Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Words of Advent: Coming

Day twenty-two of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

We crowd into the cathedral, every entrance and every doorway, overflowing with bodies.  From the high ceiling in the center of the room, a star dangles down and women in white robes sing angelic, carry glowing stars in their hands.

See the Bridegroom, the Christ, is coming;
be ye ready then.

I move against the wall and crane my neck to see through bodies to the stars, the voices.  Choirs of angelic singers punctuate each corner of the room, from the balcony to my right and from places hidden from my view.  I close my eyes and lean back.

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It's less than an hour until midnight, until Christmas day.  And there is something here, in this Catholic cathedral, I've never sensed in all my years of attending services on Christmas Eve. 


It builds through the hour.  From "O come, O come Emmanuel" to "Angels we have heard on high"; from a carol of "The seven joys of Mary" to "Away in a manger."  We sing of "tidings of comfort and joy" and of "the world in solemn stillness" laying low "to hear the angels sing."

We wait, and we press in to see.

I wonder, in my spot against the wall, if this is how it was when Jesus lived here and taught in the temple.  People crowding in, some to see a production and others hungry only for a glimpse of him, most of them unable to get up close.

The hunger growing in me all this season, all this building anticipation, streams down my face and I ache to see him, wish to be like this man, Zacchaeus, who climbed a tree to get a glimpse of him in the crowds.  And though I cannot see, I feel the glory - of God pulling back his robe and making himself visible here - and I am transfixed, caught up in a moment of longing fulfilled.  And then, it's gone.  Gone in the push of bodies, in the flash of video cameras and smart phones held high to capture the sacred production.  

But I hold it in my heart, a moment of hunger satisfied; the hope of total fulfillment one day in his presence where I won't need to hold my breath so the glory doesn't pass by.

Midnight approaches fast and a priest stands high on the podium in white and red, chanting a Christmas proclamation - the eternal Word made flesh, the birth of Christ remembered and experienced, again. 

This is the best gift of the season, and I return home in the wee hours of Christmas morning, a light of wonder flickering in my heart.

O come, let us adore him. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Words of Advent: Glory

 Day twenty-one of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

And here we are, arriving, but not yet reaching a final destination.

The moment we've been watching for, straining eyes for, quieting hearts for, bowing down and pressing faces to the dirt and shedding tears for.

We ache for this, even if we do not know from where, from whom, the ache is born.  It's in us, palpable, for the ones who travel this long road of searching.

But it begins here, with interruption.

And it culminates here, with glory.

It comes to me, in the words of a preacher,

"Glory is God going public with his inner being;

He pulls back his robe and makes himself visible."

In less than four hours, I'll be sitting in a cathedral, remembering Christ's scandalous entrance into the world as a baby.

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Receiving, again, the Gift whose value is cannot be contained here on earth or in the heavens.  

Daring to peek at the glory of God made visible.

He has come.  He comes again.  Will you see him?

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Words of Advent: Peace

Day twenty of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

What are you hearing this Christmas?  
What song is playing on repeat?

Stress. Anxiety. Depression. Despair. 
Desire. Disappointment. Bitterness. Busy-ness.
Anger. Confusion. Loneliness. Sorrow.

Maybe you are hearing none of these,
but chances are, someone you know is.
In the news alone, it's hard to hear any song above the noise
of pain, conflict, injustice, tragedy.

There is no peace in the news.

But if we stand outside and listen -
listen, beneath the rumble of the earth -
we might just catch another song
vibrating hope within our souls.


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I heard the bells on Christmas day
(Adapted by Casting Crowns)

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men

And the bells are ringing

Like a choir they're singing
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head

There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing

Like a choir singing
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep

God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Then ringing singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day

A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they're ringing

Like a choir they're singing
And with our hearts we'll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells they're ringing?

The life the angels singing
Open up your heart and hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Peace on earth, Peace on earth

Peace on earth, Good will to men

[Listen to the song here.] 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Words of Advent: Hope

 Day nineteen of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

[I wrote this post below, three years ago, after a Christmas Eve service.  Since then, "O, Holy Night" has been my favorite Christmas hymn, and not a year passes when my soul doesn't ache with the hope proclaimed here in song.  I dug back to this piece of writing, back to my pre-blog days when I posted notes on facebook, and thought this was worth sharing once more.]

