Do This

 

jesus-in-the-garden-of-gethsemane-16-12-203Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 9Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” 12After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.16Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. 17If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13: 3-17)

I thought of that last night that we were together.  It was wonderful.  It was a cool evening and the breeze was blowing into the room through the open windows.  All of our family was there and all of Jesus’ friends were all together at a table near the door.  It was the Passover festival and we so enjoyed ourselves.  Jesus sat next to me.  He had been unusually pensive, almost as if he were grieving.  Several times he looked around the room with a faraway look in his eyes.  He put his hand on my shoulder and then he got up and went over and joined his friends.  They had all been through so much and they finally seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I turned back to the table to talk to the family and when I looked again, Jesus was kneeling down and washing the disciples’ feet.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.  Most had seen him as a leader of those men that could at times be almost over-zealous.  But the one I knew was kneeling there—compassionate, loving, almost a servant.  I realize now that he was showing us who we should be.  He was showing us how to love one another, how to put others first, how to see God in others’ eyes.  I feel so blessed to be able to say how much I learned from him.  Many parents cannot say that.  I learned to love; I learned to be gentle and compassionate; I learned to serve.  I am certain that future generations will picture this night and see only Jesus and his disciples.  But it was Passover.  We were all there.  We were all watching, although we were careful not to disturb the certain intimacy that was in that moment.  We did not understand in the moment what the next day would hold but we knew that this was a special time and a special place.

I didn’t go with them when they left and walked down to the Garden.  I wish I had.  I know that I couldn’t have done anything, but maybe I could have comforted him or something.  There in the garden, Jesus was arrested.  It was said that one of the disciples had betrayed him, pointing him out to the guards.  I didn’t concentrate too much on that.  All I know is that they took him away that night and I would never be able to hold him again.  Now I know that what happened that evening would spark the change in the world.  What happened that evening to that baby that I held, the baby that I lifted out of that hay-filled stall so many years ago, would begin a sequence of events that I know now was God’s way of leading us all through the story, leading us all home.

In that Garden, Jesus surrendered not his innocence but his control.  And only in surrendering will we know what God intends for our life.  I see now that if Joseph and I had not surrendered so long ago, giving ourselves to whatever it was God had in store, that I would not have been blessed with this life that I’ve known.  But, more importantly, the story would have been different.  Each of us has a chance not to write our own chapter but to be a part of a story that is already beautifully written.  What Jesus taught me was that each of us has to do this.  God did not create us as robotic characters following the one in front of us.  Instead, God placed a tiny piece of the Godself in each of us.  It’s called free will.  God created us to choose.  And then on our journey of faith, we are asked to choose to surrender it back to God so that we will finally understand what it means to be loved by God.

It’s not what you do for God; it’s what God does for you.  Instead of trying to love God, just let God love you. (Richard Rohr)

FOR TODAY:  What is God asking you to surrender so that you can be a part of the story?

Peace to you in this often-hectic week,

Shelli

What It’s All About

resurrection-lightEarly on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”… 

 11But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20: 1-2, 11-18)

These hours have been such a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions.  But in this moment, I am beginning to see what it was all about.  I want to hold her and comfort her and explain it all but Jesus’ young friend Mary is running around with a mix of hysteria and excitement.  Maybe she, too, is beginning to understand.  I always knew who he was, knew from that surreal night when the angel came.  I probably would have thought I was losing it but Joseph had had a dream too.   Oh, that seems so long ago and yet, I remember it like it happened just a second ago. No one really understood.  No one ever understood.  But we did.  We knew who he was.  But not until this moment did I really grasp it.

I hope that the world does not take this as a do-over of some sort.  Because it is all part of it—everything up to this moment and everything that comes to be.  All of time and all of space and all creation points to this and is illuminated by it.  All of those generations that carried the story to me and the generations that stretch out beyond where I will ever see are in this moment.  I now understand that that strange brilliance that led us to Bethlehem and then stayed with us through the night that he was born has been with me always.  And he showed me that.  But I didn’t understand until now.

The memories come flooding back to me now—more than three decades of memories.  They will take several days to process.  But now they are not memories wrapped in grief.  I understand that they are the story—his story, my story, Joseph’s story, the world’s story.  God came into the world and walked with me.  God invited me to dance with the Divine, to touch, to love, to hold the Godself.  There was nothing special about me.  I have always been so ordinary.  But now I see that my life is an incredible mix of the ordinary and the sacred.  God has come.  And now I understand that God was always here.  And will be forevermore. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.  Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”  I do feel blessed.  I pray that the world will begin to understand.

