“What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to [Jesus] fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to [Him] in my time and in my culture?  We are all meant to be Mary.

Meister Eckhart (14th century)

 

Author’s Note: I am doing two Advent revises and reposts on Hope; one is on Wild Hope and this one on Birthing Hope.  I am fond of saying all the time to people (like a random broken record) that although Scripture tells us “Love is the greatest” thing, I truly believe that hope is the most necessary. Without hope, the ability to even carry on is almost unbearable and impossible. – Niles

 

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “coming.”  Indeed, it is a time of year when we tune our hearts and minds to remembering the birth of hope in Jesus the Messiah.

I have written previously about Advent as a time of wild hope, and it is. But the thoughts just keep coming about the hope that Advent offers. And since I am in the throes of depression, and seeing little hope in my current days, I am doing all within my reach to seed and water any hope I can. So here are more thoughts on Advent.

This time of the “Coming” is indeed a time of true hopefulness because it is a kairos moment pregnant with God.  Kairos is a Greek word for time that is unlike the human concept of time known as chronos (from which we get chronological time). Kairos is not a time of the clock but is a time of divine visitation, a rending of the human cloak of reality when God comes to dwell among his people in an extra-ordinary way.

Kairos in many ways sums up Advent: God going to great lengths to come to us in a manner which we would truly be able to relate. It is God coming to us through the fragile vulnerability of a newborn child, who would grow to be Messiah, a human being through and through acquainted with the pain of sorrow of life as well as the power of resurrection.

We need this sign of Hope desperately today: a sign of faithful love and solidarity given with no expense spared. But it seems we have fallen prey to some of the same distortions as the people who lived during the birth of Jesus, namely the misled belief that Messiah would come as a powerful military King to liberate his people.   

But God, it seems, had different plans.

As is the case in most of Scripture, God did not come to people the way everyone ‘expected’ it; not in power or might, not in a giant warrior or a billionaire CEO.  No, God chose instead to come to us as a naked, helpless baby born to a poor, unwed teenage mother in a land under the occupation of a vast Empire.  This reality truth defies all logic and reason.  It makes no sense that God did not come to us as some warrior king with a large army, a boon of gold, and a taste for obsessive control.

God’s way if often upside-down…

No, Jesus came to us, as one of us, and chose to make God known in vulnerability, fragility and poverty.  And this, my friends, is what hope is all about: in the midst of chaos, feeling lost, wandering, and despair Hope chose to come to us to shine brightly the warm light of God’s love upon us.

Advent reminds us that Hope, coming in the Man of Sorrows, is indeed a scandalous moment: a moment where God made his unfathomable grace known and available to each of us in ways comforting and disturbing.

This time of year is a time to remember that the hopeful coming of the Messiah occurred in relative obscurity, with little pomp or circumstance, with no “Black Friday” sales, or shiny decorations, and without the hottest new toy that we somehow deem necessary for our survival.

God comes to us again this Advent just as God did over 2,000 years ago: in the gentleness of vulnerability; in the tenderness of new life given during a dark time; and in the promise of hope when all hope seems lost.

Advent is not only about God coming to us; it is also about opportunity.  It is an opportunity for us to remember during the darker days that God is asking us again to allow our very lives to become like Mary, a place where Hope can be born anew within us and indeed within the world.

“Advent is a season of the secret of Divine Love growing in Silence…”

Anonymous

Author’s Note: Every year I post, repost, and rewrite some of my old Advent writings.  Here is one I usually post every year at the beginning of Advent.  May it lead you closer to the One Who loves and desires to be born afresh within you.

Advent, from the Latin word adventus, means “a coming.”  In the busy days of the Christmas season, it seems Advent has become more of ‘a coming and going and rushing about’ than a pregnant pausing to celebrate the coming of Messiah.

One of the things that bothers me the most about this time of year, more than the blatant and rampant consumerism, is the edgy “busy’ness” of it all.  Like hamsters on a treadmill going nowhere fast, we run from store to store, party to party, event to event, never taking the time to pause and reflect upon the momentous occasion of the true “Coming” that this season is based upon.

Advent is meant to be a time of pausing, a time of seeking the Great Silence away from the rush and temptation of every little thing that tugs at our attention.  It is about taking the time to stop time: to reflect upon the miracle of the Infinite rending the veil of time, thereby making all that is finite pregnant with the Holy.

