Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A CHOICE IN LISTENING

To live the possibilities of newness, we have to send the foxes packing 

FROM HENRI NOUWEN  The following writing by Henri J. M. Nouwen reflects great possibility along with the soul work necessary to live in newness throughout 2012. It is from Nouwen’s book Here and Now:


"I HAVE A GIFT FOR YOU!" “A new beginning! We must learn to live each day, each hour, yes, each minute as a new beginning, as a unique opportunity to make everything new. Imagine that we could live each moment as a moment pregnant with new life. Imagine that we could live each day full of promises. Imagine that we could walk through the new year always listening to a voice saying to us: ‘I have a gift for you and can’t wait for you to see it!’ Imagine.”


CONFRONT THE OLD “The problem is we allow our past, which becomes longer and longer each year, to say to us, ‘You know it all; you have seen it all; be realistic; the future will be just another repeat of the past. Try to survive it as best you can.’ There are many cunning foxes jumping on our shoulders and whispering in our ears the great lie: ‘There is nothing new under the sun…don’t let yourself be fooled.’”


SELF-FULFILLING “When we listen to these foxes, they eventually prove themselves right: our new year, our new day, our new hour become flat, boring, dull, and without anything new.”


GOD WITH YOU “So, what are we to do? First, we must send the foxes back to where they belong: in their foxholes. And then we must open our minds and our hearts to the voice that resounds through the valleys and hills of our life saying: ‘Let me show you where I live among my people. My name is ‘God-with-you.’ I will wipe away all tears from your eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning, or sadness. The world of the past has gone (see Revelation 21:2-5).”


CHOOSE TO LISTEN “We must choose to listen to that voice, and every choice will open us a little more to discover the new life hidden in the moment, waiting eagerly to be born.”

Friday, January 6, 2012

EPIPHANY


A reflection on the visit of Magi and other unorthodox strangers

THE LAST TO ARRIVE? It is likely that in most of our households the nativity crèche and figurines of the first Christmas story are by now stored away. But in some ancient Christian traditions, today is the day that the figures of three wise men, or Magi, are finally placed at the nativity scene. Their arrival, told in Matthew 2:1-12, completes the entourage of people who are drawn to the Christ child. In the fullness of Christmastide and in the light of the star, the journey to adoration of the Christ child is nearly complete.

FROM BEYOND THE REALM. The arrival of these mystery people from some distant place signals something new that has forever broadened, opened, and heightened the trajectory of grace. The trajectory of grace now emphatically includes Gentiles—all those not heretofore considered a part of the story of salvation. The advent of the Messiah, spoken of in Old Testament prophecies (like Isaiah 60) and in the Magi being led by a star to Bethlehem, signals that something long hoped-for and anticipated has come to be: the promise of grace and the way of grace is open and inclusive. From this day forward "whosoever will" may come.

UNLIKELY PEOPLE, UNUSUAL MEANS. Epiphany celebrates that God’s light draws unlikely people to grace by circuitous means. Perhaps now more often than not, people may see light and respond to grace from odd places and by unorthodox means. Praise God for people who have been reared within orthodoxy, who have for generations been brought near to Biblical faith, who are faithful to the means of grace as they have been taught. Praise God, also, for the fact that grace is just as likely to shine its light in unlikely places, on unlikely people, and bring them by unlikely paths to the foot of the Cross. Epiphany celebrates such "appearings," such small and great invasions and in-breakings of grace as part and parcel of the Kingdom.

WELCOME OR THREAT? Epiphany also celebrates the fact that the child is, in fact, born King of kings. This is signaled not only in the Old Testament (like Psalm 72), but in the declaration of the Magi and in the gift of gold they present. The prospect that a child has been born "king of the Jews" sends Herod’s regime into a search and seizure mode. The announcement that a new King is on the scene is simultaneously welcoming and threatening. For those living off the spoils of the present reign, who have invested in and count on the continuance of present power arrangements, the news of a new king is unsettling, threatening, undermining. For those who long for justice, for mercy, for inclusion, for place, for peace, for dignity, for a tomorrow, for equitable economy, for fairness, for a second chance, or for just a chance, the news of a new King is Good News, indeed.

IT WON'T BE COMPLETE WITHOUT YOU. I wrote earlier that the journey to adoration of the Christ child is nearly complete. Nearly. It is as nearly complete as our own trek and arrival. Have you made the journey in your heart? Place yourself among the unlikely figures who hear the Good News or who have been drawn by some light. You are no less out of place than anyone else. I am no more worthy of being there than the next person. But have we been drawn? If so, then let us do the only thing one can do in the presence of divinity, in the presence of unparalleled royalty—let us be silent, let us be grateful, let us bow in reverence, let us prepare ourselves to be forever changed. Let us be amazed at grace. And let us turn it inside out in a lifetime of bearing grace to all who are drawn to His light.

A BENEDICTION. May your journey ever lead you to the wonder of the God’s gracious gifts. May God’s light ever draw you, guide you, comfort you, challenge you, send you. May grace guide you from morning to evening, day by day, until, at last, either His Kingdom has come or you have come into His Kingdom. Amen.

