{Waiting — An Advent Reflection} Melody Harrison Hanson

3199548898_394e14a38b_oI’m pleased to be a part of an Advent Series a friend is running.

Most of my life, I have been waiting for God. It’s a spiritual waiting

for miracles. Waiting

for answers. Waiting

for healing in me and in others that I love or have loved. Waiting

to feel mercy. Waiting

for peace.

You can link to the rest of the post here.

{Stretching the Canvas of our Imagination}

Silence
Silence

I’ve tried to sit down and read all day.

Instead I’ve placed phone calls to doctors, waited impatiently for return calls from nurses about supplements and medication’s interactions, and run twice to pharmacy and grocery store.  And, on it goes. One child threw up this morning. Another is dealing with headaches of the magnitude that you or I would be in bed – a 9 on a scale of 1 -10.  Children should not have to suffer so and as I deal with the litany of doctors, I am trying to be the advocate for the whole person who is my child. And be gracious.

I ate my third meal in as many days and just for a minute sipped ginger ale and will write this, Though I’m not technically sick (Moms don’t do that) I am unwell.  The headaches and body aches with this particular virus are awful.  Eating feels like an X sport.

I’ve been trying to read all day and life keeps getting in the way.

As the holidays come rushing, with the “extra” everything on the calendar, this small task will only become more difficult – there will be concerts, school projects, plays, shopping, and parties,there will be more of everything.

And I’ve tried to slow down and read because I know its important to make IT stop. 

It’s essential, I think, to get up even earlier or stay up little later, just to BE. 

We need it. To read that something, or to pray a little, or to write a poem or whatever we do “to stretch the canvas of our imagination”. We need to listen to meaningful music or place a phone call to an important friend or stop and say I love you. To write that letter of appreciation to someone that you perhaps wanted to do at Thanksgiving but didn’t get around to. It’s important to do those things in a whirlwind life full of obligations and duty, or service to others, or personal illness, or whatever our life entails.

It’s essential to make it all stop, especially during December to slow, and celebrate. Advent is about waiting – anticipating, leaning in, listening, and keening toward the Holy One.  This takes intention.

All day, I’ve been trying to start a small little book by Enuma OkoroSilence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent.   And finally, I have begun.  In the introduction she reminds us what it means to cultivate patience. We walk along side Zechariah and Elizabeth and learn from them.

In Silence, she says: “The hard work of Advent reflection and waiting is mingled with the gift of time and space to dream new dreams, to bathe in pools of hope, and to stretch the canvas of our imagination wide enough for God to paint God’s own visions for our lives.”

What one thing are you trying to do this holiday season to slow yourself down, reflect and do the holy work of waiting?  How will you wait?

Will you allow the Holy One to paint a new vision for your life?

Melody

Advert: To purchase this book in Kindle or print, go here.

Why do you Love me? [Advent Reflection]

That was the question, an aching appeal, a cry of  a sad heart.

Children can be so difficult, argumentative and surly.

They question everything.

They take up space and create messes.

 Interrupt.  They wreck things that once were beautiful.

 Children don’t deserve our love.

Do they?

Why do I love you, I answered?  Because you are my child.  You were a gift to me and I think you are perfect.  Nothing you ever do will change that because you are mine.  My lovely child.  It’s unconditional.  Do you know what that means?  That you can’t earn it.  And you can’t lose it.  I love you.

And still, a little later, she returns.  She wants the reassurance.  The reasons that I love her because she feels so utterly unworthy.

Sounds familiar.

I am often asking God why do you love me?  What can I do to earn or deserve your love?

And God says …

Why do I love you?  Because you are my child.  You were a gift to me and I think you are perfect.  Nothing you ever do will change that because you are mine.  My lovely child, beloved.  It’s unconditional.  Do you know what that means?  That you can’t earn it and you can’t lose it.

I love you.

That’s why we celebrate the birth of Jesus because of what he did for you and me.

Empty and Waiting

I must apologize in advance for this essay.  I could delete it, I almost did.  Perhaps I still shall. 

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I stopped dreaming.  I realized this as I sat in church yesterday.

