Dec 09

Of Darkness and Silence

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Dome of the Holy Sepulchre

In this season of Advent, of darkness and flickering candles, silence feels more appropriate than many words. Mystery more appropriate than explanation. Poets lead us into the heart of mystery, challenging the ways we see the world, refusing easy answers. In the midst of non-indictments, torture

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Dome of the Holy Sepulchre

In this season of Advent, of darkness and flickering candles, silence feels more appropriate than many words. Mystery more appropriate than explanation.

Poets lead us into the heart of mystery, challenging the ways we see the world, refusing easy answers.

In the midst of non-indictments, torture reports, holiday blues, the stark cold darkness of this season, sit with these words, look for the light.

Mosaic of the Nativity: Serbia, Winter, 1993

On the domed ceiling God
is thinking:
I made them my joy,
and everything else I created
I made to bless them.
But see what they do!
I know their hearts
and arguments:

“We’re descended from
Cain. Evil is nothing new,
so what does it matter now
if we shell the infirmary,
and the well where the fearful
and rash alike must
come for water?”

God thinks Mary into being.
Suspended at the apogee
of the golden dome,
she curls in a brown pod,
and inside her mind
of Christ, cloaked in blood,
lodges and begins to grow.

–Jane Kenyon

**The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

**The Annunciation, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898

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Dec 02

Waiting

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Waiting can be exciting. Waiting can be painful. Waiting can be both at once. Tension. Anticipation and hesitation. Joy and Fear, all wrapped up in one uncomfortable package. Waiting. Which is the heart of this Advent season. The nights grow long, but this is called the “season

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Waiting can be exciting.

Waiting can be painful.

Waiting can be both at once.

Tension.

Anticipation and hesitation.

Joy and Fear, all wrapped up in one uncomfortable package.

Waiting.

Which is the heart of this Advent season. The nights grow long, but this is called the “season of light.” The twilight tension causes us to wonder: which will grip us finally, the bright light or the dense darkness?

Sufjan Stevens puts it this way:

“Once in a while, you may think you see better than the others
Scrambling around in the dark with your drum
There is a time when young men must grow up and be brothers
Are you afraid of growing too fast?”  (“The Child With the Star on His Head“)

Isn’t that the Advent lie we settle for? Don’t we all scramble around in the darkness, thinking we can see better than the others, even though we can’t see much of anything?

Our waiting is tempered by the flash of a new toy. Illuminated by the glitz of a seasonal spectacle. Neither will overcome the darkness, both will lose their luster and we’ll be left in the dark.

There’s a kind of false child-likeness in this fleeting search for the light. Jesus praised the children and little ones, but probably not because of their tendency to dash after new shiny things.

We turn waiting into stalling or settling. Stalling the journey of growth and transformation. Settling for the flashing lights whose cords will eventually burn out.

You can wait and grow, you can’t stall and grow.

Waiting means there will be a time to grow up, stalling is settling for the fear of that growth. Fear of bumping into our own darkness. Fear of bumping into the darkness of our sisters and brothers, of our enemies. Fear that the light may not come and so settling for the glitz and glamor of this commercial season.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. For there is another, a “child with a star on his head, and all of the world rests on his shoulders.” And he won’t call us to bright lights that will eventually fade. He’ll call us to the light of the world.

He will expose our darkness and the darkness of our sisters and brothers. His light will pierce the darkness all around us, the darkness of death and disease. The darkness of violence and injustice. The darkness of trying to purchase eternal life with a credit card. The darkness of stumbling around in isolation, contented with our own understanding of the world and our place within it.

The light will come, but the light will not leave us alone in the darkness. Because in the light we won’t just see the child, we’ll see faces all around us. Faces, which moments before weren’t far from our own, but which were kept hidden from our eyes by the darkness we settled for.

**Student-led vigil at Georgetown,  by MICHELLE XU/THE HOYA

The light has already come, and the light will come again. But will we be transformed and walk in the light or settle for the darkness of our own path, our own way? That’s the question I’m wrestling with this advent season.

Yes, Come, Lord Jesus. Transform our darkness to light. Free us from bondage to the lesser lights we chase after, set our hearts alone on your Light, the One who was and is and is to come.

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Nov 20

A Different Kind of King and a Different Kind of New Year

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This Sunday is the last Sunday in the Christian year. November 30 is our New Year, the beginning of Advent. But for now, we’re at an end, the end of “Ordinary Time” (the absolutely worst named season of the liturgical year). But back to the

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This Sunday is the last Sunday in the Christian year. November 30 is our New Year, the beginning of Advent.

But for now, we’re at an end, the end of “Ordinary Time” (the absolutely worst named season of the liturgical year).

But back to the new year. Yeah, it’s not in January, well it is for the rest of the world, but not for those of us who call ourselves the church. If you want to make a new year’s resolution, why not make it a month early? You’ll be way ahead of the game.

In this Sunday’s reading from Ezekiel, there’s a problem.

The shepherds who are supposed to be taking care of Israel aren’t doing such a great job. Instead of feeding and caring for God’s sheep, they’re gorging themselves on turkey and stuffing whatever folks gorged themselves on in those days. The shepherds are living the high life, without much mind for the sheep’s well being or health.

Important side note: Shepherd is kind of doublespeak for king in the Old Testament. Think of David, when Samuel tried to anoint all of his other brothers as king (but the Lord rejected them) and David was the only one left, what was he doing? He was in the field, tending the sheep.

Shepherd David=King David.

