Glimpses of Healing and Hope

January 18, 2016
by: Jane Bishop Halteman

Today, the third Monday in January, was proclaimed a national holiday in 1983 to honor civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., though the day was not observed until 1986.  Not until the year 2000 did all states become actively involved in the celebration. 

Taking a serious look at service to make the world a better place for the poor and powerless is one of the best ways to honor the memory of King, a Baptist pastor, on this day and throughout the year, according to his late wife, Coretta Scott King.

She says this on the meaning of the King holiday:  “On this day we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance, and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.”

But the day is not only for celebration and remembrance, education and tribute, she continues. “All across America on the holiday, his followers perform service in hospitals and shelters and prisons and wherever people need some help. It is a day of volunteering to feed the hungry, rehabilitate housing, tutor those who can’t read, mentor at-risk youngsters, console the broken-hearted, and a thousand other projects for building the beloved community of his dream.”

How does Martin Luther King Day inspire us to make a difference?  Where do we see the glimpses of healing and hope for which Martin Luther King yearned?  We are all familiar with some of his quotes (see below), but how are we getting involved with helping to bring his dream to some small fruition?

  • “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
  • “Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”        
  • Said in a speech at a victory rally following the announcement of a favorable U.S. Supreme Court Decision desegregating the seats on Montgomery's busses: “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.  It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.  It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age.  It is this love which will bring about miracles.”        

We frequently see compassionate responses throughout the world following traumatic or destructive national or global events.  Mass shootings and violent weather in other places cause us to awaken to needs in our own communities.  Sometimes becoming aware of the voice of a prophet like King fills us with the courage and desire to reach out beyond ourselves.

Our denomination’s seven priorities include “undoing racism and advancing intercultural transformation. This priority reflects our intent to dismantle individual and systemic racism in our church, develop intercultural competence, heal racial divisions, and value all the gifts of God’s diverse people.” 

In our local setting, we see KRMCers involved in serving through Hope Ministries, the St. Peter Claver Catholic Worker and its drop-in center Our Lady of the Road, and a host of other efforts including our congregation’s projects through Cana Community in the Near Northwest Neighborhood and our Immigration Ministry’s outreach efforts. 

How have you tapped into existing opportunities for service?  What moves you to get involved?  Recount in your mind’s eye the times and places when you have responded to another’s deep need, either as an individual or with a group, in an informal effort or an organized one. 

Where might you choose to become move involved, extending yourself by listening or taking action to make life better for the other?  How can you reach out to build bridges and the “beloved community” of King’s dream?

Check out these links for more reading related to Martin Luther King’s dream:  Wayne Baker's five-part series, published in 2013, reveals the disparities between the races based on Pew Research Center findings.  Read the Spirit shares this link to an interview with Jim Wallace about his new book entitled America’s Original Sin:  Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.

(Photos found at addresses and thus in public domain)

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by: Jane Bishop Halteman
January 11, 2016

The start of a new calendar year finds us poring over retrospectives and to-do lists, reflecting on clean sweeps and new challenges, taking stock and setting intentions.   

Reportedly our cues to look to the future and the past at this time of year date back to Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions after whom the month of January is named. Janus is typically represented as having two back-to-back faces, one looking ahead and one looking behind.

As we confront the next 12 months head on, some of us seek practices and disciplines to evaluate the past and organize the future, hoping to replace what’s superfluous with new goals and challenges.  Perhaps ways of operating that once worked for us no longer support the life we want to lead; alternatively, new learnings may beckon us in directions different from those to which we are accustomed.  

A simple version of the daily examen offers one way to review the last year.  Try bringing to mind the moment from the past 12 months for which you are most grateful and the moment for which you are least grateful.  What do you observe as you compare the two?  How does that observation inform your readiness to move ahead into 2016? 

I love these words from Joyce Rupp about setting intentions for the year in January:  “Our life is a journey.  We are always ‘on the road.’  Each time another January greets us, we have an opportunity to pause, to see where we have been, to notice how far we have come, and to ponder how that journey has been for us.  Each new year is also a time to clear our vision, to take stock of our resources, and to refresh our dreams as we set out once more on the journey that is ours.”

