With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation

Gaudate Sunday…today is an  important anniversary for me.  Six years ago this very morning, around 11:10 a.m., I was baptized for a second time in my adult life.  That day in December was, like today, the third Sunday of Advent, also in the Lectionary cycle Year C.  That day in December, I joined the Calvary Baptist Church and embraced a form of Christian and community identity based in the Baptist distinctives,  a group of beliefs about individual and community practice  that is best described by the charter covenant of the Alliance of Baptists.  It has been the lens through which I have understood my life in Christ for almost ten years now, a view of faith that has formed me, and the foundation of a community that has nurtured me for many years.

And yet, as I stand here on this anniversary day, I could not be simultaneously more close to that moment of baptism and further away from it.  I stand here, considering how my understanding about my own identity as a disciple has moved and changed since that December day, considering all that I have lost and gained along the way.  I will not be worshiping on this anniversary day with that community that baptized me, nor will I be worshiping there in the foreseeable future.   You see, I realize that it is time, after all the events of the past two years and all that I have had to do to heal and reclaim my life after my surgery,  time to stop fighting the transformation has been the byproduct of that healing.  It is time to embrace, with my whole, repaired heart, the new identity that has resulted from that work:  today, I embrace my identity, not as an adherent of specific gathering or denomination, but as a pilgrim along the Christian way. I have, to echo Robert Wuthnow’s definnition, become a seeker not a dweller (After Heaven:  Spirituality in America Since the 1950’s); the only sacred place that holds meaning for me right now is the place of the journey itself, the place along the road of life, the place that is my relationship with my God.

Questions of identity  have continually driven my search for a deeper and more meaningful expression of faith, and I should not be surprised at the current state of that faith.  I am, at this time, the sum total of all that I have learned in each community that I have experienced.   Since the term presbyunibaptopalian* is a bit, well, clumsy, I have decided that pilgrim is not only easier to say but a more accurate label for my current state of being.  You see, I have no idea where I will stop next nor how long I might stay.  A life lived in search of healing, in search of ways to incorporate the practice of healing into my daily living, has taught me that the journey is really all that we have, a journey with (if we are lucky) some lovely sightseeing  and companionship along the way.

So now, pilgrim that I am, I have decided to honor all that I am.  I have learned that, I most experience a sense of healing in that moment when I can embrace my changed sense of identity and be at peace in the knowledge that, just as that identity has been changed before, it will be changed again.  There is only the road behind and the road ahead, and, most of all, the place where I stand right now.

This morning, as I stood in worship in an unfamiliar place, the words of  the prayer offered before the table meal spoke as if just to me:

We hear from Jesus of the coming of the Son of Man.  He warns us to be ready for change, to be awake.  We wonder what this can mean now as we grope in the tattered remains of our faltering hopes for a better world.  And we light our Advent candles, as of old, savoring tradition even as we yearn for change. … In our hope for change, we pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit, this bread and wine may be the body and blood of Christ for us and so strengthen us to be change agents.  May Jesus come to us still as God’s power in our humanity.  May change agents in our own day inspire and move in us to translate your dream into reality, to fire our hearts and minds and wills to love and serve you in the world (St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 12/13/2015, adapted from Rev. Susan Flanders)

We cannot be the agents of change that we are called to be in this world if we ourselves are afraid of change.  And so, pilgrimage it is.

What better way to begin by remembering another beginning.  So today, I stand again in the water of my baptism.  New things ahead, new worlds to see, new ways to experience the God of my being.  All made possible by a moment in the water, some six years ago today. With joy, I draw water from the wells of my salvation, to paraphrase the prophet (Isaiah 12:3).

If you are interested in finding out just where these changes might take me, you can continue to follow my thoughts and adventures along the pilgrim’s path at a new location:  Subversive Light.  I look forward to meeting you again along the way.

 

*Presbyterian, Unity School of Religious Science, Baptist, Episcopalian

Wait, it is already Advent?

Yes, I admit it.  I am behind.  Travelling will do that to me.  The end of the semester will do that to me.  Preparing for a concert where I am singing something totally new (like I am next week) pushes all sense of time and season out of the way.  Today, however, I decided to face the truth — Advent has begun without me.