"O, holy night, the stars are brightly shining, It is the night of our dear Savior's birth..."

A reverent awe begins to settle inside me; a dim light slowly growing, brighter and brighter. I am keenly aware tonight: I am not alone. And I am standing on holy ground. As if the angels were hovering in the beams of the church's ceiling, drawing back the curtain of time and heaven, whispering, "Watch this, child, and wait..." The backdrop is set, and I am transported back in time in my imagination.

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"Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth..."

The voices of several hundred strangers beside me in this congregation lift like a swell. I'm caught up in a moment I didn't realize I had hungered for, a moment carrying me beyond myself. I feel the anticipation building inside me, how deeply I need a Savior, how long we all have waited for this One to come. How long He waited so patiently, until the time was right, to come to us... How faithful He is.

"A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn..."

My cheeks are wet now, streams of tears running down my face. Hope. This very thing I have been meditating on, desiring to lay hold of, hungering for - it's right before me now, disguised in the tiny frame of a baby that somehow contains God. Hope will not be a baby forever. And this baby will grow to experience loss and betrayal and rejection, will know grief and heartache, and will have to wait in patience for his desires to be fulfilled. Hope will grow into a child, and a teenager, and then a young man. Hope will live, and hope will die. But then... hope will rise again. But hope would not exist without this baby. Hope breaks into the gray skies with the promise of a beautiful display of color as the sun rises. It's a new and glorious morn.

"Fall on your knees... O hear the angel voices... O night divine! O night when Christ was born!"
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I am overcome as I watch all this unfold in my imagination. This baby born to die as a man is ever before me. He is unfailing love. He who has loved unconditionally, yet is loved conditionally, is incapable of loving any other way than unfailingly. He who was rejected is incapable of rejecting me. He who chose me to be His before the foundation of the world is incapable of no longer wanting me. Yes, I am overcome; I cannot speak, cannot sing. I can only lift my hands with the tears streaming down my face, for there are no words to speak...

No words, except, "O, night divine!"

This is the One I have waited for.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Words of Advent: Innocence

Day eighteen of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

One of my oldest friends and I were chatting this evening over the phone about growing older.  Here we are in our early thirties and looking back ten years ago, we see faces of optimism and youthful zeal, now weathered and worn.  How hard it can be, barely in our third decades of life, to resist the onslaught of cynicism.  The jadedness.  Yes, it hasn't taken us that long to figure it out, that life is more pain than it is ease, but how, to live in this realization without our shoulders stooping forward crooked?  

I look and see him, and I marvel, at a line worn deep in his face.

All of God in a man's body, full divinity meshed with full humanity.  He started off in innocence, as we all do, and he grew into a man and died in innocence.  In his brief life, there is much that has not been written, but we do know this - that he has experienced every temptation known to man, yet did not succumb to a single one.  He suffered injustice, experienced gnawing hunger and parched thirst and exhaustion, knew betrayal and false accusation and humiliation and physical torture, lost people that he loved to death, watched his mother suffer while he died, was crushed in spirit and maimed in body by the sins of all humanity, knew fear and torment and dread, and felt the agony of total separation from his Father.  He ventured straight into the jaws of evil, the darkest corners of humanity - and emerged alive and whole.

He lived all this and still he died without cynicism.  

He knew all, as God, and experienced all, as man, and still remained innocent.

He lived and died with his heart wide open.

On the phone with my friend today, I wondered aloud if perhaps the goal in life is not to hold fast to youthful zeal and optimism through the years, but to cling tenaciously to whatever shred of childlike innocence that we can in the face of all we know.  In opposition to what we see and feel and experience, a stubborn refusal to succumb.

To live a life, like him, that tells a story bigger and deeper and farther-reaching than suffering alone.  A story where the maimed and scarred, weak and fearful, crippled and broken, betrayed and abandoned, sinner and sinned-against, fill the pages with tales of faith, hope, redemption, forgiveness, beauty, and love. 

Though we may limp our way through life and lines run deep across our faces, we can reach the end with hearts wide open.  He showed us the way.

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Words of Advent: Love

Day seventeen of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

Love.  I know, better than almost anyone, how unqualified I am to write a post on love.  So many things have been written on love and so many angles could be taken in writing on love, and friends, I just don't have much to add to this whole vast, limitless expanse that love is.  

