December 23, 2012

Advent-Sacrament

Throughout Advent we’ve looked at the hymn Dear Lord and Father by Whittier, as a guide to a more centered and calmer season. We’ve considered that Advent is about forgiving, waiting, and seeking peace in a culturally frantic time. On this last week of Advent, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day almost here, I’d invite you to consider yet another way of looking at Advent-as a ‘Sacrament,’ a concept introduced, to me, by Thomas Merton:

Advent is the ‘sacrament’ of the PRESENCE of God in His world, in the mystery of Christ at work in history…it is the concrete plan of God for the salvation of men and the restoration of the whole world in Christ…the mystery can only be known by those who enter into it, who find their place in the Mystical Christ, and therefore find the mystery of Christ realized and fulfilled in themselves.” (Merton, Seasons of Celebration, as quoted in Advent and Christmas with Thomas Merton)

A sacrament is defined as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. By that definition, I think we can say that Advent is indeed a sacrament. This idea made me consider the correlation between the sacrament of Eucharist and the Babe in the manger. The result was this poem Holy Table, Holy Manger*:

Come to the Table
Come to the Feeding
Come to the Holy

Come to the Stable
Come to the Birth
Come to the One

Kneel at the Table
Kneel in Submission
Kneel to the Holy

Kneel at the Manger
Kneel in Adoration
Kneel to the One

Go from the Table
Go in God’s Power
Go filled with Holy

Go from the Stable
Go in God’s Presence
Go filled with One

Tell of the Table
Tell of Transformation
Tell of the Holy

Tell of the Manger
Tell of Incarnation
Tell of the One.

May your Christmas be blessed with time at the Manger where you can meet the Holy One born of Mary as we “go forth to meet our Savior on the same Road [Mary] by which He came to us.” (Merton, Seasons of Celebration, as quoted in Advent and Christmas with Thomas Merton)

See you in 2013!
 
*Holy Table, Holy Manger (C) Cynthia Davis 2012

December 16, 2012

Dear Lord and Father-Peace

The week of Advent 3 is upon us and if your house is like most, the frantic pace is picking up. It is even (maybe especially) true at churches as choirs and clergy and other workers prepare feverishly for the special services of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. As our thoughts and prayers linger with the families in Newtown, CT, we pray for peace and healing.

This is the time when it is so hard to hear the Spirit of God calling us to find peace. The hymn we’ve been meditating on has led us through Advent with a call to forgive and follow, to wait for the promise of the season. Dear Lord and Father, comes to an end with a call to peace and listening for the ‘still, small voice’ that calls us to calm.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.


Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.


The first week of Advent we looked at the need to turn back to God in this time of preparation and waiting. Last week, we saw that the waiting and preparation is not about doing things, but about allowing the Holy ideas to gestate so we can hear God call to us.

This week, Whittier calls us into the peace of God that happens when we allow God to “take from our souls the strain and stress…[and] breathe through the heats of our desire.” With 2 weeks til Christmas,and hearts heavy with grief, it may be hard to slow down enough to find “the beauty of Thy peace”.

To paraphrase the last verse, for the season:

Quiet the frantic search for gifts
So we may hear Thy Call.
Set aside sales, wrapping, ads,
And worship Thee alone.


What if, instead of picking up the pace as Christmas approaches, we slowed down and listened to the words of the hymn we have been mediating on during Advent? Here’s the Westminster Abbey choir singing the hymn.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=faNij71hh7o-
I don’t know if these thoughts have helped any of you have a calmer Advent, but I needed to hear the message myself. Isn’t that often the way it is, when you set out to prepare a talk or write a book or blog?God graciously opens our hearts to hear what we need to hear in the words we prepare to share!
 
Next week is the end of Advent and Christmas Eve is just around the corner!

December 9, 2012

Dear Lord and Father-Waiting

The second 2 verses of Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, the hymn we are meditating on this Advent, take us into a place of quiet and prayer with Jesus. A place to wait for God and wait on God’s will and for God’s call. We cannot hear God when we are running here and there ‘getting everything done’ (I remind myself this regularly). Instead, Advent invites us to come away to ‘the calm of hills above’ and be still with God.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee,
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity,
Interpreted by love!


With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.


