Friday, December 31, 2010

For the Constants and the Changes

The jeweled flickers of sunlight
are constant
on the tumbling creek waters
even as the stream itself
continues on the journey.
Dancing, Beckoning Light:
please be the Constant
and the Change alike
in my life,
along my journeys.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ecstasy

Draw me after You!
We will run in the fragrance of Your perfumes,
O heavenly Spouse!
I will run and not tire,
until You bring me into the wine-cellar,
until Your left hand is under my head
and Your right hand will embrace me happily
[and] You will kiss me with the happiest
kiss of Your mouth.
-- Saint Clare of Assisi

from For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics by Roger Housden (Hay House, Inc. 2009)

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Verb Became Flesh

And the Word became flesh and lived among us.

All things came into being through the Word.

And the Word was Being.

And the Word became flesh
and lived
and toddled
and laughed
and cried
and made friends
and learned
and traveled
and ate
and drank
and slept
and gazed at the stars
and watched the sunrise

because the Word became enfleshed.

The Word that is Life became a life.
The Word of Being became a being.
The Word that is, in fact, the Verb --
the holy Verb that causes Life and Being,
the Verb that is the action of God
-- the Verb became flesh
and was born.

And all of the verbs, all of the actions & attitudes of God
throughout time, throughout story,
came into flesh:
the creating and the guiding and the covenanting
and the saving and the anointing and
the judging and the sheltering and the loving,
for Israel and for the foreigner, for the widow and the wanderer,
for the king and the shepherd alike,
all of the activities of God came into flesh
in the Verb that was born of Mary;
the Verb, the sign of God, that was named
Emmanuel: God With Us
Jesus: God Heals

What has come into being through the Verb
is Life:
Life that proclaims "God is here!"
Life that heals the outcast and comforts the exile
Life that makes the leper clean
and lifts up the paralyzed man to walk,
Life that celebrates love
and sits down to eat at anyone's table,
Life that tells stories
and calls out lifeless religion and power-driven living,
Life that transforms
and speaks of new life,
Life that defies death,
Life that is full of the glory of God
Life that beckons our lives to live fully for God's glory
Life that radiates Light through the deepest night and sparks our lights

Life that is full of verbs

The Verb became flesh and lived among us.
The eternal activities of God
took on
Life and Breath and Time
so that our flesh, and our breath, and our time
could witness & learn from the Verb Made Flesh
and all of the daily verbs that we live and do and say
could reflect the holiness of the Verb's Incarnation,
could act and live with the courage & the hope & the trust
that God is made flesh
all around us

Emmanuel: God With Us

Come and adore,
Come and celebrate,
the Verb Made Flesh

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

I see you in the explosion of a sunrise.
I see you in the drifting chaos of clouds
and in the neat rows of plowed-down cornstalks.
I see you in the squirrel darting about frantically for nuts
and in the doe standing beside her fawn as they graze.
I see you, with my eyes closed, in a dream
and I see you, with my ears opened, in a song.
I see you in the towering beauty of a cathedral.
I see you in the knitting together of words and stories.

And now I will see you in the flesh of a newborn,
in fact, in the incarnation of every child.
Now I will see you in my neighbor;
now I will see you in the mirror;
now I will see you when the media or the ideologues
flash "enemy" before me, and I will remember that it is you.
Now I will see you in the brother who tries my patience,
just like I see you in the friend who lifts my spirit.
Now I will see more carefully,
knowing that I am always seeing
Christ
before my eyes.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Advent . Week 4 . Thursday

My soul is weary from traveling, my heart is longing for home, and I want to ease into a familiar space and be cradled by a familiar love. Jesus, be my Constant amidst all that is different or disorienting during this holiday season. Be the One Thing that helps me feel at home, like a newborn babe can suddenly make a stable feel like a sanctuary. Be Warmth and Affection when the solitude is too great or the crowds are too isolating. Stay by my side as I join the festivities for your birth, and restore my energy through this Christmas journey.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Advent . Week 4 . Wednesday

