Advent Musings: Birthing Hope

“What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to [Jesus] fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to [Him] in my time and in my culture?  We are all meant to be Mary.

Meister Eckhart (14th century)

 

Author’s Note: I am doing two Advent revises and reposts on Hope; one is on Wild Hope and this one on Birthing Hope.  I am fond of saying all the time to people (like a random broken record) that although Scripture tells us “Love is the greatest” thing, I truly believe that hope is the most necessary. Without hope, the ability to even carry on is almost unbearable and impossible. – Niles

 

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming.”  Indeed, it is a time of year when we tune our hearts and minds to remembering the birth of hope in Jesus the Messiah.

I have written previously about Advent as a time of wild hope, and it is. But the thoughts just keep coming about the hope that Advent offers. And since I am in the throes of depression, and seeing little hope in my current days, I am doing all within my reach to seed and water any hope I can. So here are more thoughts on Advent.

This time of the “Coming” is indeed a time of true hopefulness because it is a kairos moment pregnant with God.  Kairos is a Greek word for time that is unlike the human concept of time known as chronos (from which we get chronological time). Kairos is not a time of the clock but is a time of divine visitation, a rending of the human cloak of reality when God comes to dwell among his people in an extra-ordinary way.

Kairos in many ways sums up Advent: God going to great lengths to come to us in a manner which we would truly be able to relate. It is God coming to us through the fragile vulnerability of a newborn child, who would grow to be Messiah, a human being through and through acquainted with the pain of sorrow of life as well as the power of resurrection.

We need this sign of Hope desperately today: a sign of faithful love and solidarity given with no expense spared. But it seems we have fallen prey to some of the same distortions as the people who lived during the birth of Jesus, namely the misled belief that Messiah would come as a powerful military King to liberate his people.   

But God, it seems, had different plans.

As is the case in most of Scripture, God did not come to people the way everyone ‘expected’ it; not in power or might, not in a giant warrior or a billionaire CEO.  No, God chose instead to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed teenage mother in a land under the occupation of a vast Empire.  This reality truth defies all logic and reason.  It makes no sense that God did not come to us as some warrior king with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for obsessive control.

God’s way if often upside-down…

No, Jesus came to us, as one of us, and chose to make God known in vulnerability, fragility and poverty.  And this, my friends, is what hope is all about: in the midst of chaos, feeling lost, wandering, and despair Hope chose to come to us to shine brightly the warm light of God’s love upon us.

Advent reminds us that Hope, coming in the Man of Sorrows, is indeed a scandalous moment: a moment where God made his unfathomable grace known and available to each of us in ways comforting and disturbing.

This time of year is a time to remember that the hopeful coming of the Messiah occurred in relative obscurity, with little pomp or circumstance, with no “Black Friday” sales, or shiny decorations, and without the hottest new toy that we somehow deem necessary for our survival.

God comes to us again this Advent just as God did over 2,000 years ago: in the gentleness of vulnerability; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; and in the promise of hope when all hope seems lost.

Advent is not only about God coming to us; it is also about opportunity.  It is an opportunity for us to remember during the darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become like Mary, a place where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.

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Grace is Absurd…

When you get right down to it, God can be a bit unreasonable.

God is not always rational, practical, sensible or within the bounds of reason.  How reasonable and rational is a God Who chooses to use the wounded, the broken, the fallen, the fallible and even the wicked to do the divine bidding?  I mean becoming flesh, walking among us, telling us we are God’s children and that God cares for us better than the best parents?  Then we are told anyone can draw near to God, be a friend of God, if only we surrender and accept the grace of it all?

Absurd.

The bottom line is – grace is absurd and even downright offensive.

Jesus was not so reasonable or practical; his resume would not have gone too far in the corporate or religious world today, if we judged by reason, rationale and appearances.  God’s ‘business plan’ was (and still is) completely maniacal: hang out with the poor, the rejected, the unclean, the blue collar types.  It gets even better, Jesus decided to spit fire towards the pious, the righteous, and the religious leaders, consistently showing disdain for the emperor time and again through stories, healings, and parables proclaiming to both that there is a new way, a new Leader, and a new Kingdom where all are welcome if they but ask and surrender.

That is not my idea of sane or reasonable and grace is the key to gates of this upside-down Kingdom.

God incarnate is just plain absurd and offensive, screwing up all my preconceived notions of grace – who deserves it, who gets it and who does not. God messes with my plans, confuses me and makes me uncomfortable.

And then there are those who follow Jesus – those who would try and tame God, sanitize him, even deputize and moralize him, making God into an Uncle Sam savior or a Pinocchio wrapped in Levi’s, a goatee, hipster glasses and mod rock music.

Hmmm…try and tame a tiger and risk losing your hand.  Try taming God and risk losing everything…and gaining even more.

God is unreasonable.  God is absurd. And God is offensive.

And thank God for that! And if God were not, we’d all be doomed.  For grace is the outflow of God’s unreasonableness.  So therefore grace is not reasonable either.

Grace can be absurd.  God’s love is absurd as well. Why would Jesus of Nazareth live a life that he did: loving the unlovable, defying social convention and norms, threatening the state simply by the love he showered upon people when he healed them, only to be executed for sedition. Why?

It is absurd that one must die for the many to live.

I will say this as plain and simple as I can, again and again: grace is absurd and offensive.  And way too many of us spend too much time trying to ‘figure’ it out rather than experiencing it; far too many try and control it foolishly, like gripping sand tightly hoping to prevent it slipping from their hands rather than just sink into it like a soft, warm blanket on a crisp Winter day.

 

Thanks.Giving.

Happy Thanksgiving.  Thanks.  Giving.

Giving. Thanks.

I enjoy thanksgiving the most because it is not (necessarily) a religious holiday in origin; it is simply an intentional day set aside to be grateful and give thanks.

I give Thanks. Then I live my thanks by giving my life away in service and love.

So, I turn and give thanks to God for all that is and is to come.  I give thanks to God for our divine friendship; my love grows deeper for God moment by moment, day by day as I grow closer to Home.

I give thanks for all the bounty of the Earth.

I give thanks for all that surround me, for I am a better man for all these men and women; if I stand tall, I do so because I stand on the shoulders of good people.

I am thankful for the quiet, hidden prayers that have been offered; for the angels who inhabit my world; for the 55 pound divine fur ball named Juno who reminds me everyday what grace and unconditional love truly are.

I am thankful I have breath and life to say “thank You!”

I am grateful for the mosaic that is my life: joy and sadness, fullness and emptiness, sickness and healing.

I am grateful and thankful for the 200 subscribers who have humbled me by signing up and even reading one tiny word I write, may you be Blessed, may you be Blessings.  May my words, in some small way, lead you deeper into the God Who pines for you, Who loves more than my words can ever convey; Who loves you, longs for you and embraces you as the divine children you are.

I am grateful for all the people in recovery who challenge me daily and keep me clean and sober; those who remind me of God – in blue jeans, grace in t-shirts, and divine love in brutal transparency.

I am reminded of the wise Meister Eckhart quote, that I try and live out daily, sometimes feebly, sometimes fully: “If the only prayer you ever utter is ‘thank You’ that would suffice.”

 

The Gift of Failure (revised)

The older I get (I just turned 48 years old at the beginning of November…yikes!), the more I truly understand that failure is a gift from God. I am also realizing that the longer I live and journey, the more I need my ‘spirituality’ to reflect and teach that truth. My historical experience has been that Religion tends to speak more to the “shame” of failure and not to its Giftedness.

The foundation of my spirituality is that I was created BY God FOR God – that everything about me and my life is about being in relationship with God. And with God not only are all things possible, all things are redeemable. It is a powerful thing to learn from failure. It is a transformative thing to learn and experience that failure is a gift and a necessary tool for our journey with (and towards) God.  Failure is the twin sister of ‘success’ much the way doubt and faith are inseparably linked.

One of the foundational ‘tenets’ of Alcoholics Anonymous states that the journey of sobriety is about “progress not perfection…[for] we are not saints.”  Imperfection and failure are two of the tools God uses to draw me in closer; for by embracing imperfection and failure, I am reminded of the glorious truth that I am indeed human and I remember that all of us were created in the image and likeness of God.  In my being human, nothing is drawn away from God and his relentless love, in fact, I find that if I embrace that truth, I am more so fully alive.

