Advent Field Guide (Final Week [4])

Advent Week Four     December 22-24, 2019

LOVE

Love is everything. It is meant to be received vulnerably and it is meant to be given freely. When we love, we live into who we were created to be; that is, we are rightly relating to one another.

As we are members of creation, it becomes necessary to our selfhood that we reflect on what it means to be in right relation with all of creation. When we are disconnected from the rest of creation (human and non-human), we are disconnected from our Creator, because it is only through relationships that we can be fully ourselves.

Thus, these two days before Christmas, work to de-center yourself by focusing on how connected you are to all of creation, especially non-human creation. Think about the connections that you have with the land on which you live; as you sit down to eat a meal, reflect on how long it took to grow that food and how many miles it took to bring it to you; think about the species that dwelled on the land before it was taken up by buildings; think about land practices that consider all of creation and not just humans; think about the season of winter and how it provides rest to the land.Our Emptying Church

In his book God Still Matters, Jesuit theologian Herbert McCabe writes, “Love is rather rare and comes with maturity when we can get away from the need to be dominant or to find another who is not dominant…  the essential gift you give to the one you love is the gift of space to exist, the gift of liberation.”

Think about love as creating space for others to exist. It is not fluffy or weak, but rather, it is a strong, faithful, solid showing up for one another. This also means that you create space for you to exist… loving yourself, valuing your gifts, and believing in your worth.

Use this time of Advent to consider how you create space for you to be your fullest self. Consider how you create space for others to be their fullest selves. This kind of love draws us into a new narrative about ourselves and about the world.

Scripture: 

Luke 1:26-38, 46-55 When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.”Then Mary said to the angel, “How will this happen since I haven’t had sexual relations with a man?” The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the one who is to be born will be holy. He will be called God’s Son. Look, even in her old age, your relative Elizabeth has conceived a son. This woman who was labeled ‘unable to conceive’ is now six months pregnant. Nothing is impossible for God.” Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her. Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.
 God has looked with favor on the low status of God’s servant.
 Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored
 because the mighty one has done great things for me.
Holy is God’s name. God shows mercy to everyone,
 from one generation to the next,
  who honors God. God has shown strength with God’s arm.
 God has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.
 God has pulled the powerful down from their thrones
 and lifted up the lowly.
 God has filled the hungry with good things
 and sent the rich away empty-handed.
 God has come to the aid of God’s servant Israel,
 remembering God’s mercy,
 just as God promised to our ancestors,
 to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.”

John 13:33-35 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Readings: 

“Love has bridged the high-rises of despair we were about to fall between. Love has been a penlight in the blackest, bleakest nights. Love has been a wild animal, a poultice, a dinghy, a coat. Love is why we have hope.” -Anne Lamott; Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.   -Archbishop Oscar Romero

Prayer: Center this thought in prayer this week:

O God the Light of the World, prepare our hearts, for Emmanuel is coming. 

Teach us love in our waiting. Amen.

Questions to consider: If love is creating space for others to be their fullest selves (human and non-human), what does this look like for you? If you are married or in a committed partnership, what does this look like for you and your spouse? If you parent, what does this look like for in relationship to your children? If you are single, what does this look like with your most trusted, beloved people? What does this look like for the stranger who is your neighbor but whom you have never met and may never know?

Spiritual Practices: This week, consider incorporating two spiritual practices into your week. First is the practice of lectio divina, which is a form of contemplative reading of scripture. Lectio divina has no goal other than that of being in the presence of God by praying the Scriptures. You can use Luke 1:26-56 in this practice, or choose your favorite Bible passage. Read the text aloud slowly. Read it aloud again. Hold it in silence. Consider a phrase that jumps out at you and ask why? Carry the phrase with you all day. Read it aloud one more time, but this time, read it as a prayer.

The second spiritual practice to incorporate this last week of Advent is service. If love is creating space in the world for others to be their fullest selves, then consider what you can do to facilitate this. Can someone be their best self if they are starving, if they do not have clean water, or a warm place to sleep? Can someone be their fullest self if they are living in a prison of shame? Can someone be their fullest self if they are your enemy? Maybe service this week looks like reconciliation with one who has wronged you… maybe this forgiveness is the liberation you both need. Maybe service is a physical act of caring for another’s humanity. Maybe service is coming your faith community and lending a helping hand. Create space in the world by your love this week.

Advent Field Guide (Week 3)

Advent Week Three     December 15-21, 2019        JOY: The Weary World Rejoices

Advent is a time to examine our faith and then put feet to it.

