Monday, January 2, 2006

Nine Ladies Dancing

A reflection for the ninth day of Christmas

"On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine ladies dancing..."

Long anticipated, Christmas Day came and went. We lingered in its afterglow and looked forward to the New Year holiday. Yesterday we enjoyed the first day of the year with a day off, the last of the season. Today we look at a calendar that stretches before us with two full months of winter. And yet we are still being equipped for this season of the spirit; we are still receiving gifts on our way to Epiphany. What we receive and incorporate into our lives may be invaluable for the journey ahead.

PRECIOUS FRUIT FOR ALL. Behold today's gift: a gracious fruit basket, the very finest quality and choice selections:
Unconditional love.
Surpassing joy.
Abiding peace.
Longsuffering patience.
Generous kindness.
Genuine goodness.
Sensitive gentleness.
Unflagging faithfulness.
Heart-guarding self-control.

Savor each one. They are yours, every one. Not something to strive toward, attain to, earn, or hope for. They are part and parcel with the very Christian Spirit.

GIFTS VS. FRUIT. Unlike the gifts of the Spirit, which may be given diversely and selectively, all believers are graced with all the fruit of the Spirit. Gifts of the Spirit are given as needed for unity in the body and for creating community; the fruit of the Spirit are core qualities given to every believer. Gifts of the Spirit may come and go; the fruit of the Spirit are constant.

SIDE ONE: DEAL WITH THE SINFUL NATURE. The extent to which this fruit is flourishing in our lives depends, in part, on how effective we are in dealing with what the Apostle Paul describes as the sinful nature. The fruit of the Spirit is in sharp contrast to the acts of the sinful nature. Paul makes it clear that there is a major conflict between the sinful nature and the Spirit (Galatians 5:13-26). Demanding gratification for insatiable desires, indulging our sinful nature drives us down a path of shame, self-destruction, and community chaos. But there is a way of out of this trap: "Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."

THER OTHER SIDE: LET THE FRUIT FLOURISH. The other part in letting the fruit of the Spirit flourish in our lives is to "live by the Spirit," be "led by the Spirit," "keep in step with the Spirit." The answer to the debauchery and topsy-turvy life led by the sinful nature is not the law. Law-ish living sets up a fa├žade that appears civil and righteous, but it is unable to contain, quell, or redirect warring passions. The invitation to live by the Spirit is a way of the heart caught and taught as we draw near to God in faith. We turn away from the demands of the sinful nature; we turn toward Christ and find our identity, belonging, and life-leadership in him. As we let go of that which cannot change or save us, we wholeheartedly embrace the love of Christ that will never let us go and never cease to draw out the best in us.

FREE TO LIVE FORWARDLY. The fruit of the Spirit are gifts for personal growth and for making a difference in the world. Remember the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: "Where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury pardon, etc."? Living in or by the Spirit frees us from pettiness and self-absorption; we are free to look upward, outward, to serve, to care, to mend, to bridge. And as we do, the fruit feeds us. Love begets love. Joy sows joy. Gentleness begets gentleness. These nine ladies dancing may well sweep us off our feet and into such a dance that we will never be satisfied standing on the sidelines again.

John Franklin Hay

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