cairns me home

being still in God's big world

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50 Days of Hallelujah

My favorite part of Easter each year is the phone call I make to my grandma on the way to church. I call my grandmother Easter morning and she always answers the phone with a song instead of saying hello. The thing that makes this especially comical is because she does not care who is calling: regardless of who you are, you can expect a serenade of an old Salvation Army hymn if you call my grandmother on Easter morning.

Up from the grave he arose;

with a mighty triumph o’er his foes;

He arose a victor from the dark domain,

and He lives forever, with His saints to reign.

He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

It isn’t really Easter until Grandma sings me that song. I love the gusto she puts into the performance. I love that the word “Hallelujah!” in the last line really sounds like a joy-filled expression. Hallelujah is supposed to be an exclamation of praise and joy and gratitude and celebration.  Hallelujah is a word to be shouted from the rooftops. But oftentimes, when we use it in church, it sounds like we are reading a word that doesn’t belong to us out of a book. We need to take ownership over our Hallelujahs.

Hallelujah, when encountered in worship or scripture, is always written with an exclamation point. So why is it that that we say it like it is some ordinary word? We’ve just given up our hallelujahs for 40 days – let’s use this season of Eastertide to reclaim the exuberance of our faith! Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose to new life again. If that doesn’t warrant a hallelujah (!) than I don’t know what does! We are members of an amazing community of love and fellowship. The Parish of the Epiphany is an amazing family full of talent and fun, worship and learning, friendships and mission. We are blessed to call this vibrant church our parish home; let’s shout it from the rooftops!

In Lent we take on a discipline to remind us of Christ’s trials in the wilderness and to turn our focus back to God. How about we do the same in Eastertide – but instead of an inward journey, how about we take an outward one? There is a trend on social media right now from the folks at 100happydays.com. The goal is for folks to post pictures each day of the things that make them happy to see if they can find joy 100 days in a row. I have a similar goal I hope many of us can try: 50 days of Hallelujah! Let’s see if we can find a reason everyday of Eastertide to shout HALLELUJAH! Look for the Risen Christ in your everyday life. See where the Spirit leads you are look for Christ in your midst. Shout your hallelujahs, post them to facebook, email them to me, write them in a letter, etc… On Pentecost, I will post a bulletin board near Hadley Hall with the results of our 50 Days of Hallelujah experiment. Let’s see where Jesus is waiting to meet us on the road.

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!

It’s not fair

A Sermon for Good Friday

It’s not fair.

We have plans for the present and the future. We know how life is supposed to go and then, in the blink of an eye, it all gets taken away – death arrives, ready or not, and it simply isn’t fair. Sometimes it doesn’t go that way. When you work in a hospital you have the unique privilege and opportunity to walk through life’s final steps with families. A “good” death, if you can even wrap your mind around that phrase, is one when the family has an opportunity to say goodbye, they know and have accepted what is happening, they are all gathered together, and their loved one slips away peacefully. Unfortunately, a “good” death is not often what we see. Usually, death just happens. It’s not fair. We don’t plan for it, it sneaks up, and it disrupts the life we were planning for ourselves.

Jesus’ death was far from this notion of a “good” death. His death was not fair. He was tortured and brutalized for crimes he did not commit. But for which he went willingly, obediently, to the cross. His death was, however, preceded by many of the markers we see in some of those hospice-type death experiences. The night before he died, Jesus gathered his friends together for a meal. He washed their feet and gave them ways to remember him. Jesus instituted the Last Supper in a ceremony of leave taking: he was saying ‘good bye.’ However, despite the many verses of warning and foreshadowing we read in our scripture, Jesus’ family and friends are taken by surprise when Judas arrives with his kiss and waiting soldiers. Denial plays a large role in the story we walk this week.

Good Friday is the horrible day when reality dawns. Peter has denied Jesus three times, the disciples have scattered, and Jesus is left to face Pilot – and ultimately his own death. The people he came to save scream vile, hateful things at him as he drags his own implement of torture up the hill to the spot where his life will end.

It’s not fair.

