Recalculating.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at what was said, and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. – Luke 1:26-29

Looking upon grace as an expression of divine charity, we can redefine the providence of God as the constant, solicitous care he has in directing every moment and every detail of our lives to that final goal of union with himself in beatitude. Instead of considering grace as a sporadic assistance or even a static possession, we thus see it as a perpetual outpouring of divine benevolence, channeled through creatures and a dynamic power that God intends to have grow and mature under his providential hand.

Above all, if we identify grace with divine love, we place it in the stream of daily life, where it really belongs. In the last analysis, grace is an invitation; it is not coercive. Actual grace can be resisted, and habitual grace can be lost. They require a loving response on our part to become effective in one case and remain alive in the other. Cooperation with grace, therefore, is our answer to the prior love of God – “The Catholic Catechism” by John A. Hardon, S.J.

(Part 7 in an on-going series “Made Known”)

I’m the kind of person that likes to get right to the point in a conversation. A meeting without an agenda, stated purpose, desired outcome and (my favorite) action items, with assignments, can easily leave me frustrated within a matter of minutes. Friends and co-workers would tell you that I am highly organized and efficient. I get things done.

With that said, therefore, I must admit that, until recently the above (well-known) reading in Luke always left me feeling a bit like, “why does it take three entire verses to get to beginning of the Incarnation? We all know this story read so many, many times at Christmas. Let’s get straight to the end game, okay?”

And so, when I started my morning Tuesday with my scripture readings for the day (Luke’s verse was the focus of the Immaculate Conception feast day, celebrated in Catholic churches at Masses held world-wide despite a locked-down COVID world on Dec. 8), it was easy at first to gloss over those opening lines, as I have done in years past. I was eager to get to Mass where I was the 6:30 a.m. cantor, get home, and get on with the dozens of things demanding my attention at this busy, hectic time of year. Things that seemed important but yet were certainly lacking a certain amount of (ahem) grace in their execution, value or time spent.

Fortuitously, or perhaps I should better say, thanks to the Holy Spirit, on this past Tuesday, when I arrived at my computer screen after Mass ended, to start checking work emails and returning phone calls, my PC was giving me a persistent pop-up message:

“Your Dropbox is full.”

I could launch into an entire side blog post about Dropbox, cloud-based storage, tech demons that have plagued my computer lately, and my general on-going love/hate affair with all-things-Internet, but that’s not really where I want to go with this particular post. The point is, on a particular day when I was feeling like Luke could have revealed the foretelling of the birth of the Christ-child in a more straight-forward manner, without all the setting up the scene, time and place, the Holy Spirit brought me up short with a very simple warning, courtesy of the PC that has become a permanent glowing fixture in my once-sacred space in my little home office pre-teleworking-from-home-during-COVID-since-March:

“Your Dropbox is full.”

It was not lost upon me (because I pay attention to these signs and words now, like a tuning fork ready to be struck upon a rock, thank you Jesus) that the word “full” was coming at me in a brightly-banded blue box on the same day that I had just found myself more distracted with earthly things than giving honor to the one who was “full” of grace and destined to give birth to the Word, made flesh. The young girl visited by an angel, who would become the Mother of God (and who, by the way, looks spectacular in blue…)

Holy Spirit, you are the clever one, aren’t you? You find ways to talk to me that span time and space and eternity, because, well, that’s what you do, and you’re very, very good at it.

Yes indeed, my dropbox was a bit too full heading into the second week of Advent, and lacking a whole lotta grace. Instead of a Dropbox, I had a dropped box, and I was too busy peering about my feet with concern for what I was dropping on the floor when I should have been more like Mary, looking up into the face of an angelic vision, pondering this wonderfully mysterious message that had just been made known to her, and only her.

What must she have been thinking, when Gabriel left her alone in that tiny little stone cave. When the light that had filled the room and lifted her heart to God ebbed and faded away, and she realized it was true. And that any plan she had formed up until that very moment, was now re-formed into a new, and very different plan. Or, did she instead always “know” from the moment of her conception, that God had something very special in mind for her, and even if she didn’t know what it was, she knew He would reveal it when it was time for it to be made manifest. To be made known.

I thought about all of that, looking at that pop up box on my computer, and I was overwhelmed with the magnitude – the Magnificat – of that moment.

Instead of turning to my PC to clear that message, I took some time that morning to turn my heart instead back to God, and asked Him to help me see the error of my ways, and how to carve out the proper disposition and path forward to take me through a rich and meaningful Advent. How to drop that box and instead kneel beside a manger, gazing in wonder at the Christ child instead of worrying about what is, or isn’t, getting crossed off my To Do list.

It’s not easy. I’m not perfect. But I’m trying, and giving God my best. Trusting Him to say, go here, turn there, walk this way, go straight when you would turn to the right, or to the left.

In these high-tech days of GPS and Google Maps and cars that (practically) drive themselves, I think we’ve come to rely far too much on being on auto-cruise-control without having to think too long and hard about where we’re going. With my iPhone hooked into my car stereo and the “thump thump” haptic of my iWatch on my wrist reminding me to turn here, take this exit, don’t get in the left lane when you need to stay in the right lane or you’re going to be in big trouble in a minute…

Well, it’s easy to forget that, even if you get lost, Siri is going to calmly come back on the speaker and, without condemnation, tell you that she is “Recalculating” to find you a new, alternative route to get you to your desired destination. Sometimes, you can take a side street, or turn left at the next stop sign, or get off at the next exit. Sometimes, you simply have to turn around and retrace your steps.

