LISTEN TO THE STILLNESS

I stand in the stillness and simply listen. A cardinal boldly sings, welcoming the new morning. He begins with that familiar whistle, and then breaks into beautiful song. Nearby, a woodpecker is busy working on a tree, his pecking beating like a rhythmic drum serving as background to the cardinal. Birds of all kinds chirp in the clump of evergreens, adding chorus to this morning. A robin perches in a birch tree, her brown chest providing perfect contrast to the white bark. There is a chill in the air, the kind of chill that comes with anticipation and hope. Slowly, new life is being unveiled, both on this morning and in this season. My soul finds peace and harmony in these moments of awakening.

O Lord, it is a privilege for me to be here. This is a gift…a blessing. You have called me to calm myself, to seek sanctuary, and to observe. For a few fleeting minutes, I watch and listen, as I imagine You do as well. I marvel at the calm around me, and wish all my days felt as this. May I never cease to experience wonder at the sights and sounds of Your creation. May I never forget the privilege I have in being a member of this, Your divine family of life. May the songs of these creatures never cease to make my heart smile. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

The Wisdom of the Grove

A grove of trees stand watch over their tiny little corner of creation. They have taken a beating over the past few months, enduring heavy snows and ice storms that tested their flexibility, and high winds that buffeted against their limbs for hours at a time. They have even experienced some of the coldest temperatures they have seen in their lifetime. Yet, each has survived this grueling and harsh season of darkness with grace and strength. In the days to come, the sun will shine warmer and longer, and the earth will thaw around their roots. For the past century or so, these siblings have experienced the cycles of life continue to rotate about them on an annual basis. For the past century, they have grown up together. There may no longer be new growth in this grove, but there is always new life.

In the weeks ahead, a new generation of birds will join some familiar old friends in building nests and making a home amidst this grove. A woodpecker will pound away at their trunks while a cardinal gently rests and sings. Squirrels will joyfully jump from limb to limb, the entire grove being their playground. Deer will wander below casually, while the trees provide a canopy for protection. Raccoons and skunks will continue to scavenge the ground, knowing these giants intimately as their neighborhood. Grass will grow, the world will change, and the trees will rejoice. Even so, they will also find themselves feeling sad, missing an old friend with a loving soul. But trees have a wisdom that only comes with extreme longevity of life. They know that God is in the business of perpetuating relationship. They know that God never stops creating anew in every corner of the earth and the heavens. They know that something so mundane as life in one place can bring with it such indescribable joy even in the midst of such deep sorrow. They know that God is ever-present, ever-loving, and ever-working. They know that God’s faith is everlasting. This community of trees knows all of this, because they uniquely are called to serve as a liaison of God’s breath within this world. And they know that while seasons in life may become hard, beauty is forever within our sight! Such is the wisdom of the grove. If only these trees could speak…ah, but perhaps they always have. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

THE FOREST

A young tree stands amongst giants in the forest. Today she is only a couple years old, claiming her place in the shadows of her ancestors who tower over her. She aspires to be them one day. This young lady has already come to know the way of the forest. In this community, the largest and strongest are called to provide shelter amidst storms, and even support others as they fall. Every member of this unique family is equally welcome to partake in the fruit of the soil, and their roots all intertwine beneath the earth for added stability. Diversity is very much welcomed in this city of life, as every tree grows into its own – and yet shared – space. Even in their death, the older trees literally will every nutrient and resource of their being to those around them – as one final gift of life. And so, on this glorious morning, as light streams through the thickness and reflects off her tiny leaves, she dreams of generations to come, and those that she will someday sprout to new life herself.
Such are the ways of the forest. This is pure life as God has intended. All are welcome here. Gifts are shared here. The strong raise up the weak here. Death brings the possibility of resurrection and new life here. Generations slowly pass by, handing down the wisdom of adaptability amidst the changing seasons of life. The virtues of calm, peace and quiet are the norm on most days, with storms being viewed simply as opportunities for growth. God walks through these woods every morning and every night, smiling as the Spirit gently blows a shaping wind. All the while, a young tree grows, knowing that she too is one of God’s beloved, placed in this world with intention. Amen.
Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

A Soul Is Calmed

On this bitter cold evening, just a sliver of the crescent moon is visible low in the midnight sky. What little light it reflects into the darkness glistens upon snow packs coated in a sheet of ice. Millions of individual snowflakes have been sewn together into one gloriously pure blanket! A strong wind rushes here and there, swirling through the scene. Tree limbs waver all about, as if dancing to the silence. Just a few feet away, a skunk comes sauntering out from under a community of evergreens seeking seed left by the birds of the day. She is such a uniquely beautiful creature. For a moment, she takes stock in my presence, studying me as I study her. I am far enough away that she quickly deems me to be no threat, and turns her attention to the feast at hand. This poor creature is cold and hungry. Only the two of us stand as witnesses of this moment in God’s creative presence.