In Kate Braestrup’s autobiography, “Here if You Need Me,” she details her experiences as a chaplain for the Maine Warden’s Service – serving almost exclusively in search and rescue missions in the Maine woods. She introduces the tale by sharing the moment in her life when everything changed. Rev. Braestup’s husband, Drew, was a Maine State Trooper. Early one morning, shortly after leaving the house for work and just a few miles from home, his cruiser was broadsided by a box truck, killing him instantly. Braestrup recalls with poignancy the ordinariness of the day when she received the call that forever changed her life: his white cereal bowl, half full with milk was still in their stainless steel kitchen sink, the covers on their bed were still twisted, and you could see the outline of where he lay the night before.

Braestrup writes that “love begins with a body.” Whether romantic or otherwise, we encounter people physically and it is our senses that first form opinions and feelings towards another. Hearing someone’s voice for the first time – seeing the light in their eyes – or the quirkiness of their smile… those are the things that draw us in. Death, like love, begins as a clinically physical thing. The heart stops, the organs shut down, and the cells begin to deteriorate. But in instances of both love and death, the physical nature is overshadowed by the emotion and soul connection shared with the individual housed in the physical body before us.

Having read extensively about what a body goes through after death, Braestrup instructed the funeral director that she wanted no embalming to take place – no makeup to be put on, she would wash and dress her husband’s lifeless body herself, and she would be the one to close the casket for the final time. She also asked to witness his cremation. The physical accompaniment of her husband’s body would be her final act of physical love for him and she would not walk away, no matter how painful. After all, “Drew would do this for me” she thought. She describes the act of gently washing his cold form with a soft cloth, of straightening his State Police dress uniform, and of leaving the room where his empty body lay for the final time. “I am his remains,” she thought.

It’s not fair.

Tonight we wait with John, the beloved disciple, Mary the mother of Jesus and the other Marys at the foot of the cross. We watch, in agony, as the body we love is tortured and as the curtain of heaven is torn in two as the soul of our beloved is released back into the embrace of God. It isn’t fair, but that is what makes is so painfully beautiful. Innocent though he was, Jesus drank from the cup he was given. He sacrificed himself on the cross and he did it for us. So tonight we wait and we cry. We breathe and we despair. We take his lifeless body down from the cross and gently clean it and lay it in the tomb. It isn’t fair, but it is our present reality. We are his remains and how we walk forward from this place is a physical statement about the love we shared.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How are you?

This is a question we hear on a daily basis. Perfect strangers ask as we order our morning coffee. Our colleagues ask when we arrive at work. We ask literally in passing when we see an acquaintance walking by. We rarely answer honestly because the question has become a nicety rather than a real question. “How are you?” is a natural follow-up to “hello” but giving an honest answer is rarely what we expect as passersby in life. This question is also one that is asked over and over again when you are grieving a loss. It’s so natural to ask that sometimes we forget how complicated it can actually be. Sometimes the question is frustrating in times that are trying: “How do you think I am?!” But in these past 4 weeks since my dad died, most of the time that question is a call back to this world and a good question to ask myself. My meditation for these past weeks has been asking over and over, mostly subconsciously, “How am I?”

The question reminds us that we are still here. The question reminds us that crushing grief, while overwhelming, is not all there is. For the first week or so, grief was the only discernable feeling for me – but after that week others started to break through. Hunger, thirst, stir-craziness, confusion, and fear were the most obvious upon first glance. But when I really asked the question of myself: “How are you?” I determined there were so many other answers: I am grateful for all of the love I’ve been shown. I am overwhelmed by the stories I am hearing and the sides to my dad that bring others joy. I am alive. I am moving forward, sometimes reluctantly. I am in need of a run. I am angry. I am grateful. I am.

A few months ago a friend of mine experienced a traumatic death of a loved one. I went to visit her and before I left she talked to me about the question: “How are you?” She talked to me about how exhausting it was to hear that question and that I should know better, as a priest, than to ask grieving people how they are. She was right in many ways, and absolutely correct for herself personally. There are so many other questions one can ask: How are you sleeping? How can I be helpful today?

For me, though, “How are you” is an excellent reminder that I have a right and responsibility to check in with myself and that it is okay to be something other than not well. “How are you?” when asked with genuine concern and a willingness to hear the truth is a vital human question. I might not always want to answer. (I might not even want to answer when I ask it of myself.) I might not feel comfortable in all situations to open up. But the concern and care that is encompassed in that simple, yet wildly complex, question is noted and appreciated. Let’s take back this question and only ask when we truly want to know the answer. It is not a cursory greeting, it is an invitation for human connection. And for this moment, my answer is: I’m still here.

