December 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
“I don’t know what to write about today.”
“Have you written about fear?”
“Write about fear, then. Fear is awesome. That’s an Advent theme, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess so…”
“I just sparked brilliance in your mind, didn’t I?”
Yes, you did, little brother, yes you did.
And that’s how I came to write about fear on this twenty-second day of Advent.
“Do not be afraid,” the angel Gabriel says to Mary. “You have found favor with God.”
Gabriel is talking specifically about God’s blessing on Mary to be the mother of Jesus, but couldn’t Gabriel just as easily be talking to us?
I am often afraid. I am afraid about my future; I am afraid some terrible calamity may unexpectedly befall me or the people I love; I am afraid of what I don’t understand; I am also afraid of what I do understand. I think a lot of other people are afraid too.
But Gabriel says not to be afraid, and gives a reason why: “You have found favor with God.”
And isn’t that enough? To know that God has looked on us and said, “I love you.” Knowing that we are known and loved, that is a reason not to be afraid, that is a solid reason to stand upon and stare whatever beast we fear directly in the eyes and say, “I am not afraid. I have found favor with God.”
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
P.S. You can read my October story about what’s going on in the brain when we’re afraid and how to prevent fear from overwhelming us in The Dallas Morning News here.
December 20, 2014 § Leave a comment
“How badly do you want Christ this Advent?”
It’s a question posed in an Advent reflection, and it stops me cold because I know the answer, and the answer’s not pretty.
The answer is: not very much, not as much as I should.
It’s the twenty-first day of Advent. It’s the weekend of the fourth Sunday of Advent. Next week is Christmas.
I ought to be feeling my need for Christ and Christ’s fulfillment even more than when I started these Advent reflections, but this morning feels like an ordinary day, a day like any other. I want Advent to be an orderly progression, a gradual opening of the heart over these twenty-five days, a linear strengthening of the heart’s desire with each post penned, but it’s not.
I think maybe I can go into the living room, which my grandmother has decorated with Santa’s house on the coffee table and a small tree in the corner and a red and white hat lying on the couch for anyone to try on as they please, but what will that get me, really? It’s in my heart where the seed of desire lies.
How does one desire God, really?
God, who is greater than the gray ocean that swells and falls; God, who is more powerful than thunder; God, who is more beautiful than the face of a beloved; God, who is more loving than a mother to her child.
How do I fit God into my mind, which is buzzing with small worries? How do I fit God into my heart, which is darkened by splotches of sin?
Every morning I’m relearning the truth: I don’t need to fit God anywhere; He molds Himself for me, and if I don’t desire God, I can pray, and God will meet me.
How often I doubt the power of God.
The writer Annie Dillard says we ought to wear crash helmets in church to protect us from the power of God, and I think, that’s right! Yes! Yes, we should!
So, on this the twenty-first day of Advent, I pray the simple, short prayer repeated many times in many churches across the world, put on my figurative crash helmet, and wait:
Come, Lord Jesus. Come.
December 19, 2014 § 2 Comments
In the last few months, several people have asked me why I converted to Christianity. It’s a difficult question for me to answer.
I’m fully aware that arguments for the existence of God only go so far. I don’t have perfect rebuttals to the arguments against the existence of God. I’m okay with a high level of uncertainty; I realize that much about God is mysterious.
Nor did I have a Road to Damascus moment. And I certainly didn’t answer some kind of altar call (ask me how I feel about those sometime and you may get more than an earful!).
No, my conversion was more subtle and nuanced than that, growing slowly over time, like the sturdy oak tree outside my window.
In fact, it was rather like the magi’s journey.
The magi travel from far away to see the newborn Son of God. Why? Because they are drawn by His beauty and love. And their response when they see Him? They present Him with the richest of gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
I’m struck by their response. They immediately understand that the incarnation of God into vulnerable, pink flesh is a pure act of love. They are drawn to it, and know the only appropriate response is to worship in return.
And wasn’t that how God drew me in, with His love? And isn’t that how He draws us all, like gravity tugs toward the center of the Earth, like a river pulls downstream?
This Advent, I’m hit all over again by Love.
A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year for a journey, and such a long journey: the ways deep and the weather sharp, the very dead of winter…and arriving at evening, not a moment too soon, finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.
– T. S. Eliot
December 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
“While they were there, the time came.”
The time came and the time will come.
The time that came was the time for Mary to have her son. The time that will come is the time for God to move, after all our waiting.
This morning, I’m thinking of God coming and when that time will be. I’m tired of waiting.
I don’t really mean this in the literal, God coming to Earth again sort of way. I mean it in the God holding his hand around my heart, offering a solution to the difficulties that weigh me down sort of way.
I read in Luke that, “the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.”
I’m struck by this. I’m struck and encouraged that the waiting will end. Sometimes, I don’t believe it will. Sometimes, it feels like I’ve been waiting forever. I suppose we’ve been waiting a long time.
But it’s not a bad waiting. It’s a waiting that gives time to grow, just like the baby in Mary.
The Psalmist says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
The time will come.
December 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
December 16, 2014 § 2 Comments
I read that Advent is about waiting in the presence of God, and then looking for signs.
I’m not one to look for signs. Or rather, I want to be one who looks for signs, but as soon as I see something that might be a sign, the small hard voice in my head says, “Puh-lease. There are no such things as signs. Only meaningless garble you organize into signs for your own purpose.”
Sometimes, I think the hard voice is correct.
Is there room in my 21st century life for signs?
I think about the star of Bethlehem. I think about the Magi who say, “We saw his star in the east and have come.”
I think about the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. I think about the angel who says to the shepherds, “This will be a sign to you.”
It was nothing, what happened to me last week. Just a fortuitous happening. Just that, the moment I gave up this thing I desire, an opportunity to have it appeared neatly to me, like a crisply wrapped present tied with a bow.
It was nothing, what happened to me this morning. Just an unplanned concurrence. Just that, a verse appeared to me in two minutes in two places I’d never looked before.
In Advent, we actively wait for signs.
I’ll share the verse with you, because the verse itself is a sign, a promise, of provision and love:
“My eyes will watch over them for their good…I will build them up and not tear them down: I will plant them and not uproot them.”
December 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
Scribbled on a piece of lined paper torn from one of my notebooks and pinned to the gray wall beside my desk are these words: “See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains.”
I wrote the words several months ago, when I needed reassurance. Reassurance that it was okay to be waiting. Reassurance that I was all right where I was. I need that reassurance today.
How quickly I forget that waiting is essential to receiving, that waiting is a gift. Yesterday, life seemed extravagant. I was more than content; I was happy. Hope bloomed inside me, lifting me off the ground.
But today is Monday, and I’ve already forgotten the truth that waiting is essential to receiving, that waiting is a gift.
So I need the words my past self penned to my future self, reminding me that everything good comes with a season of waiting. I think of the farmer, who waits for the rain; I think of the artist, who waits for inspiration; I think of Mary, who waits for her Son to be born.
The farmer in the verse has patience – and isn’t that key? Isn’t the proper attitude while waiting patience? Isn’t it when we still our hearts, when we give up control, isn’t that exactly the point when we see most clear?
Yesterday, it rained in Dallas. Today, it’s sunny and brisk. But rain will come again. So will fulfillment. In the meantime, we wait with patience.