Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Receiving Christmas

A simple "be it unto me" is not easy when God's will is not birth but death.

As I sang the carols at our Christmas Eve service last night, I realized Christmas is not something you can make. It has to be given to you. All my baking and cleaning and even self-reflection mean nothing unless I hear the Christmas tidings echoed back to me from the voice of another. What connects me to the nativity is the chain of people who followed the shepherds and magi to worship, allowing me to walk the advent path and follow their footsteps to the manger. I hear their whispers from the past, faint strains from their songs. I hear them now, clear voices in the candlelit church, coming to adore Him together. I see them now, across the dinner table, hands passing and giving and loving. They give the story to me, wrapping it in laughter and tears and layers of packing tape. I receive the holy child through the hands of his children, some hands young and smooth, others worn and weary.

I must open my hands, my heart, the womb of my soul. I must receive Christ Himself, whatever His coming may bring.

This Christmas, we who love each other most have a difficult gift to bear - that of caring for a dying father, husband, grandpa. We cannot make this Christmas anything else than what it is. We receive the day with its joy and sorrow. For Christ is born here too, into a dying man's fragile arms. We wrap him in blankets and place him in a homemade hospital bed, because we have made room for him here.

And somehow we manage to pray, "be it unto us," knowing that God's will always brings life, that the peace and gloria of the angels never grows dim even in our darkness. We have indeed seen a great light. We know peace in death, and that is not of our own making. Glory to God in the highest.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Elizabeth

She shares my middle name, but not much else. She was the daughter of priests and the wife of one. Most of her life's years were behind her, though she had no child to take care of her and her aging husband Zacharias. The first thing you know after being introduced to her is that she is righteous in the sight of God, a blameless keeper of all the commands and requirements of the Lord. So it wasn't her sin that kept her barren, though that's what most of the market women said. What a shock to have your husband come home from work unable to speak, and then a few weeks later to realize the impossible had happened - pregnancy! But Elizabeth did not question, as Zacharias had, paying for his doubt with silence. She did not laugh, as Sarah had, hiding behind the tent folds. She simply knew he had seen a vision there in the temple. Something, or someone, had appeared in the clouds of incense, and now there was life bulging within her. Of course she could not help but think of the women of the Torah and Writings, women whose empty disgrace had been removed by a miracle. But there were few miracles from God in these days. What could be the occasion of such favour? For five months she kept the secret in seclusion. They were quiet months, anticipating months.

And then in her sixth month, when she could no longer hide the life within, she had a visitor. She had sent word to one of her young relatives that she was pregnant. Mary had always held a special place in her heart. Elizabeth had invited Mary to visit her in her seclusion, but Mary was busy with preparations for life as a married woman. Elizabeth remembered well the days of her own betrothal, sewing for her dowry and dreaming of a home full of children. But then she received a troubled message from Mary, saying her betrothed was threatening to divorce her. Strange things were happening in the family...

When Mary visited as a child, she would always call out a greeting from the gate below the house. This time, when Mary called out, Elizabeth felt a great and sudden movement in her womb, as if the child were leaping up to open the door for Mary. Elizabeth felt the rush of a breeze sweep past her, almost through her when Mary entered. Suddenly she felt like shouting, like dancing for joy. She ran to Mary, grasping her hands and then her flat belly. The words spilled out of her mouth as quickly as her husband's had been sealed - "Blessed are you among women! And blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how is it that I am so blessed that the mother of my Lord would come to me?"

And with these words, it is Elizabeth who becomes the first prophet of the New Testament, years before her son would prepare the way. It is Elizabeth who is doubly favoured and doubly filled, first with a child in her barrenness and then with the Holy Spirit. In her the first stirrings and kickings of prophecy are felt in Israel, after hundreds of years without the Word of the Lord. She is the first to confess Jesus as Lord, the first to recognize the divine Word in the fleshy womb of Mary. In the flurry of prophetic activity surrounding Jesus' birth, Elizabeth is singled out, not only as the mother of John the Baptist, but as a prophet in her own right.

Elizabeth. With faith and joy you accepted the work of God in your own life, and were the first to recognize it in others. There are days when my doubt silences me. When I am mute to the call of God at my own gate. I feel my own barrenness, but I fear it is of sin.