So I'm going to just share this (and if you can't tell by now, I'm reading a book by Madeleine L' Engle, and I am profoundly grateful for her writing).  

"...Perhaps for our day the best translation of 'love' 
is the name of Jesus, 
and that will tell us everything about love we need to know."

What could I possibly add to that?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Words of Advent: Vulnerable

Day sixteen of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...
a) capable of being physically 
or emotionally wounded; 
b) open to attack or damage.
"In becoming man for us, Christ made himself 
totally vulnerable for us in Jesus of Nazareth, 
and it is not possible to be a Christian 
while refusing to be vulnerable... 
I love, therefore I am vulnerable... 
to grow up is to accept vulnerability." 
~ Madeleine L'Engle

Vulnerability takes different forms.  It can bear down in crushing blows, as we have seen so devastatingly in the news.  
It's sobering and heavy, even confusing, to think of this word, vulnerable, in light of the attacks of the last week on innocent people.  And in light of the reality that so much of our world lives in, each day, barely covered in the headlines, if at all: in the form of war, disease, abuse, sex trafficking, poverty, hunger, corruption, imprisonment, slavery.  Open to attack or damage.  Capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.  How this weighs on my heart tonight, pushing down words.  I struggle for something to say.
And then there's the vulnerability of choosing to love.  Of letting ourselves be known as we are, and in doing so, we are capable of being wounded, open to attack.  We choose whether the risk and pain of being vulnerable is worth the cost.  In our humanity, sometimes, we pull back, barricade ourselves in, self protect.  For me, it takes strength beyond myself to live a life of vulnerability, and if it were up to me alone, I'd remain cloistered in a shell from the pain of vulnerable love.

These vulnerabilities I have some sort of frame of reference for, whether or not I ever fully comprehend them - and I don't. 
But it's almost beyond my ability to grasp this other reality, that the God of all the universe made himself vulnerable - beginning as a baby, helpless and utterly dependent, who was hunted as an infant by a jealous king intent on killing him.  And then, not turning from his vulnerability as a man, but walking straight into it and laying down his life.  To think that God has been physically and emotionally wounded.  That God has been attacked, his body maimed, his soul in anguish.  This is a grittier picture than that of a babe sleeping peacefully in a bed of sweet hay.  God knew exactly what he was getting into every step of the way, and he never turned back.  
And this is how we are to be.  Vulnerable.  
In the sense that, to love is to be vulnerable.
That to be real in relationship with others is to be vulnerable.
That even to be human is to be vulnerable.
We can choose to stay safe, closed off, insulated, unknown - but this is not the way of maturity.  It's not the way of love.  It's not the way of Christ.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Words of Advent: Silent

Day fifteen of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

I set out to write my own reflection each day, but I've come to this word, silent.  It's late tonight, exhaustion seeped in hours ago, and more strongly than I wish to hold fast to my goal, I don't want to write just for the sake of writing.  Not here.  I don't want to clog the page with my tired thoughts.  You deserve more than that.

And it's perfect, really.  Because a friend of mine, Ashley, who is not afraid of going to the depths and allowing herself to sit with the questions, posted today on silence.  I would much rather share her reflection tonight, as her words never cease to render me quiet and thoughtful, in awe of God and his artistry in her.

So, please.  Read here, tonight, on silent, dear friends. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Words of Advent: Feast

 Day fourteen of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

The story of Jesus' birth, and our expectant waiting for his return, is about feasting.  The coming of Christ in the body of a newborn baby turns upside down and inside out my definition of a feast. 

Yes, Christ comes into our lack and spreads a feast for us, on the dirt floor of a barn with an audience of goats and sheep, cattle and donkeys, maybe a few chickens, and social outcasts of the day.
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All the words I've written on so far point toward a greater hope, a more beautiful story, a richer feast, than what the world dishes out.  More satisfying than what we could spread for ourselves. 

Christ bursts on the scene of humanity after centuries of story laid down to prepare the way, and boldly declares, I am the feast If you will push aside the meals before you, especially the ones that look and taste so good, and dine with me, you will never be hungry again.  And at the same time, blessed are the ones who hunger for me, for they will be satisfied. 

So, there's that marvelous feast.

