The Coming of Light and Love

menorah

Winter is fast approaching. The days are longer and darker. Christians are in the second week of Advent. Waiting for the light. It is also the first night of Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights. The reclaiming and rededication of the Jerusalem Temple. We are all together attending to the season, recalling miracles of light. Light coming into the world. A light that when lit, did not go out. We Christians carry this idea of the Light of the World in the person of Yeshua of Nazareth.  Even materially, commercially, it is what the season is about. Light. The gift of birth and rebirth. An energized season where for a time we are more hospitable, generous, more open in spirit and friendship. More light hearted.

So this is another opportunity to spend forty days (more or less) with St. Paul. To continue the Christ-self discourses begun here. To look at the Christ life, not as a concept or doctrine, but as a lived, personal reality with its potential to transform, challenge and accompany our lives. The light our darkness and take us back into the Temple. For some of us that Temple remains in the Christ that we follow. The Temple of stone has crumbled and given way to the Temple of the heart. The place where we attend to the light, to keep it burning, burning in a light that will spread throughout the world, like the stars in the sky, the promise that the children of Abraham would take that faith and spread it to all the  nations of the world. And in many way, if you think about it, we have. Because we are all children of Father Abraham. Even though this promise has taken different forms and rituals. We have put different words to the same music.

Today we are the ones crying in the wilderness. What light can we light that will not go out? What can we birth within ourselves that can remain alive throughout the dark days and the horrific events that are taking place before our very eyes. Perhaps it is the light of Love. The only light that will last. That can unit. That can heal. That can take us back into the holy of holies and there to find an old couple holding a baby in their arms, while the light continues to burn at his dedication.

 

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The Rose that is Forever in its Advent

                 last rose of summer  We are on the threshold of Advent, and yet in the heartland flowers are still blooming. We are having a very long Indian summer. The impatiens are leggy, but still have color, and the petunia, who will last even when the snow falls upon them, have turned their faces, yellow, orange, purple, violet, to the rising sun each morning. The roses rival the autumn leaves who have gone from their vibrant reds and oranges to a dull russet while the rose bush continues to bloom. That flower associated as the penultimate symbol of love flowers on beyond its appointed season. If you wanted to name a perfect flower it would well the rose.

I am thinking of Advent differently this year, with St. Paul’s letters in mind. It seems to me that Paul brought another kind of Advent, the coming of Jesus as the Christ into the world and into our awareness.  Paul brought to awareness the living presence of Christ Jesus to a whole new sector of the Mediterranean population. Paul’s main theme is that we are brought to new life, a new birth, in faith in Christ. Christ becomes the highest and most perfect symbol of all that is human and sacred. His living, dying and rising makes that god-life available to us, not in some distant future, but now. For Paul it was always now. In Christ God’s life is born in us now, not as a baby in a manger, but in the manger of our hearts. One adult to another. One fully human and sacred Person to another human person who has within him/her the possibility of bringing the sacred reality that we are to the fullness of life, into full bloom. For Paul it was the coming of whatever vision or sensibility that came to him that inaugurated the advent of the Christ. The incarnate God ever available to us now in Him.

In Advent as we put on Christ, we put on the undying, timeless, perfect rose. Who continues to bloom even in the midst of winter’s darkest days, amidst the snow, in spite of the cold, the rose reminding us too of the life-blood that flowed from him onto the earth to mark it forever with his beauty, grace, life and love.

 

The Birth of the Word in the Soul – Part VII

The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. The Word is one of the metaphors in St. John’s gospel that speaks to Jesus’ identity. The Word was in the beginning of the unfolding universe. For King Solomon, Wisdom, the divine Sophia, danced with the Creator as he spoke the world into existence. In the unfolding drama of Jesus’ birth, the Word become flesh is once more empowered by a woman, amidst the ordinariness of life, to a struggling nation, in an obscure town, where those to whom he first comes impart to Jesus his heritage, his longing and his mission to Israel, soon to become captive to another empire that would take his message and put its stamp upon it, for better or for worse.