Grace does that for us, too, if we will choose to cooperate with God’s plan for our life, and let Him provide the navigation.

If your Advent seems a bit off course, if your life seems to be journeying further away from God instead of drawing closer, if you’re anxious to just drop that box you’ve been clutching to your chest for far too long because you thought it might contain something you really “needed” along the way…I hope this post gives you the courage and inspiration to retrace your steps and begin again. His mercies are new every morning, and He is waiting for you in the stillness and awe that precedes every dawn.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Resumed.

But when he, who from my mother’s womb, had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me, rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. – St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians, Chapter One.

It is necessary to be disengaged from all we feel and do in order to walk with God in the duty of the present moment. All other avenues are closed. We must confine ourselves to the present moment without taking thought for the one before or the one to come…These stirrings of grace must be followed without relying for a single moment on our own judgment, reason or effort. It is God who must decide what we shall do and when, and not ourselves. When we walk with God, his will directs us and must replace every other guidance. – “The Sacrament of the Present Moment” by Jean-Pierre de Caussade

(Part 6 in an ongoing series, “Made Known”)

Everything about the story of the conversion of St. Paul speaks to my heart. I love his sort of “get in your face and preach it” style of writing. But this particular passage in Galatians has often left me wondering, “why not go first to where the Apostles were?” Newly converted, scales falling from his eyes – instead of running off to seek an audience with Peter, Paul is a zealot in preaching Christ in every city square. Enthusiasm abounds, and his journeys often seem to take him where does not think – or wish – to go. But yet, he goes.

Part of me, the sensible, reasonable and well-planned, orderly type of gal, thinks Paul should have first conferred with the Apostles. To find out more about this man who has only recently called him. Who is this Jesus? What did he say to you when he walked with you? Were you with him when he died on the cross? What was it like to feel the Holy Spirit descend upon you at Pentecost? Tell me all about it. I need data, folks. I need some input.

But the other part of me, maybe the zealot wanna-be that I secretly harbor in my heart, is enchanted with the thought that St. Paul had no need – in the presence of that particular moment – of wearying travel on dusty roads to Jerusalem and days spent with Peter, James and John in the days following his conversion – because in his heart, he already heard what he needed to hear. He saw the Lord, and he had his own, individual encounter with Jesus. When I ponder that, in the days that followed his blindness on the road to Damascus, before Ananias comes to him (a bit reluctantly, can I just say…), I have to wonder what Saul “saw” and felt. What God revealed to him in those silent days of not-seeing, not-understanding, not-knowing what would come next. Did he fear judgment? trial? stoning to death? condemnation?

Mercy must have been such a surprise for someone with a hardened heart, like Saul, in the presence of that moment.

Unable to see, relying on the goodness of others to help him on that road to Damascus, to stand him up on his feet, to transport him in his confused and perhaps despairing state to a safe place, to provide solace and comfort, to wait with him in his blindness. To wait, while he waited for the next time God might speak. To wait with him, and wonder why God had chosen him, of all people.

All other avenues are closed.

To sit and wait on God is very hard, I know.

But when he, who from my mother’s womb, had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles

That’s the sentence that leaped off of the page to me in this week’s reading of this familiar story in the life of St. Paul. It fills me with Hope. The man who was brought to his knees and blinded on the road to Damascus has been given an abundance of grace to suddenly know Christ, to have him revealed as the scales fall from his eyes, with a new mission and a new path forward: to proclaim him to the Gentiles. And St. Paul knows he was made for this, set apart while still in his mother’s womb. He knows, without the need to test his facts and question his faith and spend days with the Apostles, wondering if he heard it just right. Without concern about whether he got the message just right, whether his plans are perfect or full of flaws and pitfalls and unknowns. Indeed, to wonder whether or not he has a plan, or money, or any idea where God might take him – and yet Paul goes where God sends him.

Oh, how I wish I was more like St. Paul. It’s hard, isn’t it? To have well-laid plans, and things-you-must-do on a well-defined list, with costs calculated in a spreadsheet. And then God comes along, and interrupts those plan, and sends you on a different path. And you wonder if you should stay, or go.

What if Christ wouldn’t have intervened that day on the road to Damascus, with Saul? How many more Christians would Saul have persecuted? Who would have died at the hand of Saul? How would biblical history have been changed for us?

What if Saul would have said when he stood up, supported by friends in his new, blinded state, and instead proclaimed, “No. No, I will not serve.”

We know how that one ends.

Conversion is a powerful starting point, friends, but it is the beginning of your relationship with God, not the end. You can’t stand up, blinded, in the middle of the road, and feel your way by clutching dirt in your fist and hoping to find the finish line on your own. You need friends to support you, you need time to sit in silence before the Lord, and you need a whole lotta zealot in your heart to step out and step forward. Stay in the present moment. Worry less about where you think you should go, and more about where God wants to send you.

I’m right there with you.