It’s hard to feel hopeful when you no longer dream.  What you conceived for your life is not this, when you look around and hate who you have become.

[It takes me a long time to learn things.   I am hard-headed. ]

Perhaps, it is too much to ask?  I just wanted to be significant.  I imagined that I would do something amazing with my life — all those years of working on Urbana conventions, I felt I was doing something important.  Now what?

Is this it? I am a mother and not that good at it, seemingly always failing my children, a wife which I will never write about, a terrible homemaker, yes I mean lazy and bad at it, an infrequent friend and missing sister, ungrateful daughter who just feels forgotten, a hobbyist-at-best photographer and a sometimes I put words together on the page and call myself a writer  … Even this blog is simply an exercise in navel gazing.  And here I go again.

My fight with my maker is almost daily – my depression or remission, anxiety seems constant, recovery from alcoholism, battling with the isolation, feeling only loneliness.

I know that I am foremost an ingrate.  I don’t need reminders.  I have so much!  Four beautiful children, a home and husband and all I can think is, …  I thought I would be something, more.  I put these words here  for what?

I feel empty. I feel useless.   What purpose does my life serve?  Yes, I am looking for evidence of good, any good that I do, and hope.

God is faithful to his promises.  What are they, his promises?  What has God promised?

I’ve already lost whatever I heard in the sermon yesterday. 

He said “God’s results will look different than what we dream or imagine, what we prescribe for ourselves.  The book of Isaiah is filled with a promise that wasn’t fulfilled for 700 years.  God is not predictable but he is faithful. “

I am filled with longing — sick with it.  Perhaps this too is the waiting of Advent.

At times, we wait just for hope. We know we are ungrateful.  We know we are useless to Him.  He doesn’t need us.

We are simply empty and waiting.  

“In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.” — Hamlet

I am a Reformed Control Freak (Advent Musings)

I am a reformed control freak.  By reformed I suppose I mean that I know I am, was, can be a controlling person who wants things just so. Christmas is a perfect example of what really gets my ire up.  OK, once again I’m showing what a wreck I am.  Yesterday I found myself at the hardware store ready to purchase lights for the house.  Yes, outside lights.  Just that is progress for me, twenty years it took.  Colored lights and all the glitter and s*** that we’re supposed to buy for this holiday, and Halloween, and all the other supposed “Hallmark Holy Days” — Well I rebel.

Yes, I have been told that I am “no fun” when it comes to decorations at holidays of any kind.  I don’t do ghosts in the trees at Halloween.  I don’t do little plastic hearts on the windows on Valentine’s day.  And I’ve felt sort of righteous in my snootiness.

Most especially at Christmas.    From the year I had my first tree we had our first tree, I have tried to control it.  My need for control being off the charts I would allow no colored lights, only clear ones.  No home-made ornaments, only accepting matching ones with a theme on my tree.

((Sigh)).  I am reformed because we do have home made ornaments.  And this year, after eighteen years of marriage, I have decided that it would be “festive” and “fun” to have lights on the house outside for all the world to see in their glorious tackiness   I mean isn’t really all about the kids?  And their imaginations?

And this didn’t help.  Driving home the other night, I heard my ten-year old son counting out loud.  When asked, he said, he was counting the number of people on our street that had “Christmas spirit.”

I knew this was the year.  I was going to get some spirit, let go and lighten up and have a little fun.  Who cares if the house is garish if it makes kids happy? Screw Martha Stewart.  And so I found myself at the hardware store putting down the lovely-green-genuine-pine-wreath-that-matches-my-house, for the front door.  And buying a bright red, bow that lights up.  And colored lights. (Picture forthcoming.)  Yes, I am a reformed control freak.

This isn’t about me.  This year for Christmas I’m giving everyone a decidedly much better time.

Isn’t everyone controlling at Christmas, with expectations ramped up to 110% for perfection!?

In all honesty Christmas never lives up to expectations because it isn’t about us and whatever experiences we can conjure up.

It’s about a babe born to a girl, quite unexpectedly and miraculously, who grew up to give his life up for me. And you.