Advent is about waiting, not tapping our foot waiting for Christmas to get here. Not the hyper waiting of children for Christmas Eve when “Santa comes”. Instead it’s a ‘pregnant’ waiting, because as The Rev. Laurie Brock or The Rev. Mary Koppel say in their blog, God needs holy things to gestate within our souls and within our communities. These holy ideas, understandings, insights, and actions all need time to become.”
Advent is waiting that invites us into the “Sabbath rest”. Whittier, knows that our busy-ness can “drown the tender whisper of Thy call.” In this season when culture is more obviously at odds with worship than the rest of the year, we are invited into the “silence of eternity, interpreted by Love.” That is the waiting of Advent-waiting for the Christ child, yes, and looking forward to the second coming, yes. More than that, Advent can be a time of waiting to hear God’s call and feel “blessings fall as fell Thy manna down.”
Waiting is not an easy thing to do, esp. amid the excitement and clamor of the season, and yes, the busy, hecticness too. But like a pregnant woman who needs to rest more often, so we must pause and listen for the sound of the loving, whispered call-perhaps to new ministry, perhaps to renewed vigor, perhaps to further quiet time.
I invite you to take a bit of quiet this week, just to gestate and consider the season of Advent itself and the promise it holds out of birth and rebirth.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the final 2 verses of the hymn.

December 2, 2012

Dear Lord and Father...forgive


Dear Lord and Father

I thought the meditations for the Advent season blogs would be a continuation of the Thin Places. A look at the Thin Times and Places where God is found in the lives of those impacted directly by the Incarnation. In this busy season though, it occurs to me that what we may need more than words is quiet places and quiet times. I invite you to join me in praying through the hymn Dear Lord and Father of Mankind by John Whittier, a Quaker poet of the 19th century.

The first couple of verses are very appropriate for this first week of Advent. The season of Advent is theologically and liturgically a time when we are supposed to take time to turn back to God in preparation for the great gift of the Incarnation at Christmas.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways;
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives Thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise
.


In simple trust like theirs who heard,
Beside the Syrian sea,
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word,
Rise up and follow Thee.


Whittier invites us to repent so that we can go deeper into our relationship with God. We will then have a mind and life focused on God and filled with reverence and praise. He compares this type of life to the early disciples who heard Jesus say ‘follow me’ and left all and followed Him. 

Too often the hustle and bustle of the season and preparation for the 'big day' distract us from the real meaning of Advent. We forget that we should take a few quiet moments to think about our relationship with our Lord. If music helps you meditate on the hymn, here is one version of it: 

In this season of preparation, take a moment or more to consider what these 2 verses say to you. What is your ‘rightful mind’ toward God? Do you feel reverence and praise toward God? Are you ready to “without a word, rise up and follow” wherever God calls?
Next week, we’ll look at what the next couple verses might say to us this Advent.

November 25, 2012

Thin Places can be found in Community



This last Sunday before Advent is known as Christus Rex Sunday. Christus Rex means “Christ the King”. In looking at the risen and crowned Christ, we can perhaps forget that there were times in the life of our Lord that He needed the assurance of God’s presence. In the wilderness, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and most deeply in the garden. Throughout His life, Jesus found God in prayer, and also in community and fellowship.
The first thing Jesus did was to form a community. He asked some rather unexpected men to follow him on his journey. Among them were fishermen, a tax collector, a questioner, and (ultimately) a traitor. Yet, with these men, Jesus created a community that supported Him in ministry and whom He entrusted with ministry.
We might look at them and say that they were an unlikely bunch to build a new ministry with. After all, at the most crucial time, when He needed them most, they abandoned him and fled to protect their own skins.
Still, Jesus trusted them with the message of a new Way of Life. After the Resurrection, He tells Peter, “Feed my sheep” (John 21: 15-17) and commissions them all to “Go to all the word and proclaim the Good News” (Mark 16:15). He tells them “go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always.” (Matthew 25:19-20)
We are part of that community that Jesus started. It is essential that we remain in community with each other for mutual support, and because it is with one another that we can experience God in the Thin Place that is Community.
The past 2 weekends I have experienced two separate communities coming together for retreat and leaving inspired and invigorated for ministry. On Nov. 9-10, a group of Women in the Diocese of the Rio Grande came together and did some joyful visioning of ministry. Last weekend, a group of men and women who have been active in the renewal movement known as Cursillo came together to start rebuilding that ministry.
In both cases, it was within the community of friends old and new that God was discovered and the Holy Spirit was felt in the love, sharing, friendship, and yes the work of planning, dreaming, discussing, and working together.
We can, sometimes, fall into the trap of thinking we can do it all by ourselves, but it is in and within the community that we really can accomplish ministry and hear the voice of God saying ‘Go, proclaim, preach, heal, teach for I am with you always when 2 or 3 are gathered together in my Name!’
Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent! The church year starts again. 

