Friday, December 24, 2010

Hold On to Jesus: Advent 2010

It's Christmas Eve, one of my favorite holy days! I finally got that Advent wreath made--see the black eyed peas and black beans! And I decided on my ebony African bowl instead of the glass to encircle the candles and other elements I used. What a pleasure it was to light all the candles tonight: the purple ones as deeply colored as wine, for faith, hope, and love, and the pink candle for joy. In the center the white Christ candle burns brightly. We've gone to Mass to adore him, and oh, my heart is so very full.

Gratitude swelled in my soul, even on the way to church, as we trudged through the cold, trying to walk, carefully, on the icy sidewalks. At one point I raised my arms to the night sky. "O come let us adore Him!" Just like the Magi, and like Joseph and Jesus' mom, Mary, and so like the ragamuffin shepherds who were fortunate to witness with the angels, the miracle of God with us.

When we arrived there were no more seats, but I was as happy in the church basement watching the Mass on a big screen television than I would have been on the front row in the sanctuary. Nothing could diminish my excitement. During his homily, Fr. Norman asked us to hold the Baby--to literally open our arms and embrace him.

I could tell some of the few of us gathered in the basement felt a little silly holding what seemed to be nothing, but not me, who sang too loud, and stood during the reciting of the creed, just as if I were upstairs in the thick of things. I held that baby with everything in me. I held him because he wanted my love. A baby Jesus is delicate. A baby Jesus, like your fragile soul, needs to be guarded in your arms. Hold him tight! Don't let him go, friends. Protect the precious gift God was good enough to give you.

We walked home through a blizzard that we saw no sign of on the way in. It was a remarkable reminder that life can suddenly become very slippery. Conditions can grow cold and harsh so quickly, and completely unexpectantly. But all the way home I held that baby. I held him as I slipped and slid on fresh snow covered ice. I held him through the storm. I was tenacious and firm in my grip, but even if I stumbled, I think I'd have recovered, and kept on walking. I was holding on to Jesus, lovies. He is important--he is life to me.

When I came home I let the kids tear into the presents, while I lit the Advent wreath. Faith, hope, love, joy, and Christ in the center of it all. Somehow, winter storms and all, I have the strongest feeling that everything is going to be all right. My life may not look like it used to, but there is goodness and mercy dogging my heels. They will follow me all the days of my life. God help me to dwell in your house forever.

Merry Christmas, my dear friends. Christ has come. Hold him in your arms. Love him, and by all means, keep him safe, nestled within you. Be the mansion he will grow up in.

Much love,

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Mansion: Advent 2010

I've been working the midnight shift at the daycare--yes, it's open 24 hours a day. This is chaos on my sleep schedule, which is always suspect in the winter. All my rhytmns are off right now, hence the scant postings. I went to work last night and the house was an absolute wreck. When I returned home--will wonders cease?--it was still a disaster area. Will you believe the living Christmas tree, which is three feettall tops, is still undecorated, save for a little red bird and a single gold bulb? Aziza, no doubt the person who adorned the tree with these, is not good at waiting, Advent or no.

After Sunday dinner with our beloved community, I came home. I have to admit, the marriage problems are weighing heavy on me today. The lack of my beloved--small "b"--left me unspeakably sad. When I stepped into my messy living room, the Ken-shaped loneliness expanded until it engulfed me; it swallowed me whole. To keep the tears at bay, I started cleaning up the house.

I vacuumed the carpet. I put the decorations beside the living tree, and gave it a tall drink of water. I straightened the curtain rod, and righted the leopard print sheers. I fluffed the pillows on the red sofa. I did not work any soul miracles, but in some small way I felt better. Then, as it often does, my heart and mind went to Jesus, and waiting for him. I am waiting for him in so many ways. I simply do not know what to do in some important areas in my life, and I am especially baffled as to how to deal with this ache that feels unbearable today.

It is the fourth week of Advent, the Golden Nights before Christmas eve, in which the O Antiphons are sung. These prayers, beginning on December 17, all commence with "O", and address Jesus by a different title. They create the acrostic, S A R C O R E, which viewed backward reads Ero Cras, Latin for "Tomorrow, I come."

I am waiting for that tomorrow, which is so close, but today feels ages away. I am cleaning up my house to prepare a place to receive Christ. I don't just mean my physical house, the little, yellow, Sunshine Abbey on Old Georgetown Street. I mean the house, as shabby an unkempt as it is, that is my grief-heavied soul.

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, in the Anglican Communion, today's collect speaks poignantly to me:

"Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son, Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever." Lauren Winner, who wrote the forward to the Paraclete Press, wonderful little Advent book by Paula Gooden, THE MEANING IS IN THE WAITING, wrote simply in response to this collect, "I want to be a mansion." Me, too, Lauren. I am just a little shack, but I want to be a mansion with all my heart.

