The Morning After…

Morning After Reflections…. NOT for kids!

It is the morning after Christmas Day and I feel like a new person!  After our beautiful and peace-filled Christmas morning Eucharist, I rather completely crashed.  I sat in a chair with the book Black Swan and spent the balance of the day dozing and reading swatches of Eileen Harrison’s life.  Eileen is a Kurnai woman and an artist.  The Kurnai are one of Australia’s Aboriginal peoples. 

In between dozes yesterday, it struck me quite clearly that we can read about, can be drawn to, & can be fascinated by the life of the native peoples.  But the truth of their stories will always be their own.  It will always remain elusive to us as onlookers. 

Much like the birth of Jesus.  The full meaning of what we celebrate at Christmas will always elude us at least a bit.  We can read the story.  We can preach about the story.  We can even re-tell and re-enact the story.  But the story and the fullness of its meaning?  Now THAT is so much greater than the stories we tell or the pageants we perform.  No matter how beautiful our nativity displays, no matter how wondrous the music of our carols and services, no matter how joyous our pageants… these will never fully convey the meaning and the challenge of the truth that – for a few years in human history – God gave up all God’s godly powers and God’s capacity to “know-it-all” in order to share every experience of our human life except sin.

What??  Yes, God chose to be born human.  God chose to experience human birth.  God chose to experience growing up, testing boundaries, and deciding which path to follow.  God chose to experience the same pain we feel when a loved one dies.  God chose to be tempted to be self-centered, to feel overwhelming fear that occasionally takes hold of each of us.  God chose to experience frustration with self and with others.  Hunger, pain, love, struggling with the ordinariness of days, longing… In Jesus, God committed to experiencing all of it!  Once God chose to give up “equality with the God-self” there was no turning back.  God the Son had given up the capacity to change course.  Jesus was fully human from his birth to his death!

Paul’s letter to the community at Philippi put it this way.. “Though Jesus existed in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of humans.”  (Phil. 2:6-7)  And after taking up our humanity, Jesus humbled himself by conforming to the whole human experience, even accepting death on a cross. 

I have often wished that Philippians 2:6-8 had been chosen as a Christmas Day reading.  That reading pretty clearly tells us that the Christian celebration of Christmas is not really “all about the children”.  No!  Christian Christian is not at all about the children!  Christmas is a very adult feast. Children can’t grasp what it means for God to choose to experience the struggles and frustrations, the pain and the longing of the human heart.  Children simply haven’t lived enough of life to grasp what it means for God the Son to experience the fullness of humanity.  That’s for you and for me to get!  We – as a church – need to re-claim Christmas as a very adult feast.  We need to preach to adults.  We need to invite adult reflections.  We – need to let the kids hear the story… but we need to be careful that we don’t convey that “Christmas is for kids” message.

Don’t get me wrong:  I’m not saying that we should do away with nativity displays and pageants and children’s birthday parties for Jesus. And I am NOT saying that we should give up the things we have come to know and love as preparation for celebrating Christmas.  In fact, I LOVE it all.  This year, I loved every bit of our Advent preparations, our completely amazing display of world nativities, the persistent weekly call of the shofar, our reflective Compline by Candlelight, and the human longing for God’s peace that was evident in our Longest Night Service.  And I truly loved and was moved by our festive Christmas Eve Eucharist with the children’s procession to the creche, their lighting of the completed Advent wreath… and by the magnificent prelude with Danny’s soulful rendition of “Sweet Little Jesus Boy”, Teresa’s powerful proclamation of the magnitude of the birth of a child with “O Holy NIght”, and our first presentation of “Silent Night” against the background of the beautiful “Peace, Peace, Peace.”  I loved it all! 

But we can’t allow ourselves to get lost in these beautiful things and stay there.  We can’t settle for a celebration is that is beautiful but doesn’t challenge us to know God differently.  We can’t forget that we as adults must continue to deepen our understanding of the significance of this holiday.  We can’t give in to a focus on the children at the expense of an ever-deeper appreciation of the meaning of the event we celebrate.  It isn’t just Jesus’ birth that we celebrate.  It is the reality that God the Son gave up being God and became one of us.  God chose to be one of us.  Crazy as that sounds, it is true!  That’s like me – a woman – giving up being human to become an ant on the ground, or an an annoying fly, or a squishy worm.  It’s like that, only bigger! 

Now, before you start saying “of course!”… challenge yourself.  Think about whether your celebration of Christmas this year invited you to a new understanding of God… or to a new awareness of God-in-our-midst.  Think about whether your Christmas celebration this year did more than remind you (once again) that God calls us to love each other.  Did something deepen in your understanding of or relationship with God … or was your celebration of Christmas stuck a rather magical and beautiful but childhood appreciation for a long-ago birth?  There’s still time… the Christmas Day celebration is behind us, but out capacity to reflect on it has not ended.  True, the full reality of the human birth of the Son of God will always somewhat elude us, just as I will never fully appreciate the full reality of the life of the Kurnai people.  But that doesn’t get me off the hook for trying.