Rupp further suggests that the start of a new year is a good time to identify the people, places, events “that blessed us, affirmed us, enlivened us, and enriched us” even as we notice the “situations that challenged us, tested us, discouraged us, or maybe even tried to destroy us.”

And as we assess the past year, Rupp adds that we also might ponder our present situation.  “What are our inner resources?  Do we need to refuel, to restore our energies?  Are we prepared to continue on the road?  Have our spiritual suitcases worn thin with all the clutter we’ve stuffed into them along the way?  What kind of nourishment will we provide for ourselves as we travel?  Are we moving too slowly or too quickly?  Are we aware of the people who are on our roads?  Do we stop to meet them, listen to them, learn from them?”

Where are you headed in 2016?  What will guide you?  Some of us choose a word for the year or make resolutions to help steer the course.  Some set new goals and challenges, take up new disciplines or practices.  Some, who find sufficient comfort in the idea of a clean slate and starting fresh, manage to go with the flow and remain open to whatever comes.   

If you are not inclined to declare your own intentions for 2016, consider these recommendations made by Pope Francis at the start of 2105:  create time for others, meet the poor “in the flesh,” befriend those who disagree, make it a habit to “ask the Lord,” be happy.

David Whyte’s poem, featured here in this Parker Palmer Facebook post, promises that “inside everyone is a great shout of joy waiting to be born.”  Why not accept the challenge in 2016 to find your great shout of joy?

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by: Jane Bishop Halteman
January 4, 2016

Proponents of the liturgical year make it quite clear that Christmas is a season, not just a day.  Despite what American culture seeks to dictate, Christmastide lasts 12 days, from the Feast of the Nativity on December 25 through the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. 

This year our family exchanged Christmas gifts on January 2, by which time our consumerist society was already promoting Valentine’s Day with in-store displays.  The wrapping paper specials I like to stock up on for next year’s holiday packages were well picked over a day or two after Christmas, and by December 28 all signs of post-Christmas bargains had disappeared at the shops I frequent close to home.

Christmas, the day, was definitely behind us, and I was feeling a bit lackluster about trying to hang on to the spirit while we waited for our family celebration.  It was with great delight, then, that I watched Christmas take place in many tiny ways during our get-together, which clocked in at just over 24 hours. 

I heard Christmas happen as our 7-year-old grandsons played games together with great hilarity, as our 3-year-old granddaughter screamed in delight at her grandfather’s crazy antics, when that same 3-year-old said, “Bani, don’t juice without me!”

I chuckled at the specter of Christmas when the realist 7-year-old assured the fantasy-loving 7-year-old that the fantasy-lover was NOT Homer Simpson; I witnessed Christmas again when the family amicably agreed to forgo our traditional cinnamon buns because the baker was out of steam and none of us needed one more calorie.

I saw Christmas reflected in the appreciation one of the 7-year-olds expressed as he proudly modeled the scarf our 10-year-old granddaughter knitted as a gift for him, and I observed Christmas yet another time as the adults drank in the children’s magic show using playthings from their parents’ childhoods. 

“Christmas is the way God comes to us,” preaching pastor Janice declared yesterday in her sermon.    

We all know the story of the baby in the manger, but how does that story play itself out in our lives?  Where do we see Christmas happening in down-to-earth, ordinary ways on the home front?  Sometimes we just forget to name the smallest of happy moments as Christmas revealing itself over and over again.

Soon the Advent wreath, nativity scene, and lighted trees will disappear from the front of the sanctuary; Christmas cookies and desserts will be gone from our tables and the trappings of the holidays packed away, but the season’s official end is no reason to stop looking for signs of “the way God comes to us.”  I urge you to keep track of your personal Christmas sightings all year long!

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by: Jane Bishop Halteman
December 28, 2015

What are the best gifts you’ve ever received…at Christmas or any other time of the year? Depending on our personality types, of course, we’ll have different takes on what qualifies as a good gift, but the passing of 2015 seems an appropriate time to take stock of the things for which we are grateful this past year.