I find myself both calmed and amused as I watch her and allow the breeze to run through me. God is here. God exists in the wind which has been released into our world from Divine lungs. God exists in the trees and this little creature who have been molded into being by Divine hands. God exists in the Divine light shining into the world from above. God exists in the Divine purity of snow and ice released from heavenly storehouse. It is exactly because I see God’s fingerprints in all of this that my soul is calmed. And so, with one last deep breath, I inhale all that is here into my being. This moment in God’s presence shall never be repeated exactly in this way, but neither will its refreshment be forgotten in my memory. Eat well little one. Good night trees…good night moon. Good night, Lord. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

REFLECTIONS IN THE SNOW

It all begins with a heavy snowfall, dropped gently and peacefully from God’s storehouses in the heavens. A picture is being painted as the creation around us transforms into something similar, and yet somehow slightly different from any other that has come before. Bare tree limbs glisten under a coating of white crystals. Green evergreen needles poke through clumps of snow as their branches droop under the weight. Suddenly the world is black and white with slight tinges of green sprinkled in. A pristine snow now blankets the earth as if placed there with the utmost of care. The universe calms as stars and bright full moon take their place watching over the scene. The night is beautiful, but God isn’t done yet.

For an hour or two, the reflection of light from the moon shines down through the trees on to the blank canvas that is the snow. A drawing begins to emerge, as if sketched perfectly with a pencil. It is the shadow of the tree, in its entirety, laid out upon the snow! It stretches in all directions, limbs appearing as capillaries reaching for something…anything. I simply stare in wonder at such an amazing piece of art. But even now, the show isn’t over. Slowly, darkness creeps across the moon as its light source is eclipsed. Reflections fade and the scene turns eerily dark and quiet. Now the stars shine as bright as ever, and the oversized moon turns black, and then red! Ah…the Blood Moon.

I am thankful, Lord, that you never stop creating and re-creating. And I am equally thankful that on this particular day and night, I took time to simply step back and observe YOU at work. Far too often I am so busy monitoring my own presence in this world that I fail to notice yours. These moments were both glorious and fleeting. I admit to my frequent failures to observe you, but I also have learned that some of the moments which I treasure in my heart the most are those when I stand still as the witness to your artistry. My weary world will have to learn to wait… Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

ALL IS QUIET NOW

All is quiet now. A thin sheet of ice covers a blanket of snow amidst the trees, gently reflecting the moonlight into the darkness. Bare tree limbs waver slightly, while a grove of evergreens obediently hold in their arms whatever snow they could catch the other day. The contrast of grey bark, green needles and white snow in the soft light is a winter treat for my eyes. The cold breeze stings against my face, and the whisper of the wind in my ears is literally the only sound that is audible this night. I stand here, marveling at this momentary sabbath in this little outdoor sanctuary. The creation itself is God’s sanctuary. These precious moments are fleeting at best, but needed desperately.
My day had included time in prayer with a couple who had lost their home and pet to a fire first thing in the morning. When I handed them simple things such as soap, combs and toothbrushes – they had burst into tears. I had spent time sharing the joys of fellowship with some of our retirees, as we worshipped, ate and played games together. Their laughter is truly contagious. I had completed my day with a distant relative I hadn’t seen in years, as he reminisced and prepared to say goodbye to his wife of 61 years. So, on this night, I found my heart filled with anguish, joy, reverence and sadness. Thus, this one moment of stillness in the presence of God’s artistic beauty and peaceful grace now serves as a release for all that I carry. I can let go here. I can hand over to God here. For God has come to me, in this place, with hands outstretched and with a glimmer shining in divine eyes. In this one moment, I can take a deep breath and rest in God’s arms. I need not carry burden alone. This is Sabbath. This is God’s Love for us. All is quiet now… Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

ON THIS CHILLED WINTER MORNING

On this chilled winter morning, the sun rises as I watch through the picture window in the comfort of my living room. Two maple trees stand in absolute stillness, their dark frame silhouetted in the sunlight, resting in their seasonal sabbath. Just behind them, in stark contrast, is a lush pine tree full of life and needles, gently dancing joyfully in the breeze of the day. A small little bird calls out to no one in particular somewhere nearby, or perhaps her call is for me. Inside, our houseplants all lean into the window, seeking precious time in the sun. They make space for one another, and yet huddle in community. In the background, I listen to the beautiful melody of the bells tolling as our clock strikes the hour.

The scene is gentle, clear and crisp. Life is moving forward, even if winter seems to stand still. Far beneath the ground, creatures of the summer are transforming in cocoons while adjacent seeds are gathering nutrients. Inside my maples, sap is flowing up and down their bare trunks. Everywhere, below the surface, there is movement amongst the stillness. God is at work now, preparing and transfiguring the creation even as the creation rests in its winter sleep. My mind wanders, and I find myself wondering what God is stirring in me even as I sit in my moment of sabbath this morning, calmly and quietly. I need not be busy – I need not be working or studying – for God to be acting upon me. And so I just sit and let God the artist mold and create around and within me, on this chilled winter morning. Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

