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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Musings on the Kingdom (Lenora Rand)

This Blog post is a repost from Red Letter Christians written by Lenora Rand.

Lenora’s blog, Spiritual Suckitude, is about figuring out how to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, while working in corporate America and trying to get the laundry done. She is also co-founder of The Plural Guild. Check out her earthy, soulful writing and enjoy this short piece below.

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:3)

Lenora writes:

“I used to have a sort of idealized Disney-version of kids in my head. Then I had some. And I noticed that in their natural state, before us adults manage to fully “civilize” them, kids are crazy with questions, needy and rambunctious, don’t easily take “No” for an answer, feel everything deeply, hate unfairness and aren’t ashamed to yell about it, and basically live every second of every day until they pass out in blessed exhaustion. And if we’re like them, Jesus says, that’s how we enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  That is actually heaven.”

Simply…Love

It seems so simple, so obvious; this life of faith we are called to live. But in light of the heinous actions we have seen in the media and in our world lately – killing of black Christians by a racist zealot, religious hatred and bigotry, choosing nationalism over biblical mandates – that it appears to be far from simple.

What is so simple is this: God is Love; and if we love God then we must love AS God loves – unconditionally.

God is not white. God is not black. God is not a human, neither man nor woman. God is not Catholic or Protestant. In fact, I don’t even think God is religious, although God may be just a tad bit Zen.

The fact of the matter is, it really is plain and simple – this Love thing – it’s just not easy. And there is a huge difference between something being simple and being easy (just ask anyone who is a part of any 12 Step fellowship, they’ll explain it).

The apostle John, also known as John the Beloved, said it best when he spoke of two of the eternal truths about God – namely that “God is light” and “God is love.” The latter is the focus of this blog. This concept, this truth (Truth) is so simple, yet profound and almost unutterable. The truth of God’s being is so simple children get it and yet this truth – that God is love – is also so profoundly frightening that we adults are threatened by it so much so we create dogma, doctrines, denominations and diatribes to control the very essence and definition of God’s love. But God forever remains Love.  Any and all expressions of love, whether pure or perverted, have their origination in and from Divine Love; all loves are mere shadows and reflections of God’s Perfect Love.

And since God is love, we too are called to both BE love and DO Love. We can spend all sorts of time, money, and energy arguing about this Love or we can spend all of our time, energy, money and efforts Being and Doing Love – and leave the rest to God.

God will forever and infinitely BE love, it is we who are born, live and die. Love abides forever.

God’s love is so awe-inspiring and eternal that we are given free will to choice to do as we wish to this Love. We are free to qualify it; we are free to quantify it.  We are free to try and control it through restrictions, definitions, exegesis, rules, regulations, stipulation and the like. We are free to commodify God’s love. We are even free to try and mete out, control and block God’s love for that is how much God loves us – to allow us to do some pretty heinous and asinine things and still BE LOVED.

But it is still simple. Love. Jesus said it, preached it, lived and died it. Love. Love. Love. In truth, if you break down all that is required of us it is simply love: love God with all your being and love your neighbor (everyone!) as yourself.

But God’s love is unconditional, unlimited, unbridled…and that truth scares the bejesus out of us. We – I – do not know what to “do” with a Love like that, so I do what most people do to love – I end up killing it with rules, reg’s, and restrictions. I tame love. I make it safe for me, and you if you jump through the proper hoops and channels.

We humans are so afraid of the utter brilliance and intensity of divine Love that we have to limit God’s love in order to understand it; we have to control it in order to receive it. At the end of the day, we cannot truly believe God’s love is indeed unconditional, as in absolutely unconditional, that we need to establish temporal conditions to that which is Eternally Unconditional. Religious laws are/were constructed because people are not to be trusted with the unlimited, unfathomable, unchanging, unbearable, all inclusive and all embracing love of God.

What would happen though if we simplified it, really simplified it, down to what it is: LOVE? What would happen if all who love, seek, pine for and “speak for” God simply sought to give, be and do Love? What if all other dogma, doctrine and denomination burnt away as the dross that it is, and only God’s unconditional love reigned supreme in all of our hearts?

What would happen?

Would the walls drop away? Would all the excuses we have for separating ourselves into neat little, safe categories melt away? Would we stop being white, black, red, yellow, rich, poor, red state, blue state, pro-life, pro-choice, anti-gay, queer friendly? What would truly happen? My sense is the greatest revolution of our existence would happen: a revolution of the heart (to paraphrase Dorothy Day).

God’s Love is not a doctrine, or a sect, or a rule; God’s love is an ever Present Reality. Love is God’s very Being – the very essence of who God Is. When God said that his name was Yahweh (YHWH), what was being said was “I AM Who I Am and Who I AM is Love.”

The late Teilhard de Chardin urged us onward and inward, to discover the “energy of Love” – which he considered to be the energy of God’s Being. Teilhard told us, “Someday, after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energy of love; and for the second time in the history of the world, [humanity] will have discovered fire.

Divine Love is just that, divine.  And no human language or doctrine or dogma should ever try and tame the perfect wildness, the wondrous Fire, that is the Love of God.

