Incarnation – Human like us, God with us

Christmas is one week away. Earlier in Advent, I offered a reflection during Evening Prayer at my parish, but never posted the text. That said, I have been praying with it, and today I feel deeply struck by the notion that our God became human. Human in the form of an infant, born of a woman. This is something I have often pondered and prayed with, but for some reason, this year it is very powerful. With that, I will share what I spoke about to our group of “evening pray-ers” during that first week of Advent. I pray that whatever you await in the birth of Christ this year, your heart opens to it widely.

Roman sarcophagus, Vatican Museum, 3rd. century – The Magi with Mary and Jesus. The inscription says “Severa, you shall live in God.”
(Severa is apparently the one originally interred there.)

In 1960, John Howard Griffin undertook a journey as a white man in the American south, as both a journalist and as a person in search of the roots of racism in America.

With the support of his wife, he began a medical regime that included ultraviolet lamps and medication. One day Griffin looked in the mirror and saw the reflection of a black man. Shocked, but determined, he continued to press on.

Knowing that the only way to truly see what life was like for African Americans in the South, he literally begins to live as one. His experiences not only confirm his thoughts, but reveal a much more dire landscape of hatred, bigotry, and prejudice aimed at people of color.

Over time – a short period of time at that – he begins to feel a sense of defeat and depression. And his understanding of “the other” in the world is deepened. His desire to heal and reconcile the disparity between races, to restore dignity and unity to all humans drove him ever onward.

Eventually violent acts are made in response to his public experiment. Threats emerge against him and his family so the point that their safety is no longer assured. Things escalate, and in the end, he flees to Mexico with his family to escape the hatred aimed at him for revealing the ugly truth about race in America.

If this story sounds familiar to you it might be because you either read the book published in 1961, or saw the 1964 film, “Black Like Me.” I remember learning about it in school. (Also see: Black Like Me, 50 Years Later and Reading John Howard Griffin’s Challenging ‘Black Like Me.‘)

The author sought to enter a very different life than the one he knew, if for no other reason to enter the identity and suffering of another. He did not have to do this – he discerned and chose to do so. It is an interesting choice and one that brings to mind the season we now occupy – Advent.

There was no compelling imperative for God to take human form. Think about it, God is God and can do whatever God wishes. Not only did God not have to take human form, but God did not have to do so as a helpless newborn. Or even simply in the womb. Think about it – it is mind blowing.

Yet that is what we await in Advent, this God-with-us-Emmanuel.

What are we to make of this? How do we deepen our faith in this totally unprecedented (despite it occurring year after year) moment?

In the book, Griffin becomes the lowliest of people – using the deeply horrific standards of his – well, our’s actually, society and culture. Essentially, that is what God does, being born to Joseph and Mary. There are many lessons for us here.

The first seems to be that we are invited to literally slip into the skin of another, another who is in a lower station of life. God slips into humanity – base as it is, and becomes one with us. God understands our daily life, our joys and our sorrows, our losses and our triumphs, more than ever by being like one of us.  Just as Griffin did with Black Americans.

Perhaps the first lesson of this is to enter the lives of other in a way that allows God to transform us. The reading from the prophet Isaiah that we heard tonight reinforces this kind of change. It says, that they “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…: That is very powerful imagery – the tools of war literally reshaped into tools of peace and good.

For us this might be a reminder that even the toughest metal can be reshaped from being a weapon of destruction and death into tool of cultivating peace and life.

Can we beat the swords of our hearts into peace by simply taking on the life of another?

God sent us Jesus in human form to show us the way, to help us to be so open to the “other” that we can be the other. And it is only in that way that true mercy and love might grow.


Second, God wants us to stop walking around living in a state of perpetual judgement, a condition I sadly know too well, but to be people with hearts that can be open with compassion for others. Especially those least like us and who seem to be the furthest from our lives. Because is that not the role of incarnation? The Christ as human in the flesh?

If we can truly walk around as the other, we begin to experience such a different way of being, such a different life. God did not start out with our petty preferences and prejudices, but God seemingly related to us in a new way because of the birth of Christ. What might we learn from doing the same?