Blessed, Is She? [Re-imagining Christian Feminism]

NOT MY IMAGE

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished! Luke 1:45 NIV

Mary learned that she was to be mother of Jesus when she was only a child herself. And all of the social implications had the potential to ruin her life.  I am sure, as she was being told by the angel that this was her destiny — doubt, disbelief, and dismay all ran through her. And yet what did she say in response?  Not, “Yes, but…”  Not, “Oh no!”  Not, “Do you have any idea what this will do to my life, for that matter my reputation?!”

She did not question it or seek clarification.  She said only, “Yes.  Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said will be accomplished.”  She believed.

Two thousand years later the Church is made uneasy by conversations about the role of women.  Today, if they could change it, I wonder who “the Church” would choose to be the first to know of the Savior’s coming?  Who would the Church choose to be caretaker of the babe?  

When Rachel Held Evans said recently on her blog, that she doesn’t really know what a feminist is, I was mildly surprised though I think she was kidding, kind of.  The truth is that in the Church we don’t talk about being a Christian feminist.  The words are laden with ancient history and pain, not blessing.  With the climate surrounding even the idea of feminism in the Church, it begs the question:  What do you mean when you say you are a Christian feminist?

I did not think of myself as a feminist for a very long time. Slowly I have gained confidence in my understanding of what I mean when I call myself a feminist, but my path of discovery has been bumpy. For years I did not really know what to call myself.  But it became clear that I needed some way to make it unequivocal what I believed.  If I was going to stay in my evangelical church, I had to figure out how live with myself and learn to defend my view that God meant women to fully use our gifts and talents in the Church. I needed language that was clear.

For years I asked everyone else to tell me what they believed. I wrote many letters to my pastor asking for his thoughts, ideas, book recommendations, and for suggestions of people to talk to.  My thoughts developed in a fractured way and I had a fearful and insecure tone.  Always being put off, I became concerned that I needed to adjust my attitude.  I “worked on my attitude” because I was being sent the clear message that I was wrong. I continued to study, but I just could not let go of the fact that there were no female teachers at my church and that eldership was restricted to men.  Coming out of a Presbyterian background this was a step backward in my mind.  I had been an elder at my last church.  Every time the elder nomination process started the pain — the wound was scratched open.

When I asked why there were no women teachers I was told that teachers will rise organically.  To me this was short sided and underestimated how important it is for anyone, but especially women, to be celebrated, mentored, cheered, invested and believed in with whatever gifts they have.  Women and girls are less likely to put themselves forward and rarely self-promote. And, when the church doesn’t have models of women teaching and there is thousands of years of church history one is going up “against” it is a rare person who is able to stand up say “I have a gift!”

When I wrote my elders (all men) and received a lengthy letter in reply, they said they really do agree with me.  But I needed to know how difficult it is to change things and it hasn’t been looked at in more than two decades.  I was told that the likely controversy that would arise out of changing this was more than they were prepared to address at this time.  Clearly they are afraid to talk about the issue of women, fearing it is too divisive. Did you catch that, they actually agreed that it was time that women were teachers and elders but it’s “too hard to change.”  What kind of a message is that sending?  That women and girls are not important.   

This apathy and fear will produce a whole new generation of ignorance and is another reason why we must talk and write about it.   It is gravely sad for me, as I raise my children in the church that so many men and women have no idea that there is any theological debate about the role of women in the church.  The these things are up for debate.  That there is more than one biblical perspective.  My own daughter looks at the status quo and listens to me and shrugs saying “Mom, why are you always on about women’s rights?”  Even with her own mother trying to teach her differently she thinks what she sees and experiences is the way it is supposed to be.

Leaving is not the answer.  My friends outside the evangelical church tradition just shake their heads at me asking: “Why are you still there? Come over here where you will be valued and appreciated.”   While it is true that most people at my church just don’t want to think about it and it would be easier to just leave, I don’t for two reasons.  Firstly, yes I am a feminist, but I am a Christ follower first and when my feminism rises above that in my life then I believe it is an idol for me.  Secondly, I continue to be spiritually challenged. This issue does not totally hamper my ability to learn and receive from my church. So I remain, believing that perhaps I am supposed to be there.

