First Monday of Advent – Live in Expectation by Tara Malouf

photo by Tara Malouf

Our second reflection for the day for the series Jesus Is Near How do We Draw Close comes from Tara Malouf.  She makes her home in the Seattle area with her husband and two kids. She loves images and words, quiet and beauty, walking and prayer. She sees with“connectedness” eyes and thinks life is lived in story. She aspires to be a professional friend.  You can check out her photography at and her occasional musings at

Live in Expectation

When a woman is pregnant we often refer to her as “expecting”.  Expecting….is that just a nice way of saying “growing outwardly large”?  Indeed there is much expectation with pregnancy though.  We expect a baby to arrive and we expect cuddles and kisses; we expect little toes and fingers.  But ask any woman who has been a mother for any length of time and she will tell you that she has also entered into many things she did not expect.

To live in expectation and yet to be handed what you did not expect is what Advent is all about.  The story of God in the scriptures is a mix of this strange dichotomy – expecting Him and yet being surprised by His ways.  Often His people live with a strange mix of hope and bewilderment.  They live in the reality of today’s happenings and yet in the promises declared for the future.  Even the idea of coming Messiah was a deep, pregnant expectation but when He arrived, there were many events and happenings those around Him did not understand.

Maybe expectation IS about growing outwardly large.  It is making room for something that is about to happen and watching…listening for strange rumblings.  It faces out and waits.  Its opposite would be illusion which turns us in upon ourselves, creating stories about what we think should happen.  Illusion does not wait, but rather makes up what it thinks to be true.  It doesn’t face outward and expand us, but rather curls inward and causes us to shrink.

Advent is about getting rid of our illusions and living in expectation.  It is about telling the familiar story of waiting, desiring, growing and birthing and also entering in to the waiting for a Second Arrival.  Advent is a time not only to read about Mary’s pregnancy and the prophet’s declarations, but also to expect the Spirit to birth something new in us.  To live in Advent is to be enlarged, feel the quickening for the Spirit’s work and to groan with the pains of labor.  It is to shed illusion, live with unanswered questions and simply say with Mary…”Let it be done to me as You have said.”


Advent in the Manner of Friends (Quakers)

I thought that I would kick of this week’s reflections for the blog series Jesus Is Near How Do We Draw Close with one from our good friend Quaker pastor Stan Thornburg who lives in Newburg Oregon.  It is written from the perspective of a tradition that does not usually celebrate this season in the way that liturgical churches like the Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran traditions do.  Stan blogs at Born to Eat Toast. _____________________________________________________________________________

Advent in the manner of Friends

The celebration of Advent by Quakers (mostly pastoral meetings) is a comparatively recent departure from Friends’ traditional avoidance of the rites, liturgies, and language marked by the Liturgical Calendar. This tension between non-liturgical and liturgical expressions makes us ask if there is a way to think about this wonderful season that is uniquely Quaker and that draws upon Friends faith and spiritual practice.

I have a suggestion as to how this might look for Friends. The following article tries to articulate that suggestion by starting with a personal story and then winding its way via the Friends practice of “Speaking Truth to one’s condition” to a newly formed understanding of Advent. You are invited to follow this labyrinth from its beginning to its climax in hopes that you will also discover a new way to rejoice in the ongoing miracle of Truth becoming flesh.

I’m alive to write this because a liver specialist listened to me. After he had listened just a few minutes, he called an ambulance without consulting me, and procured the immediate care I needed. Did he listen because he cared about me? Maybe a little, but he listened mostly because he cared about my brother, Kent – a respected colleague – and he knew Kent cared for me. Kent had asked him to listen to me because Kent loves me deeply, profoundly, unconditionally. The physician had the skill and insight to see my condition and “spoke to my condition” in that phone call.