Wild Holiness,
Bursting Power,
Unimaginable Adoration of the heavens,
be gentle with me as you enter the world and step into my life.
Be mindful that my flesh bruises easily and my skin shows stretch marks where it has strained its limits. In your eternal brilliance, remember that my imagination barely leaps and hardly soars. Do not be discouraged with me, I pray, but condescend to whisper in words that I can understand and to set a path before me that I can discern to follow. Proceed carefully please as you break open my heart to brave fuller life, as you shatter the stained glass before my eyes to reveal deeper faith, as you call the whole of my existence to unrestrained use & unrestricted purpose. Amen.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent . Week 4 . Tuesday

Still, my soul,
to behold the miracle:
the Divine in the finite
the Most Stunning taking on flesh
the Eternal within a lifetime

Still, my soul,
to marvel at Incarnation:
in the smile of a passing stranger
in the tired soul sitting & sipping coffee
in a swaddled newborn's yawn

Still, my soul,
to honor the Deep and Holy:
so subtle, yet right in front of us
so ordinary but beyond imagination
so satisfying, more than I thought I needed

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent . Week 4 . Monday

May my heart sing without ceasing

-- unhindered by the bitter cold,

unencumbered by holiday stress or
even a cynical ear full of world news,

unchecked by self-doubt or worried faith --

but freely raising its voice

saying,

Gloria!

Gloria!

Glory upon glory to the Wondrous God!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Proclamation

We are called to proclaim the truth . . . And let us believe:

It is not true that this world and its people are
doomed to die and to be lost.
This is true: I have come that they may have life
in all its abundance.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and
discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction.
This is true: the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life,
the poor are hearing the good news.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last
word, and that war and destruction have come to stay forever.
This is true: death shall be no more, neither shall there
be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of
evil who seek to rule the world.
This is true: the Lord whom we seek will suddenly
come to the temple; and the Lord is like a refiner's fine.

It is not true that our dreams of liberation, of human dignity,
are not meant for this earth and for this history.
This is true: it is already time for us to wake from sleep.
For the night is far gone, the day is at hand.

The words of Allan Boesak, adapted from an address for the World Council of Churches, in Bread of Tomorrow: Prayers for the Church Year (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 1992); quoted in Imaging the Word: An Arts and Lectionary Resource, Volume 2 (Cleveland, OH: United Church Press 1995), p 95.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Saturday

It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men, From heaven's all-gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay, To hear the angels sing.

I pray for courageous world leaders who pursue the common welfare before political gain, who consider cooperation before the triumph of strength: for real conversations about poverty and women's health and violence and hatred and greed. I pray for the nations' citizens to sing of peace on earth louder than they sing of patriotism: for listening and understanding to lead us in complex matters of trade and migration and security. I pray for foresight and insight to see the world's possibilities and live into them: to hear of war and still live for community, to see despair and still speak of hope, to learn of the breadth of injustice and yet work for reconciliation.

O ye, beneath life's crushing load, Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow --
Look now! for glad and golden hours Come swiftly on the wing:
O rest beside the weary road, And hear the angels sing.

(Text: Edmund H. Sears 1850; Tune: R. Storrs Willis 1850)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Friday

Do I dare not to live with deep joy and wild hope
when look! the trees even in their nakedness
are clapping their hands,
a
nd the sun through gray snow clouds
radiates praise,

and the frozen ground harbors seeds
for spring's rebirth,

and Orion faithfully accompanies the lonely traveler
through the night;

the wind, for all its chill, inspires us to sing
a new song of thanksgiving
for every warm cup of hot chocolate
and every moment of walking indoors;

the occasions of parting and coming together,
with all of their joy and pain,
draw us to fuller awareness of community and the need for God With Us;

so in prayer and breath and walking, I strive for joy today:

