The Journey Beyond Ourselves

Water13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17: 1-9)

I remember when John baptized him.  Jesus, dressed in white, got into the water and John pushed his head under.  As he emerged, the heavens seemed to open as if God was pleased.  It was special, sort of an affirmation of who he was, who I had known he was all along.  In that moment, I began to understand that his role was bigger than our family, bigger than my son, even bigger than these that he had gathered around him.  I knew that but in that moment I began to understand it.  I was here to walk with him as he prepared not only to be a rabbi, a teacher, but to take on the ministry to which God called him.  And in that moment in the waters of re-creation, his ministry began.  This is the moment when God claims this child of God as the One who God calls.  This was the becoming and the beginning that he needed.  I had to begin to let go of what I knew.

I thought back to that time in Jerusalem when we found him in the temple with the rabbis.  My first reaction was relief that he was found.  I wanted to take him and hold him and never let him loose again.  My next reaction was anger that he had worried us so.  But the scene of him sitting there listening to the rabbis, understanding more than most adults will ever understand, made up for it all.  I knew then that he was beyond me, that I was here only for a time to help lead him to what he was called to do.  I knew that he was meant to be something more even than what I had thought.

So many of us get so wrapped up in those things that we can control or those that make us at least feel in control.  We want to be safe and comfortable.  So in this Christmas season, we often tend to wrap ourselves in our shopping, our plans for meals, and our family gatherings, our traditions of the way we do things and the expectations that they will be like they’ve been before.  These memories remind us all that we are continuously called beyond ourselves.  God calls us to newness, even in the midst of the familiar traditions that are so much a part of us.  That is the way God transforms us.  That is the way God moves us beyond ourselves.  That is the way God loves us.

God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God.  God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.   (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

FOR TODAY:  How is God moving you beyond yourself?  How is God bringing newness even to the traditions that you hold so closely?

Peace to you as we come closer to that holiest of nights,

Shelli

When You Come to the Gate

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The Eastern Gate (or Golden Gate), Jerusalem (sealed in 1541)

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields.9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 10Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 11Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11: 1-11)

I remember that day that he entered Jerusalem.  Was that only a week ago?  It seems like a lifetime ago.  It was celebratory and wonderful.  The crowds were at ease, laughing, having a good time.  The young colt was almost comic relief as Jesus’ feet hung down and almost dragged the stones beneath.  After the long trip through the desert, this was the entrance into the city.  No one knew what would happen.  No one knew whether he would be accepted as a leader the way he finally began to be in Galilee or whether it would turn terribly wrong.  We know how it turned out now, but at the time we were holding onto hope that it might go smoothly.

I also remember that by the time we reached the gate to the city, our crowd had dwindled considerably.  Where did everyone go?  I supposed back to their lives.  How many times do we choose to return to our lives rather than stepping forward through the gate?  For me, I am so grateful that I did not do that years ago when the angel came to me.  Perhaps my life would have been easier, more predictable, certainly safer.  But it would not have been the right life for me.  This, this was the life that God envisioned for me.  That’s why it feels so right.  Sometimes it is painful.  Sometimes it is downright scary. But more often it is filled with the glorious blessings I’ve had.

I wonder where most of us would have been that day had we known.  It would have been so easy to turn back, so tempting to try to convince him to turn back, to go elsewhere with his ministry where he would be accepted and even welcomed.  But I understand now that God calls us to walk through the wilderness, to traverse the unknown, to step forward through the gates that life presents in faith.  God doesn’t call us to walk roads that have been paved over and over by others but rather to embark on the rough-hewed roads that need our work.  It is only then that we can become who God intends us to be.  It is only then that it feels right.  For me, it has been the difference between an easy life and one that is truly blessed.  I pray that the generations that follow me will grasp that and have the courage to go through the gate.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, Give me a light that I might go safely out into the darkness. And he replied, Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be more to you than a light, and safer than a known way. (M. L. Haskins)

FOR TODAY:  What gate are you being called to enter?

Peace to you as we come closer to that holiest of nights,

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

Joy to the World!

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1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5)

 

Joy to the World , the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.

(Isaac Watts, 1719)

 

The day has dawned!  Sometime in the night, God tiptoed into the world and made a home.  And the world will never be the same again.  Most of us barely noticed.  Most of the world woke this morning and went on with their lives.  That’s OK.  If God had wanted fanfare, then I supposed God would have come with a bit more flourish and drama, perhaps calling ahead or something.  But instead, God enters as one of us, quietly slipping the Divine into our midst with as little noise as possible.  (Although I suppose it’s hard to enter quietly with a multitude of angels in tow!)

