Written By: Caela Collins
As Christmas 2023 approaches, I find it harder to separate the idea of the Holy Family’s past from the Holy Land’s present. Many feelings around the Holy Land’s past and future call attention to duality, refuge, belonging, and intergenerational knowledge. Much like the Holy Family, there are countless families today still searching for safety and fleeing injustice. I don’t know what 2024 will bring, but what I do know to be true is that God always finds a way to us amid troubling times—guiding us and helping us find a way home.
It is no coincidence that creation mirrors the liturgical seasons. Advent, which is in the winter, is a time of darkness and anticipation for light, and light is what leads us home. Uncertainty is the only constant in life, but similarly to the first and second candles of Advent, we can find hope and peace in the light of the Lord, who always leads us home. Sometimes “home” looks different than what we intended it to look like. It may even be miles away from your birthplace. But just like the stable Christ was born in, there is unassuming beauty in finding God in places we don’t normally tend to look.
During this past year, I’ve explored stories with you that discussed holding sacred space for duality, seeking refuge in a foreign land, pursuing belonging as an act of self-acceptance, and leaning into intergenerational knowledge. Some of these stories are thematically linked through the rest of the piece. It’s my hope that through these small recollections of themes, peace may sprout. The final theme I present to you this December is “Finding Home.”
Finding a Spiritual Home
The theme for this year’s 10th anniversary of Spring Training & Gathering was “Invite. Welcome. Connect,” which is a framework for intentional practices of evangelism, hospitality, and belonging. At the core of its teaching is the idea of having brave conversations:
Invite: When you invite people to your parish events and services, it’s not only about inviting people into a relationship with your community but rather inviting them into a relationship with Jesus.
Tips: Break the ice with local businesses, town hall, schools (pre-k through college), community centers, other churches (interfaith bonds), charities, police, and fire stations by starting a conversation on common ground. A commonality is that you all care about your local town and the people within it. Discover the various ways they use their unique skills and talents to contribute to the local community, and invite them to join your efforts in helping the community through partnership. Release expectations and pressure. Embrace helping others, know what’s coming up for your parish calendar, and affirm that they are welcome to join, participate, or simply gift their presence.
Welcome: Genuinely invite new people to your parish, affirm that they are wanted, welcome them with open arms when they have the courage to show up, and re-affirm that their presence was vital and made a meaningful difference.
Tips: It all boils down to acceptance and love; when you can exhibit that to someone who may be new or re-introduced to church, that is the act of participating in God’s mission for a more inclusive and loving world. A brave invitation opens the door for the brave first step of someone new to your parish, which in turn allows them to feel truly welcomed within your parish community and to start a relationship with Christ.
Connect: Foster genuine connection by being your authentic self and allow a safe space for them to be their authentic self. This requires the sacred act of listening; be an active listener by paying attention, showing that you’re being present with them, deferring judgement, and responding appropriately.
Tips: Hear their story first. Ask questions that will help your neighbors discern their gifts. Take thoughtful and friendly action to build a genuine connection and a safe space. Leave behind the evangelical sales pitch and speak from a place of presence and friendliness.
Finding a Home within Your Mind
Not only in the busy season of Advent and Christmas, it is imperative to build a beautiful home within your mind to house your thoughts. Based on cognitive science, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day, of which 80% are negative. Overall, we spend 47% of our time thinking, which is more time than we spend doing most day-to-day things. This is why it’s important to be intentionally kind to yourself.
When you have repetitive negative thoughts, that creates a dungeon-like atmosphere with no life, no light, and no hope. When you counteract negative thoughts with various mindfulness practices, that dungeon in your head is instantly renovated into a beautified space filled with your favorite things—vibrant colors, rays of sunshine, bountiful plants, and a comfy bed that rivals what even the highest-rated hotel suite could offer. Make it a point to visualize a beautiful space that you can visit during tough times; explore what decor would bring you the most hope, peace, love, and joy. We live in our heads most of the time, so take care of your inner home!
ECCT Wellness Videos:
- Louisa Baker, ECCT Director of Wellness Programs
- The Rev. Allison St. Louis, P.H.D
- Grounding Exercise
- How to Maintain Mental Health via ECCT Staff
Finding a Home with Others
“We spoke about the difference between being a tourist and being a pilgrim. As a staff member at St. George’s College once said, ‘a tourist is one who passes through the land, while a pilgrim is one who is open to having the land pass through her or him.” In other words, we go on this journey not just to ‘see sights,’ but rather to experience scripture in new and current ways.” These are words from The Rev. Dr. Lisa D. Hahneman, Priest-in-Charge at St. John’s, New Milford regarding the first in-person gathering of hopeful Holy Land pilgrims from the Holy Landers Ministry Network.
The Holy Landers Ministry Network is more than a pilgrimage group; it is a network of Episcopalians who seek to view our world through revitalized eyes. To allow foreign lands to remind them that we, as a people of all nationalities and backgrounds, are not merely words from the ancient text of the Bible but the living word in creation. Reaching back to the past to forge new paths for the future of Christ’s followers. Deepening their faith through a connection to the Holy Land’s past while finding spiritual home in the present and anchoring themselves in the mission of advancing the future by cultivating peace is how they hope to find home with others.
As we further uncover ways of “finding home,” let us remember to hold those who are currently in the Holy Land in our hearts and pray for a resolution to take place. May we give grace to those we do not understand and make intentional steps towards peace. May we lean on intergenerational knowledge passed down from the nativity story and know that God is with us in every season, even in times of persecution. Below are resources and an evening liturgy from the Holy Landers Meeting: