Advent Reflection for Tuesday December 21 by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

I offered this as a reflection on Tuesday’s readings at Evening Prayer on Tuesday night. I think that I veered off course from this and I am not sure that this- or my reflection, really landed. But here it is nonetheless! Enjoy these last days of Advent!

Here we are, days before Christmas, with our waiting, which at this point may be bordering on full-on impatience. Enough with the staying awake and the Advent music.

Here we are – Advent people but we potentially find ourselves anxious for Christmas with its meager manger and virgin birth dancing like spiritual sugarplums in our heads.

Then we hear this:
Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.

What could the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus possibly have to do with the seemingly suggestive sentiments expressed in the reading? After all – we are about to celebrate the birth of our savior! Exploration of the story of passionate lovers might appear misplaced at best – or at worst, unseemly. So we might just push it away as part of some Biblical mystery that does not require our full attention.

But what might we miss if we uncomfortably brush past the Songs reading without considering its very important relationship to the birth of Jesus? That reading is here for a reason and perhaps we can explore what that reason might be.

Songs is an interesting piece of Scripture and one that does deserve our attention … perhaps particularly so as we await the birth of Christ.

Did you know that Songs does not mention God directly? Nowhere in the book’s eight chapters is God ever mentioned. St. Thomas Aquinas, that learned doctor of the church wrote about Songs in a commentary that is no longer extant. We don’t know exactly what he wrote about, but we are told that at the end of his life he said that in the light of Songs, everything else was “all straw.”

The other thing that makes Song of Songs intriguing both in the context of the calendar and in general, is that it offers us a rare unmediated female voice in scripture. Is rare even the right word or is it something else perhaps?

To understand this with regard to the season we might also consider the Gospel for today. Songs was the first reading for today and the Gospel that followed was from Luke – the Visitation.

This is the familiar story of Mary, making haste over the hills, to go to her cousin Elizabeth. We have some striking reminders to connect these two stories… The images of someone coming across the mountains and hills with purpose and intent… The power of love and the need to be with the other… There is the very physicality of conception, regardless of how it happened – the result of lovers meeting. We have this sense of urgency on the part of the lover and the beloved. What is life without passion, purpose, urgency, connection? Without love? Lovers of all sorts must meet.

As a result, we might not want to leave out that the recognition of God as lover is essential to both stories. God as lover is pretty much essential to all of the stories if we are really paying attention and willing to sit with the discomfort that thought might bring.

In any event, just as the woman in Songs knows her lover is there, a similar situation unfolds in the Gospel. Through the infant John within her, Elizabeth is cognizant of just who is before her – not simply Mary but more importantly, the blessed fruit of her womb. Clear recognition and proclamation of what is happening and who is coming is present in both works.

What is really remarkable in both pieces of Scripture is that voice of Songs, the elements of Elizabeth and Mary… it all comes through women!

Now I don’t want to go down some path in which women are the focus alone… That is not the point. However, it is worth noting and I do want to make clear that we should always expect the unexpected, the unlikely where Jesus is concerned. The incarnation event turns everything on its head and then some.

And is that not the point of Light coming to us in the birth of Jesus? To show us that everything can be made new and different and in ways that only our faith will allow us to imagine? That new things are being born all the time, if we cooperate and then wait with expectation and hope and then ultimately allow them to be born?

The Light comes in ways that we can rarely imagine, don’t really want to wait for, let alone welcome. However, wait we must, and then welcome we must – with the ardency of one who knows that their lover is about to arrive, springing across the hills. How can we be unmoved by love – love from our lover, love from new life?

How can our faith bring us into the places that might make us uncomfortable – like waiting? Like believing? Like sexuality? Like real love and intimacy? Like the discomfort of being present and aware of each moment of our lives? Such is the discomfort of the things that might bring us joy and redemption. Such is the savior waiting to be born.

And how can our faith remind us of the need to wait until the time is right and then to act with urgency when called to do so? No – I don’t mean responding to your boss texting you with a work emergency, but rather the urgency of the present moment and whatever is waiting to be born in that moment. What I am talking about is responding, based in active waiting – not being reactive.

It means responding to the lover who comes bounding across the mountains for us all.

Jesus – our savior.

Perhaps that is the final and most essential message of all of this – the very mutuality with which this all happens… From the mutuality of lovers, from the mutuality of cousins, from the mutuality of a God who comes to us a human.

That mutuality calls us into relationship – a challenging, potentially uncomfortable intimate relationship with not only God but with one another. Isn’t that relationship what all of this is about?

Hark – our lover comes, our savior comes! Are we ready?

What Do These Videos Have in Common? An Advent Rant of Sorts.

Typically I am busy writing about all things spiritual, especially at this time of year. However, due to over-busy-ness, not feeling well and assorted other things, I am just not posting as much. It is hard to step back but I am learning something about my limits. This is a good thing, but a challenge.

Today I found these two videos. Well, I watched one of them the other day. At first glance, they do not seem related at all. One is haunting and the other is funny. However, I think that both are actually haunting in the end.

The first video is from Bjork and called Prayer of the Heart.