The sword that would pierce Mary’s heart is the sword that would pierce her son’s side, their hearts the saving symbol of the heart of God intent upon loving the world from the manger to the altar of the cross, where worship is no longer a mother’s song but the very body and being of her son. Mary’s first prayer will be Jesus’ last. As he prays to his heavenly Father in the garden at Gethsemane before his death, Jesus utters let it be as you would have it. As Mary accepted his life, he too will accept his death, from mother to son, the faithful surrender to God’s design for their lives. As Jesus takes his last breath, a lone centurion stands beneath him, recognizing his true identity, his first Roman follower, worshiping him in the place where a voice has gone silent. No ideology can embrace this moment.

            This is the moment that brings us to true compassion, a compassion that continues to transform the world today. From the heart of the manger in Bethlehem we are fed; our hearts filled with praise springing forth in song, where the worship of God becomes the artistry of our lives just as it did in the people of Luke’s narrative. There it is real, human, enfleshed, ordinary, giving birth and giving witness to Jesus in the world. In this we are with them, with him, in the purpose and passion of his life, to his God and Father, our God and Father as well.

            A whole nation stands in an old couple and one young girl who said let it be. It is Luke’s way of saying what was will be saved, transformed by what is to come. For Luke, it is the good news placed in the story of the improbable advent of a savior. The old embracing the new, rejoicing, blessing Yahweh with their lives. The Lucan Jesus is welcomed into the world by devout people, whose lives of adoration became the manger in which he is set. His beginnings are humble. His end seemingly a humiliation. Though dedicated to the simple habit of their ritual, waiting for the promise to be kept, the story of Jesus’ beginning, like his life, is clearly a narrative of paradox and reversal. For those who first touch Jesus, the very ordinariness into which he comes admits Yahweh’s extraordinary new deed into their midst; into a world waiting for Yahweh to take them in his arms once more and keep his promise to them.

            They hoped for what they could not see, what they could only envision: the restoration of Israel. They stand in the empty Temple of Yahweh, in the gracious space of his presence, his promise to them their only adornment, age-weary prayers an incense rising, carrying their hopes to the unseen God. Silent for generations, now abandoning the laws of nature to grace, giving the world his only begotten, a small hope vested with great promise.

This promise is God’s spirit moving upon the body of the earth, bringing substance from the void, a child from the womb of a virgin, life from the tomb, the cross an empty manger once more. A soldier stands beneath the cross looking up. He blesses the son of God and another advent begins. A small hope grown in a lifetime, experienced, followed, loved, blessed with a woman’s life, a life of joy and a life of sorrow. A life that followed him from the moment of his conception until he stood in another garden, another Mary searches now not for knowledge but for love. He stands beside her and beckons her to rise. Just as Mary rose up to greet Elizabeth−women bearing Christ to one another, he bears himself to this other Mary, who will bear witness to his return−come back to a woman, as he once originated by the power of the spirit from his mother’s womb, then leaving the world an empty manger once more, where with each season we await the improbably advent of his return.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part 1

During this Christmas week I want to post an article I have previously written. It is a commentary on the Infancy Narrative in Luke’s Gospel. You will find in the following series of postings of this article many of the themes that appear in this blog, connected as they are to St. Paul’s invocation of the hidden-self, the Christ-self. I hope you enjoy it. Happy Holidays.

© 2014 Cathie Horrell. All Rights Reserved.

     night sky I will speak to you in poetry,

to unfold the mysteries of the past.

what we have heard and know,

what our ancestors have told us.

We shall not conceal

from their descendants, but

will tell to a generation still to come.

