2014. The Year of Reading.

20130319-140151.jpg

We’ve moved on from the quiet anticipation of Advent. The waiting on wonder…the looking and the listening. The celebration of the arrival of the Christ Child.

We’ve moved on.

What is next? What can we dig our teeth into now? What do we do now?!!

Well, of course, we make our lists of things that need to be different in 2014. We look at our health and we take stock. We look at last years lists and we think about how poorly we did with those resolutions.

Do we want to try again. Do we start with a whole new list? Or do we give up on the lists and simply jump into the New Year with both feet and just plunge ahead?

20130319-141112.jpg

I know that I have a few goals for this coming year, and as I near January I have that feeling I often have:  a desire for more silence and more thinking.

Less speaking and more listening.

Finding the places where I can sit for a lengthy time and read. Where I can write with pen and paper and ignore the keyboard and the beeps and the notifications. Where I can read and listen.

I know that I cannot completely unplug. I have to follow the boys on their accounts and keep some awareness of their social imprint. Still…I have given myself the space to think more this year. I want this year to be the year of reading and listening. Not of speaking.

Not sure what that means for a blog. Of course if I am reading there will be things to say, at least from time to time, however…what if I took a year to just listen? What if I took a year to not worry about voicing my thoughts to anyone beyond, well, my journal.

What if I read without agenda and without the need.

Reading just to enjoy, to learn for myself and to listen…

bookglasses

Buechner. L’Engle. Chesterton. Lewis. N.D. Wilson.  Bonhoeffer.

Reading, and listening. To words, to music.

Listening to listen and not to debate or to prove points or to write. Reading to be enriched and to grow and to be more deeply who I am…and to be fed. Yes, that is much of it. I feel weary at the end of 2013 and aware of the need to pull back and be filled again.

2014. The year of reading. Yes. I like the sound of that.

Advertisements

The Waiting is Over…

The waiting is over. The moments of hope come together and the fullness is here. In our home the computer is about to be turned off and the focus turned toward family…so I’ll post my Christmas today.  

All the noise turns to celebration. We cannot separate the end of the story from the beginning, because we know this babe will grow. We know what He will do, the way He will touch lepers and blind. The way He will feed thousands from simple offerings. The way He will change everything.

We cannot separate the Babe from the teacher, from the Savior, from the King.

For a moment, though, we take all the days of waiting and of turning our eyes toward the manger, and we do our best to take it all in.

It’s okay…we never will be able to take it all in.

God came. He came. He came as a baby. We could never have imagined anything that would change things so utterly.

The waiting is over…rejoice.

The Nativity

“For unto us a child is born.” — Isaiah

The thatch of the roof was as golden,
Though dusty the straw was and old,
The wind was a peal as of trumpets,
Though barren and blowing and cold:
The mother’s hair was a glory,
Though loosened and torn,
For under the eaves in the gloaming –
A child was born.

O, if a man sought a sign in the inmost
That God shaketh broadest his best,
That things fairest are oldest and simplest,
In the first days created and blest:
Far flush all the tufts of the clover,
Thick mellows the corn,
A cloud shapes, a daisy is opened –
A child is born.

With raw mists of the earth-rise about them,
Risen red from the ribs of the earth,
Wild and huddled, the man and the woman,
Bent dumb o’er the earliest birth;
Ere the first roof was hammered above them.
The first skin was worn,
Before code, before creed, before conscience –
A child was born.

What know we of aeons behind us,
Dim dynasties lost long ago,
Huge empires like dreams unremembered,
Dread epics of glory and woe?
This we know, that with blight and with blessing,
With flower and with thorn,
Love was there, and his cry was among them –
“A child is born.”

And to us, though we pore and unravel
Black dogmas that crush us and mar,
Through parched lips pessimistic dare mutter
Hoarse fates of a frost-bitten star;
Though coarse strains and heredities soil it,
Bleak reasoners scorn,
To us too, as of old, to us also –
A child is born.

Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove;
Still the plumes stir around us, above us,
The tings of the shadow of love.
Still the fountains of life are unbroken,
Their splendour unshorn;
The secret, the symbol, the promise –
A child is born.

Have a myriad children been quickened,
Have a myriad children grown old,
Grown gross and unloved and embittered,
Grown cunning and savage and cold?
God abides in a terrible patience,
Unangered, unworn,
And again for the child that was squandered –
A child is born.