Mark Twain said: “Comparison is the death of joy.” Our participation in the world of social media gives us an open invitation into comparison. It allows us to compare our lives/jobs/spouses/kids/finances/etc. to others. We can see how many vacations our friends are going on or perhaps the latest gadget someone we know has bought. We see someone we know seemingly rock at parenting and it feels like we can’t get our stuff together. It’s easy to see what folks post (and folks rarely post the hard things) and compare our lives. The danger here is that more often than not, our conclusion is that we are not enough… we must be doing something wrong. Not working hard enough, not worthy of love, not intelligent enough in business decisions, not beautiful enough, not far enough along in life…. and the list goes on. Maybe you could fill in the blank here. “If only I….” Pretty soon, we get comparison fatigue, and we aren’t able to see the goodness and beauty of the lives we have in front of us because we are stuck in a rut of comparing ourselves to others. Our joy is robbed from us.

Joy is a precious gift and is something we must protect. One of the best ways to protect joy is to practice gratitude. What or who are you deeply grateful for? What would your life look like without this person/ thing? What are you grateful for about your spiritual journey? Consider these things and by doing so, you may nurture joy.IMG_5751

Another way to nurture joy is to serve others. Serving others takes you out of your world and into the needs of someone else’s. When you care about if someone has had enough water or if the water they have had is lead-free, then you cannot at the same time, hate that person. If you care about someone having enough clothing to keep warm, then you find that you care less about needing more clothing yourself. When we live as if our well-being is tied to our neighbor’s well-bring, it is a spirit changer.

Scripture:

Luke 2:10  “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…’”

Matthew 25:34-39: 34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

Readings:

“Be joyful as though you have considered all the facts.”-Wendall Berry from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

“Joy is always a surprise and often a decision. Joy is portable. Joy is a habit, and these days it can be a radical act. Buffy Sainte-Marie said, ‘keep your nose to the joy trail’”-Anne Lamott in Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

“Being generous of spirit is a wonderful way to live.”-Pete Seeger

“Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love [people]…I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least…”

“We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know [God] in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore.” -Selected quotes from Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist

Prayer: Center this thought in prayer this week:

O God the Light of the World, prepare our hearts, for Emmanuel is coming.

Teach us joy in our waiting. Amen.

Questions to consider: How is joy distinct from happiness? What does deep joy feel like in your body; what does deep joy feel like in your spirit; what does deep joy feel like in your mind/emotions? Do you have harsh expectations of yourself that preclude you from joy?

Spiritual Practices: This week, try keeping a gratitude journal/list. It can be written in your journal, as an email draft, or even on the back of a grocery receipt. Begin with considering the most obvious things or people that you are grateful for. And then keep going, what are the smaller things that you are grateful for? These are easier to take for granted. What would your life look like without these things or these people? What would your life look like without being in a personal relationship with your Creator? Cultivate gratitude and you will uncover deep joy.

Advent Field Guide (Week 2)

Advent Week Two          December 8-14, 2019           PEACE

Advent is a time to slow down and remember who you are. Frederick Buechner writes this about Advent: “In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You are aware of the beating of your heart. The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”

Jesus will say many things in his 33 years of life, but one of the most poignant phrases he leaves us with before he endures death on a Roman cross is this: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Creator will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:25-27)

What troubles your heart? What keeps it afraid? How do you guard it against those things which would paralyze you and keep you trying to be invulnerable?

Jesus said you are the light of the world! Don’t hide under a bushel basket! There are so many bushel baskets that we could hide under: I’m not worthy of love. I do not belong here. I am bad. I am wrong. I am a mistake. I am not worth being known. I do not matter. I am ugly. I am worthless. I am unlovable. I am the summation of all the pain I feel. I am just not good enough. I was born wrong. I did a thing that I can never receive forgiveness for because I am just a really bad person. Shame is a very effective and very terrible bushel basket.

Jesus says you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Be no less than who you are. Don’t hide. Don’t dilute. Be who I created, which is to say, be you.

God first created light and said it was good. And then Jesus shared that with us and said, YOU, YOU, YOU are the light of the world. You are good too. Let your light so shine, that it brings glory to God. That means be you. Be your fabulous self… be your best self… be at peace.

Scripture:

Matthew 5:14-16  You are the light of the world. A city on top of a hill can’t be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they put it on top of a lampstand, and it shines on all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Creator who is in heaven.

Luke 1:78-79 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Readings:

“Peace is not the product of terror or fear. Peace is not the silence of cemeteries. Peace is not the silent result of violent repression. Peace is the generous,tranquil contribution of all to the good of all. Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity. It is right and it is duty.” Archbishop and now Saint Oscar A. Romero, The Violence of Love

Prayer: Center this thought in prayer this week:

O God the Light of the World, prepare our hearts, for Emmanuel is coming.

Teach us peace in our waiting. Amen.

Questions to consider: Is peace the absence or presence of something? What do hearts stayed and steadied in peace look like? What does it look like to be at peace with who we are?