But there is no getting around people’s strange ideas about feminists.

Here are some of the generalizations I run in to:

  • Feminists all hate men and are angry!

That is just not true.  Let me give you an example of how hard it is.

We are studying attributes of God at church.  Commenting in a small group made up of ten to fifteen men and women that we meet with weekly, about my perceptions of God as Father, I tried to talk about the fact that my perceptions are skewed and harmed by my relationship to an angry and abusive human father.  As I stumbled over my words, trying to be as clear as possible (I really hate thinking out loud and find it challenging) and trying not offend anyone, the men in the room seemed to physically recoil, as if I was saying that I hate men.  “Do I want the men to all leave?” one of them joked.   I found myself saying “No, of course not. I don’t hate men.  I don’t, obviously, hate my husband for being a man.  I just don’t find it helpful that God is characterized as father/male when my experience with my father was so difficult.” 

I think it is absurd the pretzels we have to twist ourselves into trying to explain ourselves sometimes, because people think of all the negative generalizations about feminists.   But that is because of the lack of women willing to speak out about their experiences. And the current climate surrounding the role of women in the Church makes it hard for women who label themselves as feminists in the Church.

  •  Feminists are offended by any song or creed with male pronouns.  

I have been there. When I was first on this journey everything hurt, male pronouns especially.   Gratefully I have come to a place where male pronouns in ancient hymns no longer offend me but I do notice them, every time.  I find it unfortunate that we have to be distracted by this while worshiping God.  I don’t choose to be offended, I just notice it.

And scripture readings still give me a twinge – though I know (because I also read the inclusive translations) which of the verses are strictly and only written to men and which (most) are referring to people.

I do that extra work because it is meaningful, and crucial to me. 

  • Feminists are just out for power.

Questioning the Church’s ancient rules isn’t about power.  These are things that need to be questioned.

Based on a recent e-book written by Scot McKnight, I have concluded even more strongly that my desire to know scripture for myself is important.   “Sometimes it takes extra energy to get a silenced voice back.” Scot McKnight wrote in is riveting essay Junia is Not Alone.  “There is no evidence … in ancient manuscripts or translations” that Junia was a man.  “The church got into a rut and rode it out.”  A rut is kind way put it — more like a stinky hell-hole in my opinion, if a woman was completely cut out of the story in scripture and most people in the church don’t know. 

What else are they interpreting or changing?  We have an obligation to study if for ourselves.  The reality is that the Church needs women’s  voices.   It is wrong that our children growing up in the church not learning of the many incredible women in the Bible.  They are growing up to watch, and listen, and see all that isn’t there.  And yet it is there and no one told us.

Together we can re-imagine Christian Feminism.

  • Men and women, use your platform and speak!

Things are changing.  There are many and varied platforms for people to educate themselves if they choose to.  The internet has opened up the world for us.  Gratefully, one can jump on FB or twitter and instantly feel connected to others.  Blogs are another incredible resource for connecting with intelligent and inspiring women and men willing to engage in these important topics.

As society has changed and women’s opportunities have expanded, as women have gained responsibility and influence (and dare I say power) in the marketplace, sadly the Church remains static and seems to have a narrow view of women’s potential.  For a thousand years, the belief was held that women were not included with men as image bearers of God.  Though the church has mostly abandoned that idea, they have not abandoned the authority structures that perpetuate the subjugation of women.

An important part of my development as a feminist, and my spiritual maturation, was forgiving the ancient church fathers and the current ones (though this is harder for me) for this divisive and ugly interpretations of scripture that damage and harm women.  I had to take my pain to God for “allowing” these practices to exist, ones that limit, stifle and repress women in the church.

Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished! – Luke 1:45

Rachel Held Evans, who I mentioned above, is a firecracker commentator on the current climate for women in the church.  She recently posted 13 Things that Make Me a Lousy Feminist.  What I like about Rachel is that she is courageous and willing to use her platform.  She stirs the pot, but her blog has respectful conversations.  Her tone is winsome and she laces her thoughts with humor, forcing us to think about our own inconsistencies.  And she receives some crap from people, but she is learning to put her opinions out there humbly and then listen to others.  That is a quality of a Godly leader.  I read with her list and reflected on what it means to me to be a Christian feminist.

These are (some of) the things I wish others understood about being a Christian Feminist.

Being a feminist is complex and is as different for every person just as is being male or female.  It cannot be summed up easily.

For me at least it means that women should have equal opportunities at home, at church, and in their professional lives.

Christian feminism is to me is the crazy belief that women and men are both created in God’s image and that each deserves a life of freedom and opportunity inside or outside the Church.  When the church’s systems keep that from happening we should speak up and challenge them with grace and aplomb knowing this may take years, even decades, to bring change.  It will certainly take patience, prayer, and perseverance.  It will take a loving yet persistent voice.  It will require us to build relationships with and trust and respect from the leadership structures. That too takes time.  I have not achieved this yet in my church and I have been there for ten years.  But I remain hopeful.

  • We all have a role to play.  We are all necessary.  We all have a voice. We must take every opportunity that we can to share a positive, healthy perspective of feminism.  Women and men have a job ahead of us to change the opinions of others who do not understand what it means to be feminists, who are Christians.
  • Being a feminist is a mindset and worldview.  Anyone can be a feminist – men and women.
  • There are feminists who are decidedly feminine and those people actually might have more access and a voice in the Church than the stereotypical hard-core militant feminists.  (While I am no princess, I sometimes wear makeup and I shave my legs, these things are not the antitheses to being a feminist.)
  • While one can be a feminist and personally opposed to abortion, taking away a woman’s right to choose is an inherently anti-feminist position.  I know that is controversial, but I would push back and say that human rights and dignity should be heralded at the beginning and end of life, each are a life and the position of many in the Church on death row executions is equally murder in my estimation.
  • Making sexist comments against men, in favor of women, is un-feminist and only enforces gender stereotypes.
  • We must respect others choices. There is nothing wrong with the choice of being a stay-at-home mom and the male in a relationship be the breadwinner.  That is what we have chosen right now and it came with a high price for me.  But those that choose this admittedly very traditional lifestyle must also respect those with both spouses working outside the home or those that choose to have the man staying at-home and a woman being the breadwinner.  These are all options that are good and different for each family.
  • Work in any area of life should be based on talent, skill and passions as well as spiritual gifting.  This goes for everything from cleaning the house and mowing the lawn at home, to leading and managing teams, to teaching or ministering to others.    That said; don’t give any woman a job or a role, because you need a token woman. Do it because she is good at it.  Always work hard to find the best person for the job but know that in order to reconcile the injustice of institutional sexism and racism, work even harder to be sure that women and minorities are represented.   Like someone said “we’re all trying to be successful within a hierarchy of privilege.”
  • I took my husband’s name, but only because I was tired of having my father’s name.  Women should be able to choose their name without feeling slammed from both ends by their choice.  I want my own name but there isn’t a way to achieve that currently and I don’t have a solution for it other than make up or choose a new name.

These are just a few of the ways that I have felt misunderstood as a Christian feminist.  What have you run into?

It’s hard to talk about injustice anywhere, but especially in the Church, without others developing a posture of fear and defensiveness and even condemnation.  I would simply ask that the next time a woman raises an issue or talks about their experiences as a woman in the church, try to remember a few things.

  1. They may be in pain.
  2. They may not have worked out exactly where they stand.
  3. They may not have a full biblical worldview developed.
  4. They may not be able to defend their position.
  5. They may just want to be heard, understood, and loved.

Let’s respect one another’s differences, ask questions, and be open to change.

Our Lord came into the world in the womb of a young girl.  This teenage child was entrusted with the care and development of God himself, in the form of a babe.  She was told “You are blessed” and she believed she was!  Her faith was huge.  Her role was incredibly important.  The church today seems so caught up in what women and girls can’t do.  Let’s enlarge our faith and ask what can we do?  What are we being called to?