In the time of dead things it is living,
In the moonless grey night is a gleam,
Still the babe that is quickened may conquer,
The life that is new may redeem.
Ho, princes and priests, have you heard it?
Grow pale through your scorn.
Huge dawns sleep before us, stern changes –
A child is born.

More than legions that toss and that trample,
More than choirs that bend Godward and sing,
Than the blast of the lips of the prophet,
Than the sword in the hands of the King,
More strong against Evil than judges
That smite and that scorn,
The greatest, the last, and the sternest –
A child is born.

And the rafters of toil still are gilded
With the dawn of the star of the heart,
And the Wise Men draw near in the twilight,
Who are weary of learning and art,
And the face of the tyrant is darkened,
His spirit is torn,
For a new King is throned of a nation –
A child is born.

And the mother still joys for the whispered
First stir of unspeakable things;
Still feels that high moment unfurling,
Red glories of Gabriel’s wings.
Still the babe of an hour is a master
Whom angels adorn,
Emmanuel, prophet, annointed –
A child is born.

To the rusty barred doors of the hungry,
To the struggle for life and the din,
Still, with brush of bright plumes and with knocking,
The Kingdom of God enters in.
To the daughters of patience that labour
That weep and are worn,
One moment of love and of laughter –
A child is born.

To the last dizzy circles of pleasure,
Of fashion and song-swimming nights,
Comes yet hope’s obscure crucifixion,
The birth fire that quickens and bites,
To the daughters of fame that are idle,
That smile and that scorn,
One moment of darkness and travail –
A child is born.

And till man and his riddle be answered,
While earth shall remain and desire,
While the flesh of a man is as grass is,
The soul of a man as a fire,
While the daybreak shall come with its banner,
The moon with its horn,
It shall rest with us that which is written –
“A child is born.”

And for him that shall dream that the martyr
Is banished, and love but a toy,
That life lives not through pain and surrender,
Living only through self and its joy,
Shall the Lord God erase from the body
The oath he has sworn?
Bend back to thy work, saying only –
“A child is born.”

And Thou that art still in the cradle,
The sun being crown for Thy brow,
Make answer, our flesh, make an answer.
Say whence art Thou come? Who art Thou?
Art Thou come back on earth for our teaching,
To train or to warn?
Hush! How may we know, knowing only –
A child is born?

– c.1893

Glimpses of Home

It finally happened.

Throughout this month I have pondered Bethlehem. We’ve looked at poems and listened to music. Suggestions have been made about how to silence the noise and focus on the reality of Incarnation. The Word made Flesh. And…walls have been hit. Sickness has completely thrown schedules askew. Unexpected expenses have added stress.

Oh, and of course, there was hiding out in the bathroom for the tornado warning. In December.

1517430_10152107519395419_1963080384_n

In the midst, though, the groundwork was laid. Reminders in twinkling lights and candles. Reminders in choruses sung in the assembly of friends and strangers…in an old, old building that seems to hold the echoes of other choruses raised.

The old, old, story. It was laced in between the sickness and the walls, the unexpected expenses and the noise. The old story is strong and does not demand, but when the moment is right it resonates with our hearts.

Then it looked a little more like this:

candlelight

Sodas at dinner, which is a rare treat. Candlelight and twinkling lights. Delight. We didn’t do the Advent readings I had hoped for, although we’ll try to finish  the one book we have been working through. We did not do all the things I envisioned, but we had a moment in the midst of the clamor where we all sat around the table and laughed and talked and were present. For a lengthy, healthy time.

We were home. That is what we long for, and that, my friends is what Advent whispers to us. We have a home, and it is not what we expected. God became homeless to bring us home…

“For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.” -Frederick Buechner

 

The House of Christmas

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost – how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

-G. K. Chesterton

Amplified Words.

Well I missed a few days in the Advent journey. Since the last time I posted I was hit with something…not sure what, but my body was not happy. 103 degree fever and four kids means no time at all for computer or much of anything.

I only caught snippets of what was happening around the social media world. Words seemed to be flying. In several different places, actually, words were being tossed around with great conviction, and yet…I wonder how many were hitting their mark.

Of course there is the whole discussion of Phil Robertson and his comments, his suspension and all the uproar. Another person, Justine Sacco, who did not hold the fame of Roberston felt quickly what it is to be in the spotlight for your choice of words.

In the midst of this Advent Season…a season that I have tried to suggest should be marked more by peace and listening than by noise and frustration and stress…I have found myself bombarded with noise. And frustration. And stress.

