After a string of sweltering days, I read the translation of this morning’s antiphon—“I thirst for the living God”—as if I had never seen it before. Water has been tasting so good, and I am gulping it with abandon. Normally, I take water for granted, and have to force myself to drink it – to “stay hydrated” as the health magazines say. It must be the same with “Living Water.” (John 4:14) I don’t appreciate the miracle until I don’t have it, and I feel dry and hopeless. But that’s when I can say, “I thirst for the living God.” And that’s when he answers.
Sometimes I clear my thought collection by writing poetry. I un-jumble the jumbled mess by sorting, eliminating, and re-arranging words on paper. Recently, I captured the words thistle thorns and placed them in my reject section. However, they persisted and insisted on space in my poem.
I’m of Scottish descent and somewhere in Scotland, there’s a clan chief and a run-down castle that bears my name. Enter the lowly thistle, scorned by gardeners, despised by children in bare feet, and just below dandelion on the least wanted list. It also happens to be Scotland’s oldest recorded National Flower. A 13th century legend tells of Viking invaders, who hoped to capture the Scots as they slept. Their plan failed when a barefooted soldier tromped on a thistle, cried out in pain, and woke the sleeping Scots. If I’m any example, Scots are not morning people, and the Vikings were quickly overcome by enraged clansmen.
The thistle is a symbol of tenacity. It’s both a humble weed and a complex entity composed of soft downy flower and sharp thorns. Its roots reach deep, it keeps a stubborn grip on the land, and flourishes in adversity. I’m aware that God hands me flowers with thorns now and then. The beauty of the flower is a blessing, but it’s the thorns that make me strong.
God is a storm. That is what leaps out at me from the psalmist’s imagery: God’s stormy thundering voice breaks the cedars. During the rest of the week, we will be encountering images in the Psalms of God as a refuge from the storms. Those are more appealing images. I prefer them to images of God’s storminess.
Yet, somehow both are true. God is a refuge from the storm, and God is the storm.
I’d rather skip the stormy images altogether. But Lent is an apt time to encounter the psalmist’s insistence on the God who is not just a harbor, but also a storm.
For Lent is a journey into unprotectedness. Lent is being willing to expose ourselves to storminess. Jesus moves from seeming unprotectedness in the wilderness to utter vulnerability on the cross. And Lent is an opportunity to ask how much energy we pour into protecting ourselves — from the storms we encounter on the path to true self-knowledge, from the storms we encounter when we genuinely love our neighbor, from the storms that are God, and the storms that God protects us from.
We received a beautiful Christmas card with a picture of Mary & Joseph, and the shepherds huddled in light around Baby Jesus and the words, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” I put it up on our bathroom mirror to remind me as I dry my hair to “prepare Him room.” But how do I do that? I feel so small in the pains and inadequacies of my puny life as I scurry from thing to thing to make space for Christ the King. As I wash my face at the end of the day, and look at the beauty and simplicity of that card, I once again feel convicted from the words, “Let every heart prepare Him room.” I say, “Ok, I want to get there. I do, but all I have to offer is sin and the pain that comes with it. I’m sorry. Help me.”
A peace comes on me as I realize that not one person in this Nativity scene came to “prepare Him room” without pain, without sacrifice, but with so much blessing. That’s what the preparing is all about: making room every day of the year.
Birth: Wonder…Astonishment…Adoration. There can’t be very many of us for whom the sheer fact of existence hasn’t rocked us back on our heels. We take off our sandals before the burning bush. We catch our breath at the sight of a plummeting hawk. “Thank you, God.” We find ourselves in a lavish existence in which we feel a deep sense of kinship – we belong here; we say thanks with our lives to Life. And not just “Thanks” or “Thank It” but “Thank You.” Most of the people who have lived on this planet earth have identified this You with God or gods. This is not just a matter of learning our manners, the way children are taught to say thank you as a social grace. It is the cultivation of adequateness within ourselves to the nature of reality, developing the capacity to sustain an adequate response to the overwhelming gift and goodness of life.
