Saturday, January 02, 2010
Lessons for Christmas 2.
How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!*
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. Psalm 84:1
How many of us are doing now what we thought we would be doing when we thought about that as children or even a few years ago? How do you deal with the changes and chances that have happened to you along the way?
The Magi were seekers - we don't know too much about them, not how many nor if they were all men nor their religion, except they came from the east and brought three gifts. Lots of stories have been woven around their journey from the east to the palace of the King to the home of the Holy Family. As I think about them - I see them at home in Magi-land, sitting around the table pondering their star charts, wondering about this new star in the heavens. To them it is a portent of some great birth, a royal birth - one important enough to cross cultural, religious, tribal and national boundaries. They feel called to go in person to see what this might be. How long will the journey be? What should they take? What sort of gifts should they bring. Of course, gold -- that is the only gift for a royal birth- a new king. Frankincense, good in case this new king is also a priest - a spiritual ruler and not just a temporal king. Myrrh - hmm - not so sure what that will be for - but good for healing as well as for those who have died.
On the way - they kept their eyes on the star - but stars, if you have ever navigated by them are somewhat difficult to follow for a specific destination. A GPS would be handy but they would have to wait a few years for that! How would they know for sure which house was the right one? So they stop by the palace - thinking surely the king would know about a royal birth. They get a few more specific directions from the palace scholars but also set in motion some unforeseen consequences due to the horrific nature of Herod. Finally they make it to the little family - not much of a king or kingly surroundings. I wonder what they thought - did we find the right child? As they begin their journey back home - they pay attention to the dream that warns them not to go back to Herod - and to find a different way to go.
In the years that followed did they hear more about Jesus? Did they wonder if it was all for nothing? We don't know.
I think our lives are lived in much the same way as the Magi -- we have plans, other things intervene, we have dreams - some we follow - some cannot be followed. Some of us are very focused on our grand goal - so focused we don't see the rest of life passing us by and then if we don't reach that goal - we feel lost. Or we get distracted from our grand goal and feel like we missed our chance to attain whatever it was we thought we wanted.
When I was a child - I thought I would grow up to be a football player - that plan did not really work out for some obvious reasons. Some things I did from a plan, like becoming a 4th grade teacher, but mostly life just happened and either I grieved a loss or I found the happenings were better than my plan and found joy in what was and is.
In Jesus' day there were not many choices- your birth status pretty much determined what you would be. Women and children would be property, men had to live out their lives in the slot that was predetermined - born royal - you stayed royal unless some sibling killed you to gain your position, born a slave - you stayed a slave and your children were slaves too. Workers taught their work to their sons who took over the family business. Peasants and shepherds worked for others when work could be found.
Jesus brought a different way of understanding life-- a way of freedom even in bad circumstances. A sense of being beloved of God -- brothers and sisters with all humankind regardless of status, race, gender, and all the barriers we erect between us. The visit of the shepherds- one of the lowliest places in society and the visit of the Magi - from an elite, wealthy and educated class - