Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Every Day, a Door Opens

December 1, 2010

This is the day that children can begin opening up the little doors of their Advent calendars. In case you never had an Advent calendar as a child, you should do yourself a favor and get one. They resemble a giant greeting card decorated with a traditional scene of Christmas nativity, winter woodland, or quaint European village. The really secular ones have Santa flanked by reindeer and elves. Every day in December, the child gets to open the tiny "door" and see a special picture or Bible verse to help them wait for Christmas while learning a bit more about the meaning of Christmas. Think of it as a kind of an Advent blog, only without the computer or smart phone.

My son, Sean, used to love the calendars as a little boy. He loved hearing the stories of shepherds, angels, and the long trip Mary took to talk to her cousin Elizabeth. Of course, part of the reason he loved the calendars was that I discovered the kind with a small chocolate candy hidden behind the tiny door. I would tell him the story for the day while he enjoyed the chocolate.

Why not put your feet up and enjoy a little chocolate or a cookie right now? Or just take 3 deep breaths to relax and begin.

Prayer: "God of Jerusalem and all other places, thank you for being our God in this place and this time. Open my heart to hear deeply your word for me today."

Isaiah 54:1-10 (New International Version, ©2010)

The Future Glory of Zion

1 "Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,"
says the LORD.
2 "Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.

4 "Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
5 For your Maker is your husband—
the LORD Almighty is his name—
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.
6 The LORD will call you back
as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit—
a wife who married young,
only to be rejected," says your God.
7 "For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.
8 In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,"
says the LORD your Redeemer.

9 "To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
10 Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,"
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

The other day when we read from Isaiah, the chapter we looked at was from his early warnings to those in power. That was signature Isaiah, that was. But here in Chapter 54 the prophet nears the end of his pronouncements, and it is time to reassure the people of Judah that the Lord has promised peace to them, that God will remember God's covenant and in time bring about all good things. If you miss this part of Isaiah and focus only on his warnings, you risk missing one of God's best promises.

God makes great claims, you see, but it's appropriate. God can turn history on its head and culture inside out. We can take it in (barely) but through Isaiah he gave us about 750 years to accustom ourselves to the idea of the complete remaking of the world in Jesus Christ.

It could be argued that we ought to have chocolate-filled calendars for every month of the year, not just December, because the magnitude of living in relation with God is so great that we humans find it staggering to take in more than a kernel of its truth at a time. It's a constant struggle to wrap our minds around what God intends for the world. We could do a little bit each day, as we are able. But, oh, wait. We have a way to do just that.

That's what prayer is for. To enter into an intimate place every day and, like the people of Israel heard from Isaiah, be reassured that on God's watch, peace will reign. God will be in charge in the end, as at the beginning. The radical promise is there, and we can count on it.

So, don't tell Sean I told you this, but when we were out shopping last week, he made me buy him another one of those chocolate-filled Advent calendars. So what if he's 19. If it takes opening one little door at a time to take it all in, fine. I'm glad Christmas is only 24 days away instead of 700-odd years.

Closing Prayer: "God of Prophets, Days, and Years, we give thanks for waiting and listening to you. Help me this day to remember your promises to your people and the peace you bring. Help me to bring peace today to those with whom I interact, so that through me a little door is opened to you. Amen."

Grace and Peace!

The rest of today's readings are:

Psalm 124

Matthew 24:23-35

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Hero!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I threw out what I'd prepared for today's blog because something happened today that really brought home to me precisely why we need heroes in our lives, and why we need to remember that they won't usually turn out to be us. As I start over, I am conscious of the fact that I have inadvertently put myself into a place of deadline pressure with a couple of things. Wish I could delegate them, but it's just one of those things I have to do on my own. (But I'm willing to accept help…)

Prayer: "Creator God, throughout time you have stood by us in our darkness and loneliness, even the loneliness we sometimes create for ourselves. Today, help me to recall the heroes of faith who welcomed you as you stood by them in history, and remind me that it's possible for me to have the same deep faith."

Hebrews 11:32-40 (New International Version, ©2010)

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[a] they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

My husband, Dan, called home around midday to ask if I'd drive into town this evening and pick him up after a little retirement party for a colleague. Usually he commutes by bus and would have taken the car this morning had he remembered the after-work gathering. Quickly thinking through the demands of my day, I said yes figuring that I'd juggle a couple of things so I could pick up a few things at the big art supply store in town and swing by a couple of other spots to get some Christmas shopping out of the way.

Delighted with my idea to transform a major inconvenience into an uber-productive afternoon, I looked up addresses, Googled locations, freeways, store hours, and mapped out a route which took me everywhere I wanted to be and would land me at the correct time at the exact intersection where I could collect Dan without having to even find a downtown parking place!

I was so proud of my planning. I dropped everything and got out the drawings, did the measurements, and made a list of items to look for at the art supply store. I coordinated with Sean about dinner, which he would have to catch for himself, and loaded my portfolio. I made sure my phone and glasses were in my bag along with the printed directions with all the destinations and the accompanying map.

I arrived at the art supply store 5 minutes ahead of schedule, knew precisely what to ask for, and got a great young salesperson to show me where it all was. I shopped and shopped, comparing matboard colors, hinging tape, and acid-free sleeves for my drawings. Everything I could have wanted! Took it all up to the front counter, and…NO WALLET. No cash, no checks, no debit card, no credit card. Zip. Nada. Zilch. They were all still on the counter from this morning's cyber-Monday online foray.

The sympathetic clerk's first response was to hope the wallet hadn't been stolen or lost. Then he suggested that I try calling home to see if Sean could read me a card number, and offered to process the purchase on faith that I wasn't some flake. Think of it. No identification, nothing which would've proven I had a right to use a string of non-sequential numbers relayed from an unidentified faceless source through an unidentified frazzled stranger to an unidentified card center somewhere at the other end of a point-of-sale terminal. But Sean had left for class already and it was useless.

At first it didn't sink in about how powerless I was. Then I started to shake, realizing I was suddenly wearing goatskin, was being stoned, jeered at, and attacked by foreign armies. I was as weak as a shorn Samson. Without that wallet, not only could I not pay for my purchase, I couldn't lawfully even drive my car on the street to go and pick up Dan. I had a dollar in my coin purse, no driver license, and my cell phone was on low battery. I wasn't just wearing goatskin, I was the goat. I had ceased to be a governmentally recognized person. I was Zip, Nada, Zilch.

Sitting alone in the parked car, the undone tasks were transformed in my mind into insurmountable obstacles that proved the truth of every harsh criticism I'd ever heard from an exacting teacher, parent, or boss. Fool! Fatal thinking took me from a place of mere inconvenience to being convinced I'd be arrested and jailed. And not only would I be jailed, I'd be convicted of being…IMPERFECT.

Of course, the truth of the story is that, as the author of the letter to the Hebrews recounted, there are plenty of heroes who have gone before us who have been…IMPERFECT, thank you very much. Heroes who have worn the goatskin, who've been weak, who've faced foreign armies, and have been intimidated. But, they have also faced down lions, they have escaped over the wall on a rope and a prayer, they have been glorified (and never due to their own prowess, superior planning, or courage) and triumphed.

We are here as they were, to triumph in our weakness because we are the people whose power comes from the weakness of an infant. One day closer to the moment of miracle we are.

Heroes? It's not luxurious or easy, but Jesus shows us how by being the favorite and best heroes in a long line of heroes whose examples really give meaning to the word. My Hero!

And on the local stage, my hero is the guy who is taking the car in to work tomorrow so he can buy all the art supplies I have on hold. He's the guy who is grinding tomorrow's breakfast coffee so I can write this. My hero! I'm so grateful we have both kinds.

Prayer: "Heavenly Mother and Father God, you have given us so many examples of heroic faith: Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtah, David, Samuel, and the prophets of old and of today. You've given us Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Henri Nouwen, and so many other faith models. All have relied on you for courage and sustenance. As we continue our waiting for the Christ, be with us as you were with them. Amen."

Go in peace, brother and sister heroes!

Further readings for Nov. 30 are:

Psalm 124


Genesis 9:1-17

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Just Hanging Around?

