his 13-year-old self will use that word to answer every question I ask.

I’m feeling talkative, like I need to prove something.

“Sometimes,” I say, “when I sing that song, I think about Jesus being born and his mama holding him and the angels singing and the donkeys scooting around the barn and then I cry. I cry because I love Jesus so much and I’m so glad he came to rescue us.”

August looks up at me, confused. Great, I’ve confused him by saying I cry about Jesus. He’s going to think Jesus makes me sad.

After lunch when I’m leaning over his bed, whispering a story then tucking him snug as a bug in a rug, he gets that look on his face and moves his head like a tiny professor, shifting his eyes to the corner because he feels that what he’s saying is very important.

“Mommy, sometimes I cry because I love Jesus so much,” he says.

“Honey, you can love Jesus without having to cry,” I say, trying to correct my careless confusion. “You know me, I just cry about everything.”

“No,” he says. “Sometimes I just sing and sing and cry because I love Jesus.”

“Well, I’m really glad you love Jesus,” I say.

Then I blow him a big bubblegum kiss that invisibly pops onto my face. I roll it up in my hands and stick it on his face, blankets snuggled up to his chin.

Later that week, after Chris tucks him in, he comes into the living room. “You won’t believe what August said tonight,” he says, laughing. He said, “Sometimes I cry when I sing about Christmas because I love Jesus so much.”

I laugh and bury my face in my hands. “I’m the worst,” I say. “Is that good or bad?”

Chris isn’t worried. (He’s never worried. That’s my job.) But I wonder: What will he remember about growing up in our home? What will stick in him about our faith? What will I have said that breaks him later? What image of Jesus have I projected to my boy?

Then, it’s Sunday. I stand beside my husband, my boys down the hall in their Sunday School classrooms, and I sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

There in that room, this Advent Sunday is bright with the sunshine of morning, the world is awaiting a Savior who is coming to “Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, / And death’s dark shadows put to flight.”

The author, that 12th century brother or sister in the faith, bids me Rejoice. And sometimes I cry because I love Jesus so much and I’m so glad he came to rescue us.

Linking up with Heather at the Extraordinary Ordinary in an attempt to “Just Write“…

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{Practicing Benedict} When it is best not to speak

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.
Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools,
who do not know that they do wrong.
Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.

-Ecclesiastes 5:1-3

I read that passage the first day of Advent. Then I wrote it down on an index card and set it on the shelf behind my kitchen sink. It’s water damaged and keeps falling over. But I’ve been coming back to it. What does it mean to “go near to listen rather than offer the sacrifice of fools”?

This probably won’t be a shock to you. I like to talk. I have a head full of words and I hear them coming out of my mouth all day long. If I can’t talk to a grown-up, I’m talking to my kids. I’m telling stories and explaining scientific facts for my germ-obsessed 3-year-old. I’m sitting in front of 18-year-old girls and explaining a passage of John. I’m telling my husband about my day long before he can get his shoes off when he walks in the door (exhausted from his winter(ish) bike ride home from work). Then I’m talking to a friend on the phone. And talking into the keyboard on Twitter. I’m talking to the stupid vacuum cleaner for its inefficiency and talking to the laundry for its extreme inability to be content with its former cleanliness. I’m talking to the cat about how sweet he is. I’m talking to my baby about how to clap his hands. I’m talking to August about picking up his small toys off the floor…your brother is going to find them and get hurt! I’m talking to my husband at the bathroom sink, my mouth foaming with toothpaste.

Then I’m sleeping. And I’m quiet.

Don’t we all long for quiet? Life is noise noise noise. And at the end of the day when we lie down in bed in the quiet, our minds flash open. We see what our voices kept hidden all day long: our fears, our to-dos, our longings. And we wonder, would we all be happier, healthier, if instead of facing those anxieties in the quiet of nighttime, when the volume turns down and we hear our own psyches explaining our world to us…wouldn’t it be kinder to ourselves to listen to that voice all day long? Is that even possible? Is an inner quiet something you can own when your son is running through the living room in a super cape sliding onto his belly on the carpet? Is it possible to listen when your office is a lifeless cubicle and you enter numbers into a database…every beep of information slowly eroding every hope you had for meaningful work?