                                                                                                                                      Psalm 78: 2-4

And this will be a sign for you; You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.                                                                                                                    Luke 2:12

At the heart of Luke’s infancy narrative, surrounded by songs of praise and joy, the hope of Israel is found lying in a manger. When the infant Jesus comes into the world he is set in the only place his mother has to lay him in their stable sanctuary, a wood-hewn trough. This trough, where animals have feed, becomes a manger, a sign for the shepherds who go in search of him. It is to this sign of the manger that we too, more shepherd than scholar, might look as we search for him as well.

Luke’s infancy narrative is a wonderful mix of people and emotions. There is belief and disbelief, surprise and bewilderment, questioning and assent, blindness and recognition, silence and song. Through the chorus and cacophony, two children come, one a prophet, wild and free, who will splash in the waters of the Jordan River, turning the hearts and sights of the people to the other. There the other will come, confident, striding across the rocky landscape of Judea, intent on his destination, carrying with him the hopes of his people, bound at birth to free them in his one great act of dedication, living his life.

With poetry, puzzlement and wonder, Luke crafts his narrative to give us the story of Jesus’ coming. It is a story that turns on prophecy and praise, promise and fulfillment. It is the story of Yahweh. Yahweh, the gypsy-god who journeyed with the Israelites, pitching his tent among them as he led them through the wilderness. It is the story of the transformation of a nation. It is the story of the transformation of their God. Their God is the Lord God of Israel as both author and protagonist, who reveals himself through his Spirit in the births of John the Baptizer and Yeshua of Nazareth to bring new life to Israel, calling the people back to him. In the events surrounding Jesus’ coming, the tent-dwelling Yahweh breaks through the laws of nature in order to take his future forward once more.

The Art of Advent

Pentecost red ribbons   St. Paul can rightly be called the first voice for the coming of Christ. We speak of the Christ child, but it was the person of Jesus who was born at Bethlehem. Jesus as the Christ came to be call or known at or after his resurrection. Jesus was proclaimed ‘messiah’ after his resurrection, when his disciples realized that this is who their leader was and finally got what he had been saying to them. [Or now believing who he was, infused their gospel accounts of his life with the words and sayings that would tell the world what they saw and now believed.]

It is no stretch of the imagination then to say that Paul is an artisan of Advent, an artisan for the coming of Christ. For to each community that he founded and preached to his was the message that brought the Christ-life to those people.

To speak of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the co-creator with the Spirit of God, is to acknowledge her own art, the art of the spirit’s fidelity to the sacred that she would, before all else, make manifest to the world.

Mary’s let it be is the creative and life affirming response that marks all of sacred scripture, including the letters of St. Paul. From a woman who calls herself a handmaiden, by her let it be she becomes co-creator with the Lord of Life, open, responsive and receptive to the sacred spirit that overarches our finitude to bring about that which is no longer bound by time. At the moment of Jesus’ conception eternity entered the world and became available to all. For Paul to  live  in Christ is now our ever available opening to infinity and beyond. Today and every day, with the fidelity of each new sunrise, is the echoing fidelity of the Lord of Life who brought life out of a manger, beyond a cross, and into the gardens of our lives.

Be it child or image, painting or poem or the life lived authentically in response to the sacred spirit hovering over the waters of this world, we, like Mary, give faithful worship to that same spirit in each new day, in each new creation we bring forth, ever open and attendant to its advent. With each new day we have within us the enduring capability to fashion and give form to the Word become flesh.

Under the Heart of a Woman

 stary night  St. Paul’s message is rooted in his proclamation of the Christ. After Jesus’ resurrection Paul is the first to announce that Christ will come again. In Col. 3:16 Paul says let the message of Christ find its home in you. Paul’s is the message of another Advent, the promised of the coming of Christ. For Paul it is not only a future event, but his insistence that we can have Christ, Christ’s life and love for each of us, which we especially need to hear and get closer to today.  It is a powerful Advent message. To live our lives in the Spirit of Christ as he says repeatedly in different ways in his letter to the Romans. Paul believes fiercely in the Life of the Spirit working in our lives.