Reclaimed.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1

“Only a person who has faith is able to be grateful for everything…therefore, even a fall, which is a great misfortune and at the same time hurts Jesus, can be an opportunity within which is hidden some kind of talent given to you from which you can profit…(Jesus) is never sad when looking at your life that may be filled with failures, problems, conflicts, unfulfilled plans, everyday difficulties, and spiritual difficulties. He is joyful because he expects all those things to bear fruit.” – Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer

(Part 5 in a series, “Made Known”)

About a week ago, I posted a commentary full of woe, woe and woe (in biblical literature, stating anything three times was meant to give the writing great meaning, and I think at the time, I wanted to lament where my head and heart were headed with “great meaning” because I went on and on about it. Sorry.)

I am sure those reading/following this blog were probably saying, “well, that doesn’t really sound like a gal who claims to be a spark in the stubble.”

No, indeed it is not. I would go so far as to say that last week’s post was an attempt to douse any spark and make sure that it stayed buried in the cold, untilled, not-bearing-fruit, destined to be cut down in a year fig tree kind of way. While I claimed it was not about me, it was in fact, all about me. Oh vanity of vanities.

Oh ye of little faith.

My training as a Spiritual Director has taught me that most people have one struggle with the theological virtues (Faith, Hope, Love), and one struggle with the main cardinal virtues (Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance).

I struggle with Faith, friends. And I hate putting that into writing, but it’s true.

One of the things I wrote in a bit of a “mission statement” almost 14 years ago when I started keeping a journal, long before I thought about being Sparks through Stubble, was this:

“If you don’t write it down, did it really happen? Is it really true? How would you know?”

In 14 years, I have “trained” myself to test everything by that statement. In good faith, I have written it down, looked it up, cast it against Church teaching and Holy Scripture. I have prayed upon it, looked for God to confirm it, and asked Him:

“Is this true?”

And waited for an answer. In the past, it came easily. Now, the deeper I delve into my relationship with God, the more I question, the more I doubt myself and seek God – well, sometimes it’s just an echo, cast out into a vast canyon, and I don’t get an answer right away. The questions are getting harder. The answer is elusive. Now, the journey is increasingly less about me, and more about Him – and about ME bearing fruit. Gathering the harvest, you might say. The more you turn away from Self and toward God, the answers aren’t so neat and tidy, and clear cut, and they are definitely not self-absorbed and answering what you might think about yourself.

Because when we dwell upon ourselves, friends, that’s not where our focus is meant to be.

I was struggling to think about how to “fix” what I wrote a week ago. I told God I was sorry for being all about me, and not Him. I went back to the Church sacraments – reconciliation, mass, adoration – and I asked Him to remind me where I’ve been, and show me where He wants me to go.

He asked me to go looking for a prayer in particular (I log a lot of prayers as I read them) and instead of finding that one prayer I thought I was looking for, I stumbled across that gem I had cut and pasted into my prayer journal from Fr. Dajczer instead. The one I shared in this post. It took my breath away to read it again.

“Only a person who has faith is able to be grateful for everything…therefore, even a fall, which is a great misfortune and at the same time hurts Jesus, can be an opportunity within which is hidden some kind of talent given to you from which you can profit…(Jesus) is never sad when looking at your life that may be filled with failures, problems, conflicts, unfulfilled plans, everyday difficulties, and spiritual difficulties. He is joyful because he expects all those things to bear fruit.”

God, you challenge me to have faith. You are so good, to give me what I need, when I need it. Open my ears to hear, my eyes to see. Everything is yours, Lord. You are unfolding my destiny with you, in you, in your own time, and of your own choosing.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

So, today is a new day. I may be a spark, yes, but, instead, I will be the slow burn in the chaff and the weeds when you say you have come to kindle and spread fire upon the earth, and oh, how you wish it was already on fire.

Send forth your fire, and renew the earth, Lord.

Thank you, thank you, thank you…

for reclaiming me as your own. Calling me back to the fold.

All is for thee.

Manifest.

“Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” – 2 Tim 1:8-10

“The Lord manifests Himself to those who stop for some time in peace and humility of heart. If you look in murky and turbulent waters, you cannot see the reflection of your face. If you want to see the face of Christ, stop and collect your thoughts in silence, and close the door of your soul to the noise of external things.” – St. Anthony of Padua

(Part 4 in a series, “Made Known”)

These last two weeks I keep tripping across the word manifest in readings and scripture. It seems to be popping up everywhere. That’s usually a clear nudge of the Holy Spirit that he wants me to spend some time with that word and ponder it a bit.

At the beginning of 2020, when I was contemplating this series and brainstorming a list of words that I thought would guide my reflections, manifest was one of those words at the top of the list. At the time, I thought to myself, well, maybe there’s a practical reason for that. My husband is a private pilot, and a manifest is a listing of the cargo on board an aircraft (or another vessel, like a boat). When filing a flight plan, I sometimes hear my hubby asked by Flight Planning, “how many souls on board?” – that always gives me goosebumps! It’s such a vivid reminder that we may be made of flesh and bones, but as we travel through this world on our earthly journey, we are bearing souls of great importance, cargo that is precious in the eyes of the Lord.

That’s good, I thought. There, see, Holy Spirit. We’re done.

But no, the word kept recurring over and over again,  so I started looking deeper.

As an adjective, manifest means “clear or obvious to the mind,” or, as another dictionary entry noted, “something theoretical made real” if used in a spiritual sense.