Maybe even a good opportunity to back up even farther than these last 12 months to take a longer view! No matter what your age, comb through your memory to find the stuff of life that has made you happy over the years. What experiences, incidents, encounters, happenstances do you recall with the greatest clarity or measure of gratitude?

One physical gift I remember with great fondness came from Jim many years ago. Brightly colored shards of the small mosaic glass lamp he gave me reflect light beautifully and mysteriously. A tight shot of the lamp appears in the center of the photo collage that accompanies this post.

That glowing central image anchors the photos around it of life experiences that continue to warm me: extended family interactions, long-term friendships, involvement with grandchildren in the last 10 years, and the ever-heartwarming beauties of nature and other places I notice the Divine.

Many people have made a difference in my life: professors who helped me find a profession, pastors and contemplative friends and spiritual directors who have modeled a spirituality I find compelling, parents who raised me well and have allowed me to journey with them into old age, our children and their spouses who invite me to spend quality time with their children and continue to challenge us in positive new directions.

Treasured gifts of experience and endurance come to mind as well. Our son-in-law gave the women in our family (his wife and daughter, our daughter-in-law, and me) a Women’s Day Out gift one Christmas, which we experienced together on a warm April day with trips to Peter Pan, a pleasant coffee shop, our favorite lunch spot, and a nail salon. What an extravagant, pleasurable, memorable day of togetherness that gift offered. And the warm memories continue…

Last Mother’s Day the family surprised me with a landscape design plan, which was installed this past fall; it has afforded me much pleasure already as I have watched it come to be and as I anticipate seeing it change and grow in the future.

Jim’s long-term employer gave us the opportunity to travel together as a family every other summer when our children were small as he took students on trips to Europe. That gift gave then and it continues to give now as we still love travel and exposure to cultures other than our own.

Twice in my life I have met quite unexpectedly people who have become important to me in life-changing ways. When our daughter went to Belfast for nine months with Mennonite Mission Network between high school and college, she began second-guessing her decision, so that I found it difficult to leave her after spending 10 days helping her get settled.

By happenstance (or more likely Providence), I met a couple from Belfast in the Dublin airport as they were headed for Boston and I was returning to the USA. They invited me to airport tea and inquired about my business in Northern Ireland. Upon learning that Meg would be staying in Belfast until June, they committed to making a connection with her on their return from Boston.

I believed that they would, though my family teased me about the airport pickup and wondered why I expected them to keep their promise. Nearly three months passed before we learned that they had, indeed, made a connection. No amount of looking for the organization she was with had produced results for quite some time, but one night on an unseasonably warm walk to dinner that December, they passed an open outer office door which listed the names of organizations lodged there, including the one where Meg was a volunteer. They inquired of a doorman whether or not an American girl worked there and made contact soon after. Their care for her was the best gift that holiday season, and one that I have been grateful for over and over these past 15 years.

In the fall of 2009 the gift of another important connection came to me, again with no orchestration on my part. As a 16-year-old, I lost a boyfriend in a truck accident and 12 years later my 18-year-old brother died in a car crash. I did not do sufficient grief work around either of those painful deaths, but, miraculously, incentive to unearth that old pain arrived with a most unexpected crossing of paths with my boyfriend’s younger brother, whom I did not recall.

We found a way to walk that journey together and eventually were able to recommend that our high school establish a memorial garden to remember our brothers, other students who died before graduation, and all alumni no longer living. Not only did we plan and execute a worship service and dedication event for the garden, but I was able to introduce my high school classmates to the space, where we shared a variety of personal griefs and losses at our 50-year reunion in the fall of 2014.

I am grateful for all these good gifts and I would love to hear about yours. Tell me your stories, fellow Kern Roaders, so we can share them as future blog posts here at Glimpses of Healing and Hope!

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by: Jane Bishop Halteman
December 21, 2015

Late sunrises, early sunsets, the low arc of the sun across the sky each day, and lengthy noontime shadows declare the arrival of the winter solstice, marking the year’s shortest day and longest night.