A Divine First Breath

A baby lies in a manger, snuggled in swaddling clothes and admired by his mother. He is surrounded by cattle and sheep peacefully watching the scene unfold before their eyes. Just moments earlier, this newborn screamed his way into our world, and in doing so changed our relationship to the Divine forever. In that very first breath, the pure and innocent lungs of this holy little child were shocked and even scarred as he inhaled that which the world had to offer! His perfection was instantly exposed to the imperfect. Why, O Lord, would you want to experience our humanity? Ever since the birth of creation you had breathed Divine life into this sinful world, spreading Grace into a desperate creation craving to breathe just a little of your light into our vast darkness. But on this cold night in the Bethlehem countryside, the roles reversed. In this child’s first single breath, in that miraculous moment, you my Lord inhaled that which emanated directly from humanity. You, the Divine, willingly breathed our brokenness into your righteous soul! This thought leaves me astounded!
In the birth of this child to Mary, somehow my brokenness becomes a part of your holy consciousness. Suddenly, my sinful spirit is connected intimately to your Divine heart. Or, perhaps it is the other way around. Maybe your Divinity is now connected to my sinfulness in a way that allows you to relate to all the worst in me. Either way, I am blessed in ways I cannot even begin to fathom! And thus, once again, I stand in awe and stare at a meager and pitiful manger that changed my life even before I could take my own first breath in this world. A child lying in a manger in Bethlehem took a single simple breath, and my life was inexplicably made righteous. I will never fully understand, and nor do I need to. Instead, I only observe in contemplative wonder. This, This is Christ the King! Amen!
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

AN ORDINARY MAN

A man stands in the entryway to a cave, which is currently being used as a manger amidst the chaos and hustle of this census. Inside sits his wife, exhausted from both their long journey and the strains of childbirth. He marvels that she has the energy to wrap the little baby in swaddling clothes and watch over him. He wishes he could somehow have made this moment better, easier, or even special. From a distance, shepherds approach excitedly with stories of angels praising God for the birth of this child. At first, Joseph wants to defend his wife and the baby, but she tells him it is alright. Reluctantly, Joseph allows their entry. All the while, he keeps thinking to himself, “I am but a lowly carpenter. How can this be? What does God expect of me?” The night grows deeper, but inexplicably the sky is aglow…
Joseph may not have believed it at the time, but he was the perfect parent for the little baby Jesus. It wasn’t that he was strong or wise or wealthy – indeed he was none of these. Joseph, instead, was ordinary. He was living proof that God does the extraordinary – through the ordinary – all the time. Joseph would teach his boy an honorable trade. Joseph would protect his family with a fierce love and loyalty. Joseph would live his faith publicly for all to see. In the years to come, this man would be the simple human Dad to the anointed one born of heaven and earth. Joseph would actually have the amazing calling to be a human role model to the Word of God Incarnate! As such, he would play a key role in connecting the experience of the divine with the life of the sinner. But on this night, he was just an ordinary man standing alone and observing the miraculous with an overwhelmed soul.
On Christmas Eve, I will find myself standing in awe of the manger as well. I have the advantage of hindsight and knowledge, whereas Joseph’s story with Jesus had yet to be written. Then again, I sometimes forget how much of my story still remains a blank page. And thus, I find myself similarly standing in an entryway, in awe of the night at hand and in anticipation of the road that lies ahead. All I can pray is that, in the same way as Joseph, I may be so ordinary as to be an extraordinary blessing to the generations of our family yet to come. That remains to be seen. For now, I simply watch a manger, stare at the night sky, and sing O Come, O Come Immanuel!!!
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

THE MANGER

This cave, used as a manger for the cattle and other animals, is busy tonight. Food is brought in regularly and left in the trough by men protecting their most precious livestock. As usual, it is quite cold, damp and dark in here. Between the animals and their owners, foot traffic is very much the norm. On this night, with the census starting and so many travelers en route, this cave is bustling with God’s creatures, some of whom are weary after traveling far and carrying a heavy load. There is simply nothing glorious about this dirty place filled with rancid odors…at least, not yet anyway. Soon, there will be other and much more unique visitors. A young woman will give birth to her firstborn here. A young man will watch and worry, perhaps even feeling guilty for not being able to do better for her. Shepherds from nearby fields will be coming excitedly to visit the newborn and share their almost unbelievable story. Literally, the world will be changed here…but for now, the manger is silent with the exception of an occasional sound from the cattle.
Why, O Lord, must the Light that will pierce all darkness be born in here? What is it with You, O God, that this manger built into a cave seems like the perfect place from which to reconnect with humanity for all generations? How can it be that a dirty old manger can be the birthplace of Hope, and a terrifying dark grave can somehow be the beacon of New Life? Perhaps the darkest, dirtiest, and most disturbing places in this world are exactly where Grace is most evident to our otherwise distracted eyes. Truthfully, I need not know why. All that really matters is that this abhorrent cave is soon to be the site of the most beautiful moment our world has ever known. Thus, I am drawn here, on this night, to keep watch and to wait amongst these stirring creatures, as anticipation grows. Soon. Very soon… Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)