Mindfulness

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

—Luke 2:15-20

Of all the passages about Mary’s reaction to her pregnancy and the birth of her son, this is probably my favorite. It is no big surprise that the shepherds are beside themselves with the news; it’s not every day you receive a direct command from angels who appear out of nowhere. When they arrive, they have to explain why they showed up, so they tell the amazing story of how a ragtag group of shepherds heard about a baby born in a barn. Naturally, their story causes a great deal of excitement. All who heard it were amazed, the Scripture says. But then comes the “But.” All were amazed, BUT Mary took it further and “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” By this point, Mary is used to angels appearing and making proclamations. What she knows is that her baby has now arrived, and the stories that cause such wonder and amazement are simply moments of her already special newborn’s uniquely special first days.

In our world, thanks to our 24/7 news sources, we have many opportunities to live into the excitement of others’ lives. Our voyeuristic obsessions with Real Housewives, the Kardashians, or a millionaire matchmaker add to the chaos of our own busy-ness and sometimes to our own disillusionment. We ponder the amazing events in the lives of others and compare our lives to theirs. However, each December I watch White Christmas and nod in agreement when Bing Crosby sings, “When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I fall asleep counting my blessings.” Sometimes counting blessings seems nearly impossible, but when I really look, I find that my life is full of wonder and joy of which I should be mindful. I pray we all will find that to be true. Maybe in the new year we can take our cue from Mary and spend more time in quiet reflection, pondering our own wonders and filling our hearts with those moments of true awe.

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Courtney Jones holds a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University and is currently an M. Div. student at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton, MA. Originally from Arkansas, she is an active member of Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, MA. Her academic and personal interests are focused on LGBTQI theology, and she feels called to a career of pastoral care and counseling.

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New Years Paradox

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. [S]He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, [s]he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

—Ecclesiastes 3: 1-13

New Year’s is probably my least favorite holiday. After the anticipation of Advent and the joy of Christmas, New Year’s feels like a harsh reality check. In addition to seeing the clean slate of a brand new year, I can’t help but see the ways in which the past year has and has not met my expectations. Call me a pessimist, but with each passing year, January 1 calls attention to how quickly our lives pass. I go to the parties and ring in the New Year dancing and making merry, but when Auld Lang Syne (which is a really sad song!) begins to play, I lose myself in a reverie of “if only”s. If only I’d stuck with my diet, I would be 30 pounds lighter. If only I’d realized my calling sooner, I could be further ahead in my career. If only…well, you get the idea. It can be endless!

I do not say this to be a killjoy. For me, New Year’s is an occasion that incites an emotional paradox. It just seems to me that there is a time to mourn as well as a time to dance, and sometimes the two are one and the same. As Dolly Parton’s character says in Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion!” Sometimes life is not as clear cut as the author of Ecclesiastes would like us to believe. God has made everything suitable for its time, but sometimes it feels like the time for everything is now. Our lives, and the lives of those we encounter, are often paradoxical. Because “it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil,” I have to believe that even when it feels like everything is happening at once, God calls us to embrace those moments of paradox, to take pleasure in life even when life is not easy.

Much like the emotional paradox it creates in me, New Year’s encompasses both the known past and the unknown future in a single day. The Scripture says that God “has put a sense of past and future into [our] minds.” As we enter a new year, filled with hope and possibility, we can reflect on the past as well. God meets us in the instant between past and future, offering us opportunities to co-create new and unimagined futures. God calls us to honor our time and to be partners in “what God is doing from beginning to end.” How can we respond in ways that honor the past and do justice to the potential the future holds? May we take great pleasure in life this year, and may we be faithful listeners who can embrace paradox and respond in compassionate ways.

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Courtney Jones holds a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University and is currently an M. Div. student at Andover Newton Theological Seminary in Newton, MA. Originally from Arkansas, she is an active member of Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, MA. Her academic and personal interests are focused on LGBTQI theology, and she feels called to a career of pastoral care and counseling.