My failures prove only that I am not a saint, they do not take away from any goodness that God has placed within me.  I am fond of saying if there is anything in me you find good, then you can give thanks to God and my mother, but if you find anything in me that is not good, well for that I apologize.

As I look over my life I see a wreckage of pain, failure and broken hearts and trust strewn across the path.  I feel regret, and rue some of the poorer choices I have made.  But God is eternally good, forgiving and loving so that in his hands my past wreckage becomes malleable clay to be remolded into a shining example of divine love blended with my utter humanity.

And like or not, that is indeed good news.

I am but a jar of clay, cracked but valuable when surrendered fully into God’s hands.  My failures become familiar scars, gentle reminders of the power of forgiveness and choice all held by the urgent compassion of God.

Here is the point of this and what makes it a Gift is that God does not judge my failures; only I and other people do that.  God’s love is a merciful cauldron burning away the dross of my failures turning them instead into divine gifts meant for service, compassion, healing and justice.

God’s grace is greater than any failure I have ever experienced.

God’s love is greater than any human perspective, judgment, religion, or persuasion.

In truth, God embraces my failures as a vital part of me and my journey back Home, to myself, to God and to others. And if God embraces my failures, I certainly can do no less. So today, I embrace all my failures – all of me, surrendering them over to the hands of God, asking not for them to be removed but rather to be transformed into loving gifts of service, gifts from a merciful God.

 

Three Soul Full Quotes…

“Conversion is a continuous and lifelong process. Conversions proceed layer by layer, relationship by relationship, here a little, there a little—until the whole personality, intellect, feeling and will have been recreated by God.” – John Westerhoff, The Spiritual Life

~ ~ ~

“God is continually giving us gifts; but we do not understand that they come from God, and we take them as if they were merely natural results. We take them and forget God. The habit of prayer opens the eye of the soul to be watchful for God’s love, to recognize his hand in his gifts” – Richard Meux Benson

~ ~ ~

“If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye, which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what…is so sparkling…so fragrant…so intoxicating as possibility?”   – Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or

 

Space for Grace

“Gratitude prepares a space for grace to reside.”  A.A. old timer

I am a firm believer that there are two primary ways that God’s grace comes to us, there are unfathomable ways for that to occur but these are the two prime ones in my life: they are through a wound in our hearts and/or when space has been prepared.

You see I know God is in the “Grace Business” for I am a wounded sinner who has experienced divine grace more than I can even recall.  But I am learning that grace does not force itself into me, rather I must open myself up to it, empty myself of all that is ego, then and only then does grace come rushing in.

I must be intentional in preparing a space and for me that space is created through gratitude.  Gratitude is a reality that claims that God IS and therefore all is well.  Gratitude knows that all things, moments, and experiences can be and become blessings when seen through the eyes of ‘thank You.’  Gratitude understands that nothing lies outside of God and God’s will for if anything did stand outside of God’s hands then God is neither omnipotent nor omnipresent.

Gratitude understands that in truth all things are present now, that I do not need to beg God for them, and that trust and thankfulness are the keys that open us up to the blessings of grace in all things.  Gratitude is about fleshing out my “thank You” to God.  It is about knowing I am only what and who I am because of God’s grace.  And let me tell you, I need grace, daily, sometimes minute by minute because the world wants to ensnare my heart, strangling it with fear and dread.

I have to empty myself out and make some space for grace and the space I need to empty out is where the ego resides, for my ego takes up a great deal of space.  But empty I must if there is to be any room for grace.  I am called to be like Mary, who in order to be so full of grace, had to be emptied of herself…as in when she said “be it done to me according to Your Will.”

I am rarely in the head space for grace, but when I shift into gratitude, I am always in the heart space for grace to come and come it does: in ways unexpected, messily, tenderly, forthrightly, surprisingly, but always, always does God’s grace faithfully come.

Poetic Musings: God in our Midst

I want to live my life as if I believe God is in my midst,
not as theory but as a Living Presence.

I hunger for God.

I pine for my life to be a living reflection of the God I believe in.

I want my life to be a fount of God’s love –
limitless, lavish and lushly poured out for all.

God is not to be out done in giving or benevolence.

God pines for us, waiting for us until we are ready to taste and see the
great goodness and truth that surrounds us – the truth that God indeed is in our midst.