Third, it would seem to me that to be fully loved and transformed by God, we have to make ourselves really, really small. That may be the hardest part of all, accepting that we are completely vulnerable and as helpless as a baby. No gun, no sword, no color of our own skin can change that. What we can can is this – how we experience incarnation this Christmas. Can each of us depend on God as if we are an infant? And can others depend upon us, not as God, but as those ready to love and serve them?

To do so will be to further the Kingdom, the Kingdom reborn and reborn, this Christmas and always. We have this Advent season to pray with this, to surrender, and to act. May we all use our times wisely this year.

Waiting in hope

EDIT Meseta hopeBe full of hope today, be as full of hope as you possibly can be.  Times are tough, they are very hard everywhere for so many of us. Even in the times of greatest joy, things can be challenging and hope is the fuel that propels us onward.

Motivational sayings often steer us towards optimism – conflating or confusing it with hope. Hope is not the same as optimism, just as joy is not the same as happiness. Hope is the warmth of a flame that is in all of our hearts, sometimes a roaring fire, other times an ember that we fear may go cold.

Optimism is not a bad thing – it is necessary, but it should not be confused with, or worse yet, replace hope. Optimism is something in our head, something that we can think and conjure with a mindset.  Hope lives within each one of us and radiates something essential to ourselves and to our world. Optimism can help us with develop endurance, but it is hope that strengthens our soul for the trying times when we must wait.

Hope is strengthened in silence and stillness, nurtured in its dynamism and grace through quiet, meditation, creativity, and prayer. This is how we approach the dark days of December, with this inner posture illuminating the world around each one of us, illuminating the world within us, as we await in hope the dawning light of Christ.

Stay, wait in hope

(Please be aware that this post contains one image that might be challenging for some.)

rosesToday is the First Sunday of Advent. It is also the 38th anniversary of the martyrdom of Maura Clarke M.M., Jean Donovan, Ita Ford M.M., and Dorothy Kazel O.S.U. in El Salvador.  Known as the Four Churchwomen of El Salvador, they gave their lives to the Gospel, even unto their last breath. Jean Donovan, the one lay missioner among the sisters wrote to someone right before her death. Her words remind us of the challenge of watching and waiting in the name of Christ in a violent and war-torn land.

“The Peace Corps left today and my heart sank low. The danger is extreme and they were right to leave…. Now I must assess my own position, because I am not up for suicide. Several times I have decided to leave. I almost could, except for the children, the poor bruised victims of adult lunacy. Who would care for them? Whose heart would be so staunch as to favor the reasonable thing in a sea of their tears and helplessness? Not mine, dear friend, not mine.” Continue reading

Prepare to be surprised

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A few thoughts for the Second Sunday of Advent…

We have expectations, which is pretty normal and human, of who or what Jesus Christ is or will be. Therefore we may miss many of the cues that he is right before us or within us. An example of this is found in today’s Gospel when we hear about John the Baptist preparing the way. In addition to our expectations of Jesus, we have them about John. He is speaking to us always and we are pretty just not seeing or hearing him, or ignoring him if we do notice. Maybe it is time to prepare the way of the Lord by preparing to be surprised, delighted, astonished, challenged, and comforted.

We hate waiting and we hate to change. These are two of the biggest things that are asked of us by God. Most of us respond with resistance. Sometimes waiting is the best thing we can do, no matter how hard. At other times, when those of us who have power tell those of us who do not have power to just be patient and wait, it becomes an abuse of power. It is pretty sick and cruel, but we do it all the time, it becomes second nature. I am reminded of Rigoberta Menchú who received the Nobel Peace Prize on this day in 1992. She once said, “My people are hungry. Don’t speak to us of buildings and police forces, we need food and respect.” (I have this on a Pax Christi daily calendar, but I must say, I cannot find the quote elsewhere, but I’m going with it.) If you are hungry, cold, sick, naked, or subject to injustice, imposed waiting can be a weapon. And if change comes, whether we seek it or resist it, when it does come, it impacts all of us. Everyone needs to prepare for that because sometimes the change we seek, that meaning the justice and mercy of Christ, might not look or feel exactly how we imagined it. Surprise!

We love to make things complicated. The “no pain, no gain” model of life has taken root in many forms. We know that the way to the Cross involves Continue reading

There WILL be bread

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Today’s readings are among the most beautiful to me. Just yesterday I thought of the Isaiah reading, and then boom – earlier today, as I sat in the dim lamp light aided by one flickering Advent candle, I opened Give Us This Day and there it was.