November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving is a Thin Tinme



This week we celebrate Thanksgiving. I think every culture in the world has some sort of celebration in recognition of the bringing in of the harvest and rejoicing that there is food in the barns for the winter months. In most traditions this takes place at the end of the growing season rather than later in the fall as we, in America, celebrate it.
For the Celtic Christians and many other traditions, the harvest festival was a time to celebrate, and also to share and ensure that others in the community were not hungry. It often came in late summer-August or September. Like most harvest traditions, special foods were associated with it. One is a kind of biscuit or scone called Bannock:
Pitcaithly Bannock
1 cup flour
½ cup butter
¼ cup sugar
2 T. chopped almonds
2 T. mixed candied citrus peel

Set oven to 325oF. Grease a baking sheet. Mix flour, butter, and sugar to form a dough. Add the almonds and the peel, making sure they are evenly distributed. Form a thick round on a lightly floured surface and prick all over with a fork. Place on the baking sheet and bake for about 45-60 minutes. Allow to cool and serve sliced thinly, buttered or with fruit jelly.
The Jewish festival of Sukkot (Succoth), in the fall, is the celebration of the ingathering of the fruits of the fields, and a reminder of the time in the wilderness. In Leviticus, Moses tells the people, "On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook" (Lev. 23:40), and "You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. 23:42-43).
By creating booths of the branches, the Jewish people are reminded of their sacred history. They are made aware of the thin time when God was present and led them in the wilderness wanderings until they came to their new home. There are special foods for Sukkot. Challah, the soft, egg bread braid is one, as is apple crisp.
The Celtic Christians, and the Jewish people, and we all celebrate God’s providing for our needs during the harvest festivals of our lives. Whether we call it Lughnasadh, Sukkot, or Thanksgiving we need to take a moment to remember that God is near when we give Thanks and that there are those who are less fortunate who need our care.
There is a prayer from the Celtic book of prayers The Carmina Gadelica that reminds us that God in Jesus Christ is in all things and that we should give praise and thanks.
It were as easy for Jesu
To renew the withered tree
As to wither the new
Were it His will to do so.
(Antiphon)
Jesu! Jesu! Jesu! Jesu!
Meet it were to praise him.
There is no plant in the ground
But it is full of his virtue,
There is no form in the strand
But is full of his blessing
(Antiphon)
There is no life in the sea
There is no creature in the river
There is naught in the firmament
But proclaims his goodness
(Antiphon)
There is not bird on the wing,
There is no star in the sky
There is nothing beneath the sun,
But proclaims his goodness.
(Antiphon)
I hope you have blessed Thanksgiving times with family and friends. In this season there are many who are not as blessed as we are. Some may even be our neighbors. Keep them in your prayers and perhaps take some kind of action as your heart leads you.
Next week we will look at a Thin Time in the life of Jesus himself.

November 11, 2012

Thin Times-When God gets our Attention

All of the thin places and thin times we’ve looked at have been instances when the Lord interrupted lives and came close to breathe new life into ministry. Jacob in his dream and while wrestling with God had his life refocused to become a real leader. Elijah, hearing the still small voice of God, was reassured and empowered. Moses at the burning bush found himself saying ‘yes’ to a great change in his life and in the history of the world.

In the New Testament, there are thin times and places. One of these is the conversion of Saul (soon to be Paul). The zealous young Pharisee is on his way to further persecute the heretical sect of Judaism (in his mind at least) in Damascus. He planned “that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:2).  

