December 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
Yesterday, I wrapped my first Christmas present; my brother flew in from college for winter break; my family discussed plans for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; I received a package and a handmade card in the mail.
Can you feel the change? Christmas approaches.
We are more than halfway through Advent, which means our time of waiting nears an end and our expectancy attains even greater heights.
Today, on this third Sunday of Advent, the word we contemplate is: rejoice.
I’m glad that’s the word for today. I’m glad because I’m feeling festive. I’m glad because I’d rather like to splurge on egg nog and bake Christmas cookies (and then eat them all).
I’m glad because I have the pleasure and the honor of saying with Mary, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has been mindful.”
December 14, 2014 § Leave a comment
I am thinking about power and weakness today.
I am thinking about power and weakness because of that time-worn phrase, money is power. Money equals power. Money equals power equals money, which equals power.
Yes. That mathematical formula makes sense to me.
I am thinking about this formula today because of my car.
My car that I drive to and from work; that I drive on assignment; that faithfully carried me to California and back; that I drive to my friends’ houses on Friday nights; that I drive to Sunday brunch; that I christened John Russell after one of my literary heroes (see Hombre, by Elmore Leonard); that car that I love, is sick. As I told my dad, “John Russell has a stomach ache.”
In other words, he needs a new transmission.
In other words, start emptying the savings account.
I have been saving money in that account for some time. It’s a few dollars here and a few more there, tucked aside for a dream, a deep desire, something I’ve wanted for a long, long time. Emptying it, I can’t help feeling like Carl and Ellie in Up, who can never save enough money for their trip to Paradise Falls because various life expenses keep cropping up. Without the money which is the power, will I ever accomplish the dream?
It’s Advent, so I’m thinking more than usual about the Christmas story, and as I’m thinking about the Christmas story and feeling sad about the loss of the money and the loss of the power and my poor, sick car parked in the driveway outside, my thoughts settle on Herod.
Herod, King of Judaea, is the epitome of power. But Herod, despite his money and his power and his being king of Judaea, is not the main character of the Christmas story. He’s merely there to juxtapose Christ, who’s the main character, and who also happens to be the epitome of weakness.
Christ, born as a vulnerable baby. Christ, born into the weakness of poverty. Christ, who happens to be God, who is all-powerful, made all-weak.
What do I make of this? It certainly doesn’t fit my formula. It makes me pause and think.
Maybe the formula is right. Maybe, having money means having power. Maybe, one way to achieve my dream is to have the money to achieve the dream. Maybe, I won’t ever achieve the dream without the money. Maybe.
But this power only goes so far. This power is broken by the real power, the power that’s so powerful that it can be embodied in the weakest of beings and not be destroyed. This real power eclipses the other power.
Okay, so I’m still a little sad about John Russell and the savings account. Okay, it’s also not the end of the world. Okay, when I think about it a little more, the dream is still attainable. Okay.
But okay, also: I’m reminded that, in the long run, the formula is moot. I’m reminded that, if money equals power, money does not equal real power. Money can play a part in real power, or not; real power trumps all.
I share this story with a friend on the phone today, and she reminds me of a verse. I’ll share it with you, too.
See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the filed, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown in the fire, will he not much more clothe you?
December 12, 2014 § Leave a comment
A song on this thirteenth day of Advent:
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
December 11, 2014 § 2 Comments
One of my favorite writers, Madeleine L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time), happens to have written some about Advent. I didn’t know about this until this morning, when I was poking around on the Internet and Google led me here.
A bit more poking around, and I found this lovely, short poem by L’Engle:
This is the irrational season
when love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
there’d have been no room for the child.
— Madeleine L’Engle
I’ve been thinking some about faith and reason lately, because of Advent and also because I recently finished The Life of Pi, which addresses their differences and meanings (May I recommend the book to you! And then, may I recommend this review of it?).
I consider myself to be a person of reason. I live in the modern nation of America, after all. I studied philosophy in college. I come from a family of scientific people.
And yet, I agree with L’Engle when she says, “Had Mary been filled with reason there’d have been no room for the child.”
Faith is different from reason, but it’s not unreasonable.