Those are good descriptions of the word, and the Word, too. And suddenly, in meditating on those meanings, this verse came to me:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” (Phil 2:5-6)

There’s not much in this verse that is clear or obvious to me when I think about “things to be grasped.” I’ve spent time off and on pondering that verse in the last two years and never had any revelation. Is it that Christ empties himself because he knows that man cannot comprehend the idea of the Incarnation, that He might desire to be born and walk beside them for awhile as their brother? Or is it that sort of desperate grab that we are sometimes all guilty of, when we see something good slipping through our fingers, beyond our reach, and can’t quite comprehend why it’s eluding us? When we turn and say to God, “I want that – why won’t you give it to me?”

So much of the life of Christ is hidden. We know of his public ministry, we get a glimpse of the last three years of his life, yes. But we don’t know much about his childhood or young adult life. Even at the Resurrection, we have an incredulous Mary Magdalene at the tomb who mistakes him for the gardener, a doubting Thomas who is determined not to believe unless he places his hand in the wound of His side, and two men traveling on the road to Emmaus who can’t seem to recognize it’s Jesus until they sit down for the breaking of bread at the evening meal. All flesh and bones, like me. All fumbling around a bit when things seem to be dark and unresolved. All unable to grasp that Christ had emptied himself out as a babe in a manger, so that he could grow and experience our humanity beside us. Walking, talking, praying, eating a meal together.

So I prayed with that last week, asking the Lord to show himself to me – to be made manifest and reveal what that pesky word meant for me at this point in my life. Asking why he seemed to be so hidden these days. No response to that question.

I tried again with a different tactic:

“I’m writing a series about You,” I told Him in prayer this week, almost with an edge of indignant righteousness, “I’m eager to have your name Made Known. Help me out here.”

Flattering the Lord gets you nowhere, I discovered. He doesn’t really need my flattery. I imagine if ever the Lord could do an eye-roll, that little tirade got one.

That brought me back around to the last definition this weekend and “something theoretical, made real” as I sat in Mass today, for the first time in over two months – face covering donned, hair pinned back (to hide the gray that’s been seeping in, absent a trip to the salon during COVID-19) and found myself grumbling, “I am frustrated, Lord. I want my old ways and old life, back. Lord, why won’t you give that to me…?” Although I was grateful to be there in Mass, I was struggling to reconcile “what was” with “what is” – at least for now.

I was…grasping. And I knew it. He wasn’t the one who had gone into hiding.

And then, at the very end of the services, after the final blessing, after being told by the Deacon to go forth and proclaim the Gospel, we were allowed one by one to walk down to the front of the church to receive the holy Eucharist, and then asked to turn and walk out of the church.

And I totally understood that last definition of manifest as I approached the altar. My heart started pounding and my feet were moving faster than I wanted them to go in my anticipation. After weeks of being deprived of this precious gift, to receive it today – no longer did the circumstances and setting matter. No sight for the bungee-corded off, socially distanced pews with hymnals removed and eyes-only faces peering out of bandanas and masks from the congregation; I only had eyes for Him. No more cares for the sad Sundays of on-line Mass being said on You Tube in front of my T.V. set; Christ was right here in front of me, and suddenly, He was VERY REAL. Arms open wide, speaking nothing but love straight into my heart:

“No more hiding,” He said to me, “I’m giving myself to you, and that’s all you really need.”

I wept as I received, and then turned and walked away down that aisle. That overwhelming sensation of His words and sincere offering began to slowly ebb away. I had to remind myself to breathe for a minute or two.  But I was fortified and fed. Ready to bear my share of hardship for the Gospel. Not afraid to travel back into unknown, uncertain, faith-is-not-what-is-seen-but-what-is-unseen moments once I stepped outside those church doors again.

Thanks be to God. He always shows up.

No longer thrashing about in those murky turbulent waters looking in vain for my own reflection, I could see Christ clearly today. I hope, if you’ve been grasping to find him in your own little corner of the world, you’ll look past this time of COVID-19 turbulent waters and see him, too. Turn off the news. Find solitude. Make way for him to manifest himself deep down to the very core of your soul. Pray.

He’ll come and find you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visible.

“Jesus moved about within Galilee; he did not wish to travel to Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him. But the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near.

But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, he himself also went up, not openly but as it were in secret. Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, ‘Is he not the one they are trying to kill? And look, he is speaking openly and they say nothing to him. Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ? But we know where he is from. When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.’

So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said, ‘You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.’ So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.”

                                                                                                                  John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

(Part 3 in a series, “Made Known”)

I’ve been carrying that excerpt from John around in my head and my heart for these last two weeks of Lent, and I’m not sure why.

Maybe it is because I am struck by John’s description of Jesus, moving stealthily to Jerusalem in secret, and then accused by the inhabitants of “speaking openly” once he arrives. Such resolve.

Maybe it’s his crying out in the temple as he hears the murmuring and muttering around him that stirs my heart. Such zeal.

Maybe I sense the urgency behind his message as he tries to convince the unbelieving that he is the Christ, the one they’ve been waiting for. A message that falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts. Such compassion.

Maybe, it’s all of these things that attract me to this passage, yet give me pause to stop and consider who Christ is in my life. Visible or invisible?

Sometimes, things are not what they seem. Not what we expected. Not what we were looking for.

To borrow a quote from one of my favorite books in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy:

            “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost…”

Certainly to those in the temple, Jesus was glitter-less and crown-less. He didn’t measure up to their idea of a king rushing in to save the day. In fact, earlier in John’s gospel, Nathaneal tells Philip, who proclaims to him that the disciples have found the Messiah, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). And Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would have a comely, not kingly, appearance (Is 53:2).