The imagery in Isaiah is so powerful:
On this mountain the LORD of hosts
will provide for all peoples
A feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.

God is not fooling around. The is for ALL peoples, a feast, not some little energy bar type snack that tastes like cardboard, one that is meant only for a certain few who have somehow “earned” it, and includes Continue reading

Lost in Logroño

google-maps-logoOne of the least faithful elements of my Camino was my reliance on Google maps. At the least provocation, I would grab my phone and start checking details, often when I was in a city. This happened in Logroño when we went in search of a Decathalon store. We did not get lost, but did we ever get misguided because we were sent very far out of our way. This not good for my already ailing feet, bringing new meaning to 10 steps forward, 5 steps back.  The problem was not that I used Google maps; the problem was my utter reliance on something external, and not trusting my instincts. Or God. All while on a… pilgrimage.

Lost is my overwhelming feeling as I begin Advent this year, and there is no Google map app to help me find my way. Thank God! It slowly begins to dawn on me, as I try to “wait in motion” that perhaps the lessons of Logroño offer me a clue.

The Camino was a seed in my heart, albeit a dormant one, for many years. My guess puts my first knowledge of it to around 1992, maybe even late 1991. Although dormant, the Camino was a form of waiting in motion in my heart. Two and half years ago the seed began to sprout when Sue and I began to plan our journey. #SquadGoals, right? And a personal goal as well. The focus became clearer and clearer, even when I felt fear, discouragement, or doubt. My sense of being lost right now has to do with the fact that my goal has been achieved. Veni, vidi, vici! Great. There goes over 20 years of longing… Now what?

Am I really lost? Do I simply need a new goal? What happens next?

img_4429-1Back to Logroño – maybe I am not so lost as I am misguided. Trusting a tiny piece of technology outside of me instead of trusting God within is a challenge. Yet that challenge provides me with some direction. If only I toss the phone of my heart,  take a look at what’s around me, ask for directions, and just walk.  This requires things like contemplation, action, patience, faith, courage – and the willingness to truly get lost in order to get found. Trust in God. Why didn’t I see those directions on my Google map?

Today’s Scriptures sent a glimmer of hope to me, helping to keep the momentum of my waiting in motion up. This is from the responsorial psalm…

It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.

It is also better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in Google maps. Don’t get me wrong, the maps – like humans – have their place in the greater scheme, but they are not the Christ I await this Advent. Again, the notion of a goal springs forth. There is but one goal and that goal is God. I’m not sure how to find my way to the Christ being born, but I do know this, I will not get there if I don’t put the phone away, and trust in God. I pray this day that I can do just that. Care to join me?

More waiting, more motion

wait-1As I mentioned the other day, Advent seems to be like waiting-in-motion to me this year. This is not unusual given that I have recently returned from walking along the Camino Francés route of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Pondering my waiting-in-motion, I read these words from today’s first reading:

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD,
as water covers the sea.

Given the current social and political climate, I am frustrated by the wait for this great day when the wolf, lamb, leopard and others will be playing nicely together. How long must I wait, how long Lord?

It seems like a long wait right now. Awakened early this morning by who knows what, I experienced my thoughts slamming into the walls of my brain, like untethered objects in an attic during an earthquake. In the dark of night it dawned on me that part of the problem was that my waiting was in fact, the problem. In my mind I could see  tears roll down the red-hot cheeck of a petulant child with fists balled up, screaming “WANT! NOW!”  Of course, the child is me. Lion, lamb, Christmas, nice, NOW!

Which brings me right back to waiting-in-motion and pilgrimage. Right now I feel as if I am stuck in a linear spiritual ditch. I long to head straight to my destination, Advent. Oh come on, who am I kidding? My desired spot is hardly Advent, despite my protestations that I love this season. If I am honest, I want to get to Jesus who will take care of everything. The reality is that I am not in a ditch, and the journey of Advent, like all journeys of the spirit, is not at all linear. And Jesus? I think he means for all of us to do the work with him, and not standly idly by as he whips up a dose of world peace.