Advent is a time of deepening spirituality. And rather than some highfalutin concept, spirituality is more of a Velveteen rabbit-like experience of sensing God’s movement and Love in my life in ever deepening ways, especially when things seem darkest.

Advent is, as well, a specific liturgical time of sensing God’s movement in my life and in the world around me.  It is an intentional time of pausing to look for the Holy in all the ways it is embodied around us. During Advent, we are reminded to allow the Spirit to transform our lives into “living mangers” – places where Christ can be born anew and afresh in us and in a world crying out for divine love.

This time of year is a time for God to come to all of us once again, in tenderness and smallness, in ways and places that we may not normally look for God: like a manger (a feeding trough to be exact) or the distressing disguise of the homeless; the numerous people waiting in line at the soup kitchen; the forgotten and lonely or those struggling with addictions; the person next to us in line at the store. All of these are moments when we can both experience and be Christ.

In these early days of Advent, may this be a time when God comes to each and every one of us in deliberate ways, ways known only to us, special ways that afford us the opportunity to renew our faith, discovering the depths and richness of God’s love and compassion for us and the world.

So as we continue to journey on into these days of Advent, let us all pause…

and reflect…

and take time…

to recognize the Holy Presence that surrounds us.

 

 

Reasonable:Sensible, rational, practical, logical, evenhanded

Unreasonable: not guided by or based on good sense; beyond the limits of acceptability or fairness.

There is much in the world these days that is unreasonable; there is much that seems lost to good sense – from politics to the media, the world is amok in irrationality and unreasonableness.

but let me take this to another level; based on the above definitions, when you get right down to it, God can be a bit unreasonable.

God is not always rational, practical, sensible or within the bounds of reason.  How reasonable and rational is a God Who chooses to use the wounded, the broken, the fallen, the fallible and even the wicked to do the divine bidding?  I mean becoming flesh, walking among us, telling us we are God’s children and that God cares for us better than the best parents?  Then he tells us anyone can draw near to God, be a friend of God, if only we surrender and accept the grace of it all?

Jesus was not so reasonable or practical; his resume would not have gone too far in the corporate or religious world today, if we judged by reason, rationale and appearances.  God’s ‘business plan’ was (and still is) completely maniacal: hang out with the poor, the rejected, the unclean, the blue collar types.  It gets even better, Jesus decided to spit fire towards the pious, the righteous, the religious leaders and consistently show disdain for the emperor time and again through stories, healings, and parables proclaiming to both that there is a new way, a new Leader, and a new Kingdom where all are welcome if they but ask.

That is not my idea of sane or reasonable and Grace is the key to doors of this upside-down Kingdom.

Jesus is just plain unreasonable and screws up all my preconceived notions, messes with plans, confuses me and makes me uncomfortable.  And those who say they follow him try and tame, deputize, and moralize him, making him into an Uncle Sam savior or a Pinocchio wrapped in Levi’s, a goatee, hipster glasses and mod rock music.

Try and tame a tiger and risk losing your hand.  Try taming God and risk losing everything…

God is unreasonable.   And if God were not, we’d all be doomed.  For grace is the outflow of God’s unreasonableness.  So therefore grace is not reasonable either.

Grace can be absurd.  God’s love is absurd as well. Why would Jesus of Nazareth live a life that he did: loving the unlovable, defying social convention and norms, threatening the state simply by the love he showered upon people when he healed them, only to be executed for sedition. Why?

It is absurd that one must die for the many to live.

I will say it, plain and simple, grace is absurd.  And way too many of us spend too much time trying to ‘figure’ grace out rather than asking for and experiencing it; far too many try and control it foolishly, like gripping sand tightly hoping to prevent it slipping from their hands, rather than sharing and giving it.

[Jesuit priest and Paleontologists Teilhard de Chardin] spent his life trying to show that evolution is not only the universe coming to be, but it is God who is coming to be. 

Divine Love, poured into space-time, rises in consciousness and erupts in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, becoming the pledge of our future in the risen Christ: “I am with you always until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20).

We can read the history of our 13.7 billion year old universe as the rising up of Divine Love incarnate, which bursts forth in the person of Jesus, who reveals Love’s urge toward wholeness through reconciliation, mercy, peace, and forgiveness. Jesus is the love of God incarnate, the whole-maker who shows the way of evolution toward unity in love.