Someday, “The Acts of St. Mary’s” will be told…

Someday, “The Acts of St. Mary’s” will be told…

and what will the story say?  Surely, it will say that God kept a remnant of this little church alive through many storms.  The seed for this community was founded nearly 120 years ago, and that seed has endured.  Sure, the numbers are down and the challenges are many.  But God continues to be present in our midst.  And we wonder why?  For what reason?  What is our call?

Things I know with some certainty:  We are not called merely for our individual or our communal benefit.  Don’t get me wrong… I am saying that YES!  We must take care of ourselves and each other.  But surely more is required.  Our Book of Common Prayer tells us we must do these 3 things: 

First, we must pray & worship.  We surely pray together.  Every Sunday at 10.  Some of us even pray together every Wednesday at 10.  And now, in Advent, some of us even gather to pray on Wednesday evenings at 7.  Is that enough?  Is anything more necessary?

Our BCP also tell us that we must proclaim the gospel.  We know that means we must proclaim it with words.. and we must proclaim it by our lives.  Ahhh… for some, proclaiming in words is challenging.  Some of us don’t like speaking out.  Better to try to proclaim only by the example of our lives and by our Outreach Ministry.  That’s good, certainly!  …. but is it enough??

And, finally, according to our BCP, we must promote God’s justice, love and peace. That seems a pretty large order.  How are we supposed to do that when justice and peace are so elusive?  There is neither justice nor peace when racism allows black mothers to die in childbirth at a rate 3 times more than white mothers.  There is neither justice nor peace when our elected Congress passes tax legislation that burdens the poor and middle class to protect and promote the interests of big business and the wealthy.  There is neither justice nor peace when our president makes decisions that trample the rights of others simply because they arise from faith perspectives he does not espouse.  There is neither justice not peace when grand-standing and showmanship endangers the lives of millions of people throughout the world.  And God’s justice and peace are nowhere to be found when our leaders accept and promote an alleged child predator for the sake of partisan politics.

God does not let us off the hook on “promoting justice, peace, and love” simply because it is hard.  We need to figure out how to do this.  The story one day to be told in “The Acts of St. Mary’s” will be judged by our willingness to hear and respond to God’s call to promote justice, peace and love despite the difficulties.  …. your thoughts?





Praying Alone

Praying Alone

The most precious gift we have received is the possibility of knowing our God.  In the Older Testament, we read stories of God doing very human things… walking in the garden in the evening (Gen. 3:8a); speaking with Hagar (Gen. 16.13) and with Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 18:1); wrestling with Jacob (Gen. 32:30); visited Gideon to assure him of the results of a battle (Judges 6:22); meeting with Samson’s parents (Judges 13:21, 22); walking with Daniel & his companions in the furnace (Daniel 3:25).  

We might wonder why we don’t have those kinds of experiences.  Imagine taking a long walk with God along the shore with an early evening moon!  Or seeing a stranger walking near our house and realizing that the stranger was God!  Wouldn’t it be easier to know God, to talk with God, if only God would appear like that today!  But St. Paul assures us that we always have all that we need for conversations with God – which  means we always have the ability to pray!  The Spirit comes to help our weakness. We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.  Romans 8:26.

Too often, we think that those who know how to pray pray have some special insight into “how to”.  This page hopes to counter that presumption by providing weekly approaches to prayer.  Remember that there is no “one size fits all” in prayer.  Try one approach for a few days.   If it doesn’t help you connect with God, try something different.  Come back often.  Hold to what helps you to connect with God.   

Could it be….

Could it be??  Yesterday’s reading from Matthew 25:1-13 got under my skin.  Ten “wise”/ten “foolish” bridesmaids.  It doesn’t seem fair that the only thing that mattered was whether they were smart enough to bring extra oil.  The ones who are either scatter-brained, or too busy to think ahead, or broke… these didn’t bring extra oil and so missed the celebration. 

Unless it really isn’t about the celebration at all.   I wonder how the story would have changed if just one of the foolish ones decided that – just maybe – having a bright lamp was less important than actually being there to meet the bridegroom when he arrived.  Maybe the brightness of her lamp was less important than everyone thought.   Maybe it was really important to be there to meet the bridegroom when he arrived, even if her lamp was really dim or even dark. 

Could it be that this passage is about having the courage to go out into the darkness of this world – carrying only the dim light of your faith and your hope – to meet the God who is present even in midnight darkness?