Monday, November 29

Waiting. It can be described as bide, bide one's time, cool it, dally, fill time, hang around, hang onto your hat, hold everything, hold on, hold the phone, hole up, keep shirt on, lie in wait, lie low, look for, look forward to, mark time, put on hold, save it, sit tight, sit up for, stand by, stay up for, stick around, or sweat it. To us as we anticipate Christmas, less than four weeks away, it may mean wanting to cry out, "Wait! Not so fast! I'm not ready yet!"

To release that little jolt of anxiety, let's breathe it out in one big collective cyber-sigh as we invite the holy spirit to replace it with peace.

Prayer: "God, waiting just seems as if we are doing nothing productive. There are so many things on my task list, how can I wait patiently? Help me rest in your presence during this time and remember that you are at work in and around me now."

Genesis 8:6-12

6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

We all know the story of Noah and the Ark. It's one that is told throughout the church at all age levels from nursery to adult Bible studies to seminary Old Testament classes. It carries great importance as the story of the first covenant that God ever established with humans and other living creatures, a premise that is absolutely necessary for us to learn if we are to attempt to grasp what it means to fully accept the steadfast, unfailing love God has for us.

But if we will let it, it also has something to teach us about waiting. "Forty days and forty nights", in old Hebrew, was understood to mean not a literal span of days and nights but an unspecified, protracted length of time. Noah and his party could have been isolated on the Ark for three months, or a month, or eight and a half weeks. We don't know.

Noah didn't know either. He was there, "in the moment", so to speak, and could not predict the exact point at which the rain would cease, the floods would abate, or the land become livable once again. It makes me wonder which definition of waiting he would have chosen to describe his situation. Did he feel "put on hold", the way we are when calling the phone company? Was he "keeping his shirt on" as we are sometimes made to feel while waiting at the DMV? Or even "lying low", perhaps waiting for a family squabble to pass, the way some of us might have felt around family members on Thanksgiving day?

As I think about his sending out first the raven, then later the dove, to search for signs of dry land, I think he may have experienced a jolt of anxiety. "Wait! Not so fast! I'm not ready yet!" After all, up until that point, his tasks had been very well-defined for him, down to the precise design and measurements of the Ark, and whom he was to take on board and care for, and what he was to provide for them to eat.

After they landed, the instructions were less clear. He and his family were to find a world completely changed from anything they had previously known. How would they function in a totally reimagined environment? When he saw the dove carrying the olive branch back to the Ark, did the enormity of his future settle on him with dread, or with excitement?

One thing we can know for certain. While Noah waited, however he waited, God was active as God is always active. God is constantly on the move, fulfilling God's purposes, whether we are biding our time, dallying, or hanging on to our hat in breathless anticipation.

The coming of Jesus means a world completely changed from anything previously known. It means a totally reimagined environment. The enormity of such a future means that God is moving, and we may very well say, "Wait! Not so fast! I'm not ready yet!"

That's why we prepare over these not-quite four weeks. Like Noah, we're stepping off the gangplank into a miracle. It does take time and thoughtfulness to process.

Prayer: "Ever-moving God, waiting means different things at different times to everyone. Let me wait in excitement but engage in doing what needs doing to prepare for a world that is totally reimagined. Let me not waste a moment of this season but let me work alongside your purposes, Amen."

Blessings on your processing!

The full scriptures for Monday, Nov. 29th are:

Psalm 124

Genesis 8:1-19

Romans 6:1-11

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Who’s a “Yes” Man?

First Sunday in Advent, Nov. 28, 2010

The theme this week as we enter the first week of Advent is "Waiting". Those who observe the custom of lighting the Advent wreath light the first purple or blue candle, the candle that, for many people, signifies "hope". Tradition sometimes also refers to this first candle as the "prophet" candle. In keeping with that thought, today we'll check in with the Shakespeare of the Old Testament, the prophet, Isaiah. But first, why not pause and breathe a few deep breaths to center and relax. Ready?

Prayer: "Divine Love, be with us as we consider waiting and wondering how you might be reaching out to us through Isaiah's words. What would you want us to change today?"

Isaiah 2:1-5

1The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. 5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

On the heels of the mid-term elections, it is easy to be concerned for the future of our state and of our federal government. We are in a time of partisanship that will not be overcome easily. Harsh and bitter things were said by candidates and pundits alike; the negative campaign ads flooded our airwaves. Coming into the winter of the year with the potential for more disagreements and gridlock come January, hope seems elusive.

Yet Isaiah was no stranger to political conflict. He walked the corridors of power in the kingdom of Judah, and was not a "yes man", instead speaking out to kings as well as commoners. Despite living during a time of optimism, he spoke of the folly of putting all the government's trust in military might and pagan gods rather than trusting in God. People of power didn't care to hear what he had to say.

Here's a question to take with you today as we all begin to imagine what it might be like to be a "yes-man" (or woman) to God instead of to the "kings" and pundits of our day.

As we wait for Christ's coming, how can I pay attention to God's paths today? What pagan "gods" must I set aside today in order to live a little bit more in the light?

Try sitting with the question for a moment or two and see what possibilities arise for you. When you are ready, you are invited to pray.

Closing Prayer: "God, we don't know the exact time when the peaceful kingdom will arrive. Only you know when you will completely and perfectly bring about your purpose. As we wait, help us work for peace in the world and cooperation together. Amen."

For further reading, these are the rest of today's scriptures:

Go in peace!

Playing with Matches-Lighting the Advent Wreath for Families

The following readings are from the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. and are offered as ideas you can incorporate if you are including children in your Advent Sunday candle lighting.

The readings are ecumenical in nature and can be used by any denomination without fear of being struck by a bolt of lightning. Just be safe with the matches. Remember, you are not on Myth Busters.

Lighting the Advent Candles with Children

This set of readings for the lighting of the Advent candles is based on texts from the Revised Common Lectionary, and is offered for general use with children, in public worship or at home. At each successive lighting of the candles, all texts from the preceding lightings are read in addition to the text introduced that day.

At the beginning of each lighting of the candles:

We give thanks for the light of Christ, shining in the lives of all God's people.

On the First Sunday of Advent, and at successive lightings:

With the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, we watch and wait for the coming of Christ who will bring light and peace to all the world. Light the first candle.

On the Second Sunday of Advent, and at successive lightings:

With John the Baptist, we cry out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord!

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." Light the second candle.

On the Third Sunday of Advent, and at successive lightings:

With Mary, the mother of Jesus, we rejoice,

for the Mighty One has done great things for us.

How holy is God's name! Light the third candle.

On the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and at successive lightings:

With Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we tell the story of Jesus, the child of Bethlehem, who came to save us, and is coming again in glory. Light the fourth candle.

On the eve of Christmas, or on Christmas Day:

With the choirs of angels, we sing: "Glory to God in the highest,

and peace to all people on earth!" Light the center candle.

On each occasion the lighting of the candles may be concluded with the following song, to the tune "Frere Jacques":

Light of Jesus (echo: light of Jesus), show the way (show the way). Shine in us forever (shine in us forever); this we pray (this we pray).

Blessings to you and your families as we begin our Advent journey!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Advent Journey on Quicksilver Art and Spirit – a Preview


Beginning on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010, this blogspace will be dedicated to encouraging rest and renewal for all of us uber-productive, over-extended, and busy people as we approach and experience Christmas.

The term "Advent" comes from the Latin "Adventus" which means approach, onset, or coming. It's the 4 week period that begins the new church calendar every year as we prepare for Christ's birth, and its daily observance can help us to return our focus from the rush and worry of the holiday season to the wonder and mystery of Christmas.

Amid all the demands of this season, I could use some time for quiet thoughtfulness just to help take in the miracle of God's choosing to live among us. If you're reading this, perhaps you could, too.

Hopefully, reading a scripture from the Revised Common Lectionary* each day will come to feel like a welcome break or a moment spent with an old friend. I pray it won't feel like just one more task on an already too-long "to-do" list. Each day's posting will show the references for each scripture of the day, but will only include text that supports each week's themes and each day's topic. If you want to take the time to read all of a particular day's texts, that's up to you. My intention is to make each day's post a little chance to breathe and renew.

From time to time I'll suggest an activity that might help the scripture open up a bit more or help you to move a little more deeply into it. Nothing touchy-feely here and nothing too challenging. Again, all voluntary. Give yourself permission to try new things and experiment. Think of the activities like little spiritual stocking-stuffers you can give yourself. Keep your sense of humor-it's part of what distinguishes us as being created in God's image, after all!

Finally, each day's post will conclude with a short prayer. On Sundays, you might want to use it as you light your Advent candles, if that's a part of your tradition. (Note: More on Advent wreaths as we go along, or check out the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's website http://www.elca.org and search for "Advent Wreath" for a succinct explanation.)

So, check it out beginning this Sunday; doesn't matter what time. The posting is not specific to morning, evening, or in between so feel free to make it when it's convenient to you. Comment if you like, or send me a message at dori.marshall@gmail.com if you like.

I'm looking forward to traveling together!

*For more on the Revised Common Lectionary, its member denominations, and history, here are a couple of websites you might enjoy exploring:



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Channeling Martha Stewart

The decision was made at about 4:00 on Wednesday afternoon. We will eat Thanksgiving dinner at home, so we were one of the couples cramming the overflowing parking lot of our local supermarket during rush hour. The turkey we got is not organic, is not fresh-killed, free-range, or anything else I would've imagined. In fact, it's a regular old Norbest, and we won't even be brining it since it's already carrying a load of injected broth and seasonings. At this moment it is sitting in an ice chest in the garage, thawing. We hope.

All this because the damn Chinese restaurants are closed. Which makes me grateful to note today's New Testament reading:

John 6:25-35

[28] Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works
of God?" [29] Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you
believe in him whom he has sent." [30] So they said to him, "What sign
are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you?
What work are you performing? [31] Our ancestors ate the manna in the
wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to
eat.'" [32] Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was
not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who
gives you the true bread from heaven. [33] For the bread of God is
that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." [34]
They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." [35] Jesus said to
them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be
hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."

So on the menu is turkey, sweet potatoes, corn bread & bacon dressing, peas, creamed onions, with pumpkin flan for dessert. But at the center of the feast will be the assurance that this is not the food that really gives us life. It's only the food that gets us through life.

So if you're headed out for Chinese today and are disappointed to find the restaurants closed, here are two things you might want to note:

1. It's not about the food anyway (and)
2. We have plenty. C'mon over.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Short Isn't Stupid

This Thanksgiving, I have so much for which I can be thankful. Foremost is that it is Dan's and my first Thanksgiving together as a family. Since we are basically foodies you could be forgiven for thinking that we are spending our hours leading up to the holiday debating the finer points of feast preparation. Fresh-killed turkey? Organic or conventionally raised? An heirloom species from a specialty turkey ranch? To brine or not to brine? High-temp fast roast vs. conventional roasting method? Cheesecloth covering or basting like Grandma used to do?

But, NNNNOOOOOOOO. As foodies, those discussions were all treasured parts of our courting time and shared cooking experiences together. Arriving at good conclusions together was a satisfying way of bonding. We used those talks and table times to build our relationship early on.

Today's scripture from Luke calls attention to the opportunity Jesus often used to build relationships around the table. Check it out-

Luke 19:1-10

[1] He entered Jericho and was passing through it. [2] A man was
there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. [3]
He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he
could not, because he was short in stature. [4] So he ran ahead and
climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that
way. [5] When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him,
"Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today."
[6] So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. [7] All who saw
it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who
is a sinner." [8] Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look,
half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have
defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." [9]
Then Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house,
because he too is a son of Abraham. [10] For the Son of Man came to
seek out and to save the lost."

Zacchaeus offered Jesus hospitality without hesitation, demonstrating that one of the ways we bond is to offer the hospitality of our company, of our time, of our attention, and sometimes of our table. It strikes me that Jesus also offered Zacchaeus a certain kind of hospitality by showing confidence in his ability to welcome him, the Son of Man, to his home and table. Zacchaeus joyfully received Jesus' company as well as his salvation.

I know that the way we live when we are lost is worlds different from the way we live once we have bonded in those most special relationships: with our lover, with our family, and most certainly with the divine. Zacchaeus certainly discovered it.

Or, to quote my Art History professor, "Short isn't stupid." So we're debating going out for Chinese on Thanksgiving and gazing into each others eyes over the dim sum. What could be better?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It Has Begun

Luke 18:18-25

[18] A certain ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to
inherit eternal life?" [19] Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me
good? No one is good but God alone. [20] You know the commandments:
'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not
steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and
mother.'" [21] He replied, "I have kept all these since my youth."
[22] When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "There is still one thing
lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." [23] But
when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. [24] Jesus
looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to
enter the kingdom of God! [25] Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go
through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the
kingdom of God.

Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday. In the Christian year, it is the last Sunday before we transition into advent and the new year on the Christian calendar. On the secular calendar, it is the week of Thanksgiving. It is also the week of Black Friday, when the holiday shopping season traditionally begins. For many, a day of feasting and family is followed by a weekend of football and snack-inspired torpor or a marathon of consumerism.

It is no accident that this week was also chosen for the new Harry Potter movie release. Many schools are closed for the week and college students are home to visit family. Dollars flow through the box offices everywhere.

My family joined in and contributed our fair share to the ongoing success of the saga. Although we are trying to reign in our spending and teach ourselves to live more simply, an occasional movie out seems like a small indulgence.

I must say, though, it seems as if this whole ramping up to Thanksgiving and the ensuing Christmas season is more frenzied this year than in past years. Black Friday prices are already on offer at our favorite retailers. Is there more anxiety in the air because of pressure from the economy? Or is it just more noticeable because of our efforts to be more discerning about spending money in accordance with our values?

I think something Jesus may have been asking the rich young man to do was move away from the practices he had long known, which he'd done by rote all his life. Instead, the young man was asked to try looking at his world in a different way, a way that frightened and dismayed him.

The season's demand for our consumer dollars has begun. What has yet to be determined is how we will respond to that demand.

I'm counting on getting the camel to heaven by way of Bethlehem. Yes, I know I mangled the metaphor, but I'm really looking forward this year to having some moments of rest and contemplation around the scriptures rather than driving myself into a frenzy trying to make a holiday "perfect" by someone else's standards.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Prayer of the Heart

Luke 18:9-14

[9] He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves
that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: [10] "Two
men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax
collector. [11] The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus,
'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues,
adulterers, or even like this tax collector. [12] I fast twice a week;
I give a tenth of all my income.' [13] But the tax collector, standing
far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast
and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' [14] I tell you, this
man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who
exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will
be exalted."

This passage from our Lectionary reading today reminds me of the "Jesus Prayer", also known as the "Prayer of the Heart". It is said to have originated in Eastern tradition by a Christian pilgrim on the journey of a lifetime to the Holy City, Jerusalem. Whether created as a rhythmic accompaniment to his plodding footsteps or to lend strength and cadence to his measured breathing, it certainly seems to have been inspired by the divine.

Perhaps in its most simple form it is, today, the most sublime for the postmodern Christian:

"Jesus Christ, Son of God
Have mercy on me, a sinner."

I have learned that the lines of the prayer can be repeated silently according to the rhythm of the inflowing and outflowing of the breath. It is particularly grounding in the context of daily prayer, reminding us of prayer's purest essentials.

The sinner in the passage we just saw needs his Creator, and his Redeemer. The Spirit prompts him to recall that his great need dictates the simplest possible prayer.

We will enter the season of Advent one week from this coming Sunday. Many people, myself included, wonder how during this restless and busy season, we will have time to rest in communion with the Holy Love. Perhaps if we recall the humble pilgrim, and the repentant sinner in the back of the temple, we can pray the simple prayer and be comforted.

"Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Have mercy on me."

You are invited to be a part of the pilgrimage through Advent. Join me every day on this site beginning November 28 for a few minutes of sacred space and time to reflect on daily scripture readings from the Common Lectionary as we approach Christmas, its lovely mystery, and the opportunity it gives us for renewal and spiritual refreshment.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

50 and Launching

This morning on Good Morning America, host Robin Roberts interviewed Denzel Washington, Valerie Bertinelli, Dr. Oz, Patricia Heaton, and Amy Grant to get some feedback and advice on turning 50.

To a person, all of these celebrities remarked on the great blessing it is to enjoy the ages that they are right now. The story also emphasizes the amazing, wonderful people we find in this particular age range.

Having experienced "agism" in my last church position, I can only embrace what Meryl Streep once said.

Paraphrasing, "The forties are the old age of our youth. The fifties are the youth of our old age."

Every day makes a difference. May it be so today!