When I was near the end of the Camino, the pilgrim path wound itself up and down mountains, and through green forests. Some days it felt like passing through a magical woodland, awash in mystical mists or luminous light. The path was worn down in so many places, and I was reminded me that many people had walked here for a long, long time. Waiting-in-motion, co-conspirators with the mission, whether they realized that or not.

on-the-way-to-sarriaToday that thought brings forth an element of the journey of Advent that is not at all linear, considering I make this journey each year. And it is certainly not one that I make alone. Pressing on with common purpose with others, I do go forward, a trip that is well-intended but meaningless if I do not go deeper as well.

One of the things that shaped me most powerfully on Camino was the slow and plodding nature of the thing. It demanded a presence of the moment the likes of which I had never experienced. I wish that I could tell you that I always liked it, but I cannot tell you that. Sometimes I hated it. It made me go… yes, you might have guessed it – deeper.

santiago-directIn the slow motion of a biped inching along, I was being reformed. As in re-formed, not fixed or corrected!  This would not have happened if I had driven from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago, a ride of  8 hours, give or take. Instead, I walked, often up to 8 hours a day… for about 35 days. Would it have been the same? I think we all know the answer to that question!

This long ramble redirects me to the pilgrim path of Advent. If I want lions and lambs to get along, I must make the effort to walk there with them. If I want to “get to” the God-with-us of the Incarnate Christ, my presence is required, step by step. It is not a straight line, and it is not on the surface, and it is most certainly not passive!

In the foreward to the book, Traveling Souls, Contemporary Pilgrimage Stories (edited by Brian Bouldrey) Pico Iyer writes:

“A pilgrim’s journey, unlike a traveler’s, never ends, only deepens.”

The power of that pilgrim journey has me back on my feet, even if only the feet of my heart. Step by step they make their Advent way, going deeper with every footfall. It may be more waiting, but it is also more motion. It is the only way.

Waiting-in-motion

waitThe season of waiting and watching is upon us. Days grow shorter, nights grow longer as we anticipate Christmas. For those of us who celebrate Advent, it is a time of anticipation, a time to pause, a time to observe.

One of the things on my mind this Advent is how I waited so long for my Camino. It was not sitting still in the darkness waiting, it was more the anticipation of what was to come, and my waiting consisted of doing a lot of walking and hiking! Other anticipatory acts were to consider what equipment and gear I might need, and then acquiring said objects. The Camino took over a huge space in my mind, my heart, and my body.

The Camino itself was a form of active waiting. Each day included a great deal of physical activity, as we covered an average of 15 miles per day. Think about how long it takes to drive 15 miles. Well, walking – often up and down hills and rocks – takes about five to eight hours, depending on conditions. When we were walking on La Meseta, long, hot, dry, dusty stretches of flatness, we could not wait to find a tree for shade and rest, or for the next town – which might be 17 kilometers ahead. And no, there would be nothing in between. That is very active waiting, acute awareness waiting!

meseta-after-castrojeriz

Waiting in motion, meseta style!

We walked as a form of waiting as we arrived at the next town, and we were also walking as was waiting to arrive in Santiago de Compostela, our goal. Some might argue that all that forward movement was not really waiting, but now that I look back, it was waiting. I see it as waiting-in-motion.

17024f000b86ca5dfce1b53cef5a6dd7istock_000011563599xsmallWaiting gets a bad rap in our culture. Waiting, in many of our cultural themes implies a kind of impervious impatience that translates into the notion that our time is too precious to waste. Aren’t we far too busy, far too important for that kind of nonsense?

Well, that might just be true depending on who or what we wait for, but it is not universal. It can be very challenging to see waiting as anything but torturous. Clearly, when we wait for justice – yes, that it torturous. But what about all the instances of waiting that bringforth gifts? If we skip past the wait, we miss the gifts? And how can we tell the difference?

This Advent, I hope to explore what it means to wait, and to wait-in-motion, as well as considering who or what we wait for. What are our priorities? Who will we sit in the stillness for, anticipating their arrival?

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

TheStarofBethlemem_NovaAdvent draws to a close, it is now Christmas Eve. Thank you for journeying with me for this holy season. Many say that blogging is over, but I’m still here and the number of readers here seems to grow, so I simply offer my gratitude and I keep typing.

There will be a Christmas post tomorrow. For today I simply offer this song, the one we sing as we wait, as we make room, as we wait…