In fact, faith is highly reasonable. We do things out of faith all the time. When we love brightly and wildly, we trust that what we feel isn’t a mere chemical imbalance and that the person or thing that we love actually exists and isn’t a mere figment of our imagination. When we eat, we trust that the food isn’t poisoned. When we step outside in the morning, we trust that gravity won’t reverse and send us floating off the Earth.
It is a good thing we’re filled with faith instead of reason. It’s a good thing Mary was, too.
Reason would have said, “There are no such things as angels. I have never seen one before. People tell me they don’t exist. I must be having a hallucination.”
Reason would also have said, “A virgin can’t have a baby. It’s scientifically impossible. Didn’t you take eighth grade biology?”
I’ll confess to you: Advent makes me uncomfortable because faith makes me uncomfortable because I am a person of reason.
But discomfort is good because it moves me to wrestle with faith and reason. And in this irrational season, when we meditate on the love that formed a baby in a manger to save us from the horrors of this world, wrestling with faith is good. Wrestling with faith is making room for the child, not in the manger, but right here in the center of our hearts.
December 10, 2014 § Leave a comment
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says God. He’s speaking to the prophet Isaiah, telling him to comfort the people of Israel, but he’s also speaking words of comfort to us.
The words settle in my heart. Yes. Yes. That’s what I needed to hear: words of comfort.
How many of the people in my life need to hear these words, too? Sometimes, I hate how lonely the world can be. So many of the people I love are scattered across the country, from the west coast to the eastern shore. I talk to them on Skype; I snapchat them; I Gchat and text them; I email and Facebook message with them. But none of that is ever enough.
A new friend in Dallas tells me that human touch lowers the blood pressure, and I can see why so many people in this country have high blood pressure. So many of us are lonely. So many are weary and unsure about the future, just like I am. So many are tired and cranky and fed up.
“Comfort,” says God.
In some ways, I can’t help feeling like the word is a slap in the face.
“Ok, God, fine. Comfort. Fine. But how exactly are you comforting me, huh? Give me tangible evidence of it. Smooth out these wrinkles, close these rifts. For heaven’s sake, won’t you?”
He does. In time.
In time, the world’s groaning will cease and all will be restored.
That’s the hope we have. That’s the reason behind the words of comfort.
In the meantime, I hold that word in my heart, let it soak into the crusty exterior and warm me from the inside, like a hot drink.
“Comfort,” says God.
“Comfort my people.”
December 10, 2014 § Leave a comment
Fog covered Dallas this morning. Driving to work, I couldn’t help but spontaneously stop to take it in, to capture a few poor quality photos on my iPhone. I like the fog. There’s something mysterious and romantic about it. Staring into the gray haze I think, isn’t the fog a little like Advent, a little like our time on Earth? We don’t see clearly now, but we will when the sun shines. In the same way, we don’t understand our selves or our God or our relationship with God now, but we will later.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
December 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
“This holiday season, give the gift of wonder.”
They are words on a billboard, advertising a children’s museum. I see them in the morning on my way to work, glaring down at me in bright red and green letters.
I don’t have time to stop and wonder. I’m late. But the light turns red and I’m forced to pause beneath those words that say, “the gift of wonder.”
What is wonder?
When I use the word, I usually mean something like, “I have a vague interest in something-or-another.” Like when I say, “I wonder what we’ll have for dinner?” or “I wonder what that means?”
But there’s another, and, I suspect, more correct way to use the word, as, “this amazes and overwhelms me, and even, perhaps, makes me a little bit afraid.” Like when I say, “The stars are wonderful tonight,” or “Seeing the great horse filled the little girl with wonder.”
The billboard says, “give the gift of wonder.”
I don’t know how to give the gift of wonder, but I do know Advent is making me wonder more and more every day.
I read in Isaiah the reading for the second Sunday of Advent. It’s a promise that God will clear a pathway through the desert for the people of Israel. It reads, “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.”
Every valley filled in? Every mountain made low? Impossible. And yet…the power of God could do such a thing. I read those words, I meditate on them, I picture mountains leveled and valleys filled in, and I’m filled with wonder.
What is more wonder-filling than a tiny baby? What is even more wonder-filling than a tiny baby who is the Son of God?
I think about that, and those mountains and valleys, and am filled with wonder. Amazement, yes, and a little bit of fear.