There was, indeed, something I had missed about Christianity, and now all of a sudden I could see what it was.  It was the Resurrection!  How could I have been a church historian and a person of prayer who loved God and still not known that the most fundamental Christian reality is not the suffering of the cross but the life it brings?…The foundation of the universe for which God made us, to which God draws us, and in which God keeps us is not death, but joy.  (Roberta Bondi)

FOR TODAY:  Begin to make room.  There’s more to the story than you thought.

Peace to you in this often-hectic week,

Shelli

Gaudete

joy14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 15The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. 16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. 17The Lord, your God, is in your midst. (Zephaniah 3: 14-17a)

This past Sunday, Gaudete Sunday (“Rejoice”), our third candle on the Advent wreath was the candle of joy.  I think that joy is hard for many of us to get our head around.  We Western Christians spend a lot of time pursuing happiness.  Our culture promises happiness if we will only…if we will only buy this or wear this or eat this or do this or go here or believe this way.  Many of our churches promise that God will shower us in happiness and prosperity if we will only…if we will only pray this way and do this and believe this and be this.  But happiness is elusive.  Happiness is fleeting.  Happiness is temporary.  But joy…God desires not that we be happy but that we have joy.  Joy is deep and abiding.  Joy overcomes.  Joy overpowers.  Joy can exist in the midst of the darkness—perhaps even break through the darkness given the chance.  Joy is found not in ourselves but beyond ourselves.  Joy is not something we pursue; joy is there for us already.

In this Advent season, we look for the signs that we so desperately want to see that will confirm God’s Presence.  But the signs are everywhere.  Rejoice!  Perhaps we are so busy trying to make our lives work out the way we want them to work out, to work out in the way that we think will bring us the most happiness, we are missing what is right in front of us.  As we near that holiest of nights, as we prepare to light our candles and sign Silent Night, and, if even for one moment, to feel the joy again, we need to practice by opening our eyes to God who, even now, is in our midst.

We have ten more days.  (Aaaaaggghhh!)  OK, let’s try again.  We have ten more days.  Rejoice!  The true joy of Christmas is that no matter what the darkness holds, no matter how all-encompassing it feels, no matter how many times our journey seems to lead us into quicksand, we are reminded that God comes into the tiniest of places and to the lowliest of spaces and claims them.  God claims us.  God claims you.  How can you NOT rejoice?  The celebration of Christmas reminds us that even though happiness is sometimes elusive, the joy of God-with-us settles into our soul and our minds and even our bones and stays.  God does not just come once a year in that magical candle-lighting, Silent Night-moment.  The Lord, your God, is in your midst.  The darkness may still surround you, but Joy has come and claimed a home.  Rejoice!  Gaudete!

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. (Julian of Norwich)

FOR TODAY:  Look around.  God is in your midst.  How can you NOT rejoice?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

An Emptying Season

empty cup of coffee on wood backgroundLet the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 5-8)

Emptying?  No, that’s not Advent.  That’s Lent!  Advent is about preparing ourselves for the big Coming Day.  Advent is about buying presents and putting ornaments on the tree and buying all the stuff that we need at the grocery store to make all those marvelous goodies.  We’re TRYING to prepare, but there’s just so much to do.  So, this is the season about making our list and checking it twice to make sure we don’t miss anyone or anything.  So what in the world does that have to do with emptying?

Well, nothing—it has nothing to do with any of those things.  That’s the point.  Where did we get the idea that preparing for Christ’s coming was about taking on more stuff?  You know with all this buying and all this trimming and all this baking and all this running around, how is Jesus going to fit in?  Our Advent preparations are not about filling our lives to the brim; they are about making room for the Christ in our lives.  And I’m thinking that probably means we need to do a little end-of-year cleaning.

When Jesus was born, there was no room in the world.  The world was just not quite ready.  The world was preoccupied with its own problems and its own situation.  The world was too busy trying to fill itself with good things and guard against someone taking them away.  The world was distracted with its politics and its games and its inability to fix it all and it forgot to make room.  So God came into the only emptiness that there was—a young girl’s womb, an open manger, and a displaced couple traveling far from home.  It seems that God does not often forcefully wedge the Divine self into places that are full and lit, places that are completed and closed.  Otherwise God would have been born in a warm bed with fresh sheets and perhaps a dark chocolate on the pillow.  But God instead seems to show up in those hollowed out darkened spaces, the ones that we have sometimes forgotten and sometimes just ignored.  Into the emptiness of the world, God comes.