 

John the Baptist

Today we traveled to Fayette, a village on the riverbed. Through dust and rock we drove onward to see our newest group of patients. Those who have been on our medical mission before have been to Fayette, but all seemed equally in awe of the drive. It is the end of the dry season and we were therefore able to literally drive on the riverbed since it will be dry until the rains. People were out washing their clothes and bodies in the little water that trickled through. Goats and donkeys were tethered to rocks in the midst of the great, rocky expanse. You can imagine what it would look like full of water, but, at the same time, it is difficult to fathom what will happen to the people on the other side of the river when the water returns – there will be no way to cross. The other side of the river is where our clinic was today.

Our flow was much better today due to both our space and the set up. We were in the Catholic Church. On the walls are numbers for the Stations of the Cross, but no pictures to accompany the numbers. It was unclear whether they ever had pictures or if the numbers are where they’ve always stopped to pray. It seemed fitting that the pharmacy was set up in the chancel beside the altar. The place where the people go to receive the sacrament of our Lord’s Supper, today became the place where our brothers and sisters in Christ came to receive the gifts of medication to aide in their healing.

I am here as a chaplain. While the healing prayers I offer are not sacraments, they are sacramental. I sit to the side where I can watch the ministry of my colleagues as they diagnose, listen, and lay hands on our patients. Marissa calmly ensures that the balm we offer is the proper dosage, and all of us try to live into our baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being.

In the afternoon as I went outside to pray with some patients John the Baptist appeared before me. His hair was matted and dusty, he wore oversized-baggy cargo shorts that barely covered him and looked more like a loin cloth than shorts. He walked with a wooden walking staff, carried a dirty, empty bottle for water and a disheveled sack with all of his belongings.  He came to me clearly complaining of head pain. I struggled to explain that I was not a doctor. My translator told me that this man was an “imbecile” and we “didn’t need to waste time on him.” I insisted that all people could see the doctor and walked him over to the check in area. The translator at intake also tried to tell me that this man was “sick in his head” and didn’t need help but I insisted that all people would be seen. The translator was then very kind and helped me calm the man so he could wait.

Yesterday we treated two developmentally delayed patients who were originally turned away because they were “imbeciles” and had no need for the medical care we offered. With the help of many colleagues we made sure they were seen. These encounters broke my heart knowing that the daily lives of these people are filed with occasions of disrespect and ridicule. These experiences also beg the question: What would we do if we literally encountered the saints of our scriptures without knowledge of who we were meeting? The bible teaches us the John the Baptist was a disheveled character who did not fully fit in society. Would we accept the baptism of John if he appeared to us today?

Our team was “baptized” today. The other patients laughed as I insisted we treat him. Our patients inside of the “clinic” space shuddered as he passed. But our doctors embraced the man and listed to his rambling to make sense of what ailed him. After his check-up he was brought to me for prayer. Immediately, he dropped to his knees, shed his baggage and bowed his head. I laid my hands on his head and prayed that God might fill him and heal him. But he is already full of Christ. He knows and loves the Lord more than I could ever hope to know Christ.

 

Jesus told us to let the little children come to him and it has been demonstrated that children often have greater faith development than many of their adult counterparts. Children have an innate ability to trust and know the Christ that is in front of them. Developmentally delayed individuals share in this innate ability. This man, our own modern-day Haitian John the Baptist, was a faithful exemplar of Christ in this place. My prayer for our team is that we might find the strength to discover a personal faith nearly as radical as our “Baptist” exhibited today.

Responding in love

To paraphrase Madonna: It’s a digital world and I am a [reluctant] digital girl.

 

We’ve all gotten it: the email that unravels all your awesome (if you do say so yourself) plans. You send a simple request to someone and they email back explaining all the reasons what you need is not possible. Or you get an unsolicited bit of advice or feedback that hits every nerve in your body. Or you send a bit of feedback only to receive an email in return that is laden with hurt feelings and accusations. As our world continues to turn more and more to impersonal, digital communication methods it becomes easier to lose sight of feelings and emotions when we communicate with a quick click, click, click… send.