Holy Spirit, awaken my heart to the wonders of God's birth among us. May I be as quick to rejoice at the coming of my Lord.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

intercessions - december 14

God,
I pray, not for, but against. I pray against the enemies of our souls who would destroy the life of the young. I pray against loneliness and despair. I pray against the evil which sets itself as a rival to your love. I pray your love would charge in with banners blazing, would show itself victorious, would show itself to those in doubt and darkness. Be quick to save, God of hosts.
Amen.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

intercessions - december 11

God of comfort,
Be near to all those who are sick and dying. Only You can truly comfort those who are facing death, but thank you for letting us participate in your comforting presence. Surround the frail ones with your peace and ease their loneliness. Bring human hands close by to touch and tend to them. Make the arms of the caregivers strong, but do not let their hearts grow hard in the sight of another's pain. Assure them all of your love which is stronger than death, and steady them in the many rushing waters of uncertain days. We look to the restoration of all things in Christ, in Your time.
Amen.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

prophets of Christmas

When you think of prophets at Christmastime, you likely remember those Old Testament sages, like Isaiah and Malachi, who foretold the birth of Christ hundreds of years before the angel's appearance to Mary. The prophecies are true! It is a miracle, we say, and rightly so. But the birth story has its own prophets, people who recognize and bear and declare the Word of the Lord to others. They are miraculous in their time, for they are women. Before John the Baptist prepares the way in the wilderness, his mother Elizabeth is the first to call Jesus Lord. Before the shepherds run to spread the good news in the towns, Mary gives a magnificent oracle of prophetic praise. Before Jesus preaches in Jerusalem, the old prophetess Anna tells all who are looking for Jerusalem's redemption that the Redeemer is here.

Luke gives us the names and stories of these unlikely prophets in his gospel. They are among the first to participate in the Spirit's work surrounding Christ. They are among the first to tell us who this Child is, and why He has come. They speak into the future, to all who open their hearts to the advent of Christ saying "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word."

In the days leading up to Christmas, I plan to post glimpses of each of their stories. In all the noise and busyness of our Decembers, may we hear and receive again God's word to us in Christ.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

intercessions

May the God who never sleeps make your sleep sweet tonight, whenever you get there. May He yet provide a pillow and send His angels as your covering. May He watch over your weary body and call your dust to life when the day dawns. 

Thursday, 6 December 2007

intercessions

My friend Travis suggested I write out my "intercessions." I'm not very good at them. But maybe this will help me pray.

God of travellers,

I'm in Union Station today, and there are so many people. I don't know how to pray for them all. I pray they will get where they're going safely and that they will find home or hospitality at their journey's end. I pray your grace will sit beside them on the train, and that they will be able to see you. I pray they will hear a whisper of your voice amidst the noisy gongs and clanging cymbols. Help me to love the ones I rub shoulders with, espeically the pushy impatient ones and the ones who talk too loudly on their cell phones beside me. To my friends on the GO train, let me be an aroma, like the smell of Cinnabon in the concourse, the sweet smell of bread and love. Keep us all safe and bring us home to you.

Amen.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

putting the bulbs to bed

Having a garden helps me understand God. This morning I planted bulbs. It was four degrees when I went outside, but the sun was shining and stirring up the sweet aroma of resting dirt and rotting leaves. I had on my long-johns and puffy plaid jacket. I felt my way through the squiggly worms and small stones of the little plot under the walnut tree, digging down deep enough to put the daffodil bulbs to bed. How odd to be planting when all else is dying. What a ridiculous sort of hope it seems. I sang them a lullaby, praying all would be well, that the squirrells wouldn't get in and gobble them up. It's somehow easier to pray with dirt under my fingernails. I pray not only for the daffodils, but for my own heart. I know it's full of rocks and weeds and ravens. There are days I'm sure it's frozen over, days when all seems dead. But by a miracle, God has made death his speciality. So I pray that God will feel like gardening this morning too, that his little spade is sharp, that he's saved a handful of crocuses for me.

