The Way of Love at Christmas Time

In the Bible, First Corinthians Chapter Thirteen is often referred to the “Love Chapter.” You may have heard it read at weddings and other special occasions.  Here’s my “rewrite rendition” for Christmas 2016.

If I decorate my house perfectly with beautiful Christmas decorations, and find the perfect tree, and fill it with strands of twinkling lights and shiny, expensive ornaments, but do not show love to my family and friends, I’m just another home decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals, and setting a beautiful table, but do not have love in my heart for those with whom I will share the meal, I’m just another cook.

If I hand-tie a comfy fleece blanket for a child who lives in a shelter, and if I sing Christmas carols at a local nursing home, and give money to the bell-ringer for Salvation Army, but do not have love in my heart, it profits me nothing.

If I put up the nativity set, and set up a dazzling display of outdoor Christmas lights, and sing cantatas in the church choir, and visit the sick and shut-in, but do not give thanks to Jesus for coming to earth as my savior, I have missed the point of Christmas.

Love stops cooking to hug a child or spouse or friend in need.

Love sets aside decorating to listen to someone who is hurting or afraid.

Love is kind, even if stressed to the max.

Love doesn’t envy another home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens…and candles that don’t drip on the table cloth.

Love doesn’t get angry at long traffic lights at major intersections and with irritable shoppers in retail stores, or those who park their cars while taking up two spaces in the overcrowded parking lot.

Love doesn’t give presents only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can’t begin to reciprocate.

Love remembers those who lived and died in service to our country, and for all emergency personnel who work overtime during this holiday season to keep us safe.

Love reaches out to others who are hurting, and to those who are homeless, and to those who are grieving.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

China and glassware and ornaments will break, silverware and jewelry will tarnish, tools and golf clubs and fishing poles will rust, games and electronic toys and gifts will become outdated and discarded.

But the gift of Love will endure forever.

During this Christmas season, may we receive God’s Love anew. And then in turn, may we be generous in sharing that Love with others…especially those most in need of Love. Merry Christmas!

 

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The Dream of God

“In the beginning God….”. So begins the Bible.  

In Dr. Verna Dozier’s book, “The Dream of God,”she asks us to read and understand our biblical history and tradition in order to bring meaning to our lives today.
Verna says: “What we have in the Bible is the record of hundreds of years in which the two communities of faith [Hebrew and Christian] looked at the experiences of their lives and asked what these experiences meant.” p. 19

I believe we are called to do the same.  

Our world feels as if it is shifting and turning.  Many of us are trying to find an anchor…something to hold on to as the seas become more turbulent.  Some may want to bury their head in the sand and others may take up the sword of righteousness and start swinging it at their perceived enemies.

I am trying to listen.  I find myself turning, once again, to the Bible…not to find scripture passages to shore up my own theological beliefs, but to find what helped people of old to hear God’s voice in the midst of their circumstances.

And so I am drawn to the prophets.

Verna Dozier speaks of Amos.  “During a time of peace and prosperity for Israel, Amos was a country boy who came to the big city and was appalled by what he saw.  A part of the people of God lived in dire poverty while others luxuriated in shameless wealth.  A system of justice open to all had been perverted, while the rites of religion had become a mockery, an outward show of piety.”  P. 18, “Dream of God”

Verna goes on to say that in each age we the people need to hear the word of God for our times.  I pray that we will listen closely and respond faithfully.

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“Wait for it…Wait for it!”

Advent is a time of waiting…which is something I don’t do well.  I don’t want to wait for things…never have and maybe never will.  But this year it seems to be a theme…”wait for it…wait for it.”  I don’t know when this phrase became popular, but it has now become a part of my vocabulary and something I say to myself often.

I’ve been reading a book by Sue Monk Kidd called “When The Heart Waits.”  I’m trying to learn the lessons she shares in its pages.  The chapter I am on is “Crisis as Opportunity.”

“For the most part, we do one of two things in response to a crisis.  We say that its God’s will and force ourselves into an outwardly sweet acceptance, remaining unaffected at the deeper level of the spirit.  People who have a crisis in this manner are generally after comfort and peace of mind.

Or we reject the crisis, fighting and railing against it until we become cynical and defeated or suffer a loss of faith.  People who choose this way to have a crisis are after justice.

Yet there is a third way to have a crisis: the way of waiting.  That way means creating a painfully honest and contemplative relationship with one’s own depths, with God in the deep center of one’s soul.  People who choose this way aren’t so much after peace of mind or justice as wholeness and transformation.  They’re after soulmaking.”  p. 88

Soulmaking…that sounds like such a noble and otherworldly word.  What does it mean?  Mystics often use the term “soul work.”  It is defined many ways.  After looking at many definitions, I personally view soul work as a process of looking deep inside to find my true self…and to seek and find the God-image within that I  was created to share with the world.

Perhaps I will need four months or even four years of waiting to peel back the layers and to discover who I am in this time and place.

“Wait for it…wait for it” is a reminder to me to be patient with myself and with others as we move through the next four years.

For many, including me, I see those years as being a time of crisis for our country.

Instinctively, as described in the opening paragraphs, I want to find comfort and peace of mind.  But then I slip into seeking and perhaps even demanding justice.  But at this time of my life, God is calling me to is to go ever deeper into the process of soulmaking.

I am more familiar with the first two ways of dealing with a crisis.  Perhaps this third way will teach me things that up to this point in my life I have been unwilling to learn.  I guess I will just have to wait and see.

 

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The Bells of St. Mary’s

img_8141Yesterday I watched “The Bells of St. Mary’s” with Ingrid Bergman and Bing Crosby.  That movie takes me back to my grammar school days at St. Josephat’s.  Just like in the film, the nuns wore full habits and the pastors visited the school often to check up on us and see how we were doing.

Our pastor used to arrive without warning.  We would jump up from our desks and stand at attention until he told us to sit down.  Then he would quiz us on our Catholic faith and remind us to say our prayers.  As I recall, he didn’t sing like Bing Crosby but he would chant during the mass.  And the nuns always deferred to his authority.

The Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth were very strict.  Their first order of business was keeping us in line…literally.  Every time we entered or left the school, changed classrooms, or went to the “washroom” as they called it back then, it was always in a line!

We would usually line up by alphabet.  Since my last name started with “S” I was usually toward the back of the line.  But sometimes we lined up by height and I made out better that way as I was usually one of the shortest in the class.

But when lining up for church, my teacher would usually call me out and have me sit next to her or right in front of her.  You see, I always got in trouble for talking in church.  I don’t know what I was so chatty about because I was serious about my religion and a very devout communicant.  Maybe I was just easily distracted.

I chuckle now that as an Episcopal priest, I get paid to talk (preach) in church!  But back then, I certainly wasn’t rewarded for it.  In fact, I received a lot of check marks on my report card for that behavior.

Today  I give thanks for my Catholic schooling and especially for the spiritual foundation it gave me.  I feel especially blessed that I grew up in a world where God was just a prayer away.

At the end of the movie, “Bells of St. Mary’s,” Mother Superior is in the chapel and she is praying about her unexpected transfer from her beloved school.

Sister Mary Benedict asks God to help her accept her situation, and to remove all bitterness from her heart.  Now that is a prayer for the ages and one that will never go out of style.

I will make her prayer my prayer during this Second Week of Advent:

“Lord, help me accept my situation and remove all bitterness from my heart.  Amen.”

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