Back to the story,  the rulers of Israel have been falling down on the job, and God’s not real pleased about that. So,

“The Sovereign Lord says, ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness…I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice'” (Ezekiel 34:11-12, 16)

The Good Shepherd

God wants to be a shepherd (remember, that means king). But this kingship looks a little different. The shepherds of Israel only cared about themselves. In all their self-attention, they let the sheep wander off. Some couldn’t find food, some were eaten by wild animals, and the shepherds couldn’t see beyond their own staffs (Ezekiel 34:1-6).

But, Ezekiel’s image of God as shepherd is one who takes it upon himself to go out and recover those who have been lost. To literally gather in and feed those sheep who are hungry, to heal the hurt and broken sheep.

This king isn’t hanging out at any palace or castle, this king is roaming the countryside, on the move, not settling for anything less than the justice he brings.

Which is striking, because much of the church celebrates Christ the King Sunday this weekend as well. And for all the times people want to make a difference between the God of the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament, you can’t do that here. Sorry.

Because this God looks a lot like the God we see revealed in Jesus Christ, the good shepherd.

This God and king doesn’t send the hungry away for food or have someone else do it, he feeds the sheep.

This king doesn’t leave the sick and broken behind in favor of the healthy and whole, he restores them to fullness of life.

This king is resolute, he’s set on this course and nothing you or I can do will change his mind. “I the Lord have spoken” (Ezekiel 34:24)

Are these God’s New Year’s Resolutions?

That’s hard to believe given what’s about to happen for most of us.

Next week, we in the U.S., will celebrate Thanksgiving, and on Friday (or sometimes Thursday), people will rush out of their houses at bizarre hours to buy a bunch of stuff, for them, or their family, or close friend maybe.

Get the best deal. Be self-interested. Rush from giving thanks to buying gifts for Christmas.

Hey, in the world, we shouldn’t expect much else. That’s how their calendar works.

But we’ve got this other calendar that can really mess with our priorities if we let it.

This Sundy we’ll stand in church and proclaim Christ is king, a kingship marked by concern for the sheep who have wandered off, who are at the edge of society, maybe at the end of themselves.

Then, next Sunday we’ll begin Christmas Advent. A season of waiting and self-denial (not unlike Lent). Advent holds up a giant “STOP” sign to our ways of running our lives (and holiday seasons).

Advent seems to say, “Hey, wait, don’t rush out for that new thing. That Jesus you just proclaimed king? Yeah, he’s coming, soon. Prepare yourself.”

And we’ll have a choice. If this whole Christian thing is about being transformed into the image of Christ (the king), we’ll have to decide whether we want our lives (our kingships and queenships) to reflect this astonishingly different way of kingship we see in Ezekiel. Or not.

If we’re being conformed to the image of Christ, then our new year’s resolutions (Advent resolutions) will take the shape of this King; the king who we’ll find in the manger, sure. But, also the king who will come and put all creation to rights and we’ll finally be able to see the fullness of the kingdom come.

Until then…happy new year!

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Dec 13

Got the Christmas Blues? Try Advent

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Are you finished with your Advent shopping list yet? Are your Advent cards all stamped and on their way to friends and family? It’s that time of year–happiness and cheer, hustle and bustle. You might re-read those questions. If you’re caught up in the spirit

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Are you finished with your Advent shopping list yet? Are your Advent cards all stamped and on their way to friends and family?

It’s that time of year–happiness and cheer, hustle and bustle. You might re-read those questions. If you’re caught up in the spirit of the season, you might have misread “Christmas” for “Advent.”

I wouldn’t blame you if you did.

For American Christians, before the turkey has even cooled on Thanksgiving a new season begins. Black Friday launches us all headlong into the cultural Christmas season.And somewhere–in the din of the office Christmas party, the ka-ching of cash registers, the middle school choir’s O Holy Night, Bing Crosby’s velvety White Christmas, campaigns to keep Christ in Christmas–we miss a whole season.

Advent.

Advent is Christmas’ less boisterous other half, marked by silence and waiting. In Advent the whole of creation waits for the coming of the Son of God. Christmas tells us to feast and rejoice. Advent calls us to patience.

Black Friday rushes us out to stores: “Only today! These deals won’t last!” We buy the best gifts, throw the best parties, as if we could force Christmas to come sooner.

Advent invites us to wait, to prepare our hearts and lives for the coming of the Son of God, for Christmas. But we can’t force Advent or Christmas. Advent is a stark reminder that we’re not in control. God is the main character in this story.

When the angel Gabriel told Mary of the child she would bear, Mary created space for the coming of the Son of God: “Let it be with me according to your word” (Lk. 1:38).

Advent calls us to this posture of preparation. We wait for the arrival of a new King, whose kingdom will have no end (Lk. 1:32-33). And the good news? There is nothing you can do to make it happen.

But, you can miss it in all the flash and dazzle of this season. The kingdom of God breaks into the world in a lowly backwoods manger, away from shopping malls and centers of power. Though all are welcome in this kingdom, the love of God isn’t forced upon us.

So, how are your Advent preparations coming?

Whether your holiday cheer meter is off the charts or in the dumps, set some time aside to prepare for Christmas.

  • Carve out space for silence and solitude, even a few minutes a day. Remember you, like Mary, are one in whom Christ dwells and delights. Carry the words of James in your heart: “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord” (5:7).
  • Read the prelude to the Christmas story in Luke 1. Better yet, practice lectio divina and let the text read you. Listen again, as if for the first time, to the words of Gabriel to Mary (Lk. 1:26-38) and Mary’s joyful song (Lk. 1:46-56).

If lectio divina is new to you, check out Eduardo Pedreia’s introduction to the soul training exercise in our newsletter.

May you experience God’s peace in the stillness and silence.

Apprentice Institute Newsletter - "An other time"

Apprentice Institute Newsletter – “An other time”

 

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