So, this Advent, empty yourself a bit and make room for God to come into your life!

Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void. (Simone Weil)

FOR TODAY:  Stop…no more…empty some of that out!

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Bethlehem: The Road Ahead

Journey to Bethlehem-FinallyIn those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  (Luke 2: 1-5)

 

They felt like they had been climbing forever. The desert mountains seemed to be getting larger. They were doubting that they would make it in time. The looked up ahead and the mountain seemed to flatten out at the top. That would be good. It would give them a time to rest and try to get their bearings. As they stepped up to the flat part, they saw it. There…there it was…Jerusalem off in the distance. But there, right there, was Bethlehem. And in the still-darkened morning light, they saw a star that seemed to be right over the city. It was as if heaven and earth were coming together at that point. These hard days of journeying were coming to an end. But they also knew that things were changing. They knew that at this point they could never go back. But today…today would bring them to Bethlehem.

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Think of this day so long ago.  Bethlehem was in reach for this scared young couple who were so unsure of exactly what the world held for them.  They were rounding the final peaks of their journey.  But this day they found themselves no longer a part of their old lives and yet they didn’t really know what tomorrow would hold. But now, now they were traveling through a foreign land.  It was the land of Joseph’s family.  He had been there often as a child.  But the place was different somehow, full of those who followed this emperor, nothing like he really remembered.  The road was packed with travelers returning to the place of their ancestors to make their presence known to the government.  Joseph felt like he should know these people and, yet, they were all strangers to him.  Mary and Joseph did not feel like they were part of this new world and yet their old world did not exist.  There didn’t seem to be any room for them at all.

 

We are indeed standing on the edge of a brave new world, perched on a place that gives us view of what was and what is to come.  Oh sure, we do this once a year whether we’re ready or not. Once a year, the night of nights comes and we sing Silent Night and we light our candle and once again welcome the Christ Child into our lives.  Why is this year any different?  Because, in this moment, standing on this edge between who we are and who we will be has the possibility of changing everything.  This is the moment when we decide whether or not to turn toward Bethlehem or to turn and go back.  Standing in this place, a threshold of sorts, we see both roads, fully in our view.

 

We are not that different from that scared young couple or the myriad of folks that have answered God’s call through all time.  We find ourselves pulled between the life we’ve so carefully created and the life we’ve been promised.  It is hard to not hold so tightly to those structures that give us power and prestige and security.  And yet, God doesn’t call us to leave our lives behind but to live all that we are and all that we have within that vision that God holds for us.  And it is in this moment, standing here between the two ways that allows us to see how to do that, that allows us to see our lives the way that God sees them and journey on.  It is in this moment that God gives us new eyes and asks us to follow the star.  And if we do that, this year WILL be different.  We are standing in the threshold between a waiting world and one in which the Divine has already poured into our midst.  We live in the already and the not yet.  But for those who see with new eyes, the road ahead is the only one that makes sense anymore.  Because that is the way to Bethlehem.  Let us go and see this thing that has happened.  There’s a world about to be born in the form of a baby who is Christ the Lord.

 

This text speaks of the birth of a child, not the revolutionary deed of a strong man, or the breath-taking discovery of a sage, or the pious deed of a saint.  It truly boggles the mind:  The birth of a child is to bring about the great transformation of all things, is to bring salvation and redemption to all of humanity.

As if to shame the most powerful human efforts and achievements, a child is placed in the center of world history.  A child born of humans, a son given by God.  This is the mystery of the redemption of the world; all that is past and all that is to come.

All who at the manger finally lay down all power and honor, all prestige, all vanity, all arrogance and self-will; all who take their place among the lowly and let God alone be high; all who see the glory of God in the lowliness of the child in the manger:  these are the ones who will truly celebrate Christmas. (From Christmas With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. By Manfred Weber)

 

Go humbly, humble are the skies, and low and large and fierce the Star; So very near the Manger lies that we may travel far. (G.K. Chesterton)

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

The Wilderness: Led Through

Journey to Bethlehem-Wilderness

52Then he led out his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. 54And he brought them to his holy hill, to the mountain that his right hand had won. (Psalm 78: 52-54)

 

Mary and Joseph eventually came to a place near Jericho down the Wadi Kelt.  Jericho was warm and almost balmy, comfortable really.  It was probably a place of welcome.  And at that point Mary and Joseph would turn and head straight through the wilderness toward Bethlehem near Jerusalem.  The temperatures dropped and that added to the feeling of this forsaken desert that they had to traverse.  It was hard to stay on track in this wilderness.  The sands would blow with the wind and the pathway seemed to move beneath their feet.  It was the last part of their journey, but it would be the most difficult.  Temptation to get off the path met them at every turn. Most of all, they were tired, oh so tired.  And yet, there was a strange sense that they were being led, guided on the pathway by some unseen force.  They knew that God was with them, guiding them to the place that they were called to go.  All they had to do was walk and listen and trust that God was with them.  “Be not afraid,” the angel had said.  It was now that those words were needed more than ever.  The holy city was beckoning but the journey was one that they had never walked before.