Hear, O Spirit, this gratitude for warmth
and this praise for nature's beauty, and
this longing prayer for love to sustain us.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Thursday

Thank you for snowflakes.
Thank you for dreams.
Thank you for everyday joys.
Thank you for color.
Thank you for memories.
Thank you for child-made crafts.
Thank you for evergreens.
Thank you for moments of elation.
Thank you, my God, for this life!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Wednesday

As we seek you -- through joy and pain, amidst the calm and the bustling, in Christmas tree lights and silent star lights -- O Emmanuel, fill us with delight in the journey and compassion for our fellow travelers. Keep us ever mindful of the wounds and strains of others, so that we participate in healing more than injury. Make us willing workers as we search for you, midwives of the fullest life that is still to come. Amen.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Tuesday

The moon whispers a prayer
that I struggle to echo:
for peace with the extended darkness,
for patience through the wild unknowns,
for willingness to awe at the mysterious,
for the mindfulness to be quiet and restful.
I pray that the moon's prayer
will steady me through this winter night.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent . Week 3 . Monday

May we repent of self-indulgence, self-abasement,
and self-righteousness today.

May we indulge in other-awareness,
other-encouragement and empowerment,
and love of the sacred in all.

May it be so.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Heeeere's God!

It's announcement time in Advent, with a drum roll please:
"Here is your God!"

We have only two weeks left until Christmas, only two weeks remaining on this Advent journey of seeking the Christ Child. And it's time for the seeking to produce glimpses of God With Us. So Isaiah announces, "Here is your God, who will come and rescue you!" and he accompanies the announcement with signs: a shoot growing from the stump of Jesse; a Holy Way that is safe for all travelers; a young woman giving birth to a son. Signs that say, "Here is God! Here is God's Way! Don't be afraid, here comes God's Chosen One!"

It's time for the Advent excitement to start bubbling up. We should be like kids poking through hallway closets for glimpses of Christmas presents -- that's the sort of joy and eager anticipation that we should be feeling at this point in Advent. "He's almost here! Ooo, it's almost time! Look, I think I saw a glimpse of Emmanuel!"

But we've become a little skeptical about seeing Jesus, a little hesitant about announcing our sightings of God's work -- and not without reason! The world is full of people and signs saying, "There's God! There's Jesus!" and so many religious leaders saying, "This is the way! No, this is the way!" and a whole lot of righteous folks saying, "Watch me, see how I follow Jesus! I'm as good as God!" ...until all of the God-sightings and all of the Jesus-announcements become a whirlwind of noise and bad theology, and we prefer to draw within and let faith just be a quiet thing that we keep to ourselves.

So we appreciate John the Baptist's question from amidst the whirlwind of voices and powers in his time: "Are you the one, or should we watch for someone else?" (Matthew 11:3) No dancing around it. No pretense that he doesn't harbor doubts. No apologies for crying out to God when despair overwhelms him in the prison cell. Just the straight-forward question: "Are you it? Are you the foundation of our hopes?"

For John the Baptist, this isn't a theoretical question; this is a matter of life or death. (You might remember that John is jailed because he critiques the affairs of the royal family, and ultimately he is killed by beheading due to the fits and fighting within King Herod's family.) John has staked his reputation and his way of life on the task of announcing "Here comes the Chosen One!", and before he dies, John wants the reassurance that he's right, that this man Jesus is in fact a sighting of God's presence in a corrupt and chaotic world.

"Are you the one? Or should we keep watching? Is this the right sign to lead us closer to God? Is this Jesus over here? Is that Jesus over there? Is that Jesus within the walls of a sanctuary? Is Jesus there in the marbled hallways of Congress? Which signs are the right ones? Are you it, Jesus?"

And Jesus, never one to give a simple answer, says, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them." (Matthew 11:4-5) At first reading, it seems that Jesus gives John -- and gives us -- still more signs to follow, which isn't very reassuring for John who is in prison or for us as we are inundated with signs and proclamations.