In Jesus, God breaks through and points us in a new direction; not one of chance or blindness but one of ever-deepening wholeness in love. In Jesus, God comes to us from the future to be our future. Those who follow Jesus are to become whole-makers, uniting what is scattered, creating a deeper unity in love. [1]

[1] Ilia Delio, “Love at the Heart of the Universe,” Oneing, Vol. 1, No. 1 (CAC: 2013), 21-22.

“You are in this time of the interim
where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out.

The way forward is still concealed from you.

The old is not old enough to have died away
the new is still too young to be born.”

John O’Donohue

 

“At times like these God is useless…”

Minister at a Service in NYC held the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.

That statement may seem harsh, caustic, even a proclamation that God is dead.  But that is far from the truth.  It speaks to a rawness of truth that people who have been through tragedy can relate to, and often need to hear.  One of the biggest problems of living a life of faith is the images of God we create for ourselves.  You see I have discovered that most people believe in a God who has an “ego” – because only a God with an ego would get “mad” or seek revenge or have his feelings hurt of I spoke some personal truth in anger towards him.  I have actually had people judge me and tell me I have lost faith all because I tell them that when I pray I sometimes cuss, that I rage at God when I pray because that is who I am; I am being true to the man God made, and yet somehow I am supposed to NOT be human towards God?

Let me state this to people as simple as I can, this thing that transformed my relationship with God making it more real and authentic then at any time in my life is this change within me: I came to believe and know that God does not have an Ego.

Ego is defined as a “person’s sense of self-importance or self-esteem.”  In psychoanalysis, ego has to do with the role the “mind” plays in mediating between the conscious and unconscious mind.

See where I am going with this?

God does not need to have a “sense of self importance” for God is self-contained (so to speak).  God does not need me to placate his feelings with trite remarks of praise.  God does not need anything from me, at all.  Nada.  God does not have a Mind that needs a mediating element.  God does not need a mind.  God just is.  God is the all that is and that is all.

And because I now live my life from the particular space/place that God has no ego, I can freely state such things like God is useless sometimes and it is not heresy.  In fact, it is particularly freeing and relevant.

Freeing because there is nothing more dangerous and powerful than a person who has been released to love and be with a God Who is so freeing and relevant because in the last few days I have had conversations with 2 different people – one whose sister died in a car accident a year ago and the other a young father whose infant daughter had died three months ago – where not only did I feel inadequate, but God seemed so useless as a source or presence of comfort.  And know that all I wanted to be was some symbol of God’s presence and comfort in the midst of the unexplainable rawness of our joint humanity.

Much has been written about God, suffering, life, etc., and because I am feeling so spiritually bankrupt (more like overdrawn on the spiritual bank account), I’m throwing my truncated two cents.

If there is anything I have learned in my struggles – which include the death of my both my parents (Dad when I was a teenager, Mom as I entered my forties), the death of my son in childbirth, the death of grandparents, an aunt, a brother, and the numerous deaths of friends to addiction and mental illness, and even in my own personal darkness – is that God can’t be made a scapegoat.

Frederick Buechner said “God cannot make [tragedies] unhappen any more than we can use a floodlight to put out a fire.”

If I blame God for all tragedy, then in my scapegoating of God I remove free will and the grand mystery of it all and I end up hating God.  Some Christians talk about the permissive will of God as a way of explaining away tragedy and evil (i.e., God ‘allowed’ this to happen for some lesson to learn (which is a bullshit excuse, by the way).

Here are some squirmingly uncomfortable realities: EVERYTHING that happens falls under the will of God (if it does not then God is no longer omnipotent or omniscient); not everything has an explanation or a “purpose”; and some things in life will forever remain a Mystery and our job is not to solve the Mystery, but to live it.

God is always being blamed for all sorts of human tragedies and errors, while simultaneously we remove all elements of human error and the laws of nature as well as the reality that we humans create much of the variables that lead to tragedy and I refer back to the aforementioned reality of Mystery.

So when I echo the sentiments of the pastor from the post 9/11 service – that in times of suffering and death and pain, God can indeed be useless – I am not saying God is not a present reality.  What I am saying is that it is a futile exercise to expect God to give us pat answers or solutions when tragedy occurs; that is putting ego into the equation.