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The wilderness seems to be a repeating theme, doesn’t it?  The wilderness is always there, sometimes between where we are and where we are called to go.  Sometimes, we, too, have to turn, change our course, and head straight into the wilderness.  And there, God leads us through—not around, but through.  There are no shortcuts.  God leads us through, helping us navigate the rough paths and the difficult sightlines, even when the sands seem to move our pathways beneath our feet, and, when the time is right, God brings us home.  Like sheep, we follow God to the place that we are meant to be.

 

But, like Mary and Joseph, sometimes we have to turn, to head down a pathway that God leads us.  Sometimes we have to go through a different place to get to the place that is home.  Sometimes that home makes no sense without our journey through the wilderness.  Three decades later, the child born to Mary would find himself again in the wilderness.  It would be his very undoing and then would be the place where he would begin again, the place where he would become who he was called to be and claim it for himself.  The wilderness is a place of Creation, much like the formless void that started us all.

 

So, on this journey to Bethlehem, perhaps God was leading Mary and Joseph to their beginning. And in the wilderness, before they arrived, they were being given a new way to see what God was about to do.  In this last of their Bethlehem journey, Mary and Joseph were becoming who God called them to be.  The wilderness is not often a place that we choose to go; rather it is a place that chooses us and through which we must follow so that we can arrive and on that holiest of nights know what part of it is that is ours to play not just for that night but forever.  In this moment, Mary and Joseph’s lives were changing.  There was no way they could back, no matter how tempting it was to control their own destiny.  God was calling them forward.  The Salvation of the World was waiting.

 

In the spiritual tradition, wilderness is the place where we leave the world behind and place ourselves at God’s disposal.. (Daniel Wolpert)

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

The Jordan River: Renewing Waters

Journey to Bethlehem-Jordan

3The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters… 11May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!  (Psalm 29: 3,11)

 

When Mary and Joseph got to the Jordan, it was such a relief.  The waters were calm and beckoning, as if they contained something life-giving, as if they contained life.  The river was a welcomed site.  It meant that the path that they had taken was the right one and for at least a while, the waters would be their guide.  They walked along the waters and listened to their voice.  It was as if they were giving them something more, washing away fear and hesitation, perhaps again telling them, “Do not be afraid.”  Somehow, this River Jordan, this simple body of water, called them in and sent them forth at the same time.  They stopped every now and then and drank the cool water and as it trickled down their throats, they felt renewed.  Things were going to be OK.  And somehow they knew that the River Jordan would be important for them, would somehow be the source of life.

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Three decades later, these waters would hold and give life yet again.  These same waters would be the ones that would claim Jesus, the baby yet to be, as God’s Beloved.  They would be the same waters that would send Jesus back into the wilderness to become who he was.  And then, the waters would give us life as well.  Water is the source of life in every way.  Creation began in the waters, swirling and forming until it was ready to emerge as the lands of the earth.  We began in the waters, protected in a watery womb until we could live.  And then we were given life again through the waters of baptism.

 

In a way, it is the waters that connect us all—Waters to land, oceans to continents, Creation to Life, Jesus’ baptism to our own, Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  We do not live hearing this story over and over again.  We are instead invited to become it, to enter the water and feel its power, to live the story and become someone new.  Perhaps it really is the waters that hold God’s voice.  We just have to listen as they swirl around us.

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As Jesus stood, dripping with the waters of the Jordan that poured back into themselves, everything indeed changed.  In that moment, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Creation and Eternity, manger and Cross, all who came before and all who would follow, were one.  In that moment, all that was and all that would be were almost indistinguishable from each other.  In that moment, all of those who were there that day and all of those who were part of the past and all of those who would come later in this walk of humanity, were swept into those waters, swept into the memories of what would be.  Remembering means that we realize that we are part of the story, that we, too, emerge dripping with those waters.

 

This time of waiting, this time of journeying to Bethlehem, is not to hear the story again but to become someone new, to change, to receive new life so that we can begin again.

 

The future enters into us in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli