Still Life for Christmas

As I sit, still, in the curated Christmas décor of my living room, I see in the imperceptibly shifting sunbeam, the motionless candle-powered nativity carousel. Like me, it is locked in still life. In a week, it will be spinning above the flicker of flame, Mary always flowing backward round the center pillar, with Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men chasing her forward, Jesus sleeping blissfully in the middle. Likewise, I will be flitting around the kitchen trying to turn back time to get all the baking done, while my kids chase each other from activity to activity, my husband blissfully enamored with his game on his first day off of work. 

Christmas Carousel for "Still Life at Christmas" for kimberleymulder.com
Christmas Carousel by Kimberley Mulder

In my still life today I consider the stillness. I revel in it and welcome it, especially after the full weeks preceding.

Still life paintings have always repelled and attracted me. In one sense they seem futile—why capture a bowl of fruit on canvas for ages to come? Was the fruit so special it deserved a legacy beyond its ripe lifetime? What message is there in such common things?

What an oxymoron—“still” “life”! Life is, by definition, not still. It is characterized by growth, activity, and change.

In another sense still life artwork captures, and creates, a beauty otherwise missed. We can enter, at any time, a glad contemplation of these exquisite momentary gifts. Their legacy, born of stillness, is the growth of wonder and gratitude, of seeing the world a different way.

On the wall to my left is another nativity scene, inanimate in its painted composition, but it elicits in me wonder and gratitude, focusing me when I am still enough to look at it—to enter it. Frequently it is in stillness that we can find life.

 “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Cody F. Miller's "Birth of Jesus" for "Still Life at Christmas" blog at kimberleymulder.com
Picture of Cody F. Miller’s “Birth of Jesus”

The flurry of our efforts can bring us closer to death, to stillness. When we carelessly rush about, trying to make things happen without considering their purpose, their toll, their role in our lives, we will fray. Our physical bodies will tell us in its relentless mental fog, high blood pressure, aching muscles, headaches, anxious sleeplessness, and more. This psalm was written most likely in the midst of war, in the midst of trying to save themselves from attack, and in the middle of that, he says: “Be still.”

Is your December feeling more like a preparation for a battalion to go to war with all the logistics of schedules, provisions, and preparedness? Is your body trying to get your attention? Is God?

“Be still.”

Your life, body and soul, depend on it.

Be still in God. He’s got this. Like in the psalm, it’s his actions that protect us, provide for us. He wants to be with us. And isn’t that what Christmas is about? Emmanuel—God with us, infusing our lives with the rejuvenating stillness of being together, of faith. The legacy of the still life of our fruit bowl of the soul is a rioting, wild world around us slowly taking notice, as the exquisite characteristics of our still lives in the spirit catch their eyes. And then the rest of verse 10 erupts: “I will be exalted in the earth,” as wonder at our solid faith draws people into their own still and solid lives with Emmanuel.

Let There Be Light

Light’s radiance—there is a core from which it comes, its spreading brilliance splaying on anything or anyone.

The visible spectrum rays touch the surface of things, irrespective of what they fall on to. But the invisible ultraviolet rays penetrate into the darkness underneath, into walls and bodies, dense and hidden innards.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by the power of his word.” Hebrews 1:3

Patterns of Light from "Let There Be Light" at kimberleymulder.com
Photo by Kimberley Mulder

In this winter season of darkness, of waiting for Christmas where we don’t see fully yet, may we take notice of the light of Jesus speckling our lives with patterns of grace. And may we be aware that this is just the surface—his radiance glows deep into our hearts and souls, cauterizing wounds, warming cold hearts, and radiating the good work of sustaining his grace in your life.

Let the light catch your eye and hold your attention for a few moments. Whether the shifting glow of sunrise on bare branches, a shimmer off the shiver of ice upon wending water, a brilliant gloss carpeting indiscriminately, a mute radiance of smoky clouds—pause to take it in, let it filter into your soul.

Engage in purposeful pause—a silent staring into a flame can draw your mind into a spacious place. A space to let your shoulders shift back down, your breath draw in with grace, and your creased brow to soften, where your spirit can flicker forth at last to dance.

Advent Candle for "Let There Be Light" at kimberleymulder.com
Photo by Kimberley Mulder

In this season of muchness, find a flame to focus on, and dial down to let your spirit speak. The season, and life in general, is so much richer and enjoyable when we engage with our whole being.

There is light.

It is here.

For you.

Enjoy.

Christmas Tree Reflections

What follows is not a criticism of decorating and finding joy in doing so at Christmas, for there is much to celebrate! It is right to celebrate, pulling out all the stops to do so, for God brings us joy and goodness. He even instituted celebrations in the Old Testament so that we would be drawn into the joy of his giving. So, please, take joy in your festivities, but may they also be something that reconnects you to the giver of your life.

“Out a shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit…”

Isaiah 11:1, 10-11

When we cut down a tree, we use or dispose of the trunk and branches and leaves. Maybe for firewood to keep us warm or make s’mores, perchance some artwork or furniture, and in these uses there is good. But there is also finality. Those limbs will not live any longer and eventually they will decay or burn.

Even a “live” Christmas tree, as beautiful as it is, has been sentenced to death.

How symbolic it is that we, in our efforts to beautify our world, cause death in the process. Like our beloved Christmas trees, when we are cut off from our roots and earth, from that which gave us Life, we may shine for a time but die shortly. We are as unable to draw Life into being as a Christmas tree.

We are drawn to the quick pretty, to the fleeting glow of bright things. In our (at least in Ohio) monochromatic gray winters we look for any distracting sparkle we can find. We twist billions of colored lights over millions of trees for a time.