One who appeared at first to be rather ordinary, in the short span of three years in public ministry,  turns out to be suprisingly extraordinary.

Yet, presented with miracle after miracle, witnessed by thousands, personally involved and invested in this man they find intriguing and mysterious enough to follow across the sea…many of them turn away in the final hour that is now rapidly approaching here at the end of Lent. As we will soon experience in Triduum, even his disciples will fall asleep, strike out in anger, lag behind, run away…sell him out for thirty pieces of silver. Deny they ever knew him.

You know me,” he insistently tells them, “and also where I am from.”

Do I really know you, my Lord and Savior? Are you truly visible to me in my life? Have I set you ever before me – are my ways, your ways?

Are you visible to others, through me?

Wise men followed a star to find him. Fishermen left boats and nets to seek him. John the Baptist upheld him as the Lamb of God when he was still far off, barely visible. John knew.

We say in our creed at every Mass that we believe God is the maker of all things visible and invisible. That’s not always so simple, is it? We like things we can touch and feel and be sure of. We prefer concrete facts and figures and final answers.

We like to see – and be seen.

Lord, I know there are times I fail to see you – in events and circumstances and others. And I know there are times that I can’t see you, but you clearly see me. You know ME.

As I pass through this last stretch in the desert of Lent and cross over into Easter, keep my eyes fixed on you, there in the distance – on the hill and high upon that cross that will be my salvation and redemption.

You are the one who came to save us, emptying yourself when you knew we couldn’t grasp your great love and mercy for us any other way…dwelling in quiet obedience and walking unnoticed among us for thirty years…breaking that silence and opening tombs as you fulfilled your Father’s mission in your final, glorious death and resurrection.

Be that still small voice in the cave, Lord – the one we hear when we can’t see you.

Be the one who makes the earth quake and tosses the mountains into the sea, too. The one who shows his mighty arm when you know we need to see you.

We know you. 

Let us never forget where you are from, and who sent you.

 

Have a blessed Easter, friends.

 

 

 

 

Consulted.

Moses sat in judgment for the people, who waited about him from morning until evening. When his father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he inquired, “What sort of thing is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone while all the people have to stand about you from morning till evening?”

Moses answered his father-in-law, “The people come to me to consult God. Whenever they have a disagreement, they come to me to have me settle the matter between them and make known to them God’s decisions and regulations.”

                                                                                              from the book of Exodus 18:13-20

(Part 2 in a series, “Made Known”)

I am writing this in the midst of the national focus on COVID-19. aka Coronavirus.

As most of my followers know, my day job is that I am the person in charge of public information coming out of City Hall downtown. So, when bad things happen, or threaten, or there is a perception bad things are about to happen, my office is charged with issuing a consistent message about what local government is doing about it.

I know full well what Moses was up against in Exodus. Grumbling. Jostling. Upset people full of questions.

What sort of thing is this…that you sit alone among the people, who are waiting for an answer…

I know what that feels like. When people are anxious, or frightened, or confused. Or don’t care. Or don’t believe. 

Because my office becomes the “clearinghouse” in emergency communications (and that’s where we are, folks, like it or not – agree or disagree) – I can identify with Moses and all of those people asking about this or that, do or don’t, travel or don’t travel, panic or proceed…mixed in with a lot of mundane questions about whether someone is coming by to pick up their trash today, or wondering if anybody has any suggestions about how to entertain their 8 year old, who is out of school because they’ve closed all of the schools.

I see all of that, across my desk. I see it most commonly every day, but in a time of crisis, like now, it spills over and spreads out and fills up my office, and seems to take on a life of its own.

And with that, let’s stop thinking about COVID-19 for just one minute, and think about that Exodus. Tired, weary, thirsty, crabby, war-torn, used-up, not-so-ready-to-march-to-the-Promised-Land people, with Moses leading the way.

I can only imagine what kinds of disagreements the people were taking to Moses. Was it a fight about who owned what goat? A measure of flour, loaned to a neighbor but never repaid? A petition for divorce? A fight over an inheritance?

We don’t know. We get the sense from this passage, that there were a lot of things, and there were a LOT of demands on his time. To the one asking, the smallest questions are big, and important to them. For their own reasons.

Moses, in the best interest and with great love for his people, is struggling to serve the many – even though his resources – and his stamina – are stretched thin. Because he loves them that much. He’s trying. He’s tired, but he’s trying.

(Note: This is the same guy who agreed to have his arms propped up on the top of a mountain when he was so tired that he couldn’t raise them anymore in order to see that the battle was won. The same guy who pleaded with God when his people were dancing around golden calves while he was off in a cloud of fiery smoke talking to God who was inscribing the Ten Commandments on a stone tablet. That Guy.)

Let’s be That Guy. For just one teeny tiny minute.

Moses answered his father-in-law, “The people come to me to consult God. Whenever they have a disagreement, they come to me to have me settle the matter between them and make known to them God’s decisions and regulations.”

Whew. That’s a pretty lofty answer.

Unlike Moses, we have the resources. We have the Word of God, scripture, tradition, fellowship and communion in our communities. We have the power of the Internet to overcome “regulations” about social distancing to share and encourage and lift each other up. We have podcasts, and video, and live streaming.

We have so much more than Moses did.

Why are we grumbling?

Let’s stop disagreeing about what we do and don’t know, what we do and don’t agree with, what messages from the government we will or won’t accept, about COVID-19.

Let’s focus on how we can make God known. Let’s disembark from our lofty seat on the drama llama, and what we think is in our control (spoiler alert – it’s not) and instead think about our own humanity. And limits. And opportunities.

When I stop and think about who can help prop up my hands when I am oh so weary, my thoughts suddenly aren’t about me, anymore. 

They are about YOU.

I can’t hold up my hands on my own. I need help.

I can’t resolve every disagreement, or every difference of opinion. We are all fiercely independent, but we have to come to some middle ground. Compromise.

I can’t answer every single email or “what about” or “what if” query from the public. I don’t have those answers. We have to have faith that God will pave the way in His time, not ours. It might take months. It might take years. I might not ever see it come to pass in my lifetime.

I can’t tell you what tomorrow holds when it comes to COVID-19.

Moses didn’t really know what tomorrow had in store for him, either.

But it worked out okay.

Right?

What sort of thing is this…that you sit alone among the people, who are waiting for an answer…

The battle is won, friends. We already have our answer.

We are NOT alone among the people.

Be a whole lotta Moses, and be who God called you to be. Help a neighbor, call a friend, send a random card to someone to tell them you love them and are thinking of them.

Don’t sit there, alone. That’s not you. That’s not us. We are built by the grace of God for community.

Pray. Act.

Be That Guy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Proclaimed.

“With shouts of joy proclaim this, make it known; Publish it to the ends of the earth, and say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob. They did not thirst, when he led them through dry lands; Water from the rock, he set flowing for them; he cleft the rock and waters welled forth.” – Isaiah 48: 20-21

(Made Known, Part One.)

In my job at City Hall, I have processed hundreds of requests for a proclamation to go to our Council.

It’s not trivial, nor taken lightly. There are boundaries and criteria that I have to consider before I issue the proclamation that is solemnly read, offered up to the recipient, and followed by a photo op with the local newspaper.

Is it local, or national?

Are there statistics to support their cause, and what is the source?

Does it support our community? Or is it exclusive?

My office is the “clearing house” for requests, on behalf of our community. It might seem trivial to some, but it’s a task I take very seriously. To proclaim something, is to deem it trustworthy and true, and worthy of noting. I stamp the County seal with a special embossed County seal that only resides in my office. I am the only one who can stamp that seal on the gold circle found on every proclamation, and I attach that tiny bit of red ribbon by my own hand.

It’s personal.

So when I read this tiny bit in Isaiah – about shouting with joy and proclaiming things to be made known – I know what that means.

Something is at stake.

Revelry and being caught up in the moment – that moment when your favorite team wins the championship, that day your son or daughter captures that trophy for their local team, that day you stand up in front of a room full of people and take a deep breath – and testify for the first time about your relationship with God…

All worthy. All worth proclaiming. All so very…personal.

God is personal, friends.

He wants to lead you through dry lands, to cleft the rock to bring you water.

He wants to provide for you – not because you asked, or proclaimed you love him so much. But because he loved you, first.

You would not exist, would not BE, but that he loved you into BE-ing.

That same God that shouted his name from one end of the earth to another, knew you and knit you. Out of every chaos of time, he paid attention to just one tiny molecule of creation.

He made time for YOU.

He pushed aside chaos and history and all that going on proclaimed stuff of the day – just to create a space unique to YOU.

Every one of us is created to praise and give glory to God. Some proclaim, some prophesy, some preach, some heal, some pray, some fast, some serve in their own special state of life.

God meets us where we are, and calls us to be where He wants us to BE.

His Word is trustworthy and true.

Proclaim Truth.

There is no better seal you can give to your life – your proclamation – than that.

 

 

 

 

Made Known.

“Let him who glories, glory in this, that in his prudence, he knows me. Knows that I, the Lord, bring about kindness, justice and uprightness on the earth:

For with such am I pleased, says the Lord.”

                                 — Jer. 9:23

Just then the mother bird came back. 

“I know who you are!” said the baby bird. “You are not a kitten or a hen or a dog. You are not a cow or a Snort. You are a bird, and you are my mother.”

                             — “Are You My Mother?” by Dr. Seuss

Oh, the places we go, when we start to think about God, and our relationship to Him. 

My parents, and older siblings, loved to tease me that “Are You My Mother?” was a favorite page turning, late evening, really wish you would go to sleep now kind of book by Dr. Seuss. I read it to my own sons as they grew up. I still love it. What was it about that small, newborn bird, struggling as he toppled out of his nest, rambling around pastures and highways and perils that he had the gumption to just keep asking everyone he met, “Are you my mother?”

Seeking Truth, that itty bitty bird was. Seeking his identity.

Where do I belong, he wonders. I should go, and find out.

And so he does. Flat-footed, thrill seeking, no fear, no question too big little kinda guy with a big mission.

The early days of the disciples aren’t so very far off that mark. Jesus calls to the fishermen of the sea, and they feel a deep longing to travel to a place where they sense they belong. They don’t know what lies ahead, but, are intrigued enough to leave behind the safety of their own little nest – their nets – and take up to follow him.

“Are you the One?” they wonder – afraid to say it out loud, “Are you the Messiah we have all been waiting for?”