I can hope for God’s presence, but in the brutal rawness of misery and tragedy, my senses tend to be numb and blind to any divine presence.  I become lost in my own emotions, swirling and swimming, drowning me.  What I can say is that in all the tragedy I have experienced, God is present more so in the pain than in any so-called answer given to me by well meaning people.

So I try and remind myself when pain comes, and come it will, when suffering overwhelms my world, and I grasp and grope for God, for answers, hell, when I am grasping for anything to make sense of the pain, I will remind myself that although God is useless, God is still present.

 

Sometimes I want to blow the lid off this blog.  I want to be authentic about my life and where I am spiritually, yet I fear judgment; mostly from within, but somewhat from others.

I want to tell you that my faith in God has been an intimate part of my life for 30 years and yet sometimes I feel it slipping away into a pithy form of agnosticism.  The faith I profess is 2,000 years old.  The Creeds I quote are less than 1,700 years old.  The rituals from the Mass some of them are less than 600 years old.  All things have changed in those time era’s but not religion, not much at last.  In the last few years alone I have changed drastically.  I change…my mind, my heart, my jobs, my friends, and yes, some of my beliefs.  But God I know is timeless.

I am wanton to share that most Christians offend me, somewhere along the way the American version of Christianity became a marriage of conservative politics and social causes ensconced in fundamentalist tenets. That is not my faith; nor the faith and life of Jesus.  But I am also left empty by liberal politics that have all but abandoned their religious inspirations for protecting both the poor and the vulnerable. In truth, care of the poor, the abandoned, marginalized and the broken are the responsibility of those who claim to follow Jesus (there are over 400 verses citing God’s concern and mandate to care for the poor and oppressed in the entire Bible).  But it seems Christians these days are known more for their hate than their love.  I fear Jesus would not recognize his followers” if he were reading the papers and visiting the churches.

I am saddened and sickened by most of what constitutes Christianity these days, if I am to be honest.  It seems my faith is fed more by what is outside of it bounds than what is within it.

I am not alone in my disillusionment.  One of the NY Times’ bestsellers was a book by Frank Schaeffer (the son of one of the “fathers” of the rise of Conservative Christian political viewpoint), entitled Why I am an Atheist Who Believes in God.  Then there is the rise of the religiously disillusioned, the “Nones” who according to the Pew Research Centers: “[are a group of] people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics” as well as those who have left the church of their youth while still holding to a deep faith in God, just not in organized religion.

Some days I feel like a “None” – I believe in and love God, deeply, but I find most organized religious expression to be pedantic at best, ruled and run by angry zealots who are milquetoast concerned more with doctrine and dogma than compassion, justice and mercy (the weightier matters of the Law according to Jesus, see Matthew 23:23).

I am rambling.  But I am seeking clarity and honesty.  I love Jesus.  I mean I am really into Jesus and the words we have for him on record (I’m a Red Letter Believer you could say).  You would not know it by stepping into most churches these days but Jesus spoke more about helping the poor, money, loving your enemies and forgiveness than about heaven or hell.  And not once did Jesus ever condemn my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.  Jesus never said “love the sinner but hate the sin” – a diatribe I have a hard time with because I am not so skilled at separating the “sin” from the “so-called sinner.”

The long and the short of it is I am seeing the cracks in the margins.

My faith is old, and dry.  My prayers are empty and “feel” worthless.  The God I professed years ago is no longer the God I turn to in times of trouble or joy.

The man I see in the mirror, although I know to be a child of God and made in God’s image, is cracked, faltering, burdened with an ever growing sense of obsolescence, uselessness, and invisibility.

Maybe what I am going into and through is a deeper, more authentic way of living; a birthing into the death of childish faith into the reality of the Real.  Or maybe, I am simply spiritually lazy and perpetually defiant, needing to reject something in order to feel powerful about anything.

I still believe…but I don’t.  I have faith, except when I don’t.  I am one with a God I know longer believe in.  I am in the light even more so when I am in this darkness.

I find comfort in the words of the German mystic Meister Eckhart when he said the following statement (that almost got him burned at the stake!): “If I had a God I could understand, I would no longer consider him God.”