Wonder is the only adequate launching pad for exploring this fullness, this wholeness, of human life. Once a year, each Christmas, for a few days at least, we and millions of our neighbors turn aside from our preoccupations with life reduced to biology or economics or psychology and join together in a community of wonder. The wonder keeps us open-eyed, expectant, alive to life that is always more than we can account for, that always exceeds our calculations, this is always beyond anything we can make.
In the Lauds service this morning, I noticed that the psalm verse familiar to me as “Let me hear of joy and gladness” (Psalm 51:8) was translated “Let me hear joy and gladness.” At first I thought it was a mistake. But then I considered—is this what the Psalmist really meant. Not—“ let someone come to me with good news,” but “let me hear joy.” Hearing joy has nothing to do with outward circumstances. It is an act of the will to listen to the joy that is surrounding us. The heavens declare the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1) The heavens praise your wonders, LORD (Psalm 89:5). The Scriptures that that it is there. Do I listen for joy? Do I open my ears to catch it? Not often. But is it possible if I set my will to listen for it? Yes!
God created flowers. Each species, fully developed, is beautiful. A flower cannot choose its own beauty. It begins with the seed, containing the nature of the parent plant. If the seed drops, or is placed, in soil with the right nutrients, it will grow. Development depends on water, good soil, and protection from predators. A plant cannot arrange this on its own. It cannot make itself produce flowers.
We are the same, but, unlike flowers, we can choose our own beauty. (I’m not thinking of make-up and exercise). We can cultivate spiritual beauty. We can ask for living water (John 4:14), avoid rocks and thorns (Matthew 13), and protect ourselves from predators. For me, the predators are stray thoughts that I can choose to embrace or ignore.
I cannot choose what type of flower I am to become, but I can be a co-worker with God in his garden—to blossom into the person God originally created me to be.
As I sit at my desk to write to you, a small dog is peacefully resting in my lap hemmed in by the arms of the desk chair and the top of the desk. I am heart warmed by the small weight of his warm little body and relaxed by the soft sound of his breathing.
I gently realize that God is speaking again through my four footed friend. Resting is the foundation for action; and who we rest on, the secret source of our actions.
I am touched that he has chosen my uncomfortable lap and the confines of arm chair and desk top when he has a warm bed available or a soft piece of rug warmed by the sun. But he has chosen my lap as safe and secure, telling me he prefers being in touch with me to comfortable spaces where he is his own boss. He sleeps, telling me he trusts me. Rather than be out of touch he has chosen the confines of my lap so he will know instantly if I move. My decisions in life will be the source of his action. He will be touching so he will be ready. Because he rests on me, I will see to him.
Oh, Lord Jesus, help me to rest on your lap. Help me to want you over more comfortable circumstances that I may be alert to your every move. I want you to be the well-spring of all my actions.
I have a friend who considers the Bible the world’s greatest encyclopedia. She reads it in search of answers and is never disappointed! Recently, she told me of a verse, for her and me at least, newly discovered. That verse was Isaiah 50:10, which reads:
Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord. This morning I woke up anxious, not quite sure of my way. Then words from an eighteenth century hymn writer, Joseph Hart, cut a path through my musings. He wrote,“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power.“ The hymn goes on to call the thirsty, weary, and heavy laden, and ends, “All the fitness he requireth is to feel your need of Him.“ Essentially, it’s a parallel message to the one from Isaiah, both coming within a single week! For those of us who sometimes wander (and wonder), it’s a recommendation well-worth considering.
The Feast of the Transfiguration is an important one at the Community of Jesus. Tt is our “Namesake” feast at the Church of the Transfiguration. The actual feast day is August 6th, but it is usually celebrated on the closest Sunday to that date.
The feast was originally celebrated in the East as early as the 4th and 5th centuries, but was not commonly celebrated in the West until the 10th century. In 1456 Pope Callixtus III extended the feast to the Universal Church.
We see this interesting history reflected in the chants for this special feast. Appropriate texts were “borrowed” from other parts of the liturgy, or newly composed, which was the case with the Alleluia, “Candor est lucis”. Using an original tune which dates back to the 9th century, a new text was added to the original notes, with some slight variations to accommodate the text. Listen to this lovely chant, while reading these words from the Book of Wisdom, 7, 26.
He is the brightness of eternal light, the flawless image (or mirror without stain) of God and the best image of the same.