But God sees the dark stump. He sees the Life that is bound deep inside it, for He put it there. And He has not forgotten it. He draws upon the riches in His heart, the deep promises He has made, and begins the lengthy, laborious, hidden process of growth.

Christmas is not about the tree and the glamour; it is about a stump. A stump out of which will grow an entire kingdom of glory, full of radiant people, warm-hearted and whole, gladly affixed to the new Life. No baubles needed, no plug-in lights, or tinsel sparkle, for Life itself shines brightly out of each branch.

As you gaze at your Christmas tree this year, may it remind you that you are a branch (or can be a branch) in the tree of Life that is Jesus. May it remind you to abide and remain connected to the stump, to the life source. Like the star that guided the wise men to Jesus, may it serve to shine your attention on the source of your Life, the source of all Life, and the great growing of it that He is doing today and always.

The Doorway to Wisdom

Garland, on a fantastic sale, roped me in. Soon I was deep in the scrolling, pictures of fake evergreen to festoon my doorway flitting before me. Fantasies of sparkling greenery shimmering in new-fallen snow glimmered in my imagination. Until I realized how much time had passed and that I had purposed to write today about the doorway to wisdom! Wisdom’s doorway is not draped with discount plastic greenery!

Proverbs 8 is the personification of Wisdom, and in it she calls out to us. In verse 34 we read:

“Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” Prov. 8:34

How inviting, how decked out would Wisdom’s house be? Would it be the grandest on the block? The simplest but most elegant? The unadorned? What would cry out to the passersby “Wisdom lives here!”

I picture a palace; a high, gilded doorway, rich with gold and fancy with filigree. Floors of exquisite colored tiles. Enormous, breathtaking paintings. This would make me want to linger in awe like a tourist in an exotic palace.

Maybe Wisdom’s doorway would be filled with ancient splendor that only the attentive archaeologist knows is valuable. The uninformed or fad follower would pass by it as old junk.

How does one recognize Wisdom’s doorway?

Continue reading the full post at https://anchoredvoices.com/2017/12/14/wisdoms-doorway/

God Within Our Limitations

Becoming a mom was, and continues to be, the most challenging thing I have ever faced. Greater than the hours of musical discipline, greater than being plunged into another language and culture, greater than months of severe illness. Rather than in one or two areas, as the aforementioned challenges were, being mom challenges me in every way. It has brought me to the end of my limits over and over.

First the physical limits of carrying, birthing and caring for fragile life. But intertwined with these physical challenges are the faith challenges, the emotional challenges, the mental challenges. Every challenge highlights another limit of mine.

My over-confident, zealous, I’m-going-to-change-the-world!, twenty year old self has died on the rocks of motherhood. Yes, these limits of mine are not going away.

How did Mary manage to acquiesce to the Lord so quickly? We know so little of her background. We can assume that she lived under the cultural constraints of her time. She appears in the New Testament as a woman who was like all other women, living within her culture comfortably. There certainly seems to be no attitude of pride or ambition in her humble welcoming of the angel Gabriel’s message. Unlike Gideon, she asked not for fleeces. Unlike Moses, she did not cry a cowardly “I am inadequate!”. Unlike Zechariah, priest of God that he was, she did not question the Lord. Despite her limits of upbringing, personality, youth and unmarried status, she did not quiz the Lord on how this could be. God said it would be, and she said yes. She was able to agree with the Lord quickly because she accepted her limits and she accepted, carte blanche, the limitlessness of God. And so, the Giver of Life grew inside of her life.

Baby Jesus, limitless God, curled himself up into a fetal ball inside of Mary and grew within her limited body. He extended her, the natural growing to expand around the supernatural life inside. God deemed to take on our limitations.

How to live the call to house a limitless God in my limited life? In what ways does his grace and presence grow in my life and extend me to what I thought was not possible? And if God can accept to grow, even desire to grow, in the limited confines of the created human life, then how am I to view my limits?

We must allow God to initiate and command the extension of boundaries, not our selfish ambitions or grand dreams. We live in a culture that demands we break through our boundaries, that we not give in to the limits we have, that we must overcome everything. We war against ourselves when we ignore our God-given boundaries.

Largely because of our culture, I usually see the limitation of my energy, with which I wrestle every day, as a hindrance and a curse. But what if it is meant to embody the life of God? God does not condemn my lack of energy, rather he comes to me in compassion offering rest and care, and is willing to work within these confines under which I am born.

I fall prey to the lies that I am not enough, what I do is not enough, a never-ending drive to impress and please. God does not look at our limitations and say: “overcome it, do more!”, like a hounding coach. Rather he surrounds us with the encouragement of his word, his witnesses and his presence and urges us to stay close as we press on within our limited ways.

How might you and I say yes, I am limited AND yes, my limits do not limit God. Has God spoken a word of expansion into your life that you doubt he is able to fulfill? Do your limits discourage you? I suggest that, rather than rail against them, accept them for they are yours, and then accept God into them.

Lord, I am deeply limited, but I am so by your command and allowance. You made me, you love me and you live in me. I praise you that you, O limitless God, actually love to live within me, in my constraints and in my body and life. How valuable you make my limited life!

I pray, Lord, that when I come up hard against my limits, I also come up hard against your love. Be present to me in them. I accept your grace into them and refuse my own condemnation of them.

And when you call me to extend myself in your name, to grow and enlarge as I make room for your kingdom, I pray for faith and courage that you will provide all I need to grow – the support, the sustenance, and the guidance. When I am afraid of this new territory and am beyond my previous limits may I turn to you and see that you do not demand proof that I can do this, but instead assure me that you are with me and glad to be doing this growing together.