And still, I think tonight of another sort of feast I wrote about, a year and a half ago.  One that brings to mind Christmas and a mental picture I had of spreading a feast before God:

"I saw myself laying a feast at my table for God in the tiny studio apartment I used to inhabit, back in the day before my life completely changed. We ate fairly well. I was a good hostess, with a good income and a nice spread of fare for him to dine on. We were laughing and enjoying the abundance together.

And I saw us now. In the tiny little apartment I share with my mom, where I sleep on a mat on the living room floor. There is no table, just a blanket spread on the carpet. We are sitting cross-legged, dining on... dry saltine crackers. I am sad, because there is nothing to eat in the house, nothing delicious to feed him. I sit before him and cry, heaving shoulders, quivering lip, snotty nose. I am hungry, and he is with me in that hunger. He smiles at me and puts his arms around me, taking the cracker I offer him, now soggy from my tears. He is unfazed. I expect him to pack up and leave, find another house, another roommate who can feed and serve him better than me. But he just sits with me and eats that cracker as if it’s the best meal in the world. 
 And it seeps into my soul, for a quick moment, that this - this moment - is what the marriage vows are all about."

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What kind of feast, really, do I have this Christmas - at all - to spread before my Lord?  I'm undone, again, by the image of this Word-became-flesh-God, sitting on the floor with me, feasting on my dry crackers and crusts of tear-soaked bread.  He takes whatever piddly offering we have and feasts on it like a king - and more, as the King that he is.  Oh no, friends, he isn't intimidated by our lack.  In his kingdom, these crusts of bread are the richest, sweetest cuisine. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Words of Advent: Expectation

 Day thirteen of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

One of the more infuriating lessons I'm still in the process of learning in my thirtysomething years is this: expectation kills relationships.  Because it's a form of control.  Infuriating, because I still haven't found a way to let go; still haven't located that elusive balance of lightly holding expectations in my hands without letting them hold me.  And pretty much the only times expectations don't let us down - as in, That was better than I expected - is when the bar has been set at a safe level, or intentionally low.  Maybe this isn't true for everyone, but it's my experience.

Christmas comes with a whole lot of expectations, many unconscious until the sting of let down sets in.  Things are supposed to look a certain way, play out a certain way, feel a certain way, and even when they do and things are good, there inevitably comes a year when these expectations betray us. 

Our pastor spoke today about expectation and the birth of Christ.  How the Jewish people had rational expectations of what a king should look like, how he should come to save his people, what deliverance meant, how their lives would change.  What they got was a baby born to ordinary parents in a rented stable in a part of the country far from the hub of Jewish life.  Welcome, Messiah, King of the Jews.  This was not, in their expectations, what they'd been waiting for.  But it was better; only for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

The birth of Christ reminds me of the one expectation that will never disappoint.  The only expectation where I can't set the bar high enough.  Not that it's safe.  Not that it's easy.  Not that it won't require everything I have to surrender.  But I'm coming to trust, for all the messy process of setting my expectation on him alone, the outcome is always, always good.  He may not come in the way I want him to, but he comes in the way that satisfies deeper than I even knew to expect.

Welcome to our world, Jesus.  Welcome to our world.  

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You've been promised, we've been waiting
Welcome Holy Child
Welcome Holy Child

Hope that you don't mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long awaited Holy Stranger
Make yourself at home
Please make yourself at home

Bring your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
World now breaking Heaven's silence
Welcome to our world
Welcome to our world

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
Unto us is born

So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Words of Advent: Good news

Day twelve of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

From the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas tunes play continuously in stores and on the radio, and the Hallmark Channel broadcasts holiday movies nonstop in the countdown to Christmas.  While this is the favorite season for a number of people, for masses of others, "It's the most wonderful time of the year" couldn't be further from the truth.  This season has a way of resurrecting old pain and shining a spotlight on fresh wounds.  Holidays in the wake of tragedy and loss are forever altered.

Writing on Advent every day has been surprisingly difficult.  Once I do it, I feel filled up; but getting myself to sit down and listen for what needs to be said for the day, this is something I have to force myself to do.  This is the first Christmas since my Papa's death where Christmas music and "getting in the spirit" doesn't grate on my nerves.  It's my first Christmas as a married woman and the first Christmas not spent with my immediate family.  And it's coming in the throes of a season of life that has wrung my heart in pieces.  