And so, while I am busy getting my act together, I convinced myself that one good Advent devotional activity would be to go back and read some of the things that I myself wrote in years past during this season.  I hope you will not mind that I am recycling a thought or two while I get my Advent juices flowing, but this piece — written for Day 4 of Advent in 2013 — is still surprising fresh for me (although, Psalm 100 is not today’s ascribed text).  I hope that it will be for you too…

Knowing it in Your Bones (originally posted December 4, 2013)

If you described my religious identity as a child as, well, confused, you would be generous.  Raised and confirmed Presbyterian, reading the Daily Word from Unity School of Religious Science every morning with my vitamins as I left to go to school, attending Sunday school at the United Church of Christ, going to Youth Group with my friends at the United Methodist church.  And in the quiet hours of Advent, alone in my room, building what I thought looked like a reasonable approximation of a Catholic altar — I put a nativity on one side of the dresser and a lit Christmas tree on the other (before you liturgical purists get all up in arms, I was EIGHT YEARS OLD)–and I spent long hours in the middle of the night praying on my knees before that altar.

Is it any wonder that as an adult I became a Baptist? And in particular, a Baptist pursuing a seminary education at an Episcopal seminary?  I clearly need to embrace the ideas of the priesthood of believers and individual soul autonomy that would allow all these eclectic things to exist in my faith simultaneously.

Reading today’s passage for 4th day of Advent (again, I’m taking my readings from the wonderful, printable Advent calendar at by Merry Watters and Thomas Mousin), for some reason, makes me think of those nights in my room, talking to God and the Christmas tree in ways that only a child can:

Psalm 100

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

I have a distinct memory of kneeling before my Advent altar and singing quietly the words of Silent Night (most likely in the original German; yes, even then), but we rarely think of Advent as the time to “make a joyful noise”.  Advent is the mournful, monkish sound of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, isn’t it?  And we only dare lift our voices in the praising chords and melodies of Handel’s Messiah outside the worship service at one of the popular Messiah sing-alongs that populate the holiday calendars in cities small and large throughout the English-speaking world.

So why read Psalm 100 during Advent?   There are some clues in the Psalm itself, if you will excuse me while I go all form critical on you.  Those of us worshiping according to the Revised Common Lectionary will generally hear Psalm 100 in service after Pentecost and on Christ the King Sunday in November of Year A. This Psalm is the first of the enthronement Psalms, or Psalms that celebrate God’s lordship over all creation.  It can also be described as a hymn of praise, which is a particular literary form found in the the book of Psalms.  Here is the really interesting thing to me about the makeajoyfulnoisetext–it is made up of a string of seven imperative verbs in the original Hebrew. Literally, we are commanded to “make a joyful noise,” ” worship,” “come,” “know,” “enter,” “give thanks,” and “bless”.  And if that isn’t interesting enough, the word we translate as “know”, well, it just doesn’t mean what we think it means today.

The word know” in the original Hebrew is the word yada.  Knowing was not an intellectual activity when this text was written;  it was a lot closer to what we mean when we say someone “knows it in their very bones.”  If you take a minute and look at the use of yada translated as “knowledge”  in Hosea 4:1 and 4:6, you will see that to know in this sense means to act; there is no space between word and deed.  All the other verbs in this song of praise are actions, real physical actions if taken in context of worship in the Temple.  And likewise, yada here means a kind of knowing bound to action, a kind of knowledge that is fully internalized.  Knowing it in our bones.

So again I ask…why read Psalm 100 during Advent?  Are we missing something when we see Advent as a “quiet time”, because the world around us certainly does not agree.  Are we called to a “different kind” of Advent, not an Advent of prayerful waiting but an Advent where we step out in the action of faith, where we step out in the knowledge that this is time of remembrance of what has already come if we will but embrace it.  Should we be singing Joy to the World from the very first day?

I think that in a life of faith, there comes a time when the waiting is over and be-ing must take over. Maybe that is the true meaning of Advent in a post-modern world. Maybe this is a time to arm yourself with the very spirit of action offered by the Psalmist:  make a joyful noise, worship, come, enter, give thanks, bless, and know in your very bones that the Lord ALONE is God.

 

Lions, lambs, cows and bears…Advent 2013 Day 21

Lately, I’ve been introduced to an interpretative school known as the canonical approach to biblical interpretation.  In the canonical method of reading, the Scripture is treated not as some source document to be picked apart and dissected by scholars of all kind, but as a canon of writings that together talk of the experience of people across the ages as they try to live together in a community of faith.

