Day 11: Welcoming the poor (and understanding we’re all poor)

 

I was recently asked to contribute to Marketta Gregory’s Blog, Simply Faithful: Finding the Sacred in Everyday Life.  Follow the link to read the post.  Thanks Marketta!

Day 11: Welcoming the poor (and understanding we’re all poor).

Advertisements

Surrender

Silent TrustThere aren’t many images of faithfulness left in our culture.  Beliefs are not the only dimension that has been co-opted by our relativistic society, so have our commitments.  To make matters worse the images that do remain are either laden with guilt for fear of consequence or purely motivated by self-interest and gain.   It seems as if faithfulness has become pragmatic, a means to an end.

Nature, however, reveals a different picture one that is not fearful or calculated but trustful: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Mt. 6:26a NIV).  Instead of defiance, creation yields: an implicit confidence in the goodness of the ONE who creates, sustains, and completes all of life.  Firmly established and rooted in the soil of hope, the created order dwells within each season as a witness of surrender.

There is no better image of this than a forest of winter tees.  Seemingly stripped of fruitfulness they do not resist the season of hibernation but willingly acquiesce to sovereignty.  In winter, spring, summer or fall their posture remains the same: branches lifted to the heavens in an act of ceaseless praise and adoration.

I realize that this is an unusual claim, one that is far more literary than scientific.  BUT surely this is an aspect of what the Psalmist meant when stated:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world”

(Ps. 19:1-4 NIV).

Could it be that the knowledge that creation reveals is a freedom that one experiences when all of life (in it’s various seasons) is lived from a posture of trust, i.e. a faithfulness that is born not out of guilt nor gain but love?  Surely this is the sentiment of the Apostle Paul: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV).

Maybe the words of a chorus from the Taizé Community capture best this sentiment of silent trust?

“In God alone my soul can find rest and peace

In God my peace and joy

Only in God my soul can find its rest.

Find its rest and peace.”

Simplicity

Hints of Simplicity Wood

There is just something about stacked firewood that hints of a simpler life.  Maybe it’s linked to the manual labor required to locate, cut, split, load/unload, and stack it?  Maybe it’s the fleeting feeling of independence, a being “off-the-grid?”  Maybe it’s nostalgia-a flood of childhood memories that include the woodpile behind the house and the Sunday family naps around the woodstove?  Or maybe it’s the fresh scent of cedar kindling?

Whatever it is, I prefer wood heat and the entire process it involves. Though backbreaking work, there is a satisfaction that is experienced after a day of cutting firewood, a sense of preparation for the future that has been long forgotten in our immediate “here and now” cellophane-wrapped world.  The tasks of gathering, tending, and storing for future use teach profound lessons of moderation, self-control, stewardship, and gratitude.  Even the chore of stoking the fire in the middle of the night carries with it a monastic quality of marking time appropriately celebrating the gift of the temporal as a sacrament of the eternal.

The simple life is not merely doing with less.  It also involves a stewardship of what we have and what we consume.  Whether it is firewood, gardening, canning vegetables, sewing, or re-purposing worn out furniture all can be exercises of simplicity, a classroom to teach gratitude and generosity.

Mute

Disbelief has a way of silencing us.  It incapacitates us to offer anything to others; it steals the fruitfulness of joy, the generosity of hope.  When confronted with the reality of chronic disappointment or the litany of unmet expectations, words become few; there’s just not much to say especially about that which we had been so hopeful.  At this point, silence becomes a defense mechanism, a passive acknowledgement of what lies in the shadows, while also an active resistance to engage the possibility of a hopeful fulfillment.  The risk to believe yields to an attitude of apathy.

Having sat liturgically with the birth narrative of John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel for the last several years, I can’t help but wonder if Zechariah’s inability to speak after encountering the angel Gabriel had less to do with a punishment and more to do with an outward manifestation of an inward state.  The joyous message of Gabriel was just too good to be true and the pain of prior experiences paralyzed Zechariah with an inability to speak (literally) of God’s faithfulness.  His response is akin to what Christians later defined as acedia: “… the absence of care – when life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, you know pain is there, yet can’t rouse yourself to give a damn” (Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris, 2008).