Come, Lord Jesus. Make haste to help me.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jesus is Coming! A Love Story: Advent 2010

I don't know about you, but I used to be totally weird when it came to contemplating the second coming of Christ. If I'm honest about it--and I am--I have to admit, the whole idea of it left me with a smug sense of satisfaction. I belonged to Jesus, and would be whisked away to glory when he returns. I was shamefully proud. I almost felt entitled. That or the thought of it scared me to death, and my scruples insisted that I'd surely be left behind. Okay, insert martyr fantasies here, for surely I wouldn't mess up twice and take the mark of the beast. If it helps, I was a kid ruminating on most of these matters and those ideas were fed by a glut of endtimes books and even movies. This was before the Left Behind books were a sparkle in Lahaye and Jenkins eyes, and truth be told, I read those too, even though I was good and grown and my theology had... Let's just say evolved.

This Advent season, however, I'm neither puffed up with spiritual pride, nor fearful when I think of the Second Coming of Christ. I guess what I feel is humbled. The thought of such a mighty God, who could split the sky at his coming, would find humanity interesting enough to come here for the first time, let alone a second, well, it's just amazing. What's even more mind-blowing is his personal interest in me. He loves me. He knows me. He is sympathetic to the aches I feel, body, soul, and spirit. If he could give himself to me in the form of an infant, and be that vulnerable and humble, his second coming won't be terror at all, but consummation. It's the end of the romance novel or romantic comedy, when the hero takes his bride--after all they'd gone through--into his chamber to love her well. Close the door. Fade to black, and no eye can see, nor ear hear what God has prepared for those who love him.

Rejoice! Jesus is coming soon! The last trump will be playing a love song, and we shall be swept into his strong arms and loving embrace, at long last, for always and forever.



Monday, December 13, 2010

Rejoice! Advent 2010

It's the third week of Advent. Half of this holy season is gone. The cute living Christmas tree that my son Kamau calls our "Christmas bush" has but a single red bird and gold bauble on it. My Advent candles are unlit, and wreath unmade. It looks like Advent has been an epic fail, but looks deceive.

The truth is, tonight, in the quiet of my bedroom, while a wicked sinus infection and cold has me bedridden,I'm aware of my longing for Christ more than ever. Thy Kingdom come resounds in y soul. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

I read a wonderful, honest prayer about this third week of advent. I'll share it here for your benefit:

Dear Jesus,

It's halfway through Advent and I'm not sure what happened. I really wanted to make this a reflective and calm season, preparing for your birth and pondering how you came into this world in such a stunningly humble way. But it's so busy and I'm distracted and sometimes even short-tempered with those I love the most. Where are you in THAT?

I am discouraged and wish I could start over. But as I sit here in the rare moment of silence, I contemplate your birth. In a bed of straw, with the smell of manure everywhere. It's a mess in that stable ... and come to think of it, my life is a little messy, too. I suddenly see that it is not just into the mess of the stable but into my mess that you enter the world. You came into a humble place and that humility is often where I live my life - feeling guilty or distracted and wishing I were a better person. But if I stop thinking of myself and focus on you, I realize that there you are, waiting to love me, even though I have so many unfulfilled good intentions about prayer, so many desires of how to change this fleeting Advent season.

I can begin Advent today and make this season deeper by making room in my heart for you. I can take just a moment before I get out of bed in the morning and feel the empty place in my life I so often fill with my busy-ness. It is there I need you the most. Come, Lord Jesus. Come into that dark and lonely spot in my heart. You know what my needs are more than I do. Let me feel your love. If I only carry that thought with me each day, it will prepare me for Christmas.

Thank you, Jesus. It's not too late. You are waiting to enter my life today, where ever I let you in. Help me to open my heart in these remaining days.

That was a good prayer, wasn't it? And it captures so much of our very human experience. Here we are with our messes, many of our own making. We are sometimes sick, frail, or weak. We get often too busy to be present to each other, but this season offers us the chance to see how God loved us enough to be present. God cloaked his divinity in flesh and is with us. In this third week of Advent we can cast of our penitential, albeit royal purple, and put on the rosy glow of faith. This is the week in which we light our inner candle, the pink one! And we simply rejoice! The Lord is near.

I slept mist of the day, and woke up thinking about the electric bill. I worried. How in the world will I pay it all winter without Ken? And then I remembered the incarnation. If God went through the trouble of being human to save me, surely he can handle my utility bill, and everything else that concerns me, and you too, lovies. So rejoice. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. The Lord is oh so near, and even as we wait for him, he's already here.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Waiting, waiting, waiting... Advent 2010

Already it's the end of the second week of Advent. I bought a Christmas tree. It's a little thing, a living tree, still rooted in the pot. I can keep it if I want to after the holidays, or plant it outside. I haven't decided yet. I know I craved something different this year that everything that means anything to me is different. I wanted to have something alive I could nurture in my life. I haven't put the miniature ornaments on it yet, but the weekend is coming. It'll be a good time for resting, rejuvenating, and putting on ornaments.