It is during this season when merriment and festivity take center stage and our culture screams glitter, that many churches, including ours, have chosen to acknowledge with a longest night service that Christmas can be a bittersweet time for those suffering grief and loss, whether the anguish of broken relationships or lost loved ones, the insecurity of unemployment, the weariness of ill health, the pain of isolation, the aches of poverty, violence, injustice. 

We will take time together to recognize our sadness and yearning to know God’s presence in the midst of pain Tuesday, December 22, at 7 p.m.  Join us in the sanctuary to declare that we experience darkness in many ways, even (or perhaps especially) during our culture’s long holiday celebration encompassing Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.  At this time of the year, when daylight diminishes to barely nine and one half hours, it can be difficult to picture six months from now when daylight will prevail once again for 15 to 16 hours.

Called a Blue Christmas service in some circles, the longest night observance offers space away from the constant December refrain reminding us that this is the season to be jolly.  For some, this Christmas may be the first year without a loved one or a job or perhaps the first year with new knowledge of a serious health issue.  For many, the season becomes a particularly difficult time as we try to balance painful losses even as others are celebrating their joy with family and friends.

As we move through this darkness of the winter solstice and begin the return to longer days and shorter nights, we pause during the longest night service to remember the dark times in our own lives and the lives of others.  We will witness the lighting of our Advent wreath candles, with the first candle representing our own grief, the second our courage, the third our memories, and the fourth our love.  Participants also will be offered the opportunity to light candles and plant them in sand to recognize burdens, griefs, sorrows, or whatever makes Christmas a “blue” time for themselves, others, and our world. 

Join us to proclaim that, even in our despair, God promises to walk with us as we experience insecurity, grief, and isolation.  We will find solace together in this hope, with prayer, scripture reading, music, and quiet time.  If you know folks who are lonely or sad or disappointed, people who are suffering from the holiday blues, invite them to join us in this safe space where we will seek God’s comfort and embrace as we wait and watch together for the Dawn.  

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by: Jane Bishop Halteman
December 14, 2015

I sat in a St. Joseph County Superior courtroom a week ago waiting with 70 prospective jurors to see which of us would be selected to serve as the jury for a murder trial scheduled to start the following day.  The thought of using this time productively to wait in Advent did not occur to me…not even after I had suggested to readers just two weeks ago that they might wait productively at a railroad crossing or in a long line at the grocery check-out!

No, even before I knew an hour in that this was a murder trial, my mind was filled with the trivia of questions like these:  where will I park for four-five hours in downtown South Bend, where will I find the restroom closest to the courtroom in which I would be lodged for hours, how would I affirm that I promised to speak the truth and nothing but the truth rather than being “sworn” in, would my number be sufficiently high that the lawyers might never get to me as they polled their way through the pool of would-be jurors?

Although I was more than 15 minutes early, the room was nearly filled with people when I arrived, so full that I had to wedge myself between two men with not much room to spare on the chair between them.  After waiting for late-comers, we trudged to the courtroom for a video about the process, then back to the waiting room for no apparent reason, before we returned to the courtroom for a more than two-hour diatribe by the judge, who weeded out exactly three potential jurors during that time and never got to asking the lawyers to take their turns.

The judge suggested repeatedly that we guard against “mind static” that could distract us during the trial, that might prevent us from concentrating on the matter at hand.  (My mind static jumped into high gear upon the realization that I might have to report back the next day as jury selection surely could not finish by 5 or 6 p.m.)   We “met” the defendant and his lawyer, the prosecution team, and the court staff, all before learning more about the nature of the accusations, which involved lengthy descriptions of three counts I couldn’t sort out. 

We were reminded over and over and over again that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  Two of the three prospective jurors dismissed by the judge expressed difficulty with the concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” based on the fact that they had good friends who are police people and prosecutors, that they tend to trust the information gathered by detectives and prosecutors.  It was difficult, they said, to presume innocence in the face of such duly collected evidence.

