Saturday, December 12, 2015

Spiritual Compass



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    

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Church Seasons: Post Script


While I truly love the mystery of Christmas and Easter, I find meaning for the church in Pentecost, I enjoy the seasons of preparation in Advent and Lent, by about May every year, we have been through the major Church Event...especially when you consider that Christmas in December is really in a NEW CHURCH CALENDAR year (even as it is the dwindling days of our usual way of telling time).  This means that for well over half the year, six months, we are in what the church calendar calls, "ordinary".  This means God does God's usual work in the midst of the mundane, ordinary, every day.  While we love the music of Christmas and the trumpets of Easter; while I enjoy the preparation of Advent and Lent, the church seasons proclaim that most of the time God shows up not in special Sundays, but normal, every day life.  That is a profound theological statement that is preached to us by the liturgical, church seasons.  We need to be reminded of that daily.  Of course, usually these ordinary, normal days are not exactly when the church is packed.  But, that is okay too.  What God longs for is relationship in the ordinary, not just the beauty and pageantry of the most sacred days.  I think about weddings, those are great events and life changing...but marriages are lived in the ordinary when the dishes are piling up and you are just trying to get dinner on the table.  I think about starting new jobs, the excitement and energy...but careers are lived in the ordinary day to day of completing assignment.  First date...the same...relationships are lived in the ordinary and every day.

So, after we live half a year jammed packed with special events, we live the second half in the ordinary.

What might that say to us?

This is where I find my life taking shape and form.  I find God in the ordinary.  In dinners shared as a family.  In preparing lunch for my kids for school.  In texts exchanged with my wife.  Which is also where we might look for the hope, peace, joy, and love of Advent to be found as we enter into December.  Maybe it is not in pyrotechnics and magical moments.  Maybe hope moves quietly and in the still small silence.  Same with peace, sitting in darkness listening to carols.  Same with love, a hug at just the right time.  Same with joy, in simply unwrapping a present given with love.

The ordinary becomes extraordinary is true not only in church seasons, but also throughout scripture.  In the end, that is really where we sense the traces of God's grace.

Blessings ~

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Church Seasons: Pentecost



So far, we have waited/anticipated/prepared for Christ's birth in Advent and Christmas.  We celebrated God's in-breaking and incarnation at Christmas.  We observed Epiphany, the Wise One's bringing gifts and being saturated in the light of God's presence.  We look at the time in-between Epiphany and Lent as another moment God moves in our midst.  We explored Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter as diving deep into God's promise to meet us, even in moments of desertion and betrayal and death.  We looked at the day after, how it takes time for the promise of resurrection to take hold.  There are actually fifty days after Easter.  For a time LONGER than Lent we try to find ways for the empty tomb to take hold fully of our lives.  And then, we arrive at Pentecost, fifty days after Easter.  Usually Pentecost is seen as the birthday of the church.  The story is that as the disciples met in the upper room day after day trying to wrap their minds, hearts, souls, and lives around the promise of Resurrection eventually the Spirit stirred.  Just as the Spirit stirred over the chaos in creation.  Just as the Spirit led the people wandering through the wilderness.  Just as the Spirit stirred the day Jesus was baptized in the Jordan.  The Spirit swirls in amazing ways and the people of God again caught wind of the new things God is doing in our midst.

One beautiful part of the church seasons is the rhythm of sensing God in different ways.  Another mysterious part is the ways past, present, and future all culminate, collapse and collide in any and all of the above seasons.  You see, we celebrate Christmas not only as an event back then in our history, but as a present reality of Emmanuel, God with us NOW.  We look for the star light of Epiphany both as an event that happened and is happening.  We see the trials of Lent both as something Jesus went through and we go through in our lives with Christ.  Time is bendy within the church seasons.  We need these seasons to keep us open to that Pentecost spirit of new life breathing in every Sunday.  

So, we have gone through these seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, In-Between, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, the Day after, and now Pentecost, where do you find yourself?  Is there a season you connect deeply within your own soul?

I pray that you have found the reflections on seasons meaningful.  BUT more importantly, I pray that as we have just started on another cycle of the church seasons with the First Sunday of Advent today, you will participate in the seasons this year.  I find more than a trace of God's grace in these church seasons.  I find a routine and rhythm that helps me make sense of my life.  May God's love move in your midst and you will sense God stirring in life giving ways.

Blessings ~