I found it on the Facebook page of Janine Economides, who blogs at Daily Exegesis. Janine says that this is in Greek, Coptic and English. I could work out the Greek and of course the English, glad to know about the Coptic. I am reminded of the unity in diversity that is at the heart of the Trinity.

Somehow, for me today, crying out “O Adonai!” and crying out “God have mercy” are the sounds of my longing. The light is coming as we end this 3rd week of Advent and head into the final week. Come Lord Jesus, please and have mercy upon me.

This other video switches gears – a pretty Jesus-y thing if you ask me. It was on Facebook and elsewhere last week.  Lindy on Facebook and Brother Dan at Dating God, among others, posted it. Jesus was always turning things on their end and using what he had at hand to do so. It is from Stephen Colbert and I have to tell you, initially the title of it had turned me off a bit. This is why being judgmental is a problem – what might we keep out?

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog March to Keep Fear Alive

You see, I really truly find it loathsome when Jesus is identified with any political party. Momentarily I forgot the irony factor, I guess and did not watch the video. Well that and I was busy. In any case, Colbert is not saying that Jesus is truly a liberal Dem, but he says some really important things. These things are also a prayer of the heart.

Stephen Colbert appears to know more theology than most people. He, ever in the role of court jester,  sharing challenging truth through humor, says so many things in this piece. I think he makes his point well.

Of course it feels good to people both on the left and on the right to claim Jesus for their camp. However, even just a little analysis shows the flaws in that; Jesus was not here to mediate politics but rather to redeem humanity. Which he did, politics aside. He catered not to the Romans or to the established religious hierarchy of his time.

That said, Jesus was very clear about the essence of unqualified and unconditional love and charity and that does sort of trump all other matters. And it would make him more like a Democ… well, you know.

I read a quote the other day, from John Kenneth Galbraith, who said, “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” 

Isn’t that what we all try to do? Get busy on the proof?

However, what are we called to do is change. Whoever we are, whatever our stand. Christianity, change, transformation. What proof?

The act of change in and of itself is the proof. That might be why so few of us are capable of it. I know I have a record of epic (to use a word my stepdaughter coined) fail-ization.

That is the prayer of the heart, to cry out to God for mercy. That is the point of giving without limit. To change.

It is that simple.

Change. Transformation. Hope.

Be born in us this coming season. Please. Again and again and again.

Third Sunday of Advent – The Desert Blooms and We Meet Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent and we light the pink or rose candle, marking Gaudete Sunday. This is a day of rejoicing!  It is also the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. What do the story of blooming in the desert and Our Lady of Guadalupe have to do with one another? Well, in another scriptural theme for this week – be patient!

In our first reading, from Isaiah, we hear about how the desert will blossom and burst into life! New life will come springing forth, where no life could exist from all appearances. What a thought!

Here in the northeast, in upstate New York, although the soil can be sandy, we don’t live in a desert. The desert appears barren, sparse, devoid of life, but it is not. Today I found this article about the desert in Qatar that says:

For a short period in the winter, rain brings the Qatar desert to life. After one of these rains, France Gillespie, author of Discovering Qatar, takes a walk in the desert to explore the plants and animals that inhabit this normally barren place.

It’s amazing, the difference a drop of rain can make. Almost overnight, it seems, the desert springs to life.  Millions of seeds have been lying dormant, waiting to be triggered into action, and the plants that soldier on all the year round: the gnarled, camel-chewed bushes of Desert Thorn [Lycium shawii] and the dusty, Zygophyllum qatarensis, with its salty-tasting fleshy lobes, found all over Qatar, have suddenly sprouted new growth.

It is amazing – right out of the parched sand, comes such vibrant growth!  That is exactly what Isaiah was talking about – literally. More than literally however, we are given a glimpse of God’s promise for us, truly life where there was just a barren desert. What hope we have, what joy.

So now you may be wondering, what all this has to do with either the Gospel from today or where Our Lady of Guadalupe comes in…  As St. James told us in that second reading, be patient!

In today’s Gospel, we hear once again about John as the prophet, the precursor to Jesus. Who announces the Lord is important too.

In 1531, Juan Diego was a humble man, minding his own business when he encountered such an “announcement.” He heard birds singing, he heard his name called out. Who was looking for him? It was Our Lady of Guadalupe, but he did not quiet know or understand just who that was yet! Out of the ordinary landscape bloomed a beautiful woman, with an important message. This message, like a bloom in the desert, would stand out and change everything.

What was once barren, would bring forth life. You see, the local people, by and large, did not have much of an interest in converting to the Catholic religion. And who could blame them? The messages coming to them were not compelling them and you have to wonder just how they were treated by their colonial masters.

However, that was about to change.

Well the rest of the story gets us to the point where flowers bloom on top of Tepeyac hill, in December. These bright and fragrant roses grew where no growth was. Juan Diego, following Our Lady’s instructions, took them to the Bishop. Of course, the roses were placed and wrapped in Juan’s simple tilma and it was the opening of the tilma that revealed the image that is with us to this day. This changed many things – including how the indigenous people came to see the Catholic church.

Our Lady of Guadalupe was announcing the coming of the Lord into the hearts of many, not unlike John the Baptist did so many years before.