But human beings haven’t changed. We are still emotional beings who take pride in our work and try (I hope) to do our best to respect the dignity of others in our communications. So this turn to cold, digital communication is sometimes at odds with our communication needs as individuals. Some personality types are better suited to digital communication than others. But on the whole, we lose something when we communicate as though it is entirely mechanical instead of personal.

So, how do we respond in love while still maintaining appropriate boundaries and professionalism?

Here are my quick and dirty email communication rules that I try to follow:

1. Take a breath or, better yet, several. Just because email means instant communication is possible, it doesn’t mean instant communication is necessary. With smart phones, tablets, and wifi galore we’ve become a society that expects instantaneous answers to all of life’s questions. Just because there might be an expectation that we respond immediately it does not mean it is required. Take 24 hours before responding to any email, that is not time sensitive, that is upsetting or inflammatory. If you think that window might further damage the relationship, a simple response that tells the sender you received her/his correspondence and will respond soon can sometimes defuse the situation temporarily.

2. Take it off line. Email is best employed for matter-of-fact, short communications. Once hurt feelings get involved the situation can escalate quickly. Offer to meet in person or by telephone if the correspondence has taken a turn towards hurt feelings.

3. Walk a mile. If you thought the thing you were requesting was simple yet the response you got was complicated, rather than further explaining why your request is really simple – look at it from their perspective. What are the values involved? What other factors are in play?

4. Get an outside perspective. If you really cannot settle down or see the reasoning in the correspondence, ask an unbiased person to weigh in. Sometimes this might be to validate what you are experiencing, a lot of the time this might be to objectively consider both sides.

5. Remember the Christ that is in them. It is really easy to play the “I’m right, they’re wrong” game with email. You don’t have to look the other person in the eye when you are communicating and “hearing” their words. I find it is always best for me to assume the best motives and remember that at the bottom of it all the person with whom I am communicating was created in God’s image. This is both the hardest and easiest step. If loving everybody was easy, we’d live in a much more peaceful world.

It’s only after I’ve completed the above five steps that I am able to respond to difficult emails with love. Sometimes I do respond before I’ve participated in these steps and sometimes I luck out and do a good job. Most of the time, though, a quick response leads to hurt feelings and a much longer and more arduous communication than was necessary.

A gift of great value

A few weeks ago one of my parishioners emailed me the following story from his commute. With his permission I share it with you now:

Today as I was on the subway coming back from Quincy to my office in Back Bay I was riding the Orange line.  A man who was learning impaired approached me and asked if I had any spare change.  At first I nodded no; he then offered me a gift which was a piece of paper 18”x24” rolled up with an elastic band (he had a handful of them). I declined, but offered him a dollar instead and he was grateful.  He proceeded down the subway car, approaching others and got pretty much the same initial response of the nod, except most looked around to see if anyone else was looking to try to get a mutual smirk, evil smile or an eye roll.   I got so frustrated with myself for not doing more; he wanted to give me something.
He worked his way back to me, and this time I was ready with another dollar bill; I wanted what he was handing out.  So I handed him another dollar and he handed me the gift.  He proceeded to offer me a second one, and I declined (much more politely than last time).  He was probably in his mid 50’s and told me he had been drawing since he was 8 years old.  I told him that I would open it when I got back to work.  He proceeded on, and continued to get the same negative responses.  The suspense was killing me, what was in the rolled up paper, and what was his drawing?  I took off the rubber band and unrolled it and saw what he had drawn.

 

I went back into my wallet and pulled out a five dollar bill, and said “here; this is worth way more than two dollars”.  He again offered me a second one and I declined and told him that he needed to keep them so he could give them to other people.  It turns out, according to him, that they are all the same picture.  He then sat down next to me on the subway and smiled a lot and introduced himself to me, and told me that he had worked so hard on those drawings in his art class today.  I chuckled to myself because others kept throwing me a glance, some were a friendly smile and others were something more of a look of disgust as if to say “better you than me” and if so they were right.
 
I practically skipped off the subway.