This was at least a 5 day journey. For most of the trip it was uneventful, boring even. Then, “as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The reply came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’” (Acts 9:3-6)

Saul finds himself confronted by the Living God who he thought he was serving by persecuting the “Way”. Sometimes, God has to get our attention with a 2 x 4, or a light from heaven. Not only is he knocked to the ground, Saul is struck blind, “so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” (Acts 9:8b-9) He is made dependent on others to learn true dependence on God.

The other person in this story who finds himself confronted by God is Ananias, already a convert to the ‘Way’ who lived in Damascus. He has a vision in which “’The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’” (Acts 9:10-12)

Imagine how Ananias felt. God has asked him to go to an enemy of the fledgling church. He argues, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” (Acts 9:13-14) Like with Moses generations earlier, God reassures his chosen instrument and sends him out, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16) Ananias, no doubt with fear and trembling, goes to see Saul. He trusts his Lord enough to act even when common sense would say 'this could be a trap'. Are there times when you have acted out of faith even when, by human standards, the task seems dangerous or impossible?

The two men who have been confronted by God now come together and the direction of the early life of the church is set. “Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:17-19) Adversaries are made friends and the Saul's old way of looking at his faith is transformed into living faith in the new 'Way.' Isn't it amazing what God can do when we obey?

God often asks us to do things we may not feel strong enough, or wise enough, or powerful enough, or any number of other excuses. As Ananias discovered, you cannot say ‘no’ to God. The Lord has a plan for our lives that we don’t necessarily understand. God challenges us and even knocks us off our feet in order to get our attention. We can say ‘no’ and even try to hide (like Jonah), but God’s love for us won’t leave us alone. No matter how much we argue, God will keep urging and nudging until we do offer our life to God’s service. The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson (1859-1907) gives a poetic turn to this seeking by God’s love and our flight from it (this is a much abridged version, you can find the whole poem online):

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
  I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
  Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
                  Up vistaed hopes I sped;
                  And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
                  But with unhurrying chase,
                  And unperturbèd pace,
                Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
                  They beat--and a Voice beat
                  More instant than the Feet--
                "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
                  I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
Still with unhurrying chase,
                  And unperturbèd pace,
                Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
                  Came on the following Feet,
                  And a Voice above their beat--
                "Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me."
Now of that long pursuit
                  Comes on at hand the bruit;
                That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
                  "And is thy earth so marred,
                  Shattered in shard on shard?
                Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
                Strange, piteous, futile thing,
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught," He said,
"And human love needs human meriting,
                How hast thou merited--
Of all man's clotted clay rhe dingiest clot?
                Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
                Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
                Not for thy harms.
But just that thou might'st seek it in my arms.
                All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for the at home;
                Rise, clasp My hand, and come!"

  Halts by me that footfall;
  Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstreched caressingly?
  "Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
  I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me."

God loved Saul so much that God had to get his attention by striking him blind. God loved Ananias so much that God helped him move past fear to ministry. God loves Francis Thompsons's poetic character so much that God follows until the protagonist finds that "I am He Whom thou seekest." God loves you and me so much that God is there in good times and bad and even, maybe esp., when God gets our attention! Thanks be to God that God is persistent!
Next time we will look at God present in our thanks-giving-when we know the Holy is near and rejoice.

November 4, 2012

Thin Places-Holy Groung


Thin places are times and locations where God comes very close to humanity. Since the beginning of October, we’ve seen that this can be in dreams, in acts of nature, even in seasons of the year. In Celtic Christianity, all of life was a part of the holiness of God and God was within and without and around all parts of life. Many prayers gathered from the few writings of ancient Gaelic and Irish sources focus on asking God to be present in the minutia of the day. From getting up and dressing, to milking the cow and kindling the fire, to going to bed and traveling-God is invoked into each of these actions.

Moses could have related to seeing God into all parts of life. During his early life in Egypt he learned to worship gods for every part of life. Various gods were credited with causing the annual Nile floods, providing fertility to land and creature, giving light and dark, etc. Coming to Midian and learning about the Yahweh might have been a challenge to him as he learned that there is only One God over all things. Then he had his own encounter with that One God.

We know the story. “Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” (Exodus 3:1) The scene that follows has been immortalized in song and cinema and art throughout the ages.