The frustration and the stress? Mostly just because my body is not up to doing the tasks I need to accomplish and I feel stressed that I will not complete the goals I set. The Advent readings have slipped by. The house is a mess. But you know what, the kids have been awesome and we learn that sometimes you have to have grace for each other. A lot of times.

The noise…it can to some degree be turned down by ignoring the computer and the tv. Turning it off literally. Still, the conversations persist, and the dividing line becomes the issue. Are you with him or against him? Is he a bigot? Is she racist? Is he…is she…are you? We begin lashing out our own words and adding to the noise. We are quick in our responses and eager to add to the fray.   Maybe we have to go back to what I just said above…sometimes we have to have grace for each other. A lot of times.

I read this from Ann Voskamp today, and it said it so much more clearly than I ever could…please take the time to read her thoughts. The point is, our words matter. Even the little asides, and the quick tweets. The impromptu responses that we wish we could take back. They matter.

The coarse language laced on FaceBook, the tweets with vulgarity. They matter.  Words spoken with the intent to divide and to bring shame or anger, they matter.

How we say something matters…for that one moment…but also how we have said the bulk of our words matters. Social media has changed things. We can have an impact on government, on celebrities, on economy…simply by typing 140 characters and sending them off to thousands of people. Justine Sacco is an incredible example of the power of Twitter.

Sometimes, I think, and especially at moments like Advent, we need to settle with silence when the noise is ramping up. When everyone is getting more charged, that is the time to step back and pause. To prepare to speak with grace and with compassion, and with thought. To not shoot off-the-cuff words that now have the power to be held in the internet for all to see.

Our words have always mattered. They have always had power, but that power and visibility has been so radically amplified our wisdom in using our words needs to be equally amplified. The best way? Be silent and sit for a moment. Then speak when we are ready to engage in conversation rather than just hashtags.

Remember that the ultimate Word came to us.  The Word gave life to everything.

He was not liked by all, He was not tame and neat and elegant. He does not come to leave us be. He does not come to give us holiday delights. He does not come be nothing more than a slogan. He comes, He came, to change us.

Advent is not done. The noise has been loud. Turn it off for a bit and be with the One who comes in silence.

Ready For The Silence

Then hear now the silence
He comes in the silence
in silence he enters
the womb of the bearer
in silence he goes to
the realm of the shadows
redeeming and shriving
in silence he moves from
the grave cloths, the dark tomb
in silence he rises
ascends to the glory
leaving his promise
leaving his comfort
leaving his silence

So come now, Lord Jesus
Come in your silence
breaking our noising
laughter of panic
breaking this earth’s time
breaking us breaking us
quickly Lord Jesus
make no long tarrying
When will you come
and how will you come
and will we be ready
for silence
                  your silence
– Madeleine L’Engle

Stop. Raise Your Head. Hope is here.

Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:28

We need the hope of Advent. I cannot imagine what it was like to be in Bethlehem at the time of birth of the Christ. I cannot imagine the waiting for the Messiah, and hope and the anticipation. I just cannot imagine it because I sit in relative comfort and I only know Christ through the fullness of His life, His death, His resurrection and the reality of His deity. I cannot look at the manger without an awareness of all that it holds.

Still. We get comfortable with the Babe in a manger, and we forget, or at least I do, the magnitude of the hope held there. They didn’t know in that moment…they only had an inkling. Mary knew the most, but even she did not know the magnitude. How could they? That not only was this the Son of God, but that He would make us all new.

This Advent season, just like every one past, and probably most to come, has been filled with a mixture of life. I have varied from stress to contemplation, from delight to sorrow. I have been frustrated and on edge, and I have been at peace and joyful. Sometimes all those things in the span of a day.

Advent, though, my friends…it is staggering.

It is hope.

The reality of God made flesh, God dwelling among His people, God redeeming…this reality should raise our eyes.

Look up and raise your heads.

Right now. Stressed? Overwhelmed? Just plain tired and sad?

Look up. Raise your head.

Right now. Depressed? Filled with sorrow and awareness of our brokenness?

Look up. Raise your head.

Stop. Listen again to the reality of God coming to His people. Hear it again, and let it soak into your bones. Raise your head and be filled with wonder. And hope.