I sometimes picture them, panting after Him, eager to keep step with His rapid pace – because time was short, and He had much to accomplish. They don’t know what that is, but, it’s exciting and adventurous and they are along for the ride. I come from a clan of “fast walkers” – so I understand that. We all walk very fast, with great purpose, even if we don’t always know where we are going. We fool ourselves into thinking that forward movement must mean we are making progress. In reality, it can just lead you quickly past green pastures, cows, and a whole lot of  Snorts, by Seuss standards.

What brings you home, friend? Where are you, who are you following, and why?

Christ has made Himself known in so many ways. I’ve decided to spend a few reflections dwelling upon that this year. Because time is short, and I walk too fast, and it might be time to slow down, and encounter Christ along the way.

If you’re up for the journey, walk with me.

 

 

 

 

Skyward.

“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear…and when the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.'”

Luke 2: 8-9, 15

“And while they were gazing into heaven, where (Jesus) went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up to heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'”

Acts of the Apostles, 1:10,11

“The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock. It had pointed leaves which grew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas. Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenement districts.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Chapter 1 – Betty Smith

**

And suddenly, lo, we ate a whole lot of turkey and too many mashed potatoes, and flipped over our calendar to December – and came face to face with Advent.

And we found ourselves gazing once again up at the sky, waiting in anticipation.

Right?

Or did you instead (like me) find yourself in a Dr. Seuss-ian kind of way, stumbling from Turkey Day into Advent, a bit surprised, and trying dexterously not to mix up your right foot with your left?

I know I have certainly felt that way in the last week. Am I looking up in expectation, or carefully studying the cracks in the sidewalks of my life, thinking that its the Twelfth Month, that 2019 has come and gone far too soon, wondering if I did enough, said enough, was “good enough” for our Lord and Savior. Worried that, if tomorrow, He came back down from heaven, was I hopping about (probably sock-less and shoe-less, wondering which foot to stand upon), or was I rooted deeply in His Word, planted where I should be, right there among the rubbish in the gravelly and gritty cement of life on earth here below.

Am I thriving?

Or just looking skyward?

In mulling this over, I was compelled to place those two passages (Luke and Acts) side by side, to ponder as we head into the final month of this year.

In Luke, we have shepherds gazing up as a multitude of angels appear to them, proclaiming the good news that a Savior has been born. I always envision angels so thick in the sky above the shepherds that these hardened, rough and tough kind of men must have truly fell to the ground in amazement at such a sight. I hear the rush of the wind across the fields as the angelic chorus reaches a crescendo to deliver the message that the Messiah is here. I see the fear and hear the frantic bleating of the sheep as they cower near the shepherd of their flock, mirroring his own confusion in the chaos of the heavenly host ascending and descending upon a glorious beam of light that must have blinded them, sent them into the cover of bracket and thorny bushes as they huddle, trembling in fear. Man and beast. Angels and messengers. Stables and Saviors. What a sight that must have been.

Despite their fear, they are overwhelmed with the message: Go, and see. See for yourselves what God has done.

And they go.

Leap ahead, away from that humble starry night, and instead enter a scene 33 years later in Acts, on a hilltop. Fishermen far from the sea, out of their element, wondering what’s next and steadying themselves to face saying goodbye to a dear friend, mentor, brother…Lord…Savior. Someone they have only known for such a short time, and have only just recently found once again in the Resurrection. Someone they can’t bear to let go, yet who has made it very clear that He really must leave, but rest assured, He is preparing a place for each one in His Father’s mansion of many rooms. (I would be thinking, what does that really mean? Why can’t I go with you if there are so many rooms?) Once again, as He leaves them, there’s that familiar nativity rushing of the wind through the grassy mountain top. Clouds descend. He ascends. The sky opens and swallows Him up, and the disciples find themselves rooted to the spot, gazing skyward. Maybe a bit forlorn. Maybe a bit lost. Maybe, they think, he’ll be back soon.

And they stay.

Contemplating an exciting yet troublesome and perplexing message of redemption, we have two different reactions. One goes. One stays.

The shepherds had no benefit of miracles witnessed, sermons preached, sinners healed, throngs of people pressing in to touch the hem of the cloak of a man who traveled upon dusty roads in small towns and preached from boats on the sea. Coats thrown down, palm branches thrown up. Baskets overflowing with bread. Seas calmed. Tables overturned. Demons cast out. Dead raised.

The shepherds knew none of what would come. They had a message, and they had

Hope.

That brings me back to Francie and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Did that quote startle you at the beginning of this post? I hope so. If you’ve never read it, curl up with this great book next to your fireplace (or in the favorite nook and cranny you find in your local library) and read it over Christmas break. I love the imagery of that Tree of Heaven that Francie describes from her window. She isn’t looking up – she’s looking down on that tree. Branches spread wide in a tree that seems to be gasping for life and the next drink of water or small bit of soil. It’s a tale of perseverance, and trust, and lessons for living for each day. I won’t spoil the book for you, but leave you instead as I close this Advent post with one of my favorite lines at the end of Francie’s story, which I think describes the two contrasting scenes in Luke and Acts as well:

“The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself. This that I see now, she thought, to see no more this way. Oh, the last time how clearly you see everything; as though a magnifying light had been turned on it. And you grieve because you hadn’t held it tighter when you had it every day. What had Granma Mary Rommely said? ‘To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.'”