The dew, the rain in our own lives is grace and what might spring forth is as rich as the bloom in the desert. God brings us this new life and we round this joyful corner that the Third Sunday of Advent marks.


Advent Reflection for Tuesday December 7

“I will glory not because I am righteous but because I am redeemed; I will glory not because I am free from sins but because my sins are forgiven me. I will not glory because I have done good nor because someone has done good to me but because Christ is my advocate with the Father and because the blood of Christ has been shed for me.” St. Ambrose

Advent Reflection for December 7, Memorial of St. Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church

Today is the memorial for St. Ambrose, a bishop and doctor of the Church.  You can read more about him at that link, but one of the things that Ambrose is most known for is his participation in the conversion of St. Augustine.

Indulge me if you will and think about the conversion of St. Augustine for a moment and look at today’s Gospel from Matthew. It struck me as I was wondering and praying about what I might possibly write about today, that the story of the shepherd seeking out that lost sheep is very much the story of St. Ambrose. And potentially the story of all of us. We are at different times the shepherd and the sheep. Jesus is the one who never changes and is never lost.

It is very easy to get into the trap of how we can make ourselves more holy, how we can do all that we need to do in order to get ourselves back into the sheepfold, how to get saved. It is not that we have nothing to do with this – but it is not about us, is it?

Does the lost sheep say, “Wow, where is my GPS when I need it? I am totally lost!” No, the sheep is lost and it is the shepherd who comes to do the heavy lifting. We are lost and it is Jesus who comes seeking us. Our work in the equation – we are invited to respond.

Like the sheep, we could go on grazing and looking away. Like St. Augustine, when he was a wild man did! However, the shepherd came in the form of St. Ambrose, who was preaching and one day, Augustine must have finally turned his attention to this call.

A lost sheep was on its way to being found.

So it is with us. We can choose to respond or not, that is up to us. If we are lost however, Jesus our Shepherd keeps seeking us. It is not a matter of us praying our way in and making ourselves holy – that is the work of the narcissistic, thinking that we ourselves have done it all. This happens all the time and with the best of intentions. I could fill pages with my own (gulp) shameful examples.  Can’t we all?

If we reflect upon today’s Gospel and we consider St. Ambrose and his words that opened this post, we might be called to remember who is lost and who does the finding.

Second Sunday of Advent – Imagine the Unimaginable

Today I am thinking and praying about that second reading from St. Paul, to the Romans. It is really radical in its message – it must have been heard with shocked eyes and ears then, by both Gentile and Jew! If you think about it, that is how it might be heard now also, substituting profane and holy for Gentile and Jew.

It is pretty clear that there are no special rights – salvation is for all. Imagine this – then and now. At that time, for the Jewish people to accept that Gentiles, Greeks or others might be the same in God’s eyes, would be paramount to complete heresy. However, Jesus said it and Paul clarifies it. We are not so crazy about this either, are we?

Think about who you might leave out. I don’t know about you, but I would be lying to admit that I have not thought about who I would rather not be in Kingdom with.

Now I said that first because I think it matters against the backdrop of the first reading, from Isaiah, which points to a vision of justice and harmony, which is what Paul is talking about too. If you are not sure about that, think about a lion laying down with a lamb and that should clarify what we are called to imagine.

Imagine the unimaginable… that is the invitation of Advent, that is always the invitation of Christ.

How does our Gospel from Matthew for 2nd Advent work into this? Well picture John the Baptist. He does not fit in with the status quo, that’s for sure. I always think that a good way to imagine John is to think of someone on the NYC subway or something, someone who is rank from not bathing, has crazed hair and most likely a crazed look on their face. Add to that someone saying really challenging things.

John’s appearance in the Gospel ties back to the Isaiah reading in that he is announcing this place where the lion will lie down with the lamb, a place that Paul speaks to in different terms, terms that John would not yet understand.

The call is for everyone to reform, to change – from Pharisee to average citizen. The call is saying that everyone can change – from Pharisee to average citizen.

That too was a radical message and it remains so. We are all baptized priest, prophet and king, but most of us – I know I am – are tepid at best about actually living that call.

Advent is part of God’s persistent invitation to break free and to change. With God’s help – and with one another – we might actually be able to do so.

And The Walls Came Down – An Advent Reflection for Thursday December 2, 2010

A brief reflection on today’s readings.

There were no submissions for today and I was not going to post, but then I heard the news about places in Pompeii that are collapsing. We tend to think of ancient Roman culture in the most vaunted terms – and often for good reason. However, if we contrast the foundation of ancient Rome and the foundation of Christ, there is much to consider.

The first reading from Isaiah points us to the strong city of the Lord. It is very clear – only the foundation of God is sound forever.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus reminds us that only a house build on a firm foundation of rock will last. Our choice is not about our literal home but rather our spiritual home – do we build on God, our rock or do we build on our own and far more shaky foundation? Perhaps we impose our point of view onto something and make it into God’s via rationalization.

It doesn’t matter, if it is not going to last, it is not going to last.

Build soundly, build wisely. Build upon the Lord, for whom we wait with hope this Advent.