I haven't made my Advent wreath, either. Again, I wanted to do something different. I bought colored tea lights, and a glass bowl I plan to paint gold. And I bought black-eyed peas. I know, it's hard to picture what I'm going to do with the legumes, but it looked good here. You can see that Ailina used rice instead of black-eyed peas in hers, and with the other elements she added, it turned out lovely. I'll post a picture of mine when I get it the way I want it. Maybe I'll use my pretty wooden African bowl. I usually pull it out for my Kwanzaa display, but like I said, I'm in the mood to do something different.

This Advent season seems more penance than joy to me, but that's okay. It is, indeed, a penitential season. I don't mind doing serious business with God. To be honest, it frees me from any false compulsion to buy, buy, buy, or make, make, make, especially to do so to fill the void that my fractured family leaves in my soul. The changes in my life have forced me to slow down. I don't have the energy to do anything but wait for Christ. I'm too sad to look for anything but his coming. Come, Lord Jesus! Save me from my own life.

The past week the readings have focused on John the Baptist. What an inspiration to strip all the holiday fanfare down to the studs. Mr. Locust and honey is all about preparing the way of the Lord. Ever since Sunday, when I flew into the church breathless and late (okay, church was over, but Father Norman was kind enough to give me communion and share the gospel), I've been thinking about the forerunner. He asks us to prepare the way of the Lord. How do we do it? How do I do it in my own life? What extraneous, unnecessary things do I need to give up, get rid of, or give in to in order to make the Lord's path clear and straight. I could probably go to confession again. Nothing like a marriage ending to bring out the worst, and I do mean worst in people. Frequent confession? Yes! And now that the days are short and my mood has bottomed out, I find it necessary to budget my time wisely. I have to take care of myself, especially since I'm working. If I don't tend to my health, I won't be any good to my children, my intentional Christian community, or of any service to any soul God may send my way. Oh, yeah. I bought a light box. It's called a HappyLight Delux. Already the kid's have figured out when mom is snappy, "Go to the light." Smart alecks! But at least I'm trying. The doctors have only been trying to get me to buy one of these for a decade. But I digress.

Preparing the way of the Lord is a big letting go. I release what isn't truly mine. Some of that releasing was not my first choice. I'd have certainly chosen to hang on to much that is not gone. But I have noticed that what is left is all I need. And now I have room for a few things I may really, really want, but couldn't have because of the clutter.

And you know what? I realized that I don't need much. Even my kids have realized this. It's gonna be an interesting Christmas.

Last year I was so much was about the Baby. This year the Christ I seem to be waiting for is the fully grown, GodMan, my Good Spouse and Savior. There are so many ways to wait for the coming of the Lord. I had no idea back in the day when I used to pore over books about the rapture. There are so many ways for Christ to come to us, and here I am, my heart bowed, waiting, waiting, waiting, and happy--no honored--for the grace to even want him so.

I love you, Jesus. Come, quickly!

And friends, I love you, too.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Waiting in the House of Bread: Advent 2010

Do you ever have those moments during Advent when all you can think of is sinking to your knees on the dirt beside the empty manger? Your shoulders may be rounded because you're tired. Your eyes possibly rimmed in red because for a while there, you couldn't stop crying. Perhaps Your energy is gone. You may even be relieved that all you can do is wait, because that's all you're capable of. And you're hungry, much more than you're ever satisfied.

But that manger you're sitting next to is in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, the "house of bread."

Today I feel like I'm starving, not just for Jesus, but for life. It isn't easy for me to watch and wait for Christ right now. Lord, have mercy, sitting here makes me feel helpless. I'm as cold as a corpse, and the animals in my life are troublesome and wild. This will be no season of serenity. The Mother of God labors right here in our filthy, unworthy midst, weeping as if Christ were coming breech.

The only useful thing I can do is to sit here, watching, praying, waiting, and doing none of these well.

Come, Lord Jesus.

Be the bread that will nourish me. Be the meal that will give me strength. When I have no faith of my own, feed me, good Jesus. Son of God, to be born in the house of bread, you are the sustenance--the Eucharist, thanksgiving!--that makes me whole. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, meet me on the fallow earth, where dung, and blood and lingering evil fouls the air. 

I come lowly as a slave, empty handed, wanted nothing more than to see you born. I come to give myself to you, and I wait for you to give yourself to me. Don't you see how hungry I am, to taste and see that you are good?

Come, Lord Jesus. Do not delay.