It's a Christmas, this year, when I ache for the horrendous pain of others - parents who lost children, children who lost parents, spouses who lost the ones they love, families of the perpetrators of violent crimes, children and adults who are struggling to live and survive cancer or serious injury or disease, cities and villages that have been leveled by natural disaster, countries ripped apart by war.

Even for those of us quietly grieving losses unspoken.  One writer said this on her blog: "Sometimes Christmas does this to me. Empties me out as I grieve lost years, yearn for different stories, ache to let my roots tangle back into…something…else."

And it's tempting, as a writer of faith, to want to wrap all this pain and grief in brightly colored, festive cheer and stick a bow of peace on top.  But I can't. The best I can do is write the hard stuff with my eye on the hope, sometimes a flicker of light on the seas, that this is not all there is.  This may be what is now, but it will not be the final chapter. 

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And this brings me to the words: Good news.  

It's hard, in some cases impossible, to recognize good news when life already seems good enough.  How true this is of the birth of Christ.  Only those who know their dire need of him can receive his birth with joy and humility and gratitude.  For them, his birth is life and light and cheer, even when circumstances and hearts may be weighted heavy, ripped through with suffering.  

As the prophet Isaiah foretold of the Messiah's birth, 

"The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land
of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined."

In the shadow of death.
In the land of darkness.
Here, light makes a difference;
here, eyes open to receive good news
and souls are breathed awake with life.

For a world crippled in pain, good news is within reach.  Not as Band Aid or numbing medication or rose-colored glasses, but as Emmanuel, God with us, shining light in the trenches.  From now until for ever and ever.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Words of Advent: Humility

Day eleven of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

"The root word of humility is humus, earth;
to be human, too, comes from the same word."
~ Madeleine L' Engle

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I never associated humility with being of the earth.  But here I am, of the dust, and it makes so much sense to me, that these are two of the same.  Though we do not always remember our origins.

To be human is to be of dust and earth.

To think that Christ, who is of things uncreated and glorious and divine - of something entirely other than earth -  chose to squeeze all his God DNA into flesh and bone and dust. In humus, he became human.  He became one of us.

Humus, incarnation, glory.  I cannot think of Christ apart from these - these things that do not naturally go together.  One of his closest friends and disciples described the miracle in this way:

And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) 
and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; 
and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), 
such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, 
full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth.

~ John 1:14 (Amplified version)

He chose to pitch his tent of flesh here, on this speck of earth.  He chose to experience what it's like to be fully human, when he could have done it another way.

And this is an intangible comfort, living here in the soiled beauty and in the horrors - of things that should not be, like the deaths of innocents at the hands of madmen - that Christ has been here, right here in the blood-stained earth.  That he still is.  That he came to redeem and transform what it means to be human.

Even as the earth reels and tears spill down for the lives that were lost this week and today, we can still say, all glory be to this humus Christ. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Words of Advent: Dream

 Day ten of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

I'm borrowing a quote from a friend's blog tonight, who borrowed it from Brennan Manning - because it's just that good:

"Christmas says that we have everything going [for us] — 
Jesus, the journey and the dream.”

And though the last thing I want is to leave anyone out, as I sit tired in this bed, unable to rest until I've rested my thoughts here with Christ, I know what I write tonight is specially for those who know a dream and the pain of losing it.  Who have forgotten how to dream, or perhaps are afraid to risk hoping again.  Those who look beyond today and feel weary, exhausted from the journey, unexcited for tomorrow.

I've read this short Psalm so many times - a whole six verses - rushing through to cling to the hope contained in the final two verses.  Today, I got stuck on the last word in verse one.

When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
And we are glad.
Bring back our captivity, O Lord,
As the streams in the South.
Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy.
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.

~Psalm 126
When these captives returned, so did their dreams.  
So did their laughter.
And they were filled with songs.

And I don't know about you, but that strengthens my weary heart.  

Christmas brings the captives streaming back home to safety and freedom; 
releases locked up hearts to dream again; 
births new dreams where old ones have died; 
fills mouths with laughter and tongues with songs of gratitude and praise; 
promises a harvest of joy for seasons spent out in the fields weeping, 
bearing seed, day after day, 
waiting for the crops to grow. 