Have a wonderful Advent, friends. Look up. See everything. Let your feet carry you where you may not be too comfortable treading unsteady, foreign ground. You might just find yourself standing in front of a manger, full of hope and anticipation.

 

 

 

 

Long ago and far, far away.

“And he came and preached peace to those who were near, for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” – Ephesians 3:17-18

“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it, there are many dark places. But still, there is much that is fair -and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, perhaps, it grows all the greater.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Yes, I know it’s been nearly three months since I last posted to this blog.

It’s not like I haven’t thought of a dozen clever titles for a post, or a half dozen scriptures, or a handful of clever and oh-so-timely things I want to say here. They all fell kind of flat.

But yet, I am quietly drawn these days to the power of silence. The world is kind of running amok right now, isn’t it? Do you feel like that, too? Today was the beginning of proceedings to try and warrant the impeachment of a president.

We are, indeed, despite your political leanings, a world full of peril and dark places.

Within my own beloved church, we are wrapping up disturbing thoughts and charges and disconnect after the Amazon Synod. I have personally met and talked with a half dozen people in my church in the last month – many of those personally torn, hurt, discouraged, outraged, upset, despondent and yet struggling to find a bright light in all of this crazy bad, no good, something evil this way comes kind of upset.

We are upset.

We are up-SET. Our world is not what we thought. Not what we thought it would be. Not what it should be.

We are torn asunder, and it totally breaks my heart.

Hence, this tiny short post here tonight.

I have spent the last few weeks off social media stupidity (yes, not taking that back) and instead on line in a very intensive, thought-provoking study of the Gospel of John. The Beloved Disciple. The one guy, who, despite all hardships and followers who fell into disbelief upon the crucifixion – chose to stand at the foot of the cross – and believe.  The one who took Mary to be his own mother, to shelter and care for her. Who set up a house for her in Ephesus, who had great revelations about what was to become for the world (Revelations). The one who ran to the open grave on Easter Sunday, yet waited for Peter to catch up to him, out of breath. Panting, bending down, leaning into the empty tomb, to see what he could see. And yet, he waited. While he knew he already believed.

John, the Beloved, already knew. Could already see. Beyond all of the other disciples, maybe even Peter, John knew, and trusted – and chose to believe.

John the Baptist, in like form, yet different, knew Christ from the very seed of his existence in the womb. While still being formed in Elizabeth, he knew and recognized Christ the moment that Mary uttered the first breath of her Magnificat in Luke:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!”

I have thought about that, a lot, this week, approaching Advent.

And my soul finds…courage.

At the approaching baptism of our Lord, John the Baptist spots Christ from far away and declares him, with great gusto and confidence, to be the Lord. The one that he is not worthy to untie his sandals. From very far away, John knows.

Likewise, Mary as a very young girl, likely unsure and shaken about what Word she has just manifested in her soul, races across the hills of Bethany to meet her cousin, Elizabeth. Confused by spiritual circumstances, she seeks comfort in what the world knows.

Even though it’s a miracle to merely think it, she dares to ask:

“Is it true,” she wonders, as she approaches the house of her cousin, “that ye of old age have conceived a child?”

While at the same time, Elizabeth must be feeling the approach of the Lord, thundering down upon every step of Mary’s tiny foot steps approaching her, bearing in every step toward her the promise of Christ. Bringing him ever closer and closer.

“Is it true,” Elizabeth responds to Mary’s query, without really thinking, without seriously having to answer,”that my Lord, the King of Kings, the Lord over all – the promised Messiah! That he makes the child in my womb leap with joy when you enter. That as you approach this very place where I stand, looking out over the valley, I am filled with wonder. How can it be that he is coming to me.”

How can it…BE.

Wondering. Waiting.

Wanting.

Wow.

Is it true?

Is it?

I could write something pithy here, I suppose. About a parallel between the fight between good and evil in Star Wars, or Lord of the Rings, or the latest Marvel comic series saga thrown up and erupting on the popular movie screen, coming soon to a theater near you.

Instead, I will leave you with this.

Once upon a time, there was a very simple girl. Her name was Mary. She believed in God, and she prayed every single day for the conversion of sinners. For the ADVENT of the world to come. She didn’t pray for that for herself. She just wanted it to happen for the good of the world. For a Redeemer to come, and save the world. From this hapless, sad state that we find ourselves in. She just wanted a Savior – someone who could see where we had been, where we are, and where we’re going.

Someone who would step in, step up, and intercede on our behalf.

Someone who gets us.

Not because He had to.

Because He WANTED to.

Yes, the world is full of dark and awful things. At the very last things of Christs’ life, he foretold his death more than once. He was really pretty specific about what was to come. He even said that one of the 12 would betray him. He dipped bread with that one at the Last Supper and told him to hurry, and do what he must do.

My soul is beat up, smashed, crushed and bleeding many days now because of many accusations against the Catholic Church that I have heard or had sent my way. Angry emails. Bitter accusations. Questions I can’t answer – yet.

We DO need to answer – we do.

Yes, our Church is broken. It would be easy to scoop up the pieces and toss them away.

While I appreciate all of those comments, I have decided that nothing will deter me from standing with John at the foot of the Cross.

Once upon a time, a young virgin conceived, and bore a son.

The Savior of the World.

Is it TRUE?

If yes, let the rest of it – what is now and was and is and ever shall be – belong to Him.