Saturday, December 29, 2007

It's that time again -- for the 28th time

Tonight is our 28th anniversary, and to celebrate, sort of, here is a post that includes some of my feelings about being married. Consider it a golden oldie.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Card

When the white stars talk together like sisters
And when the winter hills
Raise their grand semblance in the freezing night,
Somewhere one window
Bleeds like the brown eye of an open force.

Hills, stars,
White stars that stand above the eastern stable.

Look down and offer Him.
The dim adoring light of your belief.
Whose small Heart bleeds with infinite fire.

Shall not this Child
(When we shall hear the bells of His amazing voice)
Conquer the winter of our hateful century?

And when His Lady Mother leans upon the crib,
Lo, with what rapiers
Those two loves fence and flame their brillancy!

Here in this straw lie planned the fires
That will melt all our sufferings:
He is our Lamb, our holocaust!

And one by one the shepherds, with their snowy feet,
Stamp and shake out their hats upon the stable dirt,
And one by one kneel down to look upon their Life.
Thomas Merton, 1947

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Quote: Eugene Peterson

What other church is there besides institutional? There's nobody who doesn't have problems with the church, because there's sin in the church. But there's no other place to be a Christian except the church. There's sin in the local bank. There's sin in the grocery stores. I really don't understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don't get it.

Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There's no life in the bark. It's dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it's prone to disease, dehydration, death.

So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn't last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it's prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Be Prepared

The readings for the First Sunday of Advent (starting cycle A):

  • Isaiah 2:1-5
  • Psalm 122:1-2, 3-4a, 4b-5, 6-7, 8-9
  • Romans 13:11-14
  • Matthew 24:37-44
Back when I was both a bit younger and a bit lighter, I backpacked a bit in the Yosemite area. A mandatory stop was the Wilderness Center in Yosemite Village to get a wilderness permit and to check the weather and trail conditions boards. Right at the top of the weather board was this statement (and warning):
There is no such thing as bad weather, just weather you are not prepared for.
The weather has always been changeable in Yosemite. YOSAR (the local search and rescue folks) point out that on one October day they had to rescue climbers from El Capitan due to heat exhaustion. Two years later to the day, people were getting frostbite up on the big walls. It didn't matter how the day started, you had to be prepared for varied weather to keep from being hurt.

This Sunday is the beginning of the great cycle of the Church Year -- once again telling the story of God coming into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, of his dying and rising to redeem the world, and the spread of the Kingdom of God. This is also the story of God working in our own lives, and in the end, of the entire universe. But right here at the beginning, we need to heed the warning that almost anything can happen, so we need to prepare ourselves.

Most of us like change, as long as it is well behaved. We want things to change for the better, as long as we get to define what better is and the change meets our own expectations. Change is fine, as long as we can stay in firm control. To our dismay, we often find out that God has a different idea what change shoud be, and it does not include preserving our little illusions of control.

God's reign cannot become real in this world, unless we and this world change radically. There is nothing convenient or well behaved about that. In the Gospel lession Jesus reminds us of another story about God establishing control, the story of Noah and the flood:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“As it was in the days of Noah,
so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
In those days before the flood,
they were eating and drinking,
marrying and giving in marriage,
up to the day that Noah entered the ark.
They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away.
So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man.
Two men will be out in the field;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Two women will be grinding at the mill;
one will be taken, and one will be left.
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”
The story of Noah is not a tale of random disaster, it is the story of how being unprepared for God's action can become a disaster.

So, what do we need to do? Consider what you would do before backpacking into the Yosemite wilderness. Well before heading out, you would make sure you were in good enough shape to make the trip, from feet to head. Then you would collect maps and guides and study your route, to understand what you might face. Finally, you would pack for the trip, taking everything you need, but leaving behind anything else.

We, as Christians must do the same this Advent:
  • Get your prayer life in shape. If you have a set prayer discipline, keep to it. If you do not, consider the Daily Office, or the Rosary, or some other systematic approach. It does not have to be long or complex, but it does need to be regular. It's a matter of basic spiritual fitness.
  • Study God's Word prayerfully, especially the lectionary selections for this season -- they were chosen for a reason. Consider lectio divina as a habit worth establishing.
  • Examine your life -- take a little quiet time and open up you life like a backpack, and rummage around to see what you are carrying along that you don't really need. This can range from formal spiritual direction, or a retreat, or simply looking at some of the junk accumulating around your house, and finding something you can live without. Simplify a bit.
Preparation is the theme for this season of Advent, and we will continue to see what we must prepare for as we move through these December weeks.