When seen in this light, the landscape of the Christmas narrative takes on a personalized form.  Not only was the message of Gabriel announcing God’s redemptive purposes for the whole world, it also was an individualized message to an elderly couple whom though “were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord” (Lk.1:6 NIV) had given up hope that God could redeem their circumstances, a state of mind and heart that when left unchecked led to despair.

Advent’s hope and it’s fulfillment in Christmas is the trumpet call of God’s promise and faithfulness: a witness to the Resurrection, a narrative form of the Psalmist’s words “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever” (Ps. 138:8a NIV).

Far from a narcissistic goal, this “ruthless trust” in the faithfulness of God perpetually duplicates itself in others resulting in “many rejoicing” and “turning to the Lord their God.”

Though I often identify with Zechariah, I am constantly challenged with the example of Mary: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38 NIV).

Patience

 

Annabelle Kansas

Who’s training who?

We’re on week-four with the new addition to the family: Hunt’em Up Annabelle Kansas (Belle for short).  The story of finding her is as fun as her name.  A business trip to Kansas with a healthy dose of serendipity, a kindred-spirit, and four adorable pups to choose from are the main ingredients to this little story.  After multiple calls to United to ensure I could carry Belle on as “luggage,” two flight segments from Wichita through Denver to Sacramento, and several smitten flight attendants we arrived late into Redding at the curiosity of my other two dogs, Sam and Eli. I’m not gonna lie, in the middle of it all I said to myself, “Carter, you’re either crazy or brilliant.”  The jury is out on that larger question; but as for Belle, I’d do it again.

Every pet teaches you something about yourself; Belle is no exception.  Just last week, I was watching a training video for birddogs and at one point the trainer said, “Remember patience is key the time that it takes for your puppy to learn something new is simply that, the time that it takes.  There was no attitude of “hurry up and get it done.”  No anxious focus on efficiency.  No belief that your puppy is some computer program void of life, uniqueness, and individuality.  On the contrary, there was a deep centeredness, a non-anxious presence if you will, and a commitment to a developmental process that was rooted in respect, dignity, and care.

Who’s training who?

“Remember … patience is key … the time that it takes for you to learn something new is simply that, the time that it takes.”

 

 

A Season of Expectation

Advent 2013

We celebrate those events in our lives that define our existence.  Birthdays remind us that we were created by God.  Graduations are tangible ceremonies that mark the completion of courses studied and work completed.  Weddings are remembered each year because they re-tell the story of two lives coming together to create something more beautiful than themselves.  And special anniversaries, such as spiritual birthdays and the loss of loved ones all mark experiences that have in some way changed us profoundly.  We remember so that we will not forget.

Yesterday, the Church began its new year with the First Sunday of Advent.  Like us, the Church universal celebrates the seasons of life, those experiences that define her.  Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost all are opportunities for those who call themselves Christians to remember the events that define their existence as disciples of Jesus.  We remember so that we will not forget.

Advent is a season of inward preparation, in which we individually and corporately prepare our hearts to receive the coming of God’s Kingdom through the incarnation of His Son, Jesus of Nazareth.  It is a time of reflection, an opportunity to reorient our lives back the Center.  Christians have celebrated Advent for centuries.  It begins four weeks prior to Christmas day and concludes with the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  This period of time has been distinguished by a series of four candles representing the four thousand years before Christ’s birth and symbolizing Jesus as the Light of the world.  Each week the Church lights a candle in expectation of the Eternal Light to come.  There are three purple candles (symbolizing the royalty of Christ) and one pink candle (symbolizing the joy of Advent).  On the third Sunday, the pink candle is lit and is known as “Rejoice Sunday.”  Finally, on the fourth Sunday all four candles are lit as a testimony of God’s faithfulness to His redemptive covenant.  Some Churches also add a fifth candle (usually white) in the center of the wreath to represent Christ Himself.  The symmetry of the Advent Wreath symbolizes that God has no beginning and no end; its greenery represents new birth and life.

Today, we light the candle of hope to remind us that Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament covenant with Abraham.  If we listen closely we can hear the words of the Prophet resonating throughout the ages, “Prepare a way for the Lord; make straight his paths.”

Oh Lord, through the Prophets you promised that the Messiah would come to take away the sins of the world and therefore restore all of creation to its rightful place.  Give us patience to wait through the silence and anticipation of Advent, so that we may awaken with the angels on Christmas morning to receive Jesus, the coming King.