Another blogger that I love to read recently said this:

“It’s always befuddled me that people could think of women’s standing in the church as some sort of unimportant secondary issue, something to be held loosely and regarded coolly. Do we not realize that this has a significant personal impact on more than half the church?  Do we not acknowledge that the limits we do or do not place on women impact ministry efforts, evangelism and world missions? Do we not consider the implications this has for women’s understanding of their standing before God?   (Not to mention men’s understanding of a woman’s standing before God–and before them.  Ideas have consequences, and the consequences of subjugation tend to be ugly, like the thistles growing up in the field, hindering the work God has for us to do in the world.)”  — Jenny Rae Armstrong

I believe it is imperative that all believers in Christ (individually and corporately with whatever power and influence each has been given) learn to speak about the injustices that plague humanity — war, poverty and hunger, and sexism and other forms of prejudice, bigotry and racism.  And the next time someone wants to talk about women in the Church how refreshing it would be if we were open, embracing and full of love.  

Ask yourself, “Blessed, is she?”

“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”  Luke 1:45 NIV

In your Highs and your Lows, God is satisfied

Many, many times after I write, I think I’m too emotional in my writing.  I woke up this morning thinking only of regret.  Too out there (sometimes.)  Too vulnerable (definitely.)  Too emotional and effusive.  It is not always easy for me to put myself so far out there.

I got to thinking of the Psalms and how much they reach me because of their free, outpouring or flowing emotions toward God not unlike what I often do.   And  I was thinking more specifically King David after reading something written by an internet friend.

David was such a mess, at times such a coward and a failure, definitely a letch, but at other times very brave and strong.  What he did well was lament and cry out to God!

I just get embarrassed at myself at times. And disappointed that I can’t just “be happy” like so many of my friends, who have crazy joy in the simplest of things. I have written before that I regret not being happy.  And others I see who model a raucous family life, full of delight and fun.  (I secretly want to be adopted in.)  Or even those that know their place is “home” whether that is their own or with their children, because it is so satisfyingly good to be together.

I have such longing for normalcy, but I don’t think it will ever come nor do I know how to create it, most days I’m stumbling around in the dark unsure how to be an adult child much less a Mother.  I believe at times might find a kind of peace and contentment, but I doubt I’ll ever find true joy.  King David’s life, reflected in scripture shows his highs and lows. 

I hope God is honored or at least pleased by our highs and lows.  If our faith is deep and genuine, I think we are strong even in our weakness; in our days hounded by our pain and in the days when it is enough just to hold on and to be thankful.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  — 1 Timothy 6:6-7 (NIV)

In this season of Advent, of active waiting, I hope that you find, in your high and your low moments, that God is satisfied with you for simply being you.  He knows you — made you — loves you and is deeply pleased with you.  No, you are not perfect.  May you learn this advent season how much our God just wants you to be — to ABIDE with him which means progressively to “await,” “remain,” “lodge,” “sojourn,” “dwell,” “continue,” “endure” with Him.

And of course I am preaching to myself.

Waiting: What we can’t see!


Originally uploaded by M e l o d y

I have been reflecting on what Luci Shaw says, “anticipation lifts the heart.”

But if I am completely honest, I have found the waiting of this season to be excruciating. These weeks of in-between, of surrender, of emptying, of letting go and ultimately, the truth of knowing that what is coming, the Son of God coming as a Babe, it is so undeserved.  This anticipation feels uncomfortable.

“Faith is giving permission” Richard John Neuhaus says. “The gift has already been given and forever is now for those who have given God permission to let life be a gift.”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, anticipated his birth like any mother would if she were hugely pregnant!  And our waiting for the Babe is like being engulfed with pregnant expectation. The women reading, who have carried a child in their womb know this feeling.   The weight changes you! (by which I do not mean ‘weight gain’ but rather the feeling of being weighed down by what is to come).  Changes how you walk, how you sit, how you sleep (or don’t!) Day after day you wake, wondering if this is the day! You are full of anticipation that the babe might come today and you are rather helpless as to its timing.

Paul gives us a description of waiting in the New Testament book of Romans, as rendered by Eugene Peterson,

“Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.”