Human beings suffer.
They torture one another.
They get hurt and get hard.

History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave,
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a farther shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cares and healing wells.

Seamus Heaney, from “The Cure at Troy” in Opened Ground

“It is good and right that our own understanding of God and God’s purposes should change and develop.”  Geoffrey Tristram, Anglican monk

“[All of] life is engulfed in God and God can reach out to us anywhere at any level.” – Evelyn Underhill

I firmly believe that God appears to us as we see God; if we see God as Love then so God appears. If we see God as angry, so too will God appear.  If all I see is an angry God in Scriptures, then so shall God be.  If I see God as Love, then too shall God be.  In truth, each of us holds the power of perception over how God comes to us.  Maybe all that needs to happen is the slight transformation of how we see God in order to become more open to real grace and to grow closer to God as God Is (and not as I see God).

~~ ~~~

Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong said that “imagining God as a “being” with primarily anthropomorphic constructs is an immature way of imagining God.”  I could not agree more.   The late theologian Paul Tillich nailed it on the head when he spoke of God not as “a being,” but rather as the “Ground of all Being.”

~~~~~

My spiritual task is to “discover the Infinite in the finite.”   My passion, my hunger and my search in life is for oneness with God, not some fairy-tale, mythological/magical intervention by God.

~~~~~

As I watch and study Christians from all walks of life and from every construct (Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox) I am coming to believe that the greatest enemy of (our) faith in God is not doubt, but certainty.  By its very nature, certainty blocks the child-like nature needed to see and experience God unfettered, without constraint.    ‘Certainty’ assumes a perspective that can become myopically idolatrous – the belief that my beliefs are the Truth (rather than my experience of truth) and that there is no need or room for the evolution of beliefs.

Our Scriptures are thousands of years old, our creeds are more than 1500 years old and our liturgies are about 500 years old and our Christian faith has evolved almost nil.  Every single facet and paradigm of human existence has evolved and changed in some capacity or another in that time period: science; technology; medicine; politics; education; economies; philosophies.  But NOT so much in the Christian faith.

I wonder why that is…

~~~~~

In the early years of Christianity, the common hallmarks of those who followed Jesus (and and who were called people of the Way long before they were called Christians – which means by the way, “little Christ/little Messiah”) included their immense and passionate care and love of each other, their enemies and the poor, the widows and orphans; they were also known for not serving in the military and for burying not on their own dead but the dead of the ‘pagans’ as well (not only a gracious thing to do but a HUGE public health positive that helped stop the spread of disease).  You can study the manuscripts of non-Christian historians and writers and even they wrote of this as a “marvel to behold.”

Now if I run that by what Christians are known for today (at least the ones we see on the news and on political talk shows and read about in the news) : almost violent and all consuming in their being against abortion; hating gays, lesbians and all who are different; cutting social welfare programs and healthcare; hating all Muslims; protecting the 2nd Amendment at all costs; anti-immigration nationalism; and a stark aloofness towards climate change and protecting and preserving God’s creation.

As the old 1990s song says: “things that make you go, ‘hmmmm.’”

~~~~~

God may be never changing, but I must…change.  I must allow God to ‘evolve’ me with a revolution of the heart – a revolution of radical love that alters my own agenda, placing it at the service of loving neighbor, showing mercy, doing justice, and practicing kindness regardless of my religion or denomination or political slant.

In the end, I pray for God to evolve me into someone who imitates God and that, my friends, would indeed be a Revolution!

God is Love. So says the writer of 1 John. Synonyms. The writer also tells us that perfect Love casts out fear. Perfect love. Completed love. Love that has reached its telos, its end. This Love that is God casts out fear. Love wins, in the end, in the telos, this is the bedrock of my faith.

God wins.

God’s plan for healing, for peace, for shalom, for justice, wins. This gets me up in the morning. It is my testimony and the testimony of my ancestors. No matter the current situation, no matter the disappointing lack of civility and conscience, the scorching heat of vitriol and violence–God is Love.

God’s Love trumps hatred. God’s Light eclipses darkness, can’t be overcome by darkness. So says our holy book. And Love has a purpose, a focus, a plan. It will not be defeated. Love will win. God will win. Love, in the [Kairos] space, in fact, has already won.

The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis is an activist, public theologian, and author. She is Senior Minister of Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan.

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