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Archive for January, 2011

There is great mystery in the Christian life. Our story is older than the ages and, at least to me, it doesn’t quite make sense most of the time. That our Lord would need to send his son, the innocent, perfect light of the world, to be the sacrifice for all of humanity…that humans would then rail against our creator, against the light, choosing darkness more often than the peace of God.

And yet, I believe it wholeheartedly. I believe that God revealed himself as a man. I believe that Jesus was perfect, that he followed God’s will in order to conquer death and sin. And I believe that all this occurred so that we don’t have to live in fear of death. We are free.

The lectionary reading from January 2 was John 1:1-18. Here it is in Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Version:

1. When time began, the Idea already was. The Idea was at home with God, and the Idea and God were one. This same Idea was at home with God when time began. Through him the universe was made, and apart from him not one thing came to be. In him was life, and the life was humanity’s light. And the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness never quenched it.

6. A man arose—sent from God—whose name was John. This man came forward as a witness, to testify for the light, so that people might be convinced by him. He wasn’t the light himself, but a witness for the light The true light, which enlightens every man, was entering the world. In the world he was, and the world was made by him, and the world ignored him. He came into the things he had made, and the people whom he loved turned their backs on him. However, to those who did let him in—who lived up to his name—he gave the right to be God’s children. Such children were not fathered by bloody sacrifices, nor by a moment of lust, nor within wedlock, but by God himself.

14. Well, the Idea became a man and moved in with us. We looked him in the face—the face of an only son whose father is full of kindness and integrity.

15. As John preached, he had this to say about him: “This is who I meant when I said, ‘The one coming behind me has gotten ahead of me, because he was here before I was.’”

16. All of us got one favor after another from his overflowing abundance. Moses gave us rules; Jesus the Leader gave us kindness and integrity.

18. While no one has ever actually seen God, the only One—the Father’s dearest One—has revealed him.

It was my turn to give the sermon during Koinonia’s gathered worship that Sunday evening. All week I had been humming a mewithout You tune called The King Beetle on the Coconut Estate. The song is allegorical, using dung beetles trying to comprehend a burning pile of brush as a metaphor for what it should be like for us to meet our creator. As I pondered the scripture, meditating on the light that cannot be overcome, the final chorus echoed in my mind: “Why not be utterly changed into fire?”

In other words, why not go to God with complete abandon, utterly surrendering to his love and mercy, which will consume us entirely if we let it? I got to thinking about this theme again last week when one of my favorite bloggers, Jamie the Very Worst Missionary, shared a post called Fire Bones. She explained that a friend of hers described his passion for God as though he had fire in his bones. And Jamie opened her heart to her readers, telling how she feared that her own fire had dwindled to just a few embers.

I understood what she was getting at…the fear that the fire might die out. But I also wondered what was wrong with embers. I live in a house that has only a woodstove for heat. If we stoke the fire before we go to bed, in the morning there is still a bit of warmth radiating from the small black box in the living room. And beneath the layers of ash, there are always red hot coals, smoldering away and ready to be fodder for the flames that will soon be growing around new logs. A few small embers may not seem like much. But they can soon become a raging inferno if properly tended.

When I looked up the King Beetle song, I discovered alongside of it the following story from the desert mystics:

Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: “Father, to the limit of my ability, I keep my little rule, my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and to the limit of my ability, I work to cleanse my heart of thoughts; what more should I do?” The elder rose up in reply, and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: “Why not be utterly changed into fire?”

—Saying of the Desert Fathers

Abbot Lot is living “to the limit of his ability.” In other words, he is trying to please God with his actions, trying to find the fire in his bones when all he allows are embers. God is pleased when we follow his instructions, when we make the effort to know him better through discipline and obedience. In other words, embers are good and necessary. But they’re not enough.

To know God, we must relinquish everything. To truly know Christ, to experience his love for us, we must let go of it all…our fears and limitations, but also our discipline and obedience. Our depression and loneliness, but also our jubilations and our most dearly-held relationships. Our fear of the unknown, but also everything we think we know for certain.

We must burn up in the fire of his love for us, allowing him to consume us when he is ready to do so.

So often we think that our good will, or our good fortune, our relationships and our affirmations are going to be enough to see us through this life. But we must be willing to look the Idea in the face; and when Christ appears among us we must be ready to recognize him. And when we welcome our servant king, we will be blessed with his all-consuming kindness, integrity, compassion and love. Then our embers will grow into flames once again, and others will experience the warmth of God’s love simply by being in our presence.

“And the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness never quenched it.” (v.5)

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Been reflecting on the direction of my life, as one does at the dawning of a new year.

I am so so so glad that 2010 is over. It was a year of getting knocked down, getting up, falling down, getting up, wondering how I wound up back down again…in the end I can say it was worth it, and I could keep it up if I had to, but I don’t want to ever do that again.

Part of me says that each day is no more significant than any other day. But that is the realist, humanist, skeptic part of me. In actuality, I have discovered over the course of the past year that I’m somewhat of a mystic, and that rituals, traditions, signs and symbols continue to hold meaning for me even as I experience them through this new filter of Christian faith.

And I’m living more in unknown territory than well-worn terrain. We gave Ida and Kellan The Chronicles of Narnia for Christmas, and we read a chapter or two at bedtime every night. Brendan and I enjoy this at least as much, if not more, than they do. I feel rather like Digory and Polly, like the Cabby and his wife, who so wholeheartedly accept their circumstances and just go with it when they realize they are witnessing the creation of a whole new world.

But some days I’m more like Uncle Andrew, who misses out on the magic and wonder simply because he does not want to believe it could be happening. I find myself planted knee-deep in the mud, surrounded by terrifying creatures and wondering how I got there.

I’m learning to linger in between questions and answers. Finding that answers like to move around and change form, and then different questions need to be asked, or maybe the same ones asked and different answers will be told. Realizing that difficult does not mean impossible. Shocked by how easily I can become distracted from God’s will.

In these early days, it seems 2011 could be a year of paradox. Everything must change; yet everything is as it should be. I will continue to fall, but only to the glory of God. I find this thought comforting, yet it is still a battle not to yield to the part of me that simply wants to retreat from the inner struggle.

The last time I felt this certain and steady even while being knocked on my ass was the year that Brendan and I were married, seven years ago in April. They say that every seven years every cell in your body has regenerated and you’ve literally, physically become a whole new person. I know I am the same person in those wedding pictures, radiant and happy. But everything is different now. Except when nothing’s changed…

At our wedding, our friend Michael McIntire sang the song All the World is Green by Tom Waits. Here’s an excerpt of the lyrics that pretty much sums up last year’s struggles and my hopes for the year to come.

The face forgives the mirror
The worm forgives the plow
The questions begs the answer
Can you forgive me somehow
Maybe when our story’s over
We’ll go where it’s always spring
The band is playing our song again
And all the world is green
Pretend that you owe me nothing
And all the world is green

And the song itself:

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