That Jesus as the Christ can be born in the world and in us is evident as we celebrate the season of Advent. Even before Paul became an apostle for Christ, before the Christ child was born, it was under the heart of a woman that Christ found a home. Jesus’ first advent was to his mother, Mary.  When the mother of Jesus journeys to Elizabeth’s home to announce her good new, she became the first Christ-bearer, Jesus’ first disciple. The Spirit that made possible Jesus’ conception in a woman, is that same Spirit of Christ that Paul champions as a coming possibility in our lives as well. But it was Mary and Elizabeth that became the first heralds of the coming birth in the world, Christ’s first coming in the world to two woman.  Luke’s gospel, like Paul’s writing, is also filled with the image of the Spirit. (Apparently Luke and Paul were at one time traveling companions.)

As Luke’s gospel unfolds, the infant Jesus is seen laying in a cave-like stable, near the outskirts of a town teeming with people arriving for the census, his parents and simple shepherds his first followers.  But the shepherds are not the first to herald Jesus’ arrival and rejoice at his advent.  Luke’s good news is carried first on the lips of a few old people and one young Jewish girl.  They are the faithful anawim, the remnant of Israel, scrupulously observing the rituals and customs of their faith.  Their faith will make possible what the world deemed impossible. They were waiting for him, as we do today. Their longing became the threshold of his coming. Mary’s fidelity to her faith and worship brought about the improbable advent of new life to Israel. And today to us.

We are seeded with the Christ-self like the sacred seed planted in Mary.  We are invited to give life and meaning to that seed, to attend to its growth, so that who Jesus is we too can become. As we make our journey in faith, we join with Mary and Elizabeth, as Jesus’ first disciples, to awaken and give birth to the Christ-self in our lives as well. A life that is meant to be heralded, shared and rejoiced with others.  This is our let it be to the God who is ever renewing the world in his image. Just as his Spirit came upon the mother of Jesus in his great act of loving us and the world, by the grace of his Spirit we also become the waiting manger for the Word become flesh.

From the heart of the manger in Bethlehem we are fed; our hearts filled with praise springing forth in song, where the worship of God becomes the artistry of our lives. There it is real, human, enfleshed, ordinary, giving birth and giving witness to Jesus in the world.  In this we are with them, with him, in the purpose and passion of his life, to his God and Father, our God and Father as well, began under the heart of a woman.

 

We are the Manger

winter_scene  Out of the infinite blue vastness we call God, the Word was breathed forth into the reality we call time. The stuff of God came to be, a small brown seed planted in the universe of matter and humankind.  I   am the stuff of God, God is the stuff of me. And it would seem that Paul, once so intent on destroying that seed, would experience the fullness of it possibility that came to us in a manger in Bethlehem, on a road as out of the way, dirty and dusty, as the stable in which Jesus was born.

The infancy narratives of Jesus are stories fraught with the symbols and the message of faith, in order to bring others to the belief in the Word become flesh. The image of Jesus as an infant is the image of what all babies are: infinite possibilities. Each child comes fresh from its mother, bringing with it all that it might be and become in the world. This Christ child represents for us the Christ-self that is present as all possibility planted in us at conception and coming to be in the world at our births.

It is this hidden self that is the Christ-self within each of us that Paul prays will be strong – come to its full potential and realization within us. Our lives and our very being, ourselves, are the manger in which Christ comes. Surrounded by angel songs and the lowest of shepherds and most notable kings, come the stories of the improbable advent of life, the hope of Israel, lying in a manger.  A manger – a feeding trough for animals. The infinite possibility of the God-life is housed incarnate in a plain, wood-hewn manger, a sign for celestial beings, the simple and the greatly adorned. Into the ordinariness of life he came.