 

When Isaac Watts first wrote the familiar Christmas carol “Joy to the World”, he didn’t mean for it to be a carol at all.  The words were originally written to celebrate the triumphant second coming of Christ rather than the birth that we celebrate this morning.  I think that’s the reason it works, though.  God’s coming into the world is not merely something that happened more than 2,000 years ago.  Today is not the celebration of the anniversary of Jesus’ birth as if it is some sort of historic relic that we hold; rather, today–THIS day–IS the coming of God into our midst, the realization that even now, Heaven is spilling into our lives, making a home, and Heaven and Nature are singing together.

 

God comes quietly, tiptoeing into our lives each and every day of our existence.  A new Light has dawned and every day is Christmas!  So when the Holy and Sacred dawn in our life, are we called to join in loud acclaim, or are we called to silently open our our lives and let the Divine spill in?  With all respect to Mr. Watts, I’m not a big watcher of the “Second Coming” of Christ.  I don’t know what that looks like and the Scriptures are not that specific about it.  I think the point of Christmas is that the Lord is come (as in already)!  God came quietly into our world as the Christ child more than 2,000 years ago.  It was the First Day of the new dawn.  And the Light has been rising each every day since.  And for every heart that quietly opens and makes room for God to tiptoe in and make a home, the Light becomes brighter.  Rather than waiting for God’s coming, let us see that God is here.  Let us see that every day is Christmas.  (And, along the same lines, perhaps every day is the triumphant coming for which we are looking until God’s Kingdom and the recreation of all is complete!)  Joy to the World!  The Lord is come!

 

The Lord is come!  Let us now go and see this thing that has taken place!

 

The Christmas spirit is that hope which tenaciously clings to the hearts of the faithful and announces in the face of any Herod the world can produce and all the inn doors slammed in our faces and all the dark nights of our souls, that with God all things still are possible, that even now unto us a Child is born! (Ann Weems)

Merry Christmas!

Shelli

 

Thank you for joining me this season as we prepared ourselves for this glorious day!  Now it’s time for me to take a little break!  I’ll be back every day during Lent (which is incredibly soon this year!) and perhaps I can get my act together to post some other posts in the meantime!  Have a joyous Christmas! (Because THAT season has just begun!)   And keep dancing to God!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

O Holy Night

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And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2: 1-14, King James Version)

 

Mary and Joseph have arrived.  The crowds are almost too much to take, pushing and crushing as the couple makes their way through them.  Mary doesn’t feel well.  She really needs to just lie down and rest.  And when you don’t feel well, the last place you want to be is somewhere that is not home, somewhere foreign, somewhere so crowded, so unwelcoming.  They need to hurry.  There is not too much time left.

 

They stop at a small inn up on the hill overlooking the shepherds’ pastures down below.  Joseph leaves Mary for a moment and goes to make arrangements for a place to stay.  But when he returns, his face looks frustrated, almost in tears.  He tells Mary that the inn is full.  In fact, the whole town is full.  There is no place to stay.  There is no room.  But he tells Mary that the innkeeper has given them permission to at least go into the stableroom to keep warm.  He’s freshening the hay now.  He actually was very nice and was trying his best to make them comfortable.

 

So Mary and Joseph entered the stableroom and, surrounded by animals, tried to get some rest.   They could still hear the crowded city outside.  They could hear the Roman guards yelling as they tried to control the crowds.  It made the place feel every more foreign, even more foreboding.  But directly overhead, was the brightest star they had ever seen.  It was as if the tiny little stable was being bathed in light.  So Mary laid down and closed her eyes.  She knew that the time was almost here.  She knew that the baby was coming into the world.

 

And on this night of nights, into a cold, dirty stable in a small town filled with yelling and pushing crowds, into a place occupied by soldiers, into a place that did not feel like home, into a world that had no room, God comes.  The door to the Divine swings open and God and all of heaven burst into our little world, flooding it with Light and Life.  And yet, the child in the manger bathed in light, the very Incarnation of the Divine, Emmanuel, God With Us, the Messiah, is, still, one of us.  God takes the form of one of us–just an ordinary human–a human like you and me–to show us what it means to be one of us, to be human, to be made in the image of God.

