Saturday, December 31, 2011

new years

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to keep and a time to throw away. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 6)

It seems to me that times of transition have a lot to teach us if we are willing to listen.  They are times when we are leaving the old and familiar behind in some way, shape, or form, and moving out into the new and unknown…whatever that may be.  They are times of great possibility because they are times when we tend to be a little more open and vulnerable than usual—a little less secure, a little less sure of ourselves.  They are times, it would seem, that are ideal for God to really get his hands on us. 

It is during such times that we are likely to stop and reflect on the content and direction of our lives; looking back to see the people, and events, and things that have formed us up to that point.  And looking ahead as we dream about, and consider, and hope for what we most want our lives to be.  It is in this fruitful space (liminal space as Richard Rohr calls it) that the words of Ecclesiastes offer us a great guide.  They ask us to consider what must we keep, of all that has been part of our lives up to that point, and what must we throw away?

I have only to look back to the summer to find a classic example of this; as I said good bye to my job with Young Life and began the process of weeding through 9 years of “stuff” that had accumulated in my office and on my computer.  Literally, with every item I held in my hands I was faced with the decision, should I keep this or should I throw it away?  It was almost as if as I held each item—and as each item held me—that each contained not only a wonderful memory, but also a question…and a prayer.  I quickly realized (with the help of Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Leaving Church) that this process was bigger and more symbolic than each little item I held in my hands.  It was a point of deciding who God wanted me to be from this point forward—what I would keep—and what, of a wonderful past, needed to be deeply valued for what it was, but left behind—what I would throw away. 

The New Year invites us all to consider this question for ourselves.  As we look to the year ahead, what do we keep and what do we throw away…because there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

incarnation

There was once a young couple who was deeply in love and had decided to marry.  A few weeks after a beautiful wedding and an incredible honeymoon, they had settled in and begun the process of crafting their new life together.  It was everything they’d ever dreamed.  But before too long the new, young wife began experiencing a strange dizziness and a slurring of her speech.  It was soon discovered that she had a tumor in her brain that was growing daily and had to be removed.

The surgeon met often with the young couple over the next days and weeks, explaining in detail all the treatment options available; of which surgery would be by far the most beneficial.  He told them everything about what the surgery would involve, including both his highest hopes and the greatest risks of such a procedure--one of which could be partial paralysis of one side of her face due to the tumor’s proximity to a nerve that controlled many of her facial movements.  So in hopes of extending their days together as long as possible, they decided to go through with it.

The day of the surgery came, and the procedure was completed.  The young couple sat together in the recovery room anxiously awaiting word from the doctor as to the success of the operation.  The good news was that the tumor was removed and the prognosis for the future was very good.  The bad news was that, indeed, during the procedure—in order to get all of the tumor—a nerve  had been damaged that would forever alter the smile of this beautiful young woman. 

The young wife was so thankful for the success of the surgery, but inwardly devastated to learn that her face, from this day forward, would always be contorted; and that her beautiful smile would be permanently disfigured as a result.

The young husband was simply wonderful in his love for and affirmation of his new bride’s beauty as she dealt with the hard news.  “I think it looks cute,” he said, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”  And as tears streamed down both of their faces he leaned over to kiss his bride gently on her newly disfigured lips.  And as he did he twisted his own mouth to fit hers in order to show her that their kiss still worked.


Christmas is the season where we celebrate the incarnation--God taking on our distorted flesh...in Jesus.  God twists his own lips to match ours, in order to show us that our kiss still works.  O Come Let Us Adore Him!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

room for christmas

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)

Room is a very important thing in the life of the Spirit.  As a matter of fact, new birth seems to require it.  Unfortunately, and ironically, during this season—just as in the time of Mary and Joseph—it is so easy for life just to fill up.  And when life is over-filled there is simply no room for something new (of the Spirit) to be born in us; the pace and demands of the season are at odds with the room and reflection necessary to pay attention to how, where, and when God might be entering our lives/world.

Maybe that’s why the words of the old Christmas carol remind us, “let every heart, prepare him room.”  It seems that the writers of those wonderful songs of old knew well the secret that unless we work diligently to make room for him, it will not simply happen on its own—it will not just “fall on our heads.”  Making room takes effort and intention and prayer and planning.  And unless we are willing and able to put forth the  energy and effort to pay attention, it is likely that when he does eventually come, we will miss him too.