We will see stars

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:1-5

There is something about darkness that is frightening. When it is dark and our sight is obscured, our minds begin painting pictures to make up the difference. Suddenly what was in daylight the woods around our home becomes a dangerous wilderness. What felt safe and secure becomes a frightening possibility of fearful circumstance. As our days grow shorter, our experience of the darkness takes over more of our day and can overwhelm us. It is in the midst of this space where our vision is robbed that our imagination takes over and gives way to both make-believe and memory.
This time of year calls forward memories for all of us. Some of those memories are filled with laughter and family, colors and light. Some of those memories are filled with tears or pain, fear or sorrow. For many of us, we have memories of both sorts that somehow come forward and swirl together into a string of interconnected emotions that become difficult to disentangle. The memories become a weight we carry with us as we try desperately to focus on the light and the joy we are told we are supposed to feel.
But whoever said a call to remembrance is always a joyful experience? The things we remember most clearly are the heights and the depths. We remember where we were when President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were shot. We remember what we were doing when the challenger exploded and the twin towers came down. We remember what it was like to hear someone say, “I love you” for the first time. We remember the mirth we felt when we heard that family close to us was expecting a child and we remember the fear and anger that bubbled up when that same child was diagnosed with a painful illness. The call to remembrance isn’t a call to a specific emotion – it is a call to honor the experiences that comprise our existence.
The prologue to the Gospel of John, which we heard this evening, tells the story of remembrance. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Like Paul Harvey used to expound in his radio program – We have the luxury of knowing the rest of the story. The Word of God, that spoke the earth into being and was proclaimed by the prophets, became flesh in the person of Jesus for whom we wait. That same Word that was and is a light that darkness cannot overcome became a human being who instructed his followers to “do thisin remembrance of me.” Jesus, for whom we wait, the light in the darkness, was a holder of memory and instructed his people to become holders of memory as well.
When we re-member those whom we have loved and lost, Christmases past, health that is now illusive, the life we thought we’d be living, our fears and anxieties, – we are putting ourselves back together in a form of honest and active waiting. This active waiting can be painful and exhausting, but it pays homage to all of the different parts that make us who we are. Tonight, we are calling forward the parts of our lives that are vital piece of the puzzle that makes us whole. Who we are today – right this moment – is because of who we have been, what we have experienced, the people who have crossed our paths, and the hope for what is to come. Friends, we cannot dance in the joy of Easter morning without first walking through the painful darkness of Good Friday.
So whatever feelings you bring here tonight – whatever fear you might have of letting those emotions take up space in your being – know that you, all of you, are welcome here. Do not fear the darkness within your own mind, because there is a light that cannot be overcome no matter how dark it gets. Do not shove these wonderful and terrible feelings aside because they are the reminder that you are here, alive and human, right now. God’s Grace is big enough to hold all that you bring here tonight – and more. If you cannot feel that grace and love I encourage you to make that your prayer this night – or just trust me when I tell you, because I know this to be true. God’s Grace and Love are freely flowing through God’s own Holy Spirit, encircling you even as we speak. Allow yourself to feel and know that all of those feelings are acceptable.
Sometimes this Advent journey of waiting and counting down can feel just as perilous as a walk into the depth of the woods in the dark of night. We can’t avoid the emotions that present themselves but we can remember to look up while we march onward – if we look up we will eventually see the most brilliant stars. 

