Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dislocated Seagulls

For reasons unbeknownst to me, seagulls come every winter to live in the parking lot of the shopping center that is a mile from our house. I always wonder where they have come from, and why, being the shore birds they are, they choose to winter over in an asphalt parking lot, far from any beach or salt water.

Today I saw them for the first time this winter. It was a very windy morning and I had been watching the clouds race across the sky on my morning walk. One gull in particular seemed to be enjoying the high winds as he soared in the gusts overhead. I felt as though I could read his thoughts and that he was reminded of the winds at his seaside home. While his view of earth is much different now than where he normally lives, I could sense his joy in finding a moment of familiarity, an experience that reoriented him toward his usual surroundings.

I thought about my own life, and how at times I find myself in a place that is not familiar or comfortable. Life experiences can be unsettling. The holidays can take me out of the rhythm that most often nourishes and sustains me. Like the seagull, I may be in a season of change, a place that is different than what is home for me. In such situations, I need to be attentive for a strong wind, a wind of the Spirit that blows over me and allows me to soar in a moment of reorientation, of union with God.

My ability to recognize and appreciate such winds happens by the work I do while in my normal rhythms of life. Morning devotions, scripture study, centering prayer, worship, Eucharist and fixed hour prayer ground me and allow me to pay attention even when I am in places where those disciplines are more difficult to maintain. As such spiritual practices become hard-wired into me, I can find moments of “home” even when life’s seasons carry me far from my physical home, just as my friend the seagull found this morning.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Missing The Star

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”        Matthew 2:1-2

Why is it that no one saw the star except the magi? How did everyone else miss it? I thought about that this morning as I walked in the predawn darkness and looked at Saturn, which has been shining brightly in the early morning sky recently.

If the magi traveled from a long distance, and if Jesus was already two years old when they arrived, how is it that this extraordinarily bright star did not capture the attention of others? In two years, no one wondered about it?! These magi were from far away, yet they knew that the star foretold the birth of the king of the Jews. Apparently, no one in Judea realized the significance of the star or took the time to figure it out.

I am humbled by the curiosity and determination of these magi, who were awed by what they saw, understood its significance, and laid aside their life obligations to travel a long distance for a long time to honor a seemingly insignificant small child. They could see what others could not. They were willing to look where others would not. They could embrace the possibility that the king of the Jews could be found in an unlikely place.

What am I missing because I am caught up in my own life’s agenda? How am I blinded to the possibility of God’s work in others because of my preconceived notions? Am I too busy to be curious? Do I worship busyness and productivity as my king and miss the birth of the true King?

Look up, people! See that star! Wonder about it! Be curious! See the Christ in a baby, or in a toddler, or a teenager, or the person right in front of you! Let us all lay aside our agendas and marvel at what is happening in this season. God is here, right now. O come let us adore him!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Scandalous Faith

A group at our church is studying the book Christmas is not Your Birthday by Rev. Mike Slaughter.  As we studied the chapter on Scandalous Love yesterday, Slaughter pointed out that Mary would have been criticized and ostracized by her community. But when she traveled to visit with her cousin Elizabeth, Elizabeth’s first words to her are “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth speaks words of encouragement to her young cousin, words that Mary desperately needed to hear.

Slaughter asks, “How many miracles are aborted because of put-downs, sarcasm, and negativity?” As we considered that question in our study, we wondered aloud how we as the church often respond when a member or a group comes enthusiastically with a new idea, a radical “what if we . . .” or a dream for something different. Are our church’s administrative structures the places where dreams go to die, or do we believe that God still acts through ordinary lay people? Do we believe in each other, that God lives in each one of us and that God can unleash God’s power in any one of us at any time? Or do we only believe in what we can actually see, which is often a shortage of money or people to support what the Spirit is urging us toward?

Slaughter observes that the example of Mary can be the example for any of us, that God can and does work God’s miracles through ordinary people who are open to hear God’s word for them and who will act on it. I am challenged to discern when I am called to be the place of gestation for God’s miracle, as Mary was, and when I am called to be Elizabeth, the encourager of the miracle in another. Or maybe I am called to be the midwife, who helps another birth the miracle that is in them. To be any of these requires that I pay attention, accept my role-whichever one it is, and believe that God is alive and at work in every one of us, even the unlikeliest of folks. How would our churches look if each of us did this? They would be scandalous places indeed, for they would be aflame with God’s Spirit!