We yearn for the dream, and in time we see, the dream is Jesus - and we can only know this through the journey of coming back home to him.  With him.  And all of life is this journey, is it not?  

I could dream a thousand dreams and plant ten thousand seeds, and in the end, they all could burn but one.  And I stand here, captive only now to hope.    

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Words of Advent: Prepare

Day nine of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

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Prepare: to make ready beforehand; to put in a proper state of mind; to put into written form.

It's ironic, for sure, that to write about this word, prepare - to write these Advent posts at all - I must first sit and ponder and listen, to quiet all voices but one.  His. 

And, in the spirit of confession and authenticity, friends, there's quite a clamor of voices these days in me, with varying degrees of success at silencing them.  More likely than not, the clamor just rose to a higher decibel when I decided to prepare for Advent with this daily practice of writing.  There's too much at stake in silence, too much to receive from Christ here in this place, so the clamor rises to distract from the one who is peace and truth and life.  To distract, especially, from desire.  The very thing I wrote about yesterday.

"...the greater the radius of light, the wider the perimeter of darkness."  I read this in a book today by one of my favorite authors, Madeleine L' Engle, and it shot me straight through.

The more I write and prepare my heart again for the coming of Christ, the more I see how all these words that I've been writing on knit so tightly together, and I'm not wise or talented enough to have planned it this way.  Here I am trying to prepare for him, and he's already ahead of me, smoothing out the road as I pass through slowly with a shovel, stooped to dig out rocks along the way.  I'm trying to smooth out the rough places, and I squint my eyes to see his figure in the distance, leveling the ground, raising up the fallen, broken stretches of path and bringing down the high and lofty places.  

I can prepare, and so can you.  But we can't out-prepare Christ.  He's already prepared the way for his coming in our lives.  Like a dad that loosens up the dirt for his son to "dig" beside him as he works in the backyard.  If we set our hearts to prepare for him, we can look ahead, down the road, and even behind us, and see that he has laid the groundwork for us to find him.     

I can almost see him on this dusty road, and my heart seizes up with tender love at his form in the distance, and behind me, and beside me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Words of Advent: Desire

Day eight of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

There's a large church here in the Seattle area that has set out the past several years to discover cultural opinions of Jesus.  Maybe you've seen it on the sides of Metro buses or on a billboard, simply stated: Jesus is ___.   As they say, everyone has an opinion on Jesus, so this is a creative project to compile those opinions in one place, with diverse and colorful results.

For many, Jesus isn't more than a historic figure.
Maybe even just a dead guy.
A revolutionary.
A prophet, but not God.
An amazing teacher.
A good and loving person.
A figure of folklore, myth or fairytale.
A religious prop.

For many others, he's so much more.
Fully human.
Fully God.
And a list of names more profound and comprehensive than space allows in this post.

But as a follower of Jesus, one word matters almost more than any others to me, the one I want on the forefront of my heart when I think of him: Desire.

One of my favorite theologians, A.W. Tozer, pointed me early on in life to a passionate pursuit of Christ.  I can't speak here on desire without a tribute to his own words, more eloquent and well-studied than my own. 

This, my friends, is what Advent is all about.

"Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God. They mourned for Him, they prayed and wrestled and sought for Him day and night, in season and out, and when they had found Him the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking.

I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.

...there are some, I rejoice to acknowledge, who will not be content with shallow logic. They will admit the force of the argument, and then turn away with tears to hunt some lonely place and pray, "O God, show me thy glory." They want to taste, to touch with their hearts, to see with their inner eyes the wonder that is God. 

The man who has God for his treasure has all things in One. Many ordinary treasures may be denied him, or if he is allowed to have them, the enjoyment of them will be so tempered that they will never be necessary to his happiness. Or if he must see them go, one after one, he will scarcely feel a sense of loss, for having the Source of all things he has in One all satisfaction, all pleasure, all delight. Whatever he may lose he has actually lost nothing, for he now has it all in One, and he has it purely, legitimately and forever."

~ A.W. Tozer, in The pursuit of God (excerpts from chapter one)

So, I ask myself tonight, Where is the heat of my desire aimed? 


Monday, December 10, 2012

Words of Advent: Break

Day seven of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

I'm singing at the top of my lungs this morning, on my way to work.  Singing about being still in the roar of the storm, about anchoring my hope in the one who is King over the flood.  The only breaking I'm thinking about at this point is my own.  