Isn’t that how the Kingdom is supposed to work? It is a chain of caring beginning with Jesus’ love for us – a love that draws us into a deep love relationship. In turn we care about others even though they are relative strangers because we know Jesus loves them deeply, profoundly, unconditionally; we care about them because we want to care about those whom Jesus loves. So we listen to others and care for them on behalf of Jesus. Because Jesus’ love for us is deep, we listen to others with all our hearts. We listen past their sometimes obnoxious exterior; we listen past their shallow ramblings, or their political narrowness; we listen past their masks; we listen through their anger, hurt and resentment, as well as their joy; we listen until we get a sense of their hearts; we listen until we, in George Fox’s words, “know their condition.”

Then we “speak to their condition.” This may or may not mean that we address their condition directly, it may or may not mean that we share profound insights regarding their lives, but it always means that we speak in response to their condition, and that we speak words insinuated to us by revelation not by cognition. We have no words of our own, just words engendered by Love, words that speak truth and love into their very souls. It may be true that we don’t speak directly to them at all, perhaps we just call an ambulance. Perhaps we speak on their behalf to some oppressor or someone who, with cruel intent, has spoken razor blade words meant to shame, belittle, or crush them. We may speak directly to their flagging spirits in discouragement, to their despair in great loss, to their paralysis in great fear, to their ego in its lost esteem, and/or to their souls in their seeking. This is the work that God asks of us as our part of God’s mission.

This Truth spoken is not fashioned from our theological formulations, it is formed in the heart of God in much the same way as we were formed in our mother’s womb. We give birth to it through our obedient speaking, and the Truth becomes a living thing. It is Advent, the coming, it is the Word incarnate – Christ with us – born of God – in the speaking of Truth.

Advent celebrates the birth of Truth in the form of a living being – Jesus. It is a joyous remembering of the greatest event in human history. But to leave the celebration there, is both to miss the point and, even worse, to miss the joy of sharing in a new Advent born of our obedient delivery of the Living Truth spawned by God and spoken in Love. It is a saving, healing,Truth. It is Truth that, having been born in our speaking, becomes flesh and Like the “Word” in John’s prologue, shines into the darkness, and the darkness can neither comprehend it nor overcome it.

Rejoice, for unto us, a savior is born…again…and again…and again.

The First Sunday of Advent

Daily lectionary readings:

Psalm am: 146, 147  pm 111, 112, 113

Isaiah 1:1-9; 2 Peter 3: 1-10; Matthew 25: 1 – 13

It is also the beginning of my blog series Jesus Is Coming How Do We Draw Close.

This first post comes from my good friend Kim Balke who recently made me aware of Canadian artist  William Kurelek

The following video, a series of 20 depicting the Nativity as if Christ had been born in Canadian settings: an igloo, a trapper’s cabin, a boxcar, a motel makes a beautiful reflection for the beginning of Advent

Jesus Is Near: How Do We Draw Close – Advent Blog Series Begins Sunday

The season of Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year, begins on Sunday and I am once again hosting an Advent series on my blog.  The focus for the season is Jesus is Near: How do We Draw Close. There are over 30 people signed up to contribute at this stage which means that there should be at least one post each day.  But there is still time to contribute so please let me know if you are interested.  Also please let others know about the series – tweet it, facebook it, share it on your blog  too and above all have a blessed Advent

Here is the list of contributors:

Andy Wade
Barb Buckham
Cindy Todd
David Bayne
Ed Cyzewski
Idelette McVickers
James Prescott
Jamie Arpin Ricci
Jeff Borden
John Leech
Jon Stevens
JR Woodward
Jude Tiersma Watson
Julie Clawson
Kathy Escobar
Kimberlee Conway Ireton
Kristin Tennant
Lewis Pearson
liz Dyer
Matt Stone
Michelle Wade
Pat Loughery
Phil Cunningham
Ryan Marsh
Shawn Small
Stan Thornburg
Steve Fouch
Steve Wickham
Tara Malouf
Thomas Turner
Tim Morey
Tim Soerens
Tom Sine

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S.  I did not grow up with this celebration but have embraced it with enthusiasm.  We have so much to be grateful for even when life seems difficult.  Here is the thanksgiving prayer we will be using today as part of our celebration

A Thanksgiving Liturgy

God we gather in thankfulness for the many blessings in our lives,

We praise you for your generous goodness which is new every day,

To you God we offer our praise and thanksgiving.

