This Advent season, I have been focusing on how to orient my life toward hope, peace, love, and joy. Like the four directions on a compass (north, south, east, and west), these four words can guide our lives not only to the stable where the One who has eternity dancing in his eyes lay away in a manger, these words can guide our lives everyday. There have been two thoughts I keep returning to with this image. First is that there is a difference between a compass and a GPS. My GPS tells me exactly where to go and how to get there. It has a set path it wants me to take (sometimes for very good reasons because of traffic!) The other day, I varied the path my GPS was guiding me. I kept going on one road I knew would also get me to my destination. The GPS tried three times to get me to take a U-Turn...I thought Siri sounded a bit annoyed each time I ignored and kept going my way. Now, I love my GPS, it has gotten me back on my path more times that I can count. But, sometimes I don't want the exact path, I want the general direction. That is where a compass comes in very handy. It won't tell me which roads are "right" or "wrong"....just tells me if I am heading in direction I wish to go. As a quick exit ramp...I think some churches function more today like GPS rather than compasses. They want to tell you exactly what to believe, how to believe, how to act. And that can be true regardless of whether the church congregates under the banner of "Evangelical" or "Progressive" or "Emergent". Those words assume certain paths are better than others. But that is another post.
The first question is how do I orient my life toward hope, peace, love, and joy? Are there actions that set my heart, mind, soul and whole self in that direction? Are there actions that distract or distance me for that? It is intentional that John the Baptist's sermon is, "Repent," which means turn around, get on another pathway, one that might lead you and connect you to God.
The second question is how do I define these words? Definitions matter because they give us insight into our thinking and understanding. Definitions are fluid. I understood love one way when I first met my wife, another when our children were born, and another as I see partners care for a loved one who is aging. These words of hope, peace, joy, and love are elastic and can embrace us where we are...at the same time bind us together.
For me, hope is standing between what is (reality I see on the news) and what can be (God's promise and presence still moving in our midst). To lean too much toward the violence and brokenness and political pandering of the world would point me in the direction of cynicism. And getting too focused on the spiritual life can also be a form of escapism. God calls us to be present in this world at this time. And hope can feel in small supply when we watch the evening news. But it is not only up to us to hold that sacred space between the what is and what can be...for it is here where I believe God is moving and awakening our thoughts.
I hope you might write your own definition of hope this week. Light a candle, call it hope, watch the flame flicker before your eyes and be in steeped in the sacred. I pray you will sense more than a trace of God's grace as you orient your life toward hope in these December days as we approach Christmas.
Grace and peace