There is much that the scholars can say about this text, as there is most of the text in Isaiah, but sometimes you simply have to surrender to the beauty of the poetry and of the metaphors used to carry a message of hope across the ages.  And that is all I can really hear as I read this passage tonight:

Isaiah 11:1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Volumes have been written over these words and their meaning — the meaning for the continued kingship of Israel, does it or does it not foretell the coming of the Christ-child, what are the links to Lion-and-Lamb-lie-down-together-300x157Sumerian mythology that came before, where does this text fit in the cycle of Exodus-King-Exile-Return that tells the stories of the beginnings of our faith.

But tonight, in the waning days of Advent, all I can see are the animals…the lion with the lamb, the cows and the bears, the kid and the calf…all of these unlikely friends at peace with one another…waiting for a the little child that will lead them.

I hear the quiet, I hear the peace…I see the possibility:  when the lions inside of me can lie down with my inner lamb; when things and people that are so different on the outside can learn to live together in community and cooperation.

On this night when the world around us is so troubled…when many of us are so troubled within…maybe we can learn something about being in this world together, if we just look to the lions and the lambs in Isaiah 11.

 

With what shall I come before the Lord? Advent 2013 Day 20

Little drummer boys, kings, shepherds — on that night of nights they all ask the question that each and everyone of us asks with every moment that we draw breath as part of God’s creation (whether or not we know we ask):  with what shall I come before the Lord…

Micah 6:6-8

6 “With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

I’ll admit it…this is one of my favorite texts in the Old Testament, a stirring call to what is required of me as a person of faith.  But again, these are beautiful words taken out of context so often — for if open your Bible and read all of Chapter 6.  If you do, you see that these amazing words are really a rhetorical question posed by God in despair, despair at the failures of the people of Israel to understand the simple, basic, requirements of worshiping Him.

And if you read the entire book of Micah (it is short, after all), you will see that in the words of these prophecies, neither judgement nor hope stands alone.  The future foretold here cannot happen without the cycle of judgement and change; it cannot come to be without the kind of overcoming of keep-calm-and-walk-humbly-with-god-2obstacles and failings that is part of true justice and true peace.  And most of all, it cannot come without compassion and forgiveness. In the prophecies of Micah, the call is to justice but it is also a call to worship, maybe even to contemplation (“walk humbly with your God”).

It is, after all, about remembering…remembering who God is, remembering who we are in relationship to God, and remembering what that relationship compels us to do as we move through the world.

Not waiting, not presents like myrrh and frankincense…remembrance, acknowledgement, self-realization, and action.  That is what we require as we come before the Lord.

Choose this day whom you will serve…Advent 2013 Day 19

My first thought when I saw this listed as the passage of the day was — really?  Joshua?  Advent? But it really turns out to be an inspired choice for an Advent reading (hah).

Joshua 24:14-15
 “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

What a beautiful injunction to all the faithful at any time.  And such well-known words.  But of course, the two things they teach you when you learn to read the Bible in a “more scholarly” way are:  1) don’t take things out of context, and 2) always define the boundaries of your passage carefully.

With those two pieces of advice in mind, I picked up my Bible and re-read Joshua 23 and 24 together; here is the story of Joshua, after all the battles, in his very old age, reminding the Israelites of all that they had accomplished in God’s name and reminding them of their ongoing obligations under the covenant with God. And as always, reminding the recalcitrant Israelites not to stray from the God who loved them. Some scholars consider the passage as ancient Hebrew poetry; but the form of the rhetoric offered is not that important.

The Joshua Roll...a Byzantine illustrated manuscript
The Joshua Roll…a Byzantine illustrated manuscript

What is important is the message — the message is one of gratitude, of loyalty, of faith, and the extreme power and risk of believing in community…because if you keep reading in verses 16-25, you hear the powerful response of the assembled people:

16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! 17 It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.”

And if we follow Chapter 24 to its end, we watch as Joshua writes the covenant and the rules for the people and they all agree to put aside their idols and worship the Lord.  And then, his work done, Joshua dies.

What I truly love about the Hebrew Bible stories is the way they tell timeless truths as amazing stories.  And what we see here is the moment of choice…that moment of choice each and everyone of us must make every day.  Will we serve the Lord this day?  Will we come forward and be known?

But we today must make another choice when we read these words — not to use them to exclude or damage another, nor to create some sense of security for ourselves and our beliefs.  How often have you heard the words…”but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” used with a sense of smugness, a sense of superiority, a sense of my-tribe-is-better-than-your-tribe.

The choice to be made is not just the choice to serve the Lord; that choice we have to make every single moment of our lives in the tiny decisions and the large ones.  But if we make that choice over and over again, we must also choose to allow others the right of choice — their own choices, in their own way.