Monday, December 19, 2011

joseph

Luke only mentions his name a couple of times; Mark and John not at all.  The little we do know of him comes from a few verses in Matthew—and that’s not a lot.  We know he cared enough for Mary that he wanted to protect her from the public scorn and disgrace that a young woman in her circumstances was destined for.  We know that he was a righteous man that believed what the angel of the Lord had spoken to him (in a dream; always in a dream) and thus was obedient in all that he was asked to do and to be.  We know that he led his family to Bethlehem for the census and was resourceful in providing a safe (yet humble) space for his young bride to give birth.  And we know that he protected his young family from danger when he fled with them in the middle of the night to Egypt to keep them safe from Herod’s wrath.  Caring, protective, righteous, believing, obedient, providing…a pretty good list of qualities to say the least.

And yet Joseph was never intended to be  a main character in the story, probably because, although his role was important, he realized that he was not the point—Jesus was.  It is as if he voluntarily stepped aside, into the background, in order for the main character to take center stage.  His role in this drama would be one of background rather than spotlight.  He was simply part of the supporting cast; somehow both recognizing and embracing this reality.  In fact, Joseph’s very best work—the nurture, care, and guidance of Jesus in his formative years—was done in virtual anonymity.  Not a word, other than the instance at the Temple when Jesus was twelve, was ever written about it.  He was a hidden and silent partner in the unfolding story of God’s life on earth.  For the most part he was unrecognized, unsung, and unnoticed—and it is simply beautiful.  It makes me want to be just like him; to realize that God is the point of the story, and therefore to embrace the covert and behind-the-scenes ways we are called to help “bring him into” this dark and broken world.   

Saturday, December 17, 2011

john

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. (John 1:6-9)


It is such a temptation in this life to try and be something you’re not…at least it is for me anyway.  Somehow, thru the years, I have become convinced that who I really am is simply not enough.  So I subtly—and sometimes not so subtly—begin to seek people, and/or things, and/ or accomplishments that will make me feel like I have value and worth; make me feel like I am somebody.

Maybe that’s why I have been really drawn to the life of John the Baptist for the past few days.  He seems to get it.  He seems to realize that life is not about him.  He seems to clearly see his place in the larger story—and embrace it.  John is fully aware that he is not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  He knew who he was and fully embraced his role; he didn’t succumb to the temptation to try and be someone or something that he was not.  He didn’t try to pretend that he was the light, but instead was wonderfully able to point people to the light, rather than to himself.  What a great example to follow.  John encourages me to be careful: to not block the light, to not get in the way of the light, to not dance around for attention in front of the light…to not try and be the light.  He reminds me that any light that is seen in me is only a reflection of the True Light, nothing that I—in and of myself—possess or produce...it is all Him.  So whenever people are drawn to that light in me, or in any of us, I/we must always point them quickly back to Jesus, lest they mistake this little reflection of the light in us for what it truly is--not us, but the True Light itself.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

mary

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…Luke 1:35


What exactly happened in that moment?  That wonder-filled instant when the Holy Spirit came upon you; when the Most High overshadowed you?  What was it like?  I have to know!  Was it heavenly?  Was it more wonderful than anything you ever dreamed of, or dared to imagine?  God entered into you; he penetrated you to the core, more deeply than anyone ever thought possible.  God, the Most High, entered into you, and that entry created new life within.  He left something of his life-giving-self deep inside; something beautiful beyond imagination was conceived in you.  You are pregnant with God and have the unbelievable privilege of carrying him around inside of you; of nurturing his new life within you until time reaches its fullness and he is ready to come forth, to show himself, to be born into this world.  You, Mary, are the Holy Theotokos—the God-bearer, because God entered into you.  And because he entered into you, he can enter into us as well.  May we, too, be come upon.  May we, too, be overshadowed by the Most High.  May God enter into us, penetrate us to the core, and bring to life something of himself deep within our souls.  May we, too, be pregnant with God; and nurture and care for his new life within us until it is ready to be born into our lives…born into our world.