(Scripture references: see 1 John 3:11, 18; 1 John 4:7-21)

Musings on the Incarnation

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

(The Good News of Luke 1: 67-79)

“God became one of us and…pitched his tent in our midst.”

Clarence Jordan (Cotton Patch Sermons)

Since Christmas Eve is actually the last day of Advent, I thought I would muse a bit about the spectacular nature of this Sacred Season. So, this morning I received an email and in it this pastor was saying that no words can adequately convey God’s love for human life. I thought to myself that he may be right; no mere words can truly express God’s desire to be so close to us and to love us. My first thought was well the Incarnation is as good as it gets in describing that truth.

Think about it: God wanted to be so close to you and me that God put on flesh and became one of us! Pause for just a moment and really ponder that truth, the truth of what Christmas is ALL about. Ponder and personalize it:

God wanted you to know how much you are loved, wanted to be so near you, that God put on flesh and became just like you.

God spared NO expense to be close to us, to love us, to show that love to us! Now even if you do not believe in the virgin birth or that the Incarnation is real, still ponder the notion that God would do such a thing to prove his love to you and me.

That truth to me makes this a time of true hopefulness – a kairos moment pregnant with God.  Kairos, the Greek word for time, is unlike the human concept of time, chronos, meaning “chronological time.” Kairos has to do with a divine visitation, a rending of the veil of human time when God comes to dwell among his people in an extraordinary way. The Incarnation is a Kairos moment that happened at a specific chronological time…an Infinite Moment held delicately within a finite one. It’s downright scandalous.

The Incarnation is both mind-boggling and paradox. Mind boggling in that almighty God would actually limit Godself by becoming flesh; paradox in that God comes to us through the fragile vulnerability of a helpless, newborn child who is Messiah. And the paradox of the Incarnation continues: God did not choose to come as a powerful military King Messiah ready to liberate the Jewish people with force from the brutal and ongoing occupation of the Roman Empire.

It seems God had different plans.

Instead, God chose to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed teenage mother in a land under the oppressive occupation of an Empire. That fact alone defies all logic and reason. Who would be more marginalized and dispossessed than Mary? Who could be farther from the seat of power? But it within this zeitgeist that the Incarnation happens; God did not come as a warrior God with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for control.  No, God came to us, as one of us, choosing to make himself known in fragility and poverty – a far cry from how most people thought Messiah would come.

Every year at Advent we are offered the chance for reflecting that God comes to us as he did 2,000 years ago: in helplessness; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; in the promise of hope when all seems lost.

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

Musings on Advent: Pregnant Pausing

“Advent is a season of the secret of Divine Love growing in Silence…”

Anonymous

Advent, from the Latin word adventus, means “a coming.”  In the busy days of the Christmas season, it seems Advent has become more of ‘a coming and going and rushing about’ than a pregnant pausing to celebrate the coming of Messiah.

One of the things that bothers me the most about this time of year, more than the blatant and rampant consumerism, is the edgy “busy’ness” of it all.  Like hamsters on a treadmill going nowhere fast, we run from store to store, party to party, event to event, never taking the time to pause and reflect upon the momentous occasion of the true “Coming” that this season is based upon.

Advent is meant to be a time of pausing, a time of seeking the Great Silence away from the rush and temptation of every little thing that tugs at our attention.  It is about taking the time to stop time: to reflect upon the miracle of the Infinite rending the veil of time, thereby making all that is finite pregnant with the Holy.

Advent is a time of deepening spirituality. And rather than some highfalutin concept, spirituality is more of a Velveteen rabbit-like experience of sensing God’s movement and Love in my life in ever deepening ways, especially when things seem darkest.

Advent is, as well, a specific liturgical time of sensing God’s movement in my life and in the world around me.  It is an intentional time of pausing to look for the Holy in all the ways it is embodied around us. During Advent, we are reminded to allow the Spirit to transform our lives into “living mangers” – places where Christ can be born anew and afresh in us and in a world crying out for divine love.

This time of year is a time for God to come to all of us once again, in tenderness and smallness, in ways and places that we may not normally look for God: like a manger (a feeding trough to be exact) or the distressing disguise of the homeless; the numerous people waiting in line at the soup kitchen; the forgotten and lonely or those struggling with addictions; the person next to us in line at the store. All of these are moments when we can both experience and be Christ.

In these last days of Advent, may this be a time when God comes to each and every one of us in deliberate ways, ways known only to us, special ways that afford us the opportunity to renew our faith, discovering the depths and richness of God’s love and compassion for us and the world.

So as we continue to journey on into these days of Advent, let us all pause…

and reflect…

and take time…

to recognize the Holy Presence that surrounds us.

In Search of a Bigger God

I have a confession to make: I am in search of a bigger God.  Mine is too small.  I have made numerous attempts to write this God out of my life, this God who is petty, pithy, pedantic at best.  The God that resides in my heart is an idol, one made up of fairy tales told by my drunken fathers’ presence and absence.  This God is narcissistic, needy, omnipotent and tyrannical and a drunk…just like my father was.

