facebook script

Can't find something?

We're here to help.

Send us an email at:

[email protected]

and we'll get back with you as soon as possible.

The peace that passes

Christmas lights up close

Members of a growing Michigan Conference Contemplative Cohort invite you to spend Fridays in Advent exploring a form of contemplative prayer. This week, Rev. Greg Lawton invites us into the practice of holy gazing in our pursuit of peace.

Minister of Spiritual Formation, Jackson: First UMC

“Because of the tender mercy of our God,
          the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
          to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79, NRSVUE).

The pursuit of peace takes on many forms. But deep, abiding, interior peace makes all the other kinds possible. Advent celebrates all the ways peace might prevail upon the earth, yet stillness of soul is our first yearning. We can pray for the end of war, but we need to act in peace toward each other, too. We can pray for nations not to take up swords against other nations, but how we treat one another matters, too. We can work toward reconciliation in our families, but the peace of Christ that passes understanding grounds all our best actions.

Sara Groves sings:

“Peace, peace, it’s hard to find
Doubt comes like a tiny voice that’s so unkind
And all your fears
They conspire to unwind you

And all your hopes and fears
All your hopes and fears, oh
All your hopes and fears
Are met in Him . . . tonight”

This is the peace we seek at Christmastime.

I have found this kind of peace often while sitting around a campfire with friends, gazing into the flames as they flicker and fan. A fire draws us in and lets our minds unfold, the colors and tongues mixing and moving. It is safe because we know it is contained and can easily be put out, yet it’s wild because it is unpredictable. Conversations flow easily around a campfire, and then silence comes, welcomed into the circle. These have often been holy moments for me.

In mid-Michigan, a campfire is better experienced in summer than in the season that brings us Advent. So, we look for other spaces that might provoke the same result. At Christmas, a lighted tree creates the same ambiance, the same sacred space for me. There have been many moments of pure joy or deep sorrow as I’ve gazed upon the lights of a Christmas tree. With or without soft music to nestle the experience, I cast my cares before Jesus in these moments of relative silence and solitude. I allow myself to feel all my feelings, to let my thoughts wander from important things to foolish things to nothing at all. And then I sit and gaze at the simple beauty of electric light wrapped around a tree. This is peace to me, a peace I often forget in my haste and preoccupation with ministry and family and doing the best good I can in the world.

Perhaps this can be a peaceful moment in your Christmas preparations also. Perhaps your spirit longs for peace in the busyness of Advent. Perhaps a simple ritual could draw you closer to God. The following practice is intended to do just that.

Invitation to the Practice of Holy Gazing

~ Play soft Christmas music if that helps create a meditative atmosphere for you.

~ Turn off as many other lights as possible.

~ Center yourself in a comfortable position.

~ Take a few cleansing breaths, in and out, with each breath creating space for the Holy Spirit to do something new in your life.

~ Fix your gaze upon the lights surrounding your tree. Notice where they climb and fall, which colors are present or absent, and how the light from the tree fills the room.

~ Allow your gaze to fall on one part of the tree. Don’t judge why it landed there; just let it be.

~ As your thoughts move from concrete to abstract, and your feelings run their range, let them be and bless them. Allow your thoughts to clear away, and then rest in the presence of the light, the presence of peace, and the presence of God.

~ When the time comes to move toward other experiences, simply say, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

For more information on joining the Michigan Conference Contemplative Cohort, email Lisa Batten at [email protected].

For information on upcoming 2023 Contemplative Retreats the Michigan Conference offers, click the links below.

February 16-18, 2023
Wesley Woods Camp and Retreat Center
Learn more and register by clicking this secure link.

October 16-18, 2023
Lake Huron Retreat Center
Learn more and register by clicking this secure link.

Last Updated on January 31, 2024

The Michigan Conference