LAST TO ARRIVE

Shall we take our place at the continuing gathering 'round the Babe of Bethlehem?

At the end of the Christmas season and on Epiphany (January 6, which marks the visit of the Magi and God's light to all people), I think about the continuing, unusual draw of unlikely people to an unlikely place in the heart—Bethlehem—and I offer the following poem:

First, census-responding throngs
swell the local populace,
burgeoning homes and hostels
with not-so-welcome guests.

Then, a man and pregnant young woman
arrive, seeking vainly for a room.
Bedding down in a stable,
their boy is born among livestock.

Later in the night, gnarled shepherds
traipse in, finding their way
to the mangered newborn,
just as an angel had told them.

How much later we do not know, Magi
come with gracious gifts,
following a star that draws them
from beyond any traceable map.

And later still, from the four corners
of earth and time, we make our trek.
Are we the last to arrive
at the gathering in Bethlehem?

Years from now, until the end of ages,
more will be drawn and find the One
whose birth angels once proclaimed
and so shall forevermore.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

CAN I BE INTERRUPTED?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls us to consider the place of interruptions in our life

“We must be ready to allow ourselves
to be interrupted by God. God will be
constantly crossing our paths and
canceling our plans by sending us
people with claims and petitions.
We may pass them by, preoccupied
with our more important tasks…
When we do that we pass by the
visible sign of the Cross raised
across our path to show us that,
not our way, but God’s way must
be done. We must not assume that
our schedule is our own to manage,
but allow it to be arranged by God.”
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together

TEN LORDS A LEAPING

On the Tenth Day of Christmas...

FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING. Ever give or receive one of those "for the person who has everything" gifts? What about a gift for a person who has nothing? Or for a recently-appointed leader? Or for a couple just beginning their life journey together? Or for a community just plotting its course or a nation begin birthed? Today’s gifts are perfect for these occasions. Opening them, we hark back to something familiarly old and are invited to embrace something promising enough to dramatically reshape our future.

CENTERING COVENANT. According to tradition that this old English song is part of a clandestine catechism, the "Ten Lords a Leaping" are the Ten Commandments. They did more than anything else to form the Hebrew people into a distinctive and cohesive people. The Decalogue gave them unique identity. It truly made them peculiar among neighboring nations. And when nothing else seemed able to hold them together, the Ten Commandments did. The Ten Commandments formed the core of their covenant with the unseen Yahweh, the exclusive relationship about whom is the first of the Commandments. Through the Ten Commandments, they became principled in their actions, successful in their dealings, and enduring in their posterity.

LOOK FOR THE PRINCIPLES. How we approach the Ten Commandments makes all the difference in how or if we incorporate them into our lives. I learned them mostly as prohibitions and this is how most people think of them. A bunch of "Thou shalt nots" is the lingering and negative impression. Another approach is to explore the provision of each commandment. What does each commandment affirm about life? What does it uphold as valuable? What does it preserve and promote? Look for the covenant principles behind the "Thou shalt nots."

WHO BREAKS WHAT? E. Stanley Jones talked about the fact that we do not break the Ten Commandments, or any other God-given precepts. Instead, we break ourselves upon them. The commandment holds; we yield. Richard Foster puts forth the image of a life-giving river with boundaries. When the boundaries are observed the river provides for many aspects of life. When the banks are flooded and breached, it becomes a rampaging torrent leaving chaos in its path. So it is when we go beyond the Commandments. The boundaries are not set because we cannot be trusted; it is that covenant life simply cannot survive beyond them.

THE LETTER VS THE SPIRIT. What happens with the Ten Commandments in the New Testament? The encounter with the rich young man in Mark 10 is indicative of the way Jesus interpreted the Ten Commandments and the Law. Keeping them minimally or self-righteously may well miss the mark. There is something beyond the letter of the law that is life-giving; there is a spirit of the Commandment that invites us to an authentic and growing relationship to self, others, and God. It is this life in the Spirit, with its hallmark of love, that brings the Ten Commandments into the realm of provision and affirmation of all that is life-giving.

READ & REFLECT. Journaling/prayer possibilities: Open the Ten Commandments and read them separately and thoughtfully. What likely principles or life-affirmations can you discern behind each one? How are you incorporating the Ten Commandments into your life? Which of the Commandments have implications for you in relationship to the larger community? Offer thanks for the Commandments and for the Spirit who brings them to life within us and within our communities.

MERCIFUL DESIGN. Charles Wesley wrote the following lyrics in reflection of the Law of God:

Father, Thy merciful design
We see and joyfully approve;
Thou kindly dost Thy laws enjoin
To make us happy in Thy love.

With joy we own the gracious end
For which Thy laws were all bestowed;
Thou dost each command intend
Our present and eternal good.

A BENEDICTION. May you find God’s commands gracious in intent, directive in decision-making, and sweet in fulfillment. May the open to you a freedom not found elsewhere or before. Amen.