The way to Christ is first through humility, second through humility, and third through humility. If humility does not precede and accompany and follow every good work we do, if it is not before us to focus on, it it is not beside us to lean upon, if it is not behind us to fence us in, pride will wrench from our hand any good deed we do at the very moment we do it.
voice of the day
As a conductor and musicians are part of one orchestra, as limbs and muscles, sinews and blood part of one body, help us to see that each of us is important to creation as a whole.
prayer of the day
God, thank you for giving each of us a role in the body of Christ and in creation as a whole. May our confidence in our vocation grow as we seek to bring your kingdom, your justice, and your redemption. Amen.
BuThe Gates of Hope — A Poem by Victoria Safford
Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope–
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
which creak on shrill and angry hinges
(people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through)
Nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of
“Everything is gonna’ be all right.”
But the different, sometimes lonely place,
the place of truth-telling,
about your own soul first of all and its condition.
the place of resistance and defiance,
the piece of ground from which you see the world
both as it is and as it could be
as it will be;
the place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
but the joy of struggle.
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
telling people what we are seeing
asking people what they see.
ilding Inner Bridges
Prayer is the bridge between our conscious and unconscious lives. Often there is a large abyss between our thoughts, words, and actions, and the many images that emerge in our daydreams and night dreams. To pray is to connect these two sides of our lives by going to the place where God dwells. Prayer is “soul work” because our souls are those sacred centers where all is one and where God is with us in the most intimate way.
Thus, we must pray without ceasing so that we can become truly whole and holy.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen
Christians are called to be different and should be recognized for being different. Once we acquiesce to societal norms and procedures, we have effectively lost our capacity to be salt of the earth and light of the world. We continue the weary, threadbare legacy of domesticating the message of Jesus.
Source: Catching Up With Jesus
Growing Beyond Self-Rejection
One of the greatest dangers in the spiritual life is self-rejection. When we say, “If people really knew me, they wouldn’t love me,” we choose the road toward darkness. Often we are made to believe that self-deprecation is a virtue, called humility. But humility is in reality the opposite of self-deprecation. It is the grateful recognition that we are precious in God’s eyes and that all we are is pure gift. To grow beyond self-rejection we must have the courage to listen to the voice calling us God’s beloved sons and daughters, and the determination always to live our lives according to this truth.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen
Life is With
THE TEMPTATION is always to reduce life to size. A bowl of cherries. A rat race. Amino acids. Even to call it a mystery smacks of reductionism. It is the mystery.
As far as anybody seems to know, the vast majority of things in the universe do not have whatever life is. Sticks, stones, stars, space — they simply are. A few things are and are somehow aware of it. They have broken through into Something, or Something has broken through into them. Even a jellyfish, a butternut squash. They’re in it with us. We’re all in it together, or it in us. Life is it. Life is with.
After lecturing learnedly on miracles, a great theologian was asked to give a specific example of one. “There is only one miracle,” he answered. “It is life.”
Have you wept at anything during the past year?
Has your heart beat faster at the sight of young beauty?
Have you thought seriously about the fact that someday you are going to die?
More often than not do you really listen when people are speaking to you instead of just waiting for your turn to speak?
Is there anybody you know in whose place, if one of you had to suffer great pain, you would volunteer yourself?
If your answer to all or most of these questions is No, the chances are that you’re dead.
Frederick Buechner – Originally published in Wishful Thinking
If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.
Vulnerable, Like a Bird
Life is precious. Not because it is unchangeable, like a diamond, but because it is vulnerable, like a little bird. To love life means to love its vulnerability, asking for care, attention, guidance, and support. Life and death are connected by vulnerability. The newborn child and the dying elder both remind us of the preciousness of our lives. Let’s not forget the preciousness and vulnerability of life during the times we are powerful, successful, and popular.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The earliest of the four Gospels makes no reference to the virgin birth, and neither does Paul, who wrote earlier still. On later evidence, however, many Christians have made it an article of faith that it was the Holy Spirit rather than Joseph who got Mary pregnant. If you believe God was somehow in Christ, it shouldn’t make much difference to you how he got there. If you don’t believe, it should make less difference still. In either case, life is complicated enough without confusing theology and gynecology.
In one sense anyway, the doctrine of the virgin birth is demonstrably true. Whereas the villains of history can always be seen as the products of heredity and environment, the saints always seem to arrive under their own steam. Evil evolves. Holiness happens.
- Frederick Buechner
Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words
On the Mystery of the Incarnation
It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
In and Through Jesus
The God who in and through Jesus reveals himself is human. And the human being who emerges in and through Jesus is divine. This is the specific characteristic of the Christian experience of God and human beings…. It was in a man that the primitive church discovered God; and it was in God that we came to know the true nature and destiny of human beings.
Source: Jesus Christ Liberator
Birth of the Child
In the letters of St. Paul, which are the earliest New Testament writings, there is no suggestion that the birth of Jesus was accompanied by any miracle, and in the Gospel of Mark, which is probably the earliest of the four, the birth plays no part. So a great many biblical scholars would agree with the skeptics that the great nativity stories of Luke and Matthew are simply the legendary accretions, the poetry, of a later generation, and that were we to have been present, we would have seen a birth no more or less marvelous than any other birth.