Such a true Advent happening now creates something different from the anxious, petty, depressed, feeble Christian spirit that we see again and again, and that again and again wants to make Christianity contemptible. This becomes clear from the two powerful commands that introduce our text: “Look up and raise your heads” (Luke 21:28 RsV). Advent creates people, new people. We too are supposed to become new people in Advent. Look up, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth. Look up to these words, you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look up, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away. Look up, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look up, your redemption is drawing near. something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful, wait just another short moment. Wait and something quite new will break over you: God will come. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – God Is In the Manger

He Did Not Wait

12 months. 365 days. An anniversary.

Today, here in our home I hear the laughter and giggles of little children. They  paused the in their delight of Christmas season with a sense of being stunned that a year has passed since the shooting at Sandy Hook

Yesterday another shooting. I learned of it when a friend posted on FaceBook that her child was okay. I hadn’t heard anything because rarely is the news on in our house during the day.

The debate will turn to gun control and to safety and to…well, all the things we can focus on which we can feel some sense of control over.

Here’s the thing. We can’t control evil. I am not one to engage political debate on these pages, and surely not when I am trying to focus on Advent and the turning my attention, and hopefully bringing you along with me, on a journey toward Bethlehem. However, on the Anniversary of the tragedy in Sandy Hook, we have to pause for a moment and reflect.

These tragedies remind us that there is evil. There is right and there is wrong, and there is terrible, terrible evil. And it is beyond us to control it. We cannot sanction laws to make evil behave. We cannot, because we know in our own lives we do not behave the laws ourselves. The laws against pride and selfishness. We do not love as we should. We lust, we sin. And even in our very best moments, in our most generous moments, in our most true moments…we know that we are not completely true and good.

There is brokenness that betrays us when our minds do not allow us to think properly. Brokenness which causes our emotions to turn upon us, bringing depression and fears and anger.

In that brokenness, in that tragedy and in that sin…in that mess is where God stepped. He did not wait until we cleaned it up. He did not wait until all was at peace. And although we all have our own pain and our own unsteadiness, and our own imperfections…now is the time for us to share our song.  The tragedies are still around us, and all oh we need to weep with those who weep and acknowledge that pain. And yet…we have the hope to share, we have the One who stepped into tragedy and overcame.

Now, in the midst of this season especially, is the time for us to rejoice and share and say that God has come…and he has not asked evil to behave, he has overcome. He has healed, he has made the way.

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure. 
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Madeleine L’Engle  First Coming

A Staggering Reality.

Yesterday, thankfully, was better. Hitting a wall makes you sit down and catch your breath. That helps. I let go of some things and now we proceed. That is the wonderful thing about grace…we do not move on nagging ourselves about our failures and our shortcomings. About our sin.

We take a breath, we realize that this walk of faith is about what God has accomplished, not what we accomplish. There is great strength and relief in that. I can’t accomplish much in my own strength.

The reality of Christmas is striking me more and more this Advent season.  It is interesting how something different will grab our attention each year, and this year it is the shock of the Incarnation. The starkness of God becoming flesh.  Yesterday in the quotation from Buechner did you catch this line, talking of Christmas:

We have tried to make it habitable. We have roofed it in and furnished it. We have reduced it to an occasion we feel at home with, at best a touching and beautiful occasion, at worst a trite and cloying one.

We do that, don’t we? It is not that all our traditions and the holiday lights and the decorations are bad…but sometimes we hide in them. Sometimes we get comfortable in them, and we allow Christmas to be nothing more than a beautiful occasion. That is what those who see Jesus as nothing more than a good teacher or an historic figure would think. Those of us who believe him to be the Savior…the reality of Christmas is staggering. It is uncomfortable in the depth of its reality. And yet, it is also the most amazingly wonderful story we could imagine.

We need the space and the silence and the waiting of Advent to sit with that thought for awhile. The reality of Christmas, the reality of God-made-flesh, is a reality that takes time to soak into our souls. We cannot glibly accept it and move on through our day. We need to hear it in the silence and in the ache of need and in that moment of yearning and anticipation. We need the fullness of Advent to expand our hearts and our minds and our Spirit to take in the fullness of this event. And we need it again and again each year…because this is a staggering event.

Allow the joy to be part of Advent, allow the wonder of the twinkling lights and all that we have brought in to this season. Allow the joy to envelop us, because our souls need that joy…and it is such a part of Advent…but it is wedded to the starkness of a babe in a manger.

Let the reality of the Incarnation sink in deeply. The reality of a world lost in sin and unable to overcome…waiting for a Messiah. How utterly unimaginable that He would come like this.

Mary’s Song
by Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.