Archives for posts with tag: Advent

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When I think of ‘tearing open the heavens’ I imagine thick cloud cover roiling across the sky, hemming in creation, as lightning splits the frame. And then, rain. Rain and thunder that can move the Cascade ridges, slowly dulling their craggy facades; surely, that is a sign of God.

Clouds are amazing. They form soft veils or impenetrable walls, intimately hover over lakes in the morning, or scurry past the earth in another stratosphere unconcerned at what lies below. Clouds are another form of water. In the Puget Sound Watershed Basin, we are hemmed in by water on all sides. Even the summers, with fire seasons lapping at more days and weeks in the calendar, we are still surrounded by water of two kinds, fresh and salt. It is salt water that must become cloud and travel over the land before it falls back to the earth, desalinated, fresh. Yet it is also salt water that is closer to humans in chemical composition. Must we, too, become cloud? 

For some, clouds trigger claustrophobia–or, perhaps we should say, they loom with the threat of drowning. The hills, mountains and clouds can make a person feel contained, constricted, submerged. And yet, the water with its morphological powers can also feel like swaddling. There is such a fine line between feeling at one with, and feeling smothered.

. . .

Advent has begun, and we prepare our hearts for the coming birth of a servant, who is God. More than a servant, the Christ child is our very Font of Life. Jesus, as he tells the Samaritan woman, is Living Water. Jesus is the first human body to traverse the boundary of infinity and finitude. During his time on the earth, he enters water under the hand of John, and claims his flesh as nourishing bread. As followers, we are called to enter into, to partake of Christ in order to live–to drown ourselves in Christ and consume him. He is our sacrament.

On the first Sunday of Advent, we light the Hope candle. The times feel oddly apocalyptic, as they have before and will continue to feel until God comes. Hope can seem vain, or just out of reach. Like water, it seems to spill between our fingers when we grasp it. Last night, I lit the hope candle aware of how parched I feel. Is life on this earth still possible as earthquakes, fires and floods consume, and those in power deny life-giving channels to the margins? Yet, now is the time to enter Christ again, to partake in the life of the Triune God by remembering the first time Jesus came into this world, born of Mary, carried within her, sustained by water.

 

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect of the Day from the Common Lectionary reading, Episcopal Church.)

Old Testament: Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm: Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Gospel: Mark 13:24-37

 

Black Hole, Part 6

My first application deadline arrived. Clicking on the ‘Submit’ button last Monday was terrifying. In the naive optimism of a procrastinator, I thought I would have completed my essays weeks ago. Yet, even as I was sending them out in the final days for review to a few readers (arguably one of the most difficult steps), I got back the most wonderful thing: encouragement. Through the wrestling and questioning, the debilitating moments of panic, I can say, with God’s grace and more than a little help from friends, I have made it to here. The first one is done, now it’s time for the rest of them.

However, what I cannot think about is the life that is not (yet?) to be. The slightest whisper brings costly tears that I do not have time to let spill. I stopped going to acupuncture, stopped thinking about timing, stopped wondering. I certainly have not been watching what I’m eating, unless you count the cookies and sips of wine as they head towards my lips.

 

What does watching entail, anyway? I find it fascinating that we have these different words for taking in the world with our eyes: watch, see, look. They are active verbs even when noting a fairly passive scenario. To see something, like a rainbow, is to denote hiatus or pause long enough to observe an external phenomenon. Then there’s the dynamic of looking–the person does all the work in looking, scanning to see or recognize something on the other end of the gaze. To watch for indicates activity combined with waiting, expectancy. The latter two verbs require completion: looking towards, watching for, waiting… wondering…

The Advent narratives are filled with waiting and wondering. Luke’s gospel begins with a couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who waited for years and wondered if they would ever have a child, only to see the years pass by with no blessing while shame and disgrace piled high. Their barrenness parallels that of Israel, who for hundreds of years had waited for the Messiah and wondered if he would ever come. Then there’s Mary, Mother of God, who had to wait for her expectancy to show, and wonder if she would be accepted by Joseph and his family. In these stories, the characters only know to watch for something after a significant interruption, which brings in another sight word: appeared.

Divine messengers appeared to Zechariah in the temple, to Mary in her home, and to the shepherds in the field. These are fully God’s action upon humanity. Then suddenly there appeared… Had the characters prayed for such a shock? Had they been looking towards, watching for, God? How do we take this for ourselves? Once upon a time, God sent…but that was then, this is now. Yet now is the time when we talk about miracles, even in our post-Christian, consumer culture. What were Zechariah’s prayers in the weeks and months before the angel appeared? Did he continue to pray for a child?

I am wrestling with a question that emerges when we do believe in miracles. When we expect God to act, to interrupt because he has done it before, in the person of Jesus, born from Mary, and in our own lives, at some point. How do we expect? How do we watch and wait? How do we anticipate interruption? Jesus would close parables with, those who have eyes to see… Yet, what if we don’t know what we’re looking for? Our eyes take in a lot, especially this time of year. Further north, our eyes are adjusting to shorter days, which means, in part, the displays of Christmas lights are that much more brilliant. It’s easy to miss the smallness of our Savior, born in Bethlehem, even with all the illuminated replicas around town. The manger almost blends in with all the other lawn dioramas. So, how do we see something that is before us? How do we look for the God of the Impossible?

 

God’s timing is not our own (just ask the Israelites). But if we are to be people of Advent, we must anticipate interruption. We must want God to mess with us, really. We must long for the sake of longing, desire a deeper capacity for desire, and expect to be interrupted.

Do we have eyes to see God’s handiwork this Advent? Are we looking for grace and joy? Watching for love? I hope so.

Black Hole, part 5

The beginning of a new church calendar year. Advent. Jesus is coming…first in the form of an infant, fully dependent upon Mary and Joseph for everything. Hard to imagine Redeemer God as a newborn.

For the first Sunday of Advent, my husband and I attended the Episcopal church down the street from our place because it is beautiful, and an encounter with the theological Other (though, moreso for me). The incense is a bit much, but I appreciate how the gospel reading always takes place in the center of the congregation. I enjoy hearing the homily given by a young woman who sits five rows back. I delight in how the theology is sung throughout the service, even as I scramble to get to the right page before the verse ends. I am fascinated by the strangeness and wonder of it all…

Just before the Eucharist is served, all the kids who had been in their classrooms came clamoring upstairs to join their parents for the remainder of the service. While parents were often distracted by the wiggling bodies in the pews, and missed some of the genuflects and crossing of the hands, I was nonetheless a little envious as they brought their kids up to the altar to receive Christ in the bread and wine. Advent is my favorite season, yet in recent years it has taken on a dissonance as I wait and wonder if a child will ever come to my husband and I. Expectancy is not something I have embodied. Yet the church is called to anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ every week of every year. So, how can we learn from the mothers in our midst–especially when, socially, we don’t like talking about this sort of thing? Frankly, the last thing I personally would want to do right now is sit down with someone who has been pregnant and given birth, and hash out all the gory details. But what does it mean to be expectant for a period of time? To watch as change occurs. To wait for the fulness of time to arrive.

I will be honest, though, I don’t like the way people talk about their pregnancies. It seems that writers either remain clinical in their observations, so that you cannot tell if they are preparing for a knee joint replacement or an infant; or the platitudes spew forth so voluminously that you are left drowning in Hallmark sparkle. Perhaps the experience is so profound it defies language. (More likely: I just haven’t read the many accounts written by talented women because I haven’t searched that deeply.) Then again, how would a woman write about an experience that can only be shared by a portion of society; particularly when our social values see months of pregnancy as a health care liability?

I want to know what it’s like to be physically suspended in a state of expectation. In fact, I desperately long for this feeling. My sense is that the church today needs it, too. We need to be reminded this Advent of what it feels like to expect new life.

. . . . . .

Before we know him as teacher, Mary knew him as a child. Before we know him as healer, Mary knew him as needy. Before we exalt him as Savior, Mary knew him as flesh from her flesh. 

Christ has died,
Christ is risen,
Christ will come again.