After more waiting, while the judge spoke privately with the 11 remaining potential jurors who were among the first 14 to be selected for examination, six of them returned to the courtroom, where the rest of us had stayed in our seats with instructions to chat among ourselves.  Those more experienced with the jury selection process knew the proceedings seemed highly irregular, but none of us could have imagined hearing these words from the judge on his return:  “Well, here’s the deal…you (pointing to the six in the jury box) and all of you (pointing to the rest of us) are dismissed.”   He added that in his 30 years as a Superior Court judge in South Bend, this was the first time that the entire pool of prospective jurors had been released!  Something, which would not be explained to us, had happened during the proceedings…something that might lead to a difficulty the judge did not want to deal with once the court case was under way.

And so we were all declared free to go…having waited nearly four hours for exactly nothing to transpire!  No one would need to return the next day, for continued jury selection or as the jury of choice.  The young mother seated next to me would be spared finding childcare while her husband had a medical procedure, the classroom teacher I met in the restroom line wouldn’t have to scramble for another sub, the man due to fly out of O’Hare Friday morning for an extended trip needed to fear no longer that his travel plans would be disrupted by the trial, the woman whose husband suffers with Parkinson’s would make it home in time to feed him, and I could avoid making a last-minute postponement of a directee visit. 

Decidedly grateful for these reprieves, those summoned and now released unexpectedly spilled down the courthouse steps onto the streets of South Bend and disappeared quickly into a variety of nearby parking lots and garages, where cars and cell phones waited.  The woman with whom I crossed the street was eager to call her son-in-law, a district attorney whom she expected would understand more than we did about the sudden dismissal of all of us.  As we parted ways, she told me about the young man she had sat beside, a self-proclaimed risk-taker who declared he had parked in a two-hour space just to see if he could beat the system. 

But what of the accused…how much longer will he have to wait?  How will this delay impact the victim’s family as they wait in Advent?  Does this third-week-of-Advent-story speak to where we find ourselves in the waiting?  What are the obstacles to waiting well?  What are the opportunities? Are there surprises in the lingering?  Even when we don’t understand what just happened, what learnings might there be for us as Advent people?  Is it possible to notice green shoots of redemption while we wait? 

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By Jane Bishop Halteman
December 7, 2015

Getting cozy may not be the first thing that comes to mind as you consider how you want to spend Advent, that time when we are typically waiting and watching, considering exile and darkness, looking toward the arrival of warmth and light.

Last year about this time a friend alerted me to the Danish concept of hygge, the practice of which I attribute to making this dark time of the year a much more manageable season for me personally.  Typically, I dread these long nights, the grim, gray days that sometimes accompany winter in northern Indiana, and the serious cold air that blows over Lake Michigan in December.  

Inadequately translated as “coziness,” hygge, according to one source, has much more to do with “the art of creating intimacy:  a sense of comradeship, conviviality, and contentment all rolled into one” and definitely is “not something you can do in a rush…you have to slow down for it.”

“Gezellig” is the word the Dutch use to explain this kind of positive togetherness, generated by sharing good food, warm companionship and ambiance, perhaps a hot drink, and candlelight.  According to Wikipedia, the word “means cozy, quaint, or nice, but can also connote time spent with loved ones, seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness.” 

Jessica Alexander of the Greater Good Science Center says this about hygge:  “Try to imagine going to a drama-free family gathering. There are no divisive discussions about politics, family issues, or Aunt Jenny’s dysfunctional kids. No snide comments, complaining, or heavy negativity. Everyone helps out, so that not one person gets stuck doing all the work. No one brags, attacks anyone, or competes with another. It is a light-hearted, balanced interaction that is focused on enjoying the moment, the food, and the company. In short, a shelter from the outside world.”

Alexander goes on to write that “feeling connected to others gives meaning and purpose to all of our lives. Social ties can increase longevity, reduce stress, and even boost our immune system. By dedicating specific time to hygge we can create a safe space for families and friends to be together without stress. However, it takes everyone wanting this and working together to achieve it.”

As the season changes and our moods shift to the waiting of Advent, I’m especially enjoying my own living room with hygge created by the warmth and light of our fireplace, Christmas tree, candles here and there, invigorating holiday music, the pleasant fragrances of cooking or baking, and maybe a mug of something hot.  