Cocoa with God

Sermon for the second Wednesday in Advent

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30

I’ve often heard the expression that something is as refreshing as a cool glass of lemonade on a hot summer day – but I would challenge those southerners that there is actually nothing more refreshing than a hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter’s day. We’ve all felt that chill – those bone cold days when the snow doesn’t seem to end and just as we finish shoveling it is time to start again. Sometimes, as beautiful as a fresh winter’s snow can be it is despairing as well. Walking through Advent’s journey of darkness heading towards light in the winter, therefore, seems fitting.
This image of shoveling to exhaustion also strikes me because Advent seems also to be a season when we decide to become superhuman, and to take on more tasks than are possible to complete. We have shopping lists several miles long, we attend parties and gatherings with friends and family, we decorate our homes, we donate our time and our money, we try to do-do-do because this is the season of giving. But, as my friend Ginny likes to point out – we are human-beings not human-doings. And I think that is what Jesus is highlighting in this invitation to “be.”
In this passage from Matthew we are hearing Jesus as he instructs his followers who are weary and burdened as Israelites who are tired of the legalistic ways of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The people are at their breaking point as they try desperately to follow the law as they’ve been instructed only to constantly be redirected and told they are falling short. The people want to follow God but the burden of doing so in the supposedly prescribed manner is to heavy a burden to bear. So Jesus tells them of another way. He has been instructing them about how they can be his disciples and missionaries in the world and to illustrate the ways this call is different than what they have come to expect his invitation to follow includes this lovely invitation to rest.
We can believe in this invitation because Jesus himself follows it. If we are truly called to emulate Christ as we follow his example than it is imperative that we go off and rest a while as Jesus did frequently, including at some key points in his ministry. There were times when the crowds were pressing in on Jesus and he said to his disciples that he was going off for a time apart to rest and to pray. Hundreds of people pressing in on the Messiah, yet he still insisted on taking time to rest and to pray.
When we look at this example he set for us it becomes hard to believe that we still find it difficult – and sometimes seemingly impossible – to take time away during which we can rest, refresh our souls, and talk to God. Jesus was walking the earth with the weight of all humanity on his shoulders yet he still told his followers that his burden was light.
I was online last night and a friend shared a documentary with me. It is by the Mimi Foundation and it is called, “If only for a Second.” The short documentary teaser is a project the foundation sponsored where they interviewed cancer patients about their lives. In the interviews the people reported that spontaneity and carefree moments were some of the things they missed the most while they were sick. The foundation then offered each of the interviewees a free spa-makeover with the agreement that they keep their eyes closed during the process so the mirror reveal of their new look would be a surprise. What they didn’t know was that the mirror was a 2-way mirror with a photographer on the other side and the makeover team was actually outfitting them in outrageous wigs and makeup for a big shock. When the participants opened their eyes and saw their ridiculous appearances for the first time the photographer captured the moment and created a book from the images. For that second when their eyes opened they were no longer cancer patients receiving makeovers – they were human beings captivated by joy and surprise.

What could happen in your life if you laid down your burden for just a moment and choose beingover doing? What would happen if you opened your eyes and noticed the wonder around you in a new way? We’ve a long winter ahead and there will be plenty of time for worry and shopping, working and shoveling. Let’s all find a moment to sit down and refresh ourselves by drinking a cup of hot cocoa with God.

Signs

Below is the “ish” text of my Advent 2 sermon preached at Epiphany yesterday morning. I say “ish” because I ascended the steps of the pulpit with a general outline but elaborated and colored as the Spirit led. If you would prefer you can listen here. 

Advent 2 Year A



Signs come in many different forms.

When I was growing up there was a little church near my house that we would pass on the way to the store. For about 15 years they had a sign that read, “Jesus is coming soon, are you ready?” it was on one of those deli signboards with the removable letters. The reason it stood out was not because of the message, but because the “N” in “soon” was backwards. For 15 years this sight amused and fascinated me. “If Jesus really is coming soon, you had better flip that ‘N’ around.”

But, if the “N” wasn’t backwards I probably wouldn’t have taken much notice then, and I surely wouldn’t remember it now. So, I now wonder, did some clever church member do it on purpose to give us pause? …to force us to keep awake? Whatever the reason, I was a little sad when I went home for a visit a few years back and discovered that there is a new message up. I don’t even remember what the sign says now, but I miss that backwards “N.”

Signs come in many different forms.

Matthew makes it a point to tells us about the absurdity of John’s dress and eating habits for a reason: they were outlandish even at the time. When John came a’ Baptizing – you noticed. I cannot tell you how many sermons I have heard for this day on our liturgical calendar that have started with the preacher singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from Godspell. (Despite great temptation, I will not be doing that this morning.) And while some of those sermons have been terrific, I find that we spend so much time parsing Isaiah out of John’s speech that we lose track of the rest of the message. We all remember this imperative that John echoes forward from Isaiah: “Prepare ye the Way of the Lord!” But before John calls us to prepare – he explains how we are to prepare – he calls on us to repent. – Or does he?