But later in the morning, I'm thinking beyond my breaking point, to that moment in waiting when the salvation of God breaks through darkness, hopelessness, despair.  And it just so happens that this moment comes, according to a writer of the Psalms, just at the break of dawn.  

At the breaking point, God's help comes.

In the advent of a new day, hope breaks through.

That's how Christ came to us, breaking through a long history of human failure, captivity, unfaithfulness, oppression, and over three hundred prophecies yet to be fulfilled.  It's how he comes to us now.

God, as a baby, broke through the body of a young woman, his birth setting in motion the dawning of a new day.  The day of salvation.

At the birth of Christ, light breaks through darkness; perfect love breaks in pieces chains of fear; hope breaks open and spills across the earth; the earth breaks forth in song. 

And it seems no coincidence that this reference to the timing of God's help occurs in the same Psalm that speaks of stillness.  The same one that I belted out in song this morning, just before the break of dawn.

Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

~ Psalm 46:10

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Words of Advent: Belief

Day six of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...

Peace.  Joy.  Hope.  Yes, please, fill me up.  I'd say I've been running close to empty on all these, sometimes all at once, the better half of the year.  And I know I'm not alone, so those of you holding out your cups with me and croaking out a "more," let's quiet our hearts together.  We're in good company, in perfect timing, to receive these gifts with upturned hands and open mouths.

Turns out, these highly desirable, intangible gifts all revolve on the same axle, shoot up from the same seed. 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).

Pack that tiny, fragile seed of belief deep into the soil, water it and turn it toward the sun.  What will spring up from below the earth, pushing through dirt, are shoots of joy and peace and hope.  

I know it's hard to believe ahead of the curve, before the dawning of the new day, with seemingly barren soil beneath your feet.  Oh, how I know.  How hard it can be, stooping knees down to earth, hands in the ground and dirt beneath nails, watering soil with tears.  

But this is the way. 

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This is the way of the seed opening and spilling forth life.  

And as outrageous as it sounds, this seed of belief - no matter how big or small - is all that is asked of me or you.  
So once again, and not the last, I kneel in dirt and offer my seed to Christ, the God-child raised up into God-man - and watch and wait, for life to bloom.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Words of Advent: Child

I'll be honest, I don't have much in me today, and I don't have much time before this day becomes tomorrow.  But, by accident it seemed, I turned on the tv tonight and heard a Canadian group, The Tenors, perform a song that had me spellbound.  As I sat to type this post, I listened again to the song, five times, with head resting on my arms and tears running down my face.  It spoke deeper than any words I have tonight. 

In Advent, Christ came as the most vulnerable of beings - a baby - and still, already a King.  Throughout his brief life on earth, he prodded adults to become more like children; not in maturity, but in purity, simplicity, joyfulness, dependency, courage and faith.  When I listen to the words of this song, Forever Young, they call to the child in me, to rise up and remember who she is.  

They speak to me of how this is only possible because of one God who became a child, grew up into a man, and still is best understood by those whose hearts remain forever young.

Be blessed tonight, dear friends.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Words of Advent: Waiting

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Waiting, a word heavily weighted in time.  

Were a lifetime of waiting quantified, rolled out on a sheet of butcher paper, the length, I'm sure, might stretch dozens of fields beyond my vision, an art project begun, yet never finished.  Viewed from this angle, waiting strains the eyes and crushes the spirit.  

But an endless expanse of waiting eventually ends at some point, and in the journey along the way, bits of treasure are gathered up and the paper is filled with sketches, words, paint strokes, glitter, remnants of flower and earth attached with glue. And then and only then, waiting ceases to be an endless roll of blank paper, but a work in progress.  Poetry and song and love story in the making.  

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When we see that the yawning stretch of time is actually born of moment upon moment upon moment.  Waiting is a chain of time and story linked together by moments.

And when the fullness of time comes, the wait is satisfied.    

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law..."

We wait, this Advent, for a gift already birthed; we wait for the continuous birth of this gift in our lives and hearts and world; and we wait, with eyes of faith, for consummation. 

But however long until the fullness of time, we wait, with hope, in moments.

Day four of a daily meditation, a practice of free writing on words of Advent this season...