I’m challenged to turn my impatience into a contentment I do not feel. I don’t want to rush. I don’t want to worry.  Will this gift appeal or meet the expectation? Who will surely be disappointed? Who is longing for something else. That’s bogus! I hate it. I want to sit “enlarged” by the waiting for the Babe.

This year, I feel as if I am waiting for something more.

It has been a long time coming. I do not know what I am doing with myself, my future, my career, what I am learning, my searching and my growing, with finding my voice and finding myself. This has all been happening so slowly, for the most part.  At times it comes in fits and bursts that have amazed me! But it has felt glacial in most other cases.  It has been a decade of anticipation.

Some days this is distressing.  And there are days when I completely lack any vision for my life – for its grander purpose.  I scream at God, impatiently. If I had quote that sums it up now, it might be this:

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning. ~ Albert Einstein

But as we question and wait, we must be clear about something else.  The book of James incredibly says it:  “Let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete.” Oh, how I long to be mature and complete.  Less striving.  More peaceful waiting.

And Shaw finally, “Pain, grief, consternation, even despair, need not diminish us. They can augment us by adding to the breadth and depth of our experience, by enriching our spectrum of light and darkness, by keeping us from impulsively jumping into action before the time is ripe, before ‘the fullness of time.’ I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”

It is his Son that I long for in this last week of Advent.  Oh, there is more that I wonder about but I know ultimately that the Babe is all I need.

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God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas.

God is With Us. But Can We Find Him?

I have marvelled at my doubt.  

I am going through one of my phases where I feel extremely disappointed by organized religion.  Like Michael Jinkins, in Called to Be Human, I don’t understand what spiritual means any more than I understand what it means to be religious — but I know that today they are a pale imitation of what they should be, could be and this must grieve God.  It is almost an insult to be called “religious” today whereas “spiritual” can mean almost anything and is somehow in its inclusivity found to be admirable.

“Faith is a matter of trust and reverence more than it is a matter of beliefs and belief systems.  This is not to say that beliefs are irrelevant.  It matters a great deal whom you trust and what you hold sacred.  But the older I get, the more I see that life is mystery and the less certainty I possess.  I take more of life on faith.  I trust a lot more than I know. So my beliefs have become increasingly modest in their claims while they have become more extravagant in their hopes.”

When troubles come, when I am still, when I feel most devastated by this life, deep inside I know that the Babe of Christmas is real. 

The Babe of the incarnation is not anything to do with sentimentality and materialism.  Though my whole being is crushed by this season and though it is too strong to say that I hate Christmas — what it has become — My heart and soul are dragged down this time of year.  And I know with certainty that I lack the courage to do something different with it. 

I am no longer a child — the wonder of the season is gone. 

I am so disenchanted by it all that I have trouble relishing “the silent and holy night, the sweet and heavenly peace” that the song speaks of.  The Creator God entered into creation which is totally wrecked by our sin and He doesn’t hate nor is he disgusted by you and me, rather God takes our inconsistency, and selfishness and betrayal — the mess of our human heart and what we have done to this season — and by becoming the Babe he took it all. 

That I can believe.

Christmas can be — Advent should be — about that recovery of our hearts.  But it is so difficult and intangible if we cannot slow down our spiritually corrupt minds and souls and be conscious of the mysterious and ancient ways of experiencing time and place in the spiritual realm.

Advent, in the high church, was meant to begin the sacred year because it begins with anticipating the Babe.  The Church also uses the act of remembering those Saints whose lives are an example to us all.  For me, it is easy to look at those throughout history who were Saints and Martyrs of the church and believe.  The act of remembering, through liturgy and worship whether corporate or in isolation, is beautiful and sweet.  But it is the actions we take — today, now — “the physical gestures, prayers, or other customs — that make faith a tangible presence.”  This is the Babe — the incarnation — this is why we offer our worship. 

Advent is the time when we prepare for the mystery of the Babe — the arrival of God with us — God incarnate.  My heart wrestles with the truth as my actions seem to do something else.  It’s relentless — the gluttony of the Thanksgiving meal, then the shopping, endless carols playing on every radio, the searching for “happy” — that at a certain point I shut down. 

