December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

As I heard in a sermon last Sunday, this time of year is when divinity and humanity intersect in an explosive way to change the world. As I have noted in other posts, the season changes have been considered ‘thin times’ by Celtic spirituality and others for millenia. These are times when heaven comes close to earth and the gateways are open so that it is possible and even probable for the Holy to enter into the secular. Of course, Immanuel, God with us, is the ultimate breaking in of the Holy into human existence.

 We can get caught up in the celebration of “Happy Birthday Jesus” and the secular fun of presents and family-all good! It is too easy to forget that the whole reason for Immanuel was our salvation via the cross. Jesus was born to be Love Incarnate and that to the point of death on the Cross. May your heart be open to receive the offered Love and to bear it into the world in reconciliation and peace.
 
Music and art help us be more aware of this truth. Christmas songs, like The Little Drummer Boy express the longing of all humanity and the welcoming of the Infant to all who come. The Drummer Boy brings his only possession and only talent to offer to the “newborn King…” The Babe responded to the joy of the Boy-“then he smiled at me…” Recently the blog Busted Halo had a post about this song that was interesting.

The song, Come to My Heart Lord Jesus by Emily Elliott reminds us of the entire journey of the Infant whose birth we remember and recount:
Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
Refrain:
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.


Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.

 
The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.
Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word,
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary.
When the heav’ns shall ring, and her choirs shall sing,
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me home, saying “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee.”
 I offer you a final image to meditate on. The shadow of a cross falls across the manger and the toddler Jesus plays in Joseph’s carpenter’s shop with spikes as the sun casts the shadow of a cross behind him.

May you have a joyous Christmas tide, welcoming the Holy Child into your life more deeply.

May the manger of your heart hold the One who created the stars and the One who became an Infant.
May the manger of your hands shares the One who redeemed the world and continues to reconcile each of us to God.
May you find joy in the One who is ever with us.

As the hymn says, "Come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee."

December 22, 2013

Expect God to Act

And so we come full circle here in the last Sunday of Advent. We have looked at being aware of God around us-an activity that requires us to be vulnerable and to set aside the walls we have built up. We have discovered that faith is necessary to expecting God. We saw that expecting God means hearing “I love you” from God.

In the season of Advent, the lessons all remind us that God acts in a mighty way. Not just in 1st century Bethlehem, but in the teaching of the Old Testament prophets and in the early church. God still acts today. When we are aware and expectant we can see that.  

We like to pretend that we control our destiny-but it is God who acts. “Man proposes, God disposes” as the saying goes. As noted back on the first Sunday of Advent, Expect is an active word-from the root meaning to look or to see. When we Expect God-we look for God in our life and in the lives of those around. When we look for God, we will see God at work.

In this Advent season we often hear sermons about Mary and how she said “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) We are reminded to be as obedient and willing to serve as Mary. What we don’t hear as much about is how courageous Mary was in her willing response. For me, this Annunciation by John Collier captures some of that fear, as Mary seems to hold herself back from Gabriel. Yet, she ultimately doesn't question or refuse. Mary says 'Yes' to God.

Jim Trainor recently said,  Even in her fear, Mary says Yes. You see, courage isn’t not being afraid. Courage is not letting your fear stop you from saying, ‘Yes.’”

How do we say ‘yes’ to the Living God? As passive spectators or active participants? Rachel Naomi Remen (A Time for Listening and Caring) says, “Helping, fixing, and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.” To me this represents a paradigm shift in thinking. We serve because we are working alongside God for world that God called into being and said “It is Good”. I think Remen is correct in saying that fixing and helping are the ‘work of the ego’ because we cannot and should not think we can ‘correct’ or ‘improve on’ God’s work. We can be stewards and co-workers in the vineyard.

Trainor continues in his blog, “God challenges us today – like he did Mary – to get out of our comfort zone, way out of our comfort zone. He challenges us to keep following that little baby that Mary brought into the world – and that means being vehicles of his healing and restoration and rescue and reconciliation.”

 None of us know what 2014 will bring. We can be assured that God is going to continue to act and that we who wait on God with expectation will find opportunities-new and old-to respond ‘yes’.

 I wish each of you, my readers, a blessed Christmas and a Holy New Year. I hope you will continue to stop by from time to time to see what's happening with this blog and with my books. It's hard to fathom that 6 years have slid by posting to this blog, on a weekly (sometimes more often) basis! I pray that sometime in those years my words have touched a chord in some reader and will do so in the future. 

December 15, 2013

Expect God-through Prayer

On this 3rd week of Advent, we continue to look at how to Expect God to Act in our lives. God does act, even when we aren’t aware of it. Expecting God is becoming aware of the Holy in our lives again. It is rediscovering the “faith of a child” that simply waits with expectation for God to be present and act. Advent seems the perfect time to wait in expectation.

Expectant waiting is not just a passive thing. It’s not just sitting around waiting for God to show up. Think about Mary and Joseph as they waited in expectation for their Child to be born. Anyone who has ever been a parent or around an expectant couple knows they didn’t just sit around. They had to do things to get prepared. The cradle and the swaddling clothing had to be made. They had time to consider how their lives would change with the addition of a baby.
There are things we can do prepare ourselves to expect God. Active waiting might involve putting down the i-pad and going for a walk. Even if you don’t find God right away, you may improve your health! On the other hand, you may just catch a glimpse of the Holy. Hands Free Mama, another blog I catch periodically notes, “If you should happen to catch a glimpse of what really matters in life, regard it with care. Decorate it with flowers. Cover it with love. Hold it in the sunshine. Give it a little bit of your time and attention. And if the world tries to push you forward, listen to your heart instead. Because if you don’t make time for what really matters, no one else is going to do it.” (sorry I can't find the exact post for this quote.)

I think that what she says can carry over into our Expecting God in the day-to-day. When we do see or experience or notice God we should pause and regard God, care for the time, decorate it, perhaps, and certainly love and be loved by God. We should hold and give the Gift of God our time and attention so that we can hear that still small voice of God.
One way to do that is prayer. Not necessarily the rote prayers we may say regularly, but quiet time spent expecting and waiting for God. Joan Chittister comments, “Prayer is an attitude toward life that sees everything as ultimately sacred, everything as potentially life-changing, everything as revelatory of life’s meaning. It is our link between daily-ness and eternity.” (taken from a FB post 11/19/13)

Finding and keeping a prayer time can help to rediscover the anticipation of the child’s faith and the awareness of God’s presence. And prayer can be done while walking or while kneeling, while sitting on a bus or in the quiet of your room. God is delighted when we turn to him in prayer, which is of itself a form of faith and expectation. We pray because we expect God to be there. And when we do pray, we hear God say-I Love You.
Some might argue that prayer isn’t a very active way of Expecting God. On the other hand, prayer can be very intense and indeed active. Prayer in itself is waiting expectantly to hear God and to know God. Continuing to practice time with God will help you find that God is present in the day-to-day...maybe when and where you’d least expect to find God.

This prayer from another blog I follow encapsulates, for me, what we want when we wait and pray expectantly, esp. in Advent:
We're waiting for a revolution;
Waiting for the impossible.


We're waiting for change,
For the coming of the One.
We're waiting to be told, "Yes,"
To be included.


Go with hope that,
Whatever you are waiting for,
God will answer
The prayer of your heart. 
 
Will you take some time during the rest of this busy season to “catch a glimpse of what really matters in life [and] regard it with care”? Will I?

December 8, 2013

Expect God in Faith

This Advent, we are looking at how to learn to Expect God to act in our lives. The season of Advent, the time of preparation for Christmas is filled with all kinds of anticipation. We wonder what we’ll get for Christmas. Will it be what we asked for? We see the glittering Christmas d├ęcor in magazines and expect that we can make our homes look the same. In all of that expectation, we may forget the One who we are really preparing to welcome. We may forget to Expect God to come into our hearts anew each day and esp. on Christmas.

Expecting God requires faith and I recently read a quote from Madeline L’Engle: “Faith is for that which lies on the other side of reason. Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.” Perhaps we adults try to be too rational about God. We rationalize even our expectations of God by saying ‘I’m not worthy’ or ‘God is too busy to care about my little problem’. Faith however says the opposite. Faith says God considers each of us worth so much that he ‘sent his only Son…”(John 3:16) Faith says “Ask and you shall receive.” (Matthew 7:7)
Jesus says we must “have faith like a little child”. How can that be? A child can’t understand God. And of course that’s the point. We are not meant to understand or explain the Holy, but to believe and expect that God is present. We become aware that God is good and God is in all things.

A child often finds it much easier to believe than we adults. A child simply believes. A child accepts God and fairies and magic without trying to figure them out. A child finds joy in pretending to be a princess or a soldier. A child waits impatiently, but with expectation, for Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy. A child doesn’t doubt that his wish on a star will happen. A child is quick to share joys and hurts and wants and needs. A child expects a good outcome to each morning.
We adults too often lose that anticipation and expectation. We smile tolerantly when a child wishes urgently on her birthday candle. We helpfully act the part of Santa or the Easter Bunny to ‘keep the magic alive’ for our children, all the while shaking our heads at the innocence that believes these fictions. We hide our own hurts and wants and needs out of fear of seeming weak and not self-sufficient. We crawl out of bed, too often, dreading the day to come instead of expecting to find God in the midst of the joys and challenges.

So what if we tried to recapture the “faith of a child” and to expect to experience God as we go through each day? What if Advent really is the start of something wonderful and God really is coming? I follow a daily meditation (d365.com) which recently noted, “When John the Baptist said the Messiah was coming, people had a hard time believing it, especially when it came from a guy who ate bugs and wore strange clothes. And yet they followed him, eager to hear more about the One Who Would Save Us. There's a bumper sticker: “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” This season asks us to wonder what we would do if we believed the impossible could happen. What if the Messiah really is coming again? What if there is a revolution ahead? What if God is bringing heaven to earth?” 
You cannot force an experience of God. You can only be open and wait in expectation for God to brush by like a butterfly or explode in front like a burning bush. It’s not easy to be that unguarded because in order to be available and expecting God, you have to be vulnerable to being hurt by those around you. But faith tells you that “all things work for good” and that “my yoke is easy, my burden is light”. Maybe it is worth the risk to try and be more open.

This week, I plan to try and be more expectant to the wonder of God around me. To be more child-like in my faith and expectation of the Holy exploding into my life. I wonder if there will be any change.
Join me if you dare…

December 1, 2013

Expect God-Awareness

At a recent retreat, the spiritual director mentioned that we should Expect God to Act. That really caught my attention and I started wondering what difference it would make in my attitude if I started living as if I Expected God to Act in situations, rather than trying to manipulate them to what I thought God (or I) might want… It seemed the perfect topic to delve into during Advent. These 4 weeks of preparation for Christmas are often cluttered and it can be difficult to find a minute to breathe, much less take time to expect God. But, really Advent is all about being in Expectation of the Christ Child and of God coming into our lives in a new and powerful way!

For me, to Expect God means to live in openness, faith, prayer and to be willing to allow God to be in Control! I wonder if these Advent meditations will help me be more active in my Expectation of God in my life-we shall see. 
In order to Expect God we have to be aware and look for God in and around us. We like to think we are rather self-sufficient creatures. After all we have all these electronics that give us instant access to anything we might want-whether it’s buying something or looking up information. We can be in constant touch with our friends and acquaintances via Twitter and Facebook and the myriad of other social media opportunities. We can share our joys and sorrows with the world and we can believe that they care.
In reality we are insulated from real relationships and from God by those very electronics. Instead of going out in traffic and finding a parking space and fighting through the crowds on Black Friday, we can stay cozy in our PJ’s and shop online. Sure it is less hassle, but do we miss the opportunity to meet a friend unexpectedly or offer a friendly smile to an exhausted sales person or give our place in line to a harried mom with small children? I’m not saying that I make a point of going out in crowds, esp. on Black Friday, but I wonder if I’m missing some human interaction because of that.
Expecting God to act in our lives means we have to be available to God. Expecting goes hand in hand with Experiencing God. The ancient root for Expect means to look at or see, while Experience comes from to try and to be present. They are active words that require response. However, it is all too easy to let the challenges of the day snatch away even our deepest experiences of God. Morning devotions bring us close to the Holy. An hour later a crashed computer or irritable co-worker make us forget that in all things God is present if we just look around and expect God. Like this poor dove sitting on my doorstep last year, we can smash into the glass and sit there stunned for awhile.

Although the sitting quietly was forced on this dove, I wonder what would happen if instead of letting the challenges of the day snatch away my awareness of God, I paused and even practiced some deep breathing exercises, to bring me back to awareness of God, when circumstances start to stress me out... It has been shown that when you are stressed, deep, slow breaths actually do help you relax. When you are stressed or angry you breath in short bursts and don’t fill your lungs entirely. That is why a child having a tantrum sometimes starts gasping even though they don’t have asthma.
In this time of Expectation for Christ's birth, which often translates into time of greater stress, I'm going to try it:
Breathe in slow and deep and breathe in the expectation of God acting-Breathe out all the air and let go of the tension of anticipating bad things.

Breathe in slow and deep and breathe in the expectation of God making all right- Breathe out all the air and let go of the need to be right or to ‘fix’ the problem.
Breathe in slow and deep and breathe in God loving me-warts, and failures and all- Breathe out all the air and let go of feeling inadequate or mistreated.
Breath in slow and deep and Expect God to act in the present, in the now and be open to being aware of that happening.
Next time, we will look at Faith and Expecting God.