As I watched the television last evening, I wanted to turn it off at one point. Numb finally to what seems like the ultimate rejection and devaluing of human life. I kept saying over and over: No. Why? Please? We are in the hard ground of winter. These days are truly dark. Herod is about for destruction. At some point I just had to let it all go. I had to become an empty manger. Even as I watched the gospels making a path through the world, I had to wait. Helpless, dependent, just as the Christ-self chose to come into the world and remained…this is hard. This is another kind of fear and trembling.

Yet. We are the manger into which this new life, the Christ-life, has come and will come. I need to believe that. I need to be carved out, a place from which love can come to feed the world. A child will lead us. The Christ-self, the part of me that is open, receptive, will love and lead.

Rilke’s words from his Letter to a Young Poet once again come to mind: Celebrate Christmas…in this devout feeling, that perhaps He needs this very fear of life from you in order to begin; these very days of your transition are perhaps the time when everything in you is working in him…be patient and without resentment and think that the least we can do is make his becoming not more difficult for him than the earth makes it for the spring when it wants to come.

And so, we are manger and we are ground as well; softened so that the small brown seed might push its way through to a new Spring. The poets words give me hope: We can begin him. We can await his becoming in us and in the world. Our hearts can be the waiting mangers set upon the softened  ground of the self even in this seemingly intractable heart of winter.

The Coming of the Christ-self

  Autumn berries    Advent approaches. We await the coming of the Christ child. We celebrate religiously the advent of something, someone, new in the world. Even materially, commercially, it is what the season is about. Light. Gifting. An energized season where for a time we are more hospitable, generous, more open in spirit and friendship. Paul too is writing about something, Someone new coming into the world.  The coming of the reality of Christ, who he was and what faith in him meant. So this is another opportunity to spend forty days (more or less) with St. Paul. To continue the Christ-self discourses begun here. To look at the Christ life, not as a concept or doctrine, but as a lived, personal reality with its potential to transform, challenge and accompany our lives. A Real Presence. Born in a stable two thousand years ago, it is this same Jesus born in Bethlehem who is the Christ that Paul and the season celebrate.

This can be a difficult time for many when the darkness and deprivation, stresses and losses, loneliness and lacking, come in stark relief against all the holiday hustle and bustle. But it is here too in the telling of the infancy narratives we see the true meaning of the holiday, apart from the glitter and glitz, of a Savior come in the cold, darkness of winter, to poor and humble beginnings, who would remain marginal and excluded, but was seen to bring hope to the poor, the oppressed, those much in need of his saving presence and love in their lives. And at heart this too is where we live. Perhaps not materially impoverished, but certainly we all have within us some darkness, something needy and some part that is impoverished, alone, limping along through life, needing to reach out to touch even the hem of someone who can heal and save us. Someone who cares and loves us no matter in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

All theology is anthropology. To speak of the divine is  to speak of the human person. If you look at the human person in his/her depth you will find the sacred center that is at the heart of all life. Whether we realize the sacredness of humanity, within each of us, as a religious phenomenon or not, it is there−a sacred Self within each us whose advent begins to impinge on our lives as we grow in our ability to apprehend and embrace this as our most essential Self. St. Paul calls this our ‘hidden self’, the Christ-self. The Christ who lives in our heart by faith. (Eph. 3:14-19).

This religious/sacred venture is not something that occurs outside our selves. The Christ-self is our lived experience of the sacred, of God, by whatever name we call our God. We can talk about our very beings as the kingdom of the Self.  The birth of the Word in the Soul then is told as the birth of the infant, Jesus of Nazareth, the Word become flesh. This is how the Christ-self within us begins. Coming as a child, small, vulnerable, dependent, apart from the traps and trappings of the world. And yet, the symbols of the nativity are powerful stars charting our way to what the coming of Christ within us signifies. It is a gift to us, it requires shepherding, it brings what is lowest and highest together in the paradox we call living.

The Christ-self is the becoming thing in us.  In Jesus the Christ we are ever in the nativity of the nearness of God. And all the shining symbols of the season say this to us.