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

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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?

Willing or not, still waiting

Emmanuel-god-with-us(REPOST: This is the text of a reflection that I had offered at St. Edward the Confessor on Tuesday, December 18, 2012 – during Evening Prayer.)
God is with us.

God is with us.

God is with us.

It doesn’t always feel like God-is-with-us, does it? Especially now. Typically we might find ourselves on December 18th, pretty deeply into the “are-we-there-yet?” stage. You know, that feeling where we find our “it’s-almost-Christmas” glee crisscrossing with high anxiety over all the things yet unaccomplished as we race towards December 25.

Anxiety or glee – neither one is especially rooted in our Advent journey of holy waiting, but both are very common things to feel. I don’t know about you, but I am in a state of mind and heart that says, “can-we-leave-now?” rather than “are-we-there-yet?” And the “God-is-with-us” matter might be harder than usual to grasp. This makes me wonder if perhaps “are-we-there-yet?” and “can-we-leave-now?” are the wrong Continue reading

Believe

c63d87b84b0f6d444b27419971cceb5f“They should make a postage stamp with him on it,” one guy told us at his wake. “I owe him everything,” said another. “He believed in me. He changed my life.” This is from a column in the December 4, 2015 issue of Commonweal magazine, entitled “Keeping the Books, Owen McGowan, RIP” by regular contributor Jo McGowan. These are words that were said about her father Owen, who died in August, and they reveal a moving tribute to a great man. I was particularly struck by the sentence, “He believed in me. He changed my life.” It reminded me of Jesus, the one we await this and every Advent.

Not long after reading the column, I opened an email from a friend who does the work of the saints – she teaches at an inner city elementary school. The email contained a link to a video that I present in this link. By the way, I can only share the link, I can’t get the video to embed. It will give you a pop up saying that if you are not signed into your TWC account, you can only view a limited number of videos; just click watch video and it will bring you to the site.) In any case, if you did not or could not watch the video, the story is about an after school mentoring program at the school where my friend works. My friend is Christine Hannan, and she is in the video. The program pairs adults with kids for five years, helping them to learn how to read. The story blew me away. Five years is a long time for a person to give, but imagine what that may yield! Not only does the child have help with reading, but the child also forms a powerful and consistent bond with an adult who is focused on them. In the end, I was reminded of the power of what happens when people believe in us.

If there was any doubt of God’s belief in humanity, the incarnation of Christ, born as a vulnerable infant in challenging circumstances should have clarified the obvious. However, many still struggle – whether they don’t believe that God believes in them, and in daily life, that no one believes in them.

In Advent we are called to this quiet waiting, and every year it can become more challenging. For example, consider this:

Two things immediately spring to mind, well – immediately after I shake the creepy Orwellian doom feeling out of myself. One is that our capacity as humans for waiting is at this point grows ever more culturally eliminated. The second is that it is no wonder so few people believe in God. Why bother when if you are in a position to have all the economic wherewithal to access the mighty drone wonder, who needs to pray? Pfffft! Jesus may be shoved aside by the brilliance of Jeff Bezos and his never ending desire to reinvent the world. That is not always a bad thing… but, just think about how his ingenuity can steal our attention from others – and from God. People worry about our president making himself into some all powerful king? No worries there, Bezos seems to move forth with that with almost no scrutiny. But I digress! I am not here to pick on a rich and powerful man who can fulfill your every dream. He can spur on the economy and fulfill your dreams very well –  long as you can pay, that is.

Anyway, my point being – if we can have our material goods delivered by drone, who needs to pray, when one can simply pay? Why wait, when immediacy is a click or two away? And why bother waiting for God who will soon appear as a baby, when due to your frustration boils over not being able to afford the goods or the cost of the drone flight? There are many barriers to God in the material world, but the material world is where we are, as we watch and wait for the very incarnation who wishes to join us here. Jesus comes into the world, illuminating the darkness. He does not to eliminate our every problem or pain, but he is here be one with us in it.

Whether or not you believe in God, God believes in you. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, Jesus believes in you. The act of believing, having faith and hope in another is a vital step on the pilgrimage of Advent, as well as the pilgrimage of life. With faith and hope in Christ Jesus in his one of his least powerful looking forms, as a child, we see a new light that guides us on new paths. We must find ways to twin waiting and belief, fueled always by the One who believes in us, and who in great mercy – waits for us, as we wait for him.

As we go forth today, maybe we can bring a little light into the darkness by doing what we learned about Owen McGowan doing in the first paragraph – believing in someone. Today, may we come to know more deeply, that someone believes in us.

 

Waiting, still – the 4th Sunday of Advent

Advent 4 candlesThe 4th Sunday of Advent finds me in an unusual position. It seems I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and I’m in the midst of a big flare up right now. Should I even be typing now? Probably not, but I am. Bonus for you – I will be brief.

In any case, with shopping not quite finished, with not a single card written or mailed, gifts not yet wrapped, I find myself in the position of having to essentially sit still. If I were listening to someone else, I’d think about how God has given them a gift – time to just be. Does it feel that way to me? Well – not so much. It is mostly a challenge to receive this gift.

Christmas is not here yet, we are still in Advent.  This is reflected in the playlist on my phone, where songs of Advent have sustained me on this journey. No Christmas music just yet. Yesterday my music helped me to sit still,  I had a retreat on my sofa; praying, listening, surrendering, pondering – waiting, still.

If you can take a few minutes today, to sit still, please try to do so. God is in the waiting, even – perhaps most especially, when it does not feel that way.

The beginning of Advent coincided with the anniversary of the death of George Harrison. This got met thinking about his song, My Sweet Lord. Listen to that profoundly plaintive cry of wanting to see God! Along with other songs, I hear this one as a prayer this Advent, and today I hear it again, waiting still.

And soon enough, we shall.