And that is where I find myself today.

Advent seems that is should be more solemn, a time of anticipating.  The mystery and miracle of Christmas is the Babe’s birth. We are challenged to be winnowing and sifting in our heart and preparing ourselves for when He comes.    And it becomes clear that we are simply searching for God in all of our flurry and activity. 

Almost a thousand years ago, St. Anselm of Canterbury said:

“God is that greater than which cannot be thought.” 

God is Inconceivable.  Incomprehensible.  Unbelievable.  That is our God.  That is (perhaps) why God came in the form of the Babe — Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  As I sit here wrestling with the truth that I have to work to find him, God is here.  With us.  Searching for us, some say.  God is not lost.  We have become lost — so distracted by the eating and drinking and shopping and giving and receiving, the singing and serving — lost by it all.

Advent means coming.  Christ came.  Christ comes.  Christ will come again.  In this Advent season, as we search for the Babe, we only need to understand more fully what that means.  “God is enfleshed in our humanity.” 

We only need to wake up and receive the gift that is already given, the fact that we are found by Emmanuel, God with us.

MH

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Called to Be Human: LETTERS TO MY CHILDREN ON LIVING A CHRISTIAN LIFE, Michael Jinkins.

GOD WITH US: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, authored by Scott Cairns, Emilie Griffin, Richard John Neuhaus, Kathleen Norris, Eugene Peterson, Luci Shaw.  Edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe.

Advent Conspiracy

The thought of not spending so much money at Christmas is both terrifying and freeing!  I have long felt that Christmas has lost its meaning and, as a parent, I want my children to “get” what Christmas is really about.  Take Easter, for example, with the bunnies, the baskets, and the candy. I have never participated, with adamant resolve; that’s just not what Easter is about.  And so my kids “suffer” because of my decision – or at least that’s what it feels like as a parent.  Still, it seems that Easter is easier to “opt out of” than Christmas.

Over the last few years, we have sometimes asked extended family to give gifts to worthy organizations rather than directly to us.  I felt really strange asking – kind of self-righteous – although that was not my intent.  But it felt like a good direction, a small step, a reminder to us all that our ‘gift giving’ is often in excess and begins to lack meaning.

When it comes to the stereotypical traditions of an American Christmas, I am afraid this Conspiracy idea will be complex and difficult to process.  In my heart of hearts, I am excited.  But in reality, it is hard to imagine.  I look forward to learning more about the Conspiracy and how we can teach our children (and ourselves) more about these values and ideas.  I think my children, if they really understood how Jesus would celebrate Christmas, would actually come along more quickly than I.

I’ve been reading and studying the book of Daniel through a Beth Moore study, and was hit hard by the truth there in the first chapter about Babylonia which represents a culture that idolizes youth, beauty, intelligence and complete over-indulgence and over-abundance.  Sound familiar? The Enemy wants to keep us in the place of captivity, surrounded by all the temptations of the world, but as we succumb we will lose our identity and integrity.  “Daniel purposed with his heart” against those temptations. (Dan 1:8)

I must ask myself how much of the culture is getting to me?  We are supposed to make a mark for the Kingdom of God.  And yet, most of what I buy, eat, and watch encourages the corruption of our culture in my life, tempting me to believe that it’s actually all about me. Isaiah 47:8 says “I am, and there is none besides me.”  To me, this challenges our culture of total self-absorption.

To bring it back around to the Advent season and the idea the Conspiracy is challenging us with, let us all pray that God would soften our hearts and harden our resolve to live differently.  May we each be open to the ideas here and be willing to be challenged in big ways – not so that we alienate ourselves from the world around us (which is what I fear), but so that we would be open to the Holy Spirit and be able to live differently IN the world as opposed to withdraw into our strange theologies that separate and divide.

I look forward with anticipation to what God is going to do in my husband and me and in our precious children as we face our addiction to stuff and prayerfully become deliberate about our Advent choices.  I am so grateful to attend a church that is being prophetic about these issues.

This is something I wrote for my church’s blog.