Monday, 12 November 2007

calling out your name

Call me Abraham. A crazy old geezer who picked up and went after some mysterious God of the wilderness. Ok, maybe not the old or the geezer part, but definitely the crazy. I'm drawn into his story, as if my star fell out of the sky and landed on the path out of Ur. I'm tagging along, one of the servants carrying the camel-hair blankets or something. I try and listen in on his whispered dealings with the smoking firepot, and I can see the blazing torch hovering in the night. We're strangers and aliens, following the path between the cut up pieces of meat. It's a strange path of sacrifice and having angels to high tea. It's fearful and wonderful, and yes, crazy.

I don't know how to get where I'm going, but I've seen it before. I can't remember if it was in a dream, or when I was a little girl in Saskatchewan roaming the plains. It's a hill, a moment of reaching its crest, the thrill of the wind behind me and the sudden opening of the sky above. The grass is long and rustling in the wind, and I think there's a big rock, the kind you can sit on and pray. Maybe there are stars, billions of them, or it could just be a storm brewing. I've got that feeling that something is about to happen and yet I've never been more at rest. This is home. I know I'll recognize it when I see it.

Is it a place of earth or is it on the other side of the door? I think Abraham probably asked the same question.



Rich Mullins wrote a song about the way I feel when I get that longing in my stomach. Here's the last verse to "Calling Out Your Name"

From the place where morning gathers
You can look sometimes forever 'til you see
What time may never know
What time may never know
How the Lord takes by its corners this old world
And shakes us forward and shakes us free
To run wild with the hope
To run wild with the hope
The hope that this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song not sung in vain
And I feel the thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And I hear the prairies calling out Your name
And I know this thirst will not last long
That it will soon drown in the song not sung in vain
I feel the thunder in the sky
I see the sky about to rain
And with the prairies I am calling out Your name

a certain November day

There was a certain comfort in the rainy November Monday. It was a sharing of sympathies. She let herself dissolve in its greyness.

Later on, at home, she would wrap the evening around her like a blanket, a muffled coziness. The cat liked rainy days too. Patch ceased her prowling and pouncing and settled herself into a rounded tabby cushion on the couch. Between the warmth of the cat and cup of hot Milo she was insulated against the demands of life.

But, this was still a dream as long as she had to tread the weary ruts of public transit. City buses, trains, subway, queueing in the rain juggling umbrella and backpack and tickets and a late supper from Union Station. All the cars were crowded and damp, but at least they were quiet.

She was taking up two seats, watching the misery of the expressway in the downpour. She was damp and dressed to the nines. The academic nines anyway. It had been a day of presentations and she had buttoned herself into the role of lecturer and expert, though she was not above shameless bribes of donuts for the class. The presentation went well, everybody clapped, the professor commented on "exceeding expectations," and she had made a joke or two. But now she let herself unravel beneath her tailored tweed vest, allowing it to keep the shape of her studies while her mind wandered.

The commuter bus home was a non-place. She never felt quite herself. She could be anyone, going anywhere, and this thought unsettled her. It was easy to slip into unformed identity. Yet in some ways it was the best representation of the way things were. She was inhabitant of many worlds, circling circles, always moving and becoming the ideal citizen in each. She was rather good at it in fact. She slipped from one circle to the next, changing clothes and vocabulary and priorities. She got on and off the train at will, sometimes by sheer will alone, forcing herself to let go of certain worldly pleasures to pursue perfection in all.

Tonight the bus was wearisome. She wasn't sure how much longer she wanted to commute, to change worlds. Which world was hers? Where was the windswept crest of the hill, the rock under the stars that told her she was home?

time suspended

The leaves blew backwards in furious circles of suspended time. We walked in their midst, enclosed by the wind in a night created just for us. The moonlight was piercing, the pavement wet and the stars cold. Who could say why things had gone the way they did – by all accounts wrong. Afterwards, lying in the stillness, undisturbed by all the good people we knew, we had an idea. It was the darkness we needed to remind each other to hold hands, to bundle up against the ferocity of the unknown. The whole world had gone on as usual, and we had been left behind. I was glad. Glad for the wind and the broken glass and the gaping presence of things undecided. We were the only ones on the street in the eerie auburn light. Veined red and trampled brown spread out a swirling carpet just for us, then dusted our footprints away. Only the moon knew where we were, and we liked it that way.

Monday, 9 July 2007

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