But if that is the case, what do we do with the legends of the wise men and the star, the shepherds and the angels and the great hymn of joy that the angels sang? Do we dismiss them as fairy tales, the subject for pageants to sentimentalize over once a year come Christmas, the lovely dream that never came true? Only if we are fools do we do that, although there are many in our age who have done it and there are moments of darkness when each one of us is tempted to do it. A lovely dream. That is all.
Who knows what the facts of Jesus’ birth actually were? As for myself, the longer I live, the more inclined I am to believe in miracle, the more I suspect that if we had been there at the birth, we might well have seen and heard things that would be hard to reconcile with modern science. But of course that is not the point, because the Gospel writers are not really interested primarily in the facts of the birth but in the significance, the meaning for them of that birth just as the people who love us are not really interested primarily in the facts of our births but in what it meant to them when we were born and how for them the world was never the same again, how their whole lives were charged with new significance. Whether there were ten million angels there or just the woman herself and her husband, when that child was born the whole course of history was changed. That is a fact as hard and blunt as any fact. Art, music, literature, our culture itself, our political institutions, our whole understanding of ourselves and our world—it is impossible to conceive of how differently world history would have developed if that child had not been born. And in terms of faith, much more must be said because for faith, the birth of the child into the darkness of the world made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living life.
- Originally published in The Hungering Dark
I behold a new and wondrous mercy. My ears resound to the shepherds’ song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The angels sing. The archangels blend their voice in harmony. The cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The seraphim exalt his glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised up.
St. John Chrysostom
Source: The Living Testament
Never Too Late
It is no use to say that we are born two thousand years too late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born too late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts. But now it is with the voice of our contemporaries that he speaks, with the eyes of store clerks, factory workers and children that he gazes; with the hands of office workers, slum dwellers and suburban housewives that he gives. It is with the feet of soldiers and tramps that he walks, and with the heart of anyone in need that he longs for shelter. And giving shelter or food to anyone who asks for it, or needs it, is giving it to Christ.
Source: The Catholic Worker (December 1945)
I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.
Taylor Caldwell, 20th century
If you are feeling alone or sad this Christmas season, come tonight (Monday Dec. 22) to our Silent Night Worship of Hope and Healing for the sad and grieving. The service begins at 7:30 pm.
There is a Light
There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. then suddenly the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.
Mothers of God
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?
Meister Eckhart, 14th century
“Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace.”
Edward Hays, A Pilgrim’s Almanac
Waiting is essential to the spiritual life. But waiting as a disciple of Jesus is not an empty waiting. It is a waiting with a promise in our hearts that makes already present what we are waiting for. We wait during Advent for the birth of Jesus. We wait after Easter for the coming of the Spirit, and after the ascension of Jesus we wait for his coming again in glory. We are always waiting, but it is a waiting in the conviction that we have already seen God’s footsteps.
Waiting for God is an active, alert – yes, joyful – waiting. As we wait we remember him for whom we are waiting, and as we remember him we create a community ready to welcome him when he comes.
- Henri J. M. Nouwen
The Poor House
Hope went by and Peace went by
And would not enter in;
Youth went by and Health went by
And Love that is their kin.
Those within the house shed tears
On their bitter bread;
Some were old and some were mad,
And some were sick a-bed.
Gray Death saw the wretched house
And even he passed by—
“They have never lived,” he said
“They can wait to die.”
Source: Rivers to the Sea
The Newborn Church
The newborn Church, as vulnerable as any human child, having neither money, influence nor power in the ordinary sense, is setting forth joyfully and courageously to win the world for God through Christ. The young Church, like all young creatures, is appealing in its simplicity and single-heartedness. Here we see the Church in its first youth, valiant and unspoiled—a body of ordinary men and women joined in an unconquerable fellowship never before seen on this earth. This surely is the Church as it was meant to be. It is vigorous and flexible, for these are the days before it ever became fat and short of breath through prosperity, or muscle-bound by over-organization…. But if they were uncomplicated and naïve by modern standards, we have ruefully to admit that they were open on the God-ward side in a way that is almost unknown today.
J. B. Phillips
Source: The Young Church in Action
voice of the day
Not everyone can wait: neither the sated nor the satisfied nor those without respect can wait. The only ones who can wait are people who carry restlessness around with them.
prayer of the day
God, we are restless for your justice, your presence, your shalom. We wait with great expectation for the coming of your son. Do not let us become satisfied with partial solutions, but rather let us continue to hope for a redeemed creation. Amen.
Important thought at the beginning of Advent as we wait for the Light of God to come. ~ Pastor Susan
The Country of Shadows
The country of shadows exists within every individual as well as within every community and every nation…. This dark power can and must be redeemed and changed into new creativity, lest mankind destroy itself in revolutions and wars. These dark powers turn out to be creative forces in disguise; they can be redeemed by endurance, understanding and love.
Source: Creation Continues
In the ideal
it is a harvesting,
this work we do—
a reaping of crops grown
from ancestral seeds,
a gathering of first fruit
from vines that trace their sources
beyond the bleach
and black of skin
and root themselves in watery grace,
in knowledge that nurtures us all.
In the ideal
our classrooms fill, like cornucopia,
overflowing with the bounty of our grange.
Life stories, heaped among the texts,
spill into hallways of our schools,
crowd the sidewalks or the subways
or ride yellow buses home,
altering the form of knowing,
Bettye T. Spinner
Source: Teaching With Fire edited by Intrator and Scribner