I thought that decades ago I had been loosed of this divine schizophrenic through some heavenly and earthy moments with Jesus of Nazareth, but circumstances as of late have left me reeling in disbelief at the very core of my beliefs and just how small my God has become as of late.

Doctrine, dogma, stigma and stain all have left the remnants of a child-like faith based in innocence and turned it into a full out frontal assault of FEAR.  I am scared of my “oh so small God.”

This God is too small; he cannot handle my pain, my emotional outburst, my constant neediness.  Nor can this God handle my questions and queries, leaving hope suffocated by the minutiae of daily life, questions big and small.

In fact, this God is too small precisely because He IS a He.  Why can’t this God be a She?  Or have Feminine qualities?  My mother was such a strong, lovely, regal woman who had wits and wilds about her…why can’t she be the source of my image of God instead of my alcoholic dad?!?

How about this truth: one of the most oft used words to describe God’s wondrous glory in the Jewish Bible and the Christian Old Testament is the word “Shekinah” – a feminine Hebrew word.  And much like the French language and other Romance languages, gender is ascribed to words rather than leave them neutral and therefore neutered.  Shekinah, to be more specific, is the English spelling of a grammatically feminine Hebrew name of God in Judaism. The original word means the dwelling or settling, and denotes the dwelling or settling of the Divine Presence of God, especially in the Temple in Jerusalem (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shekinah).”

In Judaism, and Islam, your name denotes not only your character, but can denote your destiny as well.  So, Shekinah, a word implying the very dwelling Place of the Most High God is a feminine word.  So, my small God can be She.  So my too-small-God can have the great traits of my mother: strong, loyal, creative, beautiful, tender, and compassionate, a mama bear not to be reckoned with when one of her cubs was in danger.  For as Genesis 1:26-27 states, “then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness’…in the image of God he created [humanity]; male and female God created them.  But I digress…

The search for a bigger God continues.

I can cash in this Peon-like God for one much larger than me, or you and definitely a God with NO EGO!

It is for this reason I love the 2nd Step of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous when it says “we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  A Power greater than me…a Power greater than any limitation or fear I could ever fashion a Deity to be.

I am truly searching for a bigger God: not a health and wealth, life will be pie in the sky God; not a Polyannish never see the darkness of life God; not a Santa Claus God who gives me my wish list.

I am in search of a God whose love is beyond being meted out and human restraint.  I am in search of a God who is holy – wholly other – yet dwells within me.  I am in search of a God Who is beyond dogmatic and doctrinal delineations; a God Whose very Being and strength is pure Love, infinite Mercy and radical Compassion.

In short, I am in search of a God Who is in search of me…

“Birthing a Different World” (Susan Morley)

“There is an urge among us to birth a different world.”  – Paul Hawken

Advent 2012

Birthing a baby is more than enough challenge, but a new world! Yikes! Advent is upon us and I am keenly aware of the craving for a different world. The Prayer Hut in Primavera Center is waiting for a symbol worthy of the inner work needed this season. Yet inner movements remain subtle. Clues often are all that will be given.

The longing for a womb, a cave for that which grows in the dark leads to the discovery of an old stump covered in winter. It is placed in the Prayer Hut, twisted and turned. We lay the stump over and with the help of a piece of cloth, a grotto comes forth. Something inside me leaps! I sit before it and wonder at what inner clue to a “new world” wants to reveal itself.

In a circle of folk dialoguing around the work of Paul Hawken, author, ecological architect and leading proponent of reform for a different world, one statement by the group leader causes my heart to leap. She says, “We need stories of people who are grounded and joyous in the midst of the despair of our age.”

Mary’s story, and her cousin Elizabeth’s, is in another time when corrupt leaders, exploitation of the poor, controversial policies and dangers prevail. A deeply grounded, though young, Mary willingly says yes to birthing the Divine Son of God. Troubled, she travels some distance to her cousin Elizabeth’s to share her difficult secret. With no instant communication, no smart phones, Facebook, email or even a land line available, the encounter comes as a surprise. Yet, in that moment of greeting, the baby in this older woman’s womb leaps for joy.

The scriptures paint a picture of both women entering into joy. Mary sings from the cave of her heart, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for you have looked with favor on your lowly servant” (Luke 1:39). Be not naïve, for the words that follow are not so sweet. They point to a world about to be upended, where values will be shaken up and the mainstream way of life overturned by the birth of the child within her womb.

The stories of these two women, grounded and joyous in the face of the mysteries they carry, show the way. Are these the kinds of stories we need to hear from one another for this time? Then let’s tell them! Stories of our grounding practices and celebrations of joy that flow through our everyday lives. I don’t know about you, but I need the conversation to change in order to free me from the preoccupation blockages that keep me from building a different world.

We are the different world God longs to bring forth. This Advent is the time to ground ourselves in reality, difficult or not, and empty out space enough to receive Love. For God is with us in this time and space and wants, again and again, to be birthed into this world. As the mystics say, “Look around. The world is full of God.”

Susan Morley, and husband Don Russell, members for many years of The Church of the Saviour, were called in 1999 to establish in the C of S tradition, PRIMAVERA: A SACRED AND SUSTAINABLE EARTH CENTER, in Kalkaska County, northwest Michigan.

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