In Advent, it isn’t just about waiting for something to happen.  We have to choose  to see.  Ours is not a passive faith; the relationship with our God is not a one way relationship.

Choose this day who you serve — a particularly important question in a season and in a culture in which we are called to serve many other gods at the expense of the One.

For me, I and my house will serve the Lord.  At least that is the answer today…but I’m ready for it when the question comes again tomorrow.

Patiently…Advent 2013 Day 18

One of my favorite pieces of music for this season is a work by Camille Saint-Saens called the Oratorio de Noel.  I was lucky enough to perform it a couple of times; it doesn’t get nearly as much performance as Handel’s Messiah or Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, probably because it is in truth most suited to the kind of worship experience you have at a candlelit midnight service.  It is a piece of music that beautifully captures the sense of peace that we would all like to feel at that moment christmasoratoriowhen we meet the Christ for the very first time, over and over again.

In this work, I get to sing a short little aria, no. 3 “Expectans (Patiently)”, with a text combining  Psalm 130:5 and 69:16  “I waited with longing for the Lord, and he turned to me.”   Ever since I read our passage from James this morning, I just can’t get that music out of my head:

James 5:7-10

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

James speaks to us across the ages about a different kind of waiting, because by the time in which he wrote the world had fallen apart around the believers and they were waiting for that second coming of the Christ, the more “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it” kind of coming.

And yet the plea for patience is the same as during that first Advent season, the time between the announcement by the Angel Gabriel to the young and frightened Mary and the actual birth of the baby that would change everything.   The plea is the same, but the plea is more urgent in tone.

Today, our plea for patience is even more urgent and so seldom not heard at all…patience is not built into our culture.  Things move fast, people judge one another right and left (and think they are perfectly justified in doing so), we rush, we multitask.

Each and every day, I find myself yearning for that beautiful sense of quiet and peace that comes when  I sing those words: “Patiently have I waited for the Lord (the singable translation), not just in this complicated season.  And I find myself asking, what distinguishes that moment from all others?

And the answer?  The answer is that in that moment, when everything comes together, I experience peace and knowing….I think that is called faith, maybe?

So be patient, yes; wait, yes; but above all know

I know that I will not get this exactly right, but I am going to give it a try because these are words that stick with me in the darkest of times and words that contribute to my remembering that I know. As we celebrate the table of Jesus in my community, after our confession of sins (which is usually private and in silence), our pastor says the most beautiful words I have ever heard:  “And now, know that you are loved and forgiven.”  And every time she speaks them, I also hear, “and welcomed, and known.”

There is comfort in knowing, there is a gift in knowing others, and the greatest gift of all is in knowing the Jesus for whom we wait.  Patiently.  While still knowing.

Praise, praise and more praise…Advent 2013 Day 17

I’m sitting here at my computer, letting the past few days unwind and thinking what a long road I’ve traveled to get to this moment, the end of a semester interrupted by surgery and recovery and changes of all kind.  But I made it…and maybe I can get back to something a little more normal…at least for me.

And so I think it is right and fit that I should end this day with our reading — Psalm 8, the very first hymn of praise in the Book of Psalms:

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

The beauty of unfettered praise, that is what Psalm 8 is all about.  And our text today is the only hymn of praise in the biblical text that is composed completely as a direct address to God.  And thispsalm-8is not just about seeing God in the sunset — this is nature and all the things of the world in witness of God’s greatness.

Personally, I don’t spend enough time in praise and I often feel that we do not spend enough time praising God in worship.  Being Baptist, I lean towards the sin and confession of sins side of the equation.  And then there are all those complications with the word praise — where its association with “praise bands” and “praise music” makes it, in some worship circles, one of those words you are not quite comfortable using.

But today, where I sit, praise is in order.  Praise for health, praise for safety, praise for a good outcome in a difficult situation, praise for completing a semester that might never have happened without God’s help.

So today, I will praise with the words of Psalm 8.  Thanks be to God.

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened…Advent 2013 Day 16

Those are the words I am most familiar with from our passage today because with any luck I have an opportunity or two to sing them each holiday season.  Because of that, I tend to think of them as a stand-alone prophecy, but they are not.  They are part of a long litany of transformation through faith:

Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,*
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,*
but it shall be for God’s people;*
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

I know now that the glories of the transformation foretold by Isaiah can really only be understood when you have seen the land for which they are foretold…after spending days on a bus driving through the deserts of Israel and Judah the idea that the crocuses will bloom and the waters break watersatdanforth, well, the contrast means more.  It means more when you have turned a corner from dry, barren rocks and seen the Jordan river flowing ahead of you with its little stripe of green fertility growing along its banks;  it means more when you have gone from dry hills to the lush green that surrounds the waters at Dan.