Spiritual Practices: Let contemplation be your guide through this second week of Advent. Anglican systematic theologian Sarah Coakley describes contemplation as an ascetic discipline and one which should be a serious endeavor in a Christian’s life. Coakley defines contemplation as particular kind of prayer, wherein one repeatedly waits on God in silence. This practice cultivates the work of the Spirit, the third person of the Triune, who is often reduced to fluff, but who is actually a fierce subverter of powerful and evil institutions. Coakley writes: “Contemplation makes great ethical demands– to lose one’s life in order to gain it, to turn the other cheek, to love one’s enemies. It is not a form of disengagement, but of passionate reordered engagement.”1

Further, contemplation is a vulnerable act as one sits and receives the divine gifts that God gives, but in this process, the self is expanded. When one is quiet and open, one can see much more about oneself and the world than one could in the midst of performing a series of tasks.

Sit. Be quiet. Be still. Let God come to you, come in you, come behind you, come before you. Let God bring you into a deeper knowledge of Godself. You may find that you get to know yourself better, because, after all, you are made in the image and likeness of God.

The practice of silent contemplation (along with the removal of activities which preclude one from contemplation), can be a dear companion through the journey of Advent. We want God. We want to be opened, filled, humbled, and challenged by the Creator who first prepared this journey for us. May it be so for us this Advent.

1. Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity,’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 340-344.

Field Guide for the Advent Journey (1)

Advent Week One                     HOPE                 December 1-7, 2019

Spiritual writer, Jan Richardson says of Advent: “The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before … What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”

Advent begins four Sundays before December 24th each year, and for us liturgical types, it begins the church year, hence the name Advent, which means “beginning” or “coming.” In Advent, we wait with longing for the arrival of the Christ child. We know that this glorious day is coming, but it has not yet arrived. We wait and we are nourished with the hope of what is to come, but is not here yet.IMG_2270-1

As the days become shorter and the nights become longer, we wait for the Light of the World. Our culture and the marketing of it leaves little space for waiting. It’s a minute-to-win-it, Amazon Prime existence where the possibilities of getting what one wants quickly are endless. But if we lose waiting, do we also lose a critical understanding of what it means to hope for the light that will come?

Hope is too precious a thing, too necessary, too powerful to let slip through your fingers. Sit, wait, and become friends with what it means to hope again. The light is coming, but it is not here yet. There is a sense of waiting in Luke’s gospel: “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Scripture:

Luke 6:20-21: (NRSV) Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

Readings:

“‘Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul -And sings the tune without the words – And never stops – at all.”   -Emily Dickenson

From the sorrow of having just lost his wife and child in August of 1932 from his Chicago home, Thomas Dorsey wrote:  “Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand; I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light, Take my hand, precious Lord, Lead me home.”

Prayer: Center this thought in prayer this week, O God the Light of the World, prepare my heart, for Emmanuel is coming. Teach me hope in the waiting. Amen.

Questions to consider: As you find a quiet place to sincerely reflect on this season of your life:  who is your hope in? What is your hope in? Is hope perched in your soul? What will you wait and long for this Advent?

Spiritual Practices: Invite prayer into your week; more specifically, consider centering prayer wherein you choose a word and you walk with it all day. You think about it, you say it aloud, you center it in prayer all the day long, as you do dishes, drive, and even as you are falling asleep. Consider choosing a word that stems from hope. It could be: anticipation, glory, the present and coming kin-dom, passion, comfort, light, waiting, etc. Let the word take different forms throughout the day. Wonder about it, use it in inner conversation, use it in a conversation with your loved one. Let it become a part of the dialogue of your day. Make it your prayer. Be intentional with it so that you don’t go into autopilot mode.

Field Guide for the Advent Journey (Intro)

Beloved, this Advent guide is for you. Advent can be one of the most centering and sacred times for our individual and congregational faith journeys. Advent demands that we slow down, which is absolutely counter-cultural to the hype and bustle of Christmas.

Do not give into the hustle this year; stop and lean into the discomfort of silence and waiting. We will get to a place where we know the way forward— the next step, but it is not now. Right now, we just hope. We will get to a place where we have something to celebrate, but it is not right now. Right now, we sit with joy in the waiting. We will get to a time where peace will prevail, but it is not right now. Right now, we sit in a world of mass shootings, hyper polarization, a cradle to prison pipeline, and contemplate our role in saying “this stops here”. We will get to a place where we live into the reality that because of the resurrection, love wins. But right now, we are awaiting the birth of the baby who will make that happen.

Do not celebrate yet. Sit and wait. Remember what it feels like to long for something that you know will come but is not here yet. There is no instant gratification in Advent; to have it is to rob this season of the blessing and life-change that only wading through it will bring.

In the very worst or hardest moments of life, it is not what you have heard preached or what your parents believed that you remember, it is what you believe that comes forth. It is what you have practiced over and over and over and over that comes up and holds you in those dark nights. May this Advent 2019 be a time where you practice, you wait, and you do the work of hope, for in the days ahead, you will need to have much practice living into what you believe.

It is a joy to wait and long through this power-filled season with you.

We watch and wait for God’s coming. Prepare the way of the Lord!

Maranâ thâ’— Come Lord Jesus, come!