God to you who created the earth and the heavens,

To you who are always merciful and forgiving,

To you God we offer our praise and thanksgiving.

God to you who call us into relationship with yourself,

To you who give us the gift of family and friends,

To you God we offer our praise and thanksgiving.

(Pause to remind yourself of all you have to be thankful for)

For the universe immense and unknown

For the earth on which we live

For humankind made in your image

Thanks and praise to God our creator

For entering human history as one of us

For your life poured out in sacrifice for us

For dying that we might live

Thanks and praise to Christ our redeemer

For the comfort of your indwelling presence

For the wisdom of your guidance and direction

For drawing us together as one family

Thanks and praise to the Holy Spirit our enabler

Through your will we are made whole,

Through your love we are renewed in body, mind and spirit

Through you we become one community from every tribe and nation.

Thanks and praise to Father, Son and Spirit through all eternity.


Psalm 92: 1-8 (NLT)

Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
Let the whole world know what he has done.
2 Sing to him; yes, sing his praises.
Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.
3 Exult in his holy name;
rejoice, you who worship the Lord.
4 Search for the Lord and for his strength;
continually seek him.
5 Remember the wonders he has performed,
his miracles, and the rulings he has given,
6 you children of his servant Abraham,
you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.

He is the Lord our God.
His justice is seen throughout the land.
8 He always stands by his covenant—
the commitment he made to a thousand generations.

The Word of the Lord.     Thanks be to God.


A reading from the Gospel according to Luke.


Glory to you, O Lord.


Luke 22:14 – 20 (NLT)


When the time came, Jesus and the apostles sat down together at the table. Jesus said, “I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.”  Then he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. Then he said, “Take this and share it among yourselves. For I will not drink wine again until the Kingdom of God has come.”  He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”  After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.

The Gospel of the Lord.   Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


Let us pray together now in the words Jesus taught us.


Our Father, who art in heaven hallowed by your name.  Your kingdom come your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom the power and the glory for ever and ever.  Amen


Pause to offer up prayers of praise and thanksgiving

Gracious and generous God we give you thanks

For the gift of life for we are made in your image,

We pray for all your loved ones in whom your divine image is still hidden and distorted

We pray for your mercy and compassion to rest upon them

God in your mercy be with all those you love

Caring and providing God we give you thanks

For our homes that shelter and protect us,

We think of those without shelter and water and protection today

We pray for your provision to be poured out upon them

God in your mercy be with all those you love

Abundant and giving God we give you thanks

For our food that nourishes and strengthens us,

We thing of those without food and nourishment today

We pray that you will feed them with the bread of life

God in your mercy be with all those you love

Loving and compassionate God we give you thanks

For our friends and family who love and comfort us in times of need

We think of those who are alone and feel abandoned today

God comfort and surround them that they may sense your presence

God in your mercy be with all those you love

Gracious and generous God

We remember all the gifts you have given us,

We remember how lavishly you have provided,

We remember how lovingly you have cared,

We remember especially that greatest gift of all,

Jesus Christ our Saviour,

And we give you thanks.



To Garden With God Now Available in Book Form

To Garden With God is now available in book form.  We have had so many requests for this that I thought it was time to get this project completed and we worked hard to do this before Christmas. For those of you who are wanting to be supportive of MSA at this season, this is a great way to do that. This book makes a very practical Christmas gift for any of your friends who are keen on gardening.  The book is available in 2 forms – one especially for Christmas as a full colour coffee table type book and the other the usual black and white paperback book version.

Order books here

About To Garden With God

In the last few years garden produce has become a popular and important addition to our diets. Community gardens are springing up in vacant lots, back yards and even church parking lots but many of us do not know how to connect this experience to our faith.