 

God comes into a world that is unprepared for God, that has no room for God.  God comes into places that are unclean, unworthy, unacceptable for us, much less for the Divine.  God comes into places that most of us would not go, out of fear of the other, out of fear of the unknown, out of fear of the darkness. And there God makes a home.  The Divine begins to pour into the world and with it a vision of the world pouring into the Divine.  This night, though, is not the pinnacle of our lives but, rather, the beginning of a new chapter.  God comes, bathed in Light, in the humblest of disguises imaginable, into the lowliest of places we know, into the darkest night of the soul, that we might finally know that all of the world is of God, all of the world is bathed in the Divine.  God comes so that we might finally see life as we are called to see it and live life as we are called to live it, filled with mercy and compassion and awareness of our connectedness to all the world.  God comes so that we might finally be human, so that we might finally make room.

 

Perhaps the world will never be completely ready for God.  If God waited for us to be completely prepared, God would never come at all.  But this God doesn’t need our preparation. This God doesn’t need to come into a place that is cleaned up and sanitized for God.  Instead, God comes when and where God comes.  God comes into godforsakenness, into a world that is occupied by foreignness, where the need for God is the greatest, into a world that cries out for justice and peace, and there God makes a home.  God comes into the darkness and bathes it in light.

 

The time is here.  In this moment, the door to the Divine swings open and God and all of heaven are now bursting into the world.  If you stop and listen, just for a moment, you can hear the harps eternal in the distance as they approach our lives.  Can’t you feel it?  Doors opening, light flooding in, the earth filled with a new vision of hope and peace.  Maybe, just maybe, tonight will be different.  Maybe this is the night that the world chooses peace and justice and love.  Maybe this is the night that the world takes joy. Maybe this is the night when the world realizes that it is already filled with the Divine.  Maybe this is the night when we become human.  Maybe this is the night that we make room.

 

It gets darker and darker…and then Jesus is born. (Ann Lamott)

 

Merry Christmas!

Shelli

 

Drawing Near

Advent 13A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)

Tis the season! Do you believe it? It’s here—the turkey leftovers are in the refrigerator, the glass pumpkins are being packed away, and now we begin to drag out the Christmas decorations and enter into the mad scramble to get the perfect gifts before Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, Extended Black Friday, and the Last Minute Tuesday Sale that ends at 12:05 where you can still ship your Christmas gifts for a mere $29.99 sales are gone.

Sad, really…I mean, intellectually, we know that this is not what Advent is, It’s the time of preparation, rather than decorating. It’s the time of self-reflection rather than gift-buying. It’s the time of looking for the coming of Christ rather than planning the perfect Christmas celebration. It’s a hard line. We want so badly to sing Christmas carols and buy presents and get them all wrapped so that we can enjoy our Christmas Eve and we forget that Christmas isn’t really here yet. What?!? (Because you see, Amazon.com, Target, Macy’s, and their myriad of brother and sister stores do not, as opposed to what it appears, tell us when Christmas comes.)

Christmas comes when it comes. Christ comes when Christ comes. God comes, well, really, all the time. God has drawn near. God is waiting for us to do the same. God is waiting for us to draw near to God. Have you ever thought that in our scramble to prepare for Christmas, we have missed the notion that God is here, that God calls us to draw near to God rather than vice versa? So what does it mean to “prepare the way”? After all, good grief, I’m dragging out all those decorations! The neighborhood Christmas lights are beginning to appear. And I’ve got a party planned for two weeks from today. (TWO WEEKS???? ARE YOU KIDDING???) Prepare the way of the Lord…

What if this Advent in the midst of decorations and presents and flurries of activities for which we are not ready, we prepared the way of the Lord? What if all the groceries you buy included an offering to the food bank nearest you? What if every dollar you spent on gifts was matched in a donation to a clothing bank or something like that? And what if rather than spending more money on decorations other than what you already own, you made a donation to the nearest homeless shelter? (I mean, do you NEED that last poinsettia or centerpiece?) What if this first candle you light is the beginning of you preparing the Way of the Lord?

God will come when God will come. But we are called to prepare the Way. What if the Way is already there, laid out for us to follow and this Advent is the time that we are called to follow it, the time to draw near?

The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end in all of us that is not yet Christ. (Thomas Merton)