But Jesus doesn't say, "Wait for more signs." He says, "Look and see the life and the healing happening around me. This is how you know that I am the One: where I am, there is life!"

Where Jesus is, there is life -- full, whole, healed and reconciled life! Blindness falls away and there is sight. Leprosy and isolation are cleansed and there is community. Ears are opened and tongues released and death overturned and poverty relieved and the good news is louder than the news of suffering.

How do we know that Jesus is here ... or here ... or here? Where Jesus is, there is life! Where there is life, there is God With Us!

When Isaiah 35 and Matthew 11 talk about the lame walking, the mute singing, and the desert blooming, I often hear these events as miracles, as extra-ordinary and unlikely events. But Jesus and Isaiah don't say, "The Advent of God means that the impossible will happen." They say, "The Advent, the Coming of God With Us means that the fullest life possible will happen!"

The fullest of life --
open eyes and open ears and open hearts engaged in living;
ready hands and strong feet to support one another along the journey;
a desert in full bloom, a spring of water overflowing;
and a wide highway, the Holy Way, where all people walk safely
and no traveler is called 'unclean' or discouraged from the path;
the fullest life possible will show you that here is God!

Where there is life
in place of suffering, there is God!
Where there is reconciliation
in place of faction, there is God!
Where there is a song of praise
in place of despair and lament, there is God!
Where there is a wellspring of care
in place of a desert of abandonment, there is God!


Are you searching for God With Us, watching for Emmanuel's Advent? Look! See the places where life blooms, and know that Jesus is there.

Be glad! Get excited! Already we are catching glimpses of God With Us in the fullness of life! Amen and amen.

Adapted from my 12/12/10 sermon, "Here He Is!", at Grace United Church of Christ (Lancaster PA) based on Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Saturday

Now praise the God of Wholeness
who meets you in broken places!
Lift your spirit and your hands in sweet gratitude
to the God of Acceptance and Patience
who sees holy beauty just as you are, and
gently kneads your hardness & stubbornness.
Be happy, and keep your faith
in the Awesome and Holy One who
challenges your pride with a single snowflake.
Place your hope in the Source of Life,
the Daily Wisdom, the Foolish Lover.
Say to your spirit each day and each moment:
"Do not be afraid. Praise the LORD!"

Friday, December 10, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Friday

I sigh deeply and pray through my fear that things will not change:
that we will continue to commute blindly along the same roads, breathe without tasting the same toxic air, aspire to the dubious (and false) distinction of middle class security, deaden the same worries with wine and food and toys...

Spirit, there is more than this! More vibrant life, more playful dance, more keenness, more ache -- yes -- and also more love to claim! You call us to more than this! Like an impossible dream, you come ("Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!") and dare to announce that we can birth Jesus and we can feed multitudes and we can reconcile the world and we can walk on water! And we must, if things are going to change. O Spirit, I am longing for things to change!

"We have to be braver than we think we can be,
because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are,
to see through the plastic sham to living, breathing reality.
Earthbound as we are, even we can walk on water."
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art (Madeleine L'Engle)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Thursday

My soul sings "Joy!" as the sun shines!


My soul sings "Peace!" as the rock holds fast!


My soul sings "Hope!" as the brook travels onward!


My soul sings "Patience!" as it beholds the mountain's height!


My soul sings "Joy!" My soul sings "Joy!"


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Wednesday

Transform us!
Do something to us!
Cause a change to take place
in our hearts and in our relationships!
Let our watching and waiting not be a waste --
not because you don't show up,
but because we don't!
Call us to full & awake participation
in the advent of peace and hope and justice!
Make this, not a season, but a movement
of watchfulness that advocates
and waiting that engages
and adoration that stomps its feet
in restless resistance to a too slow and too comfortable Coming!


