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“Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life … Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:24; 36)—Thus proclaims the theme for the First Sunday in Advent; its dire words startle, if anyone is listening

Like first-century Palestine, the setting for this mandate, our times are rife with turmoil, with reversals in values, with rampant greed, with untoward events that decry expression. Covert and overt oppression hold people hostage. Homelessness, actual or psychological, sours hearts. Indeed, whole cityscapes appear inert, frozen in toxic fears. And Black Friday’s madness launched the shopping craze until the eve of Christmas. This scenario, ramped up by devotees of Evil, continues emasculating spirit, year after year.

Yet there is another voice that rings through the centuries: ”Watch yourselves …” To heed its imperative toward conversion of life requires humility, prayer, and selflessness. Through the practice of these disciplines emerge stalwart hearts, clear vision, and unflinching truth. That’s what really matters.

But such disciplines are counter-cultural, many protest. I’d much rather hang out with my buddies at the bar or go shopping. That’s where real life happens.

Yet the challenge remains: to go apart, alone, in silence, and see whom we meet.

It works. It really does.




While vacationing in an Alpine village, Elizabeth Tova Bailey, a seasoned nonfiction writer, contracted a pathogen that altered the entire course of her life – a systemic paralysis-like weakness with life-threatening complications. She was 34 years old. A dear friend potted a bunch of wild violets from her yard, then placed it upon the crate used by Elizabeth’s missionary grandparents. From her bed, she marveled at this gift, until overcome by sleep.

The following morning, Elizabeth noted square puncture holes in postcards propped against her lamp; beneath the leaves of the violets, a woodland snail. Immediately, its nutritional needs claimed her full attention. She offered a decaying flower petal from an arrangement on the crate. It worked. Later came Portobello mushrooms.

Days, the mollusk slept; nights, it foraged for food and explored the limits of its potted world, and later, the terrarium Elizabeth had friends arrange. Thus began a two-decades long fascination of wild snails, fueled by her study of physicians, botanists, naturalists, and writers from three centuries – books propped against pillows in her bed.

Her resulting natural history/memoir , The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, 2010, reflects her gentle humor, her inquisitiveness, her dependence upon her companion’s daily lessons for living. She wrote to one of her doctors: “I honestly don’t think I could have made it, without the woodland snail and its offspring. Watching another creature go about its life … somehow gave me, the watcher, purpose too. If life mattered to the snail and the snail mattered to me, it meant something in my life mattered, so I kept on.”

Elizabeth Tova Bailey has much to teach us.



Available on Amazon

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