In To Garden With God Christine Sine compiles twenty years of gardening experience and advice for backyard gardening interspersed with deep spiritual lessons to be learned from God’s good creation. Nothing gives us a greater sense of the presence of God than working in the garden. We read about the death and resurrection of Christ in the Bible, but experience it every time we plant a seed and watch it burst into life. We read about the faithfulness of God to Israel but experience it every time we watch the rain fall and nourish the seeds we plant. We read about the miracle of the fish and the loaves but experience a miracle every time we are overwhelmed by the generosity of God’s harvest.

In To Garden with God, Christine Sine shares a profoundly spiritual explanation for the sense of peace we experience when we step into a garden. Blending Scripture with story, this journal – inspirational, contemplative, deeply personal and supremely practical – offers readers a means for transforming pastime into prayer and work into worship. This book is a must-read for seasoned and fledgeling gardeners, and anyone else who yearns to learn how to grow closer to God. – Anna M. Clark, author of Green, American Style

Order books here

Leadership as Spiritual Direction

This last week I was interviewed by a M Div student for her class on leadership.  I told her that for me leadership was not a position of privilege or of prestige but rather one of discernment and encouragement.  I said that to me the prime function of a Christian leader is to enable others to become all that God intends them to be.  I talked to her about our use of the Quaker discernment process and the group decision making structure we have set up to encourage cooperation and mutual support within our team.  She was excited by this concept and commented – This is leadership as spiritual direction.

I have thought a lot about this since we talked.  What is leadership meant to look like?  What was it that made Jesus leadership special?  Our modern concept of leadership, even of Christian leadership is a very hierarchical and very much based on position and prestige.  The concept of leadership as spiritual direction turns this on its head just as Jesus does when he talks about the servanthood nature of leadership.  It places the advancement of our team members ahead of our own “be thinking of others as better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3) and it makes us as leaders responsible for nurturing our team members in ways that nourishes their spiritual development as well as their physical accomplishments.  Jesus rarely told his followers how to do something he asked questions that enabled his disciples to find the answers that God had already placed within their hearts.

I talked some about this in a previous post “Planning with Spiritual Formation at the Centre” but I am realizing that this is a concept that it key to the way that we help followers of Jesus move into the future.  It is also a key to our being witnesses of mutuality and love to those around us.  I have already been told that I need to write a book on this but I suspect that is some way off in the future.

However I do have several questions for all of us out of this.

  1. How do we rethink our leadership models so that they are more like spiritual direction than hierarchical power structures
  2. How do we encourage community building and spiritual formation as part of our leadership models so that we see the transformation of all we work with
  3. Where are the resources to help this happen – I would love to hear from you on this and am looking for books and online resources that can help me further develop my thinking


Giving Thanks for God’s Earth and a World Made New

I am sitting here thinking about the wonder of God and the beauty of God’s world.  The snow is falling outside my window in big wet flakes.  I am awed by the fact that each flake is unique, a creative expression of the God we love and serve.

This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. and so many of my thoughts also revolve around what I have to be grateful for at this season – the beauty of God’s world being one of the many things that come to mind.  I am so grateful for a God who is in the business of making all things new and of returning our world to the wholeness and shalom that was intended for it.

At the same time I am aware that we are also entering a season in which the contrast between the haves and the have nots is heightened.  Some of us can overindulge to our hearts (or stomachs) content – for us the abundance of shalom is something we take for granted.  Ironically therefore we rarely give thanks for it.

Others are lucky if they can put food on the table for their children.  For them and their families the abundance of shalom is a hoped for unattainable dream unless those of us who are so abundantly blessed are willing to help – and the kind of help that is needed is far more than serving up a thanksgiving dinner at the local homeless shelter.

It is not surprising therefore that the quote below from Lisa Graham McMinn & Megan Anna Neff’s book Walking Gently on the Earth, caught my attention this morning.  This is a great book that beautifully weaves Megan’s experiences living in Africa with Lisa’s passion for the earth and the need to get back to God’s shalom.   It is well worth a read.