For a humorous take on watching and waiting, consider the lyrical (if random) antics of Disney's "Phineas and Ferb."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Tuesday

I am loathe to grapple with death in this season of hope and pregnant expectation and wondrous beginning. But the wind cuts to the core and the sadness creeps in unexpectedly, and I am forced to pay attention to the barrenness and the shortness of each day's breath. Help me with this, O God. The death must be witnessed, the pain acknowledged, the loss felt -- not out of holiday charity, but with self-vulnerability and genuine dis-ease. Death, too, has an advent, a time for preparation: candles are lit and hours marked and early sunsets mourned. O Holy Light of Advent, be present in this advent too. Fill me with the peace to be unguarded; grant me the strength to be weak. Don't let me skip winter's bitterness in my longing for the warmth and light of Christmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Advent . Week 2 . Monday

Still-coming God, I pray for awareness of what has already arrived:
gifts of friendship, the hope of growing children, the light of a new day, the dance of dry autumn leaves and falling snowflakes, the moment of meeting you in prayer, the love expressed across distance. For all that sustains me today, for all that is still to unfold, I am grateful.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Good News of 'Megamind'

I loved DreamWorks' new movie Megamind when I saw it in the theaters recently. Loved it! Entertaining action, lovable villain, relatively unique plot, lack of the usual "farting" and "butt" humor that is prevalent in family movies and kids' t.v. shows today, fascinating moral dilemma (does good necessitate evil, and vice versa), fabulous cast, Michael Jackson's "Bad" during the closing credits, etc.

And -- are you ready for it?! -- it has a great Advent plot!

Megamind begins with a classic assumption: the strongest, handsomest, most privileged, most perfect, most popular guy is granted the people's trust and elevated to the status of superhero. In his fight to keep the people of Metro City safe from the chaos and mischievous schemes of the villain, superhero Metro Man always wins and always gets the girl and always has neatly coiffed hair. In contrast to our valiant hero, the evil Megamind is oddly proportioned and oddly colored, has weird friends (a fish in a bowl with a robotic body and apelike arms), and prefers elaborate inventions over graceful social skills. With good and evil, perfection and error, thus defined, all is right and balanced in the animated world ...

... until the bad guy wins. Totally trounces the superhero with a deadly alignment of space satellites and sun rays and laser beams. Free to rampage through Metro City and to make the mayor's office his own evil sanctuary, (spoiler alert) Megamind suddenly has to consider what it means to be a villain without a hero ... and, ultimately, whether or not he might become the hero himself. But who would cheer the heroism of a blue bald guy with a big head and a fish for his best friend? Who would erect a monument to this scrawny guy with a shady past??

Who would cheer the unimpressive pregnancy of a young woman who got knocked up before she got married? Who would applaud a baby born into poverty in an occupied territory, and say "Look! Here's a hero! Here's someone who can save us and right the world's wrongs!"?? What makes a growing toddler living in exile in Egypt any more likely of a savior than a blue-headed inventor wearing black leather?

Granted, those of us who have grown up in the church might scratch our heads and wonder about the comparison of Megamind-the-improbable-hero to Jesus, because we've always heard that Jesus is the Savior and Jesus is the obvious hero to every story. We forget that Jesus was a surprise to those around him and (in contrast to our preference for powerful & popular heroes) a bit of a rebel without much social savvy for getting ahead in the world!

But the Advent message urges: "Keep awake! Watch for the unexpected! Be prepared for the impossible!"

Not only does the hero have an unexpected appearance, but his acts of heroism are beyond imagining! The nerdy blue guy gets the girl and a parade in his honor. The rescuer of Israel makes the wolf and the lamb live together in peace. Advent doesn't just give us a hero that we don't expect; Advent gives us a social/world reconciliation that we don't expect!

For all of the familiarity of this winter holiday, for all of the comforts and routines that we love about it (or not so much), I suspect that we often miss the element of surprise which is necessary to Advent watchfulness. The baby in the manger is adorable, no longer compelling. The shepherds are sanitary, the wise men prompt, the angels routine ... without particularly inspiring us to seek out the disheveled loners, the star-gazers, the mystic intercessors.