Visiting with family and friends, sharing a meal, taking in seasonal experiences, cooking or baking together…all of these times of togetherness help build the camaraderie associated with hygge.

How will your relationships, your observances of Advent and Christmas be warmed and lit by hygge this year?  As we prepare in Advent to celebrate the greatest gift, how will you create a warm glow for yourself that will seep into the lives of others around you?

For starters, you might want to watch Christine Sine's 2015 Advent video entitled Lean towards the Light.  Or listen to this YouTube video of Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium.


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by: Jane Bishop Halteman
November 30, 2015

How do you observe Advent at your house?  When I was a child, my home church did not celebrate the season of Advent, which marks that time of waiting for the birth of the Christ child and the start of the new liturgical year four Sundays before Christmas day.

Taking note of Advent is said to enhance the celebration of Christmas for those willing to work at creating a God-focused time during what typically threatens to become a hectic period of the year.

Author Jan Richardson puts it this way:  “On the journey toward Christmas, it can be tempting to race toward the light that we know is coming.  Advent counsels us to wait, to pay attention to how God is present even in the shadows, long before the light arrives.  Whatever the texture of the darkness we may journey through—the painful darkness of loss, grief, and suffering, or the hopeful darkness of anticipation, mystery, and dreaming—God desires to meet us there, to use even the darkness as a place of discernment, of creating, of imagining:  a place where a way is made and a map begins, even when we cannot see.”

Watching and waiting, finding time to pause as we mark the advance of time during this season can be a fruitful exercise.  We are acquainted with Advent wreaths and calendars, which help us document weekly or daily milestones along the approximately four-week journey between the first Sunday of Advent and the arrival of Christmas.

If children are part of the household, making fun outings or an effort to be of service can help document the passage of time.  Consider excursions to pick up the tree, see a holiday-themed play or musical event, participate in KRMC’s hanging of the greens, view your town’s light displays.

As a family service project, you might make cookies to give your neighbors during Advent, donate food or cook at a local pantry, take your gently used clothing to a nearby shelter, collect outgrown toys for a nearby charity, gather a group to sing carols at a nursing home or retirement community, adopt a family for the holidays to share a meal or gifts, do a random act of kindness or pay forward a drink at a local coffee shop.

To mark movement through the season and tailor it to your own household, design activities your family will enjoy.  We and our grown children and their families and friends still get a kick out of horn caroling Advent hymns as we turn our fingers into brass instruments.  You might decorate your house to reveal the warmth of the season and invite in friends and neighbors, create an Advent devotional by repeating the O Antiphons, listen to meaningful Advent music, shop at a fair trade crafts shop for gifts or home décor, or explore international Christmas traditions and recipes.

Experiment with waiting in Advent by practicing waiting well in a lengthy grocery check-out line or for a frustratingly long freight train on your drive to or from work.  Using triggers like these may remind you of how you want to wait in Advent. 

Find ways to create and build spaciousness into your life so that you might observe the difference between chronos time (related to clocks, calendars, and schedules) and kairos time (God’s time, during which we pause to find glimpses of the Divine).  As we wait during Advent for God to break into our time, we also become more intentional about developing our watching and waiting skills.

World events, grief and loss, loneliness, and a variety of other life happenings sometimes make the cultural frenzy of the weeks before Christmas a very difficult time.  KRMC’s Longest Night service on December 22 will acknowledge that Advent and Christmas can be a tough time of the year. 

Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love, a book of his journal entries written during a trying period of his life, has been selected by the Henri Nouwen Society’s virtual community for their on-line Advent book discussion in 2015: “It was written during a time of recovery from a breakdown that left Henri feeling he had lost everything: self-esteem, the energy to live and work, the ability to love and be loved… even his hope in God. But out of this incredible personal anguish comes healing and hope, a light to dissipate the personal darkness in which Henri found himself enveloped.” 

And it is the Advent darkness-to-light theme that made this book a good choice for this year’s virtual study guide.  Take time this Advent to notice in your daily activities themes of exile and longing, of waiting in the darkness, of watching for the light, as you seek to be ever more aware of God’s movement in the world. 

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