And it means more when you have been through a year like I have this year.  Whoever actually wrote down these words of Isaiah, I thank you.  I thank you because each year at this time when I am tired and cranky and just want this season to gone and done for another year, I get the chance to read you (or sing you) and remember the glory that is already hear, if, like the blind, I just let my eyes be opened.  I am transformed like the desert, if I will but know it.  I have joy and gladness, if I will but embrace it.

One more to go…Advent 2013 Day 15

Sometimes, when you set a challenge for yourself like my Advent writing challenge, you have days, well, when you just don’t have anything to say…but then you have to write something anyway.

Today is the third day of Advent and in my community, this is the day we light the candle of Joy.  I will freely admit that I am feeling no joy right now.  I am living with the emotional after effects of serious heart surgery.  Add to that a bought of seasonal Grinch-ness and the need to finish a paper from a class that I finished before the surgery, and well, I would say that today I am running on empty.  So please forgive me if I identify a little-too-much with the cranky Jesus in our passage today:

Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah* was doing, he sent word by his* disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘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. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone* dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet?* Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”

Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John’s questions make me think a little about Thomas later on in our story — I mean, after all, wasn’t John a relative?  Both young men were born in sacred circumstances; both births foretold by the Angel Gabriel; both having a mission laid out before them by God?  I mean, weren’t they on the same track?  Why then would John have to send messengers to see what was happening?

Or, did he not believe…even, did he not know?  I have often wondered…how much did Jesus know about what lay ahead of him and, if he did not always embody the knowledge of God’s plan in a conscious way, when did the path become clear to him?  Or was he like the rest of us, with some preparegood days and some bad, just trying to find that next right step as he stumbled toward a still small voice, beckoning him onward?  Could he really see the plan or was he as in the dark as the rest of us?

What if all we ever have is the knowledge that a messenger has been sent ahead to prepare the way for us?  That promise doesn’t even come with a map, frankly — we might not go the right way.

As I said, today I am identifying with cranky Jesus (and don’t be shocked because I called him that, since if you have read the Gospel accounts you know that sometimes Jesus is cranky; sometimes even angry), but even now I know that I have to trust that the messenger has been sent to prepare the way.

Wherever that is.  Whatever it is.

The Great Cloud of Witnesses…Advent 2013 Day 14

I’ve said it before:  I am a person who loves tradition.  And no time of year is so loaded with cultural and faith traditions than this holiday season at the end of the calendar year, traditions like the singing of Handel’s Messiah and the lighting of the Advent wreath candles (although many of these “traditions” are not so timeless as the marketing geniuses would have us believe — Thanksgiving dating from the Roosevelt administration and our current vision of Santa Clause coming from a Coca-Cola advertisement in the 1930’s).

You can read our passage for today in that mindset — that of honoring tradition, honoring the “great cloud of witnesses”.  But if you read it instead in the spirit of the Hebrew word zakar  (to remember) that we talked about yesterday, the power of the possibility in the text sparks to life:

Hebrews 12:1-2

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,[a] and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

And so my seasonal dilemma continues:  embrace tradition and sit in a waiting mindset for what I know is already here, or embrace that peace and  “lay aside every weight…looking to Jesus”.

For much of my life, I have used action to drive away doubt.  I have often lived my days by sheer force of will.  That ability to simply push through whatever sits in my path has been lost to me these past few months and may never return.  And yet,  I cannot seem to embrace the attitude of watchful waiting that comes as one of the rituals of this season of Advent.

Jesus did not wait.  He did what he needed to do according to his role in the drama before him.  Paul did not wait — if there had been frequent traveler miles in his day, he would have been far cloudofwitnessesahead of even me.  And yet it seems that each of them had a quiet, calm center to their actions.  That is what I seek this Advent — that balance between action and knowing, the balance of tension among the tradition of the past, the reality of now, and the potential of the future.

Too much to ask?  Maybe, with my human limitations.  But if you ask what I seek this season, that is my answer.  Not the child in the manger, not the star overhead, not presents, not family, not anything I would have answered at any time before.

A different kind of Advent.  A different kind of life.  A different understanding of the light and the dark.

Peace, I think, is what they call it.  May you find it as well.