The shepherd Moses is confronted by the Living God in a “bush that was burning, yet it was not consumed.” Moses decides to “turn aside and see this great sight.” (Exodus 3:2-3) It is then that he meets God in this ‘thin place’. God tells him to “put off your shoes…for the place on which you are standing is holy ground…I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:5)

Moses was willing to take a moment to check out “this great sight” and because he did, God was able to meet him and commission him to free the Children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. Of course Moses hesitates and argues with God saying, “who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Don’t we all have that tendency when we sense God is calling us to step outside our comfort zone?)

When Moses left the path to see the bush, he was already on the road to saying ‘yes’ to God, even if he didn’t know it. He was aware of God’s presence around him and responded to the flaming bush-partly with curiosity and partly in faith.

How often do we take time to notice whether the bush in our path is burning or not? I have to admit that too often I rush on by, focused on getting to ‘my’ destination. Stopping to ‘smell the roses’ gets put on the back burner as I scamper on my busy way. Lao-Tzu is quoted as saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Our faith journeys also start with a single step toward God. When we pause long enough to notice that there is a bush or ministry or event alive with the holiness of God, we are already allowing God to break into our life and, very likely, transform it.

Next time we’ll consider times when God has to ‘get our attention’.

October 28, 2012

Thin Time-Samhain


We’re looking at Thin Places and Times-places where heaven and earth are very near. This is a spirituality found in Celtic Christianity and in the Hebrew scriptures, and other religions, too. This week there will be “Trick-or-Treaters” in costume celebrating Halloween. Did you know that this tradition comes from the Celtic belief that November 1, the Celtic new year, was an extraordinary time. The veil between the Otherworld and Earth was open and the dead could visit earth (and vice versa, in some Celtic myth).
The Celtic year was broken into seasons that roughly followed the sun’s equinoxes and solstices. Samhain (November 1) marked the start of the cycle because, like the Jewish day, all creation begins in darkness. The Winter solstice (Dec. 21) and then Imbolc (Feb. 1) which was dedicated to Brigid and fertility, esp. of flocks and fields. Then came the Spring Equinox (March 21) and Beltaine on May 1 (a time of engagements). The Summer Solstice (June 21) led to Lughsdaugh on August 1 when the first harvest/first fruits were gathered. The Autumn Equinox (September 21) completed the cycle with the shortening of days.

All fires were extinguished at Samhain and new fire was kindled for the new year. Offerings symbolizing the wishes and thanksgivings of the people were thrown into the fire so everyone could start afresh. The year past was thus purged of the bad and made ‘hallow’ (holy) while the new year was blessed.

Samhain was a time fraught with magic and fairies, elves, and other supernatural beings were abroad. The new fire was a way to keep these, not always friendly, spirits at bay. Bonfires were lit on Halloween even as late at the first World War in parts of Ireland and Scotland. More and more, though, the big fires became the Jack ‘o Lanterns carved with faces and other images.

Samhain, the thin place and start of the new cycle, became ‘Christianized’ into Hallow Mass or All Saints’ Day. The evening before All Hallow’s Day is All Hallows Eve and eventually that contracted into Halloween.

Hallow is a word not used much any more, but it means to make holy or sacred and to venerate. Abraham Lincoln used hallowed in the Gettysburg address when talking about the lives lost in that battle:But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” We may blithely recite “Hallowed be Thy name” in the Lord’s Prayer, but do we stop and consider that we are saying “Holy is your Name” to God?

On All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 2) we remember all the faithful departed. On All Hallows Eve (Halloween) this year, let us say a prayer that our lives may be Hallowed to the Lord, just as those who have gone before us have been hallowed and made holy in the presence of our Lord. Perhaps this prayer said at the kindling of the daily fire (when people had to kindle their fire for heat and cooling) will give you an idea:

I will kindle my fire this morning
In the presence of the holy angels of heaven,
In the presence of Ariel of the loveliest form
In the presence of Uriel of the myriad charms,

Without malice, without jealousy, without envy,
Without fear, without terror of any one under the sun,
But the Holy Son of God to shield me.

God, kindle Thou in my heart within
A flame of love to my neighbor,
To my foe, to my friend, to my kindred all,
To the brave, to the knave, to the thrall,

O Son of the loveliest Mary,
From the lowliest thing that liveth,
To the Name that is highest of all.
 
See you next time as we look at Hallowed Ground or Holy Ground. Perhaps it's just under your feet.