Even the Advent lectionary readings that lead into Christmas cannot catch us off guard: a child playing near the hole of an asp, a desert in full bloom, an exiled people free to return home, a priest mute with disbelief, two pregnant women -- one young, one old and (supposedly) barren -- laughing and singing praises together. The familiarity of it all is lovely, but is it motivating?

What I love about Megamind for Advent is that it twists the usually-predictable hero plot so well that the viewer isn't quite sure how all of the pieces will come together. Long-time Christians who have heard the stories of Advent for many years are no longer surprised by the ending: "Oh my gosh, look! A baby was born!"

But someday we will be surprised -- utterly and completely surprised -- because God will show up in the last possible way or in the least likely person ever imagined. Maybe it will be tomorrow, and the Church will collectively roll out of bed, set her feet on the floor, look out the window at the natural presence of God, and say "Oh my goodness -- I think that God loves the queer community without strings attached! And *gasp* God calls and ordains women and same-gender-loving folks and trans persons into ministry!" Maybe it will be the end of time, and it won't matter whether you believe in instantaneous rapture or no-hell-just-heaven-for-everybody, because we will all be stunned and awed to witness the Holy Wildness that is God.

But in the meantime, for this Advent season, I appreciate Megamind for the reminder to look for the unimagined ... to look for something that I'm not trying to find, to watch for an unexpected agent surprising me with the presence of God, to listen for Advent themes in a silly family movie, to prepare for the radical idea that the obvious enemy can be the superhero for Metro City.

And maybe for Advent.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Advent . Week 1 . Saturday

I pray peace to the soldier
I pray healing to the hospital patient
I pray strength to the birthing mother
I pray reconciliation to the enemy
I pray rest to the burned-out
I pray laughter to the lonely
I pray courage to the domestic abuse victim
I pray safety to the trucker driver on deliveries
I pray kindness to the retail employee
I pray comfort to the mourning
I pray unbridled creativity to the children
I pray imagination to world leaders

Friday, December 3, 2010

Advent . Week 1 . Friday

Ever-present Emmanuel,
Stand out to me this season
in colorful lights illuminating houses on a winter evening,
in carols and Christmas tunes too familiar from repetition,
in hand-crafted (and mass-produced) nativity scenes --
even the garish ones.
But more than these, stand out to me
in the bubbling-over, bounce-off-the-walls joy of children,
in the hidden tears and lonely heartache of a friend,
in the jubilant chorus of "Gloria!" silently ringing through
nature's hibernation.
Ever-present Emmanuel,
stand out to me this season.

Great Gifts, Great Deals!

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for bidding fun and holiday shopping!

Place your bids soon before the auction closes
at 10PM EST this Sunday, December 5.


Proceeds benefit Grace United Church of Christ, Lancaster PA.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent . Week 1 . Thursday

The LORD is my healing and my strength,
who knows my body's aches and my soul's weariness
and revives me, even down to the very cells of my bones.

The LORD is my clarity and my every breath,
who centers and steadies the whirlwind of thoughts and tasks
and shows me the stillness and the moment.

Let my soul be filled with praise
until my tongue sings with love,
until my eyes smile with deep joy

for the body's cells and the burning stars are known by God
as are the rush of traffic and the path of a snowstorm.
Through all chaos and order, there is God.

Teach me priority and patience,
self-grace and expansive compassion; and
let me trust. And trust. And trust again

the LORD who is my healing,
my centering,
and my life.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent . Week 1 . Wednesday

Peace. Peace.

But I cry out,
"There is no peace!"

Peace. Peace.

But I cannot be still,
and I cannot catch my breath.

Peace. Peace. Peace.

But I am not done,
I am not ready.

Peace. Peace. Peace.

But see: look at the good work I can do!
Watch how well I scurry!

Peace! Peace.

. . . . . . .
Peace?

Peace.