Our lives are loud. We long for the green forest where birds call out to one another at the right moment and never too much. We long for the shiver of wind through the trees and the sounds of nighttime murmurs. We are a people shaped for silence; we’ve just forgotten.

When St. Benedict formed his monastic community, he knew the danger of speech, how quickly we can break another down, how quickly a word from another can be planted in the deep places of our hearts and stay there to torment us for a lifetime. If we want to live lives of kindness and encouragement, we are wise to quiet down.

In Benedict’s words:

I am guarded about the way I speak and have accepted silence in humility refraining even from words that are good. In this verse the psalmist shows that, because of the value of silence, there are times when it is best not to speak even though what we have in mind is good. How much more important it is to refrain from evil speech, remembering what such sins bring down on us in punishment. In fact so important is it to cultivate silence, even about matters concerning sacred values and spiritual instruction, that permission to speak should be granted only rarely to monks and nuns although they may themselves have achieved a high standard of monastic observance…We should remember that speaking and instructing belong to the teacher; the disciple’s role is to be silent and listen (St. Benedict’s Rule, Chapter 6).

If you’re hoping for a play-by-play of how to practice monkish silence in everyday life, you won’t find it here. (Did you read that second paragraph?) St. Benedict required silence at all meals. That certainly isn’t happening in my house. But in my two visits to Benedictine monasteries, I felt a certain quiet power emanating from the older monks, as if years of practicing quiet had actually resulted in real humility. And I saw in the younger monks those hard edges that silence was still wearing down.

Silence has power. And while quiet may not be much of a possibility in our daily lives, I’m (slowly!) learning the possibility of inner silence, that when I make space to notice the anxieties and lists and longings that I’ve been pushing down underneath all the noise of my day…when I bring them to the light of quiet, they lose their power over me. When I show them to Jesus more often than I hear myself talk, I begin to recognize that there is always something to hear and most of the time, I’ve missed it.

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Pancakes, baby kindness, cards addressed, Mary ‘[curled] in a brown pod’

And the list goes on…

  • Listening to Chris Hohorst (Chris Hohorst!) making up a song with August at bedtime: “I’m in the nook! I’m in the reading nook!”
  • How my baby holds his blankey to my face or his pacifier to my mouth…sharing what he loves most with his mama. (Oh, and “MahMahMahMah,” he says.)
  • August putting baby Jesus to bed so sweetly.
  • A meaningful conversation with one of my college girls on my couch, 9 pm during finals week.
  • A kitchen table full of 18-year-old girls, eating pancakes at 11 pm on a Thursday. The miracle of watching them becoming friends, real friends, at an age when friendships are the most miraculous of all. Don’t we all remember the feeling when we found our friends freshman year? I’m honored to watch it unfold.
  • Presents waiting to be wrapped.
  • Three lit candles on the Advent wreath.
  • The waiting of Advent and the deep fullness that gathers the longer we wait, the more we expect Jesus.
  • Homemade macaroni and cheese with new friends and babies.
  • Friday afternoon playdates with Jamie and her two kids.
  • Antibiotics for my baby’s ear infection.
  • Watching Inception with my husband while addressing Christmas cards. How in the world did it take me this long to see that movie?
  • Seeing the physical stack of cards addressed to people we love. It’s wonderful to be reminded how far and wide our friends are, how sweet it is to know them.

And this:

Mosaic of the Nativity

Serbia, Winter 1993

On the domed ceiling God
is thinking:
I made them my joy,
and everything else I created
I made to bless them.
But see what they do!
I know their hearts
and arguments:

“We’re descended from
Cain. Evil is nothing new,
so what does it matter now
if we shell the infirmary,
and the well where the fearful
and rash alike must
come for water?”

God thinks Mary into being.
Suspended at the apogee
of the golden dome,
she curls in a brown pod,
and inside her the mind
of Christ, cloaked in blood,
lodges and begins to grow.

– Jane Kenyon*

It’s Thankful Tuesday. What are you thankful for?

 

 

 

*Oh! Jane Kenyon! You are always my favorite…

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