Repentance, as we commonly accept the term, brings up images of self-chastisement, guilt, and feelings of inadequacy. We think that if we use our time to repent we are being called to feel badly about our actions and ourselves. But that is not the repentance we are called to here. The word that is translated into “repent” here is the Greek verb metanoia. While this word was translated into the English “Repent” starting in the second century, scholars insist that a more accurate translation would be to say that we are called to “Turn our hearts from sin and towards God.” How different would your interpretation of today’s Gospel passage be if we heard John cry out, “Turn your hearts from sin and towards God; The kingdom of Heaven has come near!”?

Suddenly we are able to hear John in a different way when the repentance he is crying out about is a call to recognize God’s power to transform our lives. Metanoia, is a call to mindfulness, the kind of mindfulness Liz Kinchen urged us to pursue through our New Year’s intentions last week, and through that mindfulness we are opened to receive vision from the mind of Christ. Through that mindfulness we open ourselves to receive the Grace that is constantly being offered to us by a God who wants only to be in relationship with us. Suddenly, when we hear the Baptist’s cry as it was intended, we hear it in a new way because some of the prickly edges have been worn away by our new knowledge.

Signs come in many different forms: there are men in camel hair clothes, sticky with honey from the midday meal screaming about repentance – a stranger on a frigid street corner with a cardboard sign asking for help – the way the light hits you on a particular afternoon, or even the news of the death of an amazing world leader who spoke truth to power, spent years in prison, and freed a people – signs come in many different forms. Whatever the sign is, we have to be open to noticing it. Sometimes, we might even get called upon to be a sign for others. Whatever the sign is, be open to noticing it. Regardless of when it presents itself, we may never be ready for the message or maybe that message will be exactly what you need to hear to get ready for the coming of the King.

We all need a backwards “N” in our lives to make us stop long enough to ask, are we ready? We need that backwards “N” because I am fairly certain there won’t be anyone wearing a camel hair tunic cinched with a leather belt showing up in our lives anytime soon.

Whatever the backwards N is in your life this Advent season I hope it invites you to go home and ask yourself, am I ready to have my heart broken open by God? Am I ready to turn away from sin and turn my heart toward God? Don’t worry if you aren’t there yet, we are only in Advent 2, and it is the beginning of the year… and God issues that invitation every minute of every day. Listen to the cry of John the Baptist. Give yourself over to metanoia. And remember: Jesus is coming soon, and His birth will change you if you let it.

Watch for the Light

It may surprise you to learn that I am a bit of a Scrooge. I prefer the term “Advent purist,” but the way it manifests is that I am rather militant in my desire to save Christmas celebrations for 24 December and after. At Bible and Beverages this past Monday night, one of our number joked that he wished he knew where the circuit breaker was at Mahoney’s Garden Centre so he could cut power to the Christmas lights. It was a funny thought that made me feel a little less alone in my bahumbugness about it all.

I don’t want to be a Scrooge. I want to see the lights and the joy and internalize some of the wonder but that can be difficult with all that seems to swirl around – especially this time of year. There is a distinct difference between the light of Christ in Christmas and the commercial hoopla that the decorations in the stores represent. All of this has called me to consider what concrete steps I could take to intentionally focus on the light that breaks through the darkness in this season. Where can I find Christ in the midst of the craziness?

To answer those questions I’ve decided to adopt an Advent discipline this year as a way of intentionally looking for the light each day. Similar to a Lenten discipline, I will be taking specific prayerful steps to listen to what the Spirit is saying in my life. Not surprisingly, the steps I will be taking involve color and lots of glitter. I plan to paint each day during Advent as a prayer and mindfulness activity.  There are two books that will be my guides on the journey: Praying in Color by Sybil McBeth and The Painting Table by Roger Hutchison.

It can be very easy to lose track of the simple and beautiful reason for this season when society tells us to sprint from Thanksgiving to Christmas. But really, is there ever a time of year when we don’t feel the push to sprint ahead? It seems that with each change of season there is another reason why we can’t slow down. From sports to time changes to work schedules and everything in-between, there is always something to be done or someplace to go. It seems this is nothing new since the architects of the church calendar very intentionally built in seasons of reflection in advance of our two major feast days. Advent is a time for hopeful expectation. It is a time that can be stressful and even painful as we remember the people and events in our lives that have influenced us. But Advent is also an invitation – an invitation to wait, watch, notice, and pray all the while trusting that Christ will come. So, while I work on the trust part I will keep my hands busy (and messy) this season.

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