As the authors point out, living justly at this season means eating intentionally, making choices that respect the earth and those who produce our food.  It also means we don’t necessarily look for the cheapest oversized bargain turkey we can find.  Which probably means we end up with less food and less temptation to consume more than we should.

Overindulgence is so often a consequence of our own self centred thinking.  We eat too much and buy too much because we are concerned about our own pleasure and satisfaction and not that of our sisters and brothers around the world or of God’s good earth.   So as you read this today think about how you too could make decisions that cut down on your own self centred consumption and make this world a place where more of God’s people can enter into shalom and experience the abundance that is all around us.

When we celebrate life as we savor food, we hold together God’s sustaining abundance and the cry and hope for justice in the world.  We celebrate lives of hope with laughter, even if we acknowledge that all is not right – in our own lives, and in the world.  Celebrating with just food tangibly acknowledges that while the world has significant troubles, hope bursts forth in food that bountifully blooms and grows year after year.  God is sustaining us.  Eating justly is a profoundly simple act that recognizes that God’s goodness and a call for justice co-mingle on our plates.

Just food throws gladness back at God who made us creative creatures…

… Food is magnificent, an amazing blessing of God’s creation, yet our eating habits have ethical dimensions, and loving our neighbour requires us to eat intentionally.  Eating with intention embraces pleasure and celebrates good food while being mindful of and attending to our obligation to others, to God’s creatures and to the earth (p66)

Prayers for the Journey Give Us Light

Over the last few weeks I have established a new discipline in conjunction with the release of my book Light for the Journey. I am now posting short prayers daily on my facebook page.  Some of these come from the book others are new.  I am really enjoying this and find that the prayers I write each morning tend to revolve in my mind for long after I have posted them, connecting me to the presence of God in new and special ways.

From the response on twitter and facebook it is obvious that many of you are enjoying these too so I thought that I would post the most popular from the week here for those of you who have not seen them.  Reciting prayers, particularly short ones like these is a wonderful way to refresh ourselves in the presence of God throughout the day

Join in the dance of God
Live out the love of Christ
Carry the Spirit wherever you go


Pray for mercy, never give up
Pray for justice, never give in
Pray for love, never stop caring


God have mercy on those who do not know you
Who are separated from your unfailing love & unaware of your overflowing generosity
God have mercy on those who do not share you
Who practice scarcity and not abundance & prefer independence to mutuality
God have mercy on those who do not follow you
Who live in fear and not in love and are unaware of your eternal promise of hope


Hold your head high, Christ is coming calling us home
Home to the heart of God, home to where justice reigns
Home to God’s banquet feast, home to God’s loving presence
Hold your head high, Christ is coming calling us home


Immerse yourself in the love of God
Love is God’s heart,
Love is God’s language
Love never ends

Breathe In – Fill Yourself with God

Creation and spirituality - Hannah Varghese

This morning I was sitting reading my Bible, feeling rather distracted by thoughts of all I need to do today.  So I reached for my book of prayers to find one that would help me centre in on God’s presence.  I intentionally looked for a breathing prayer because I have found that they help me to focus on God better than any other form.  I came across this one which to be honest I don’t even remember writing.  It encouraged me once more to reflect on the life of God breathed into us at creation and breathed through us afresh as Jesus filled us with the Holy Spirit.

Breathe out empty yourself: of hate, of fear, of anxiety

Breathe in fill yourself with love, with life, with mercy

Breathe out empty yourself of busyness, of selfishness of greed

Breathe in fill yourself with peace, with joy, with hope

Breathe out empty yourself of idolatry, of self worship, of false gods

Breathe in fill yourself with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit

As I prayed this prayer and reflected on its meaning three scriptures came to mind that you might also like to reflect on as you pray it.

Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. (Genesis 2:7 NLT)

Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. f you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20: 21 – 23 NLT)

All Scripture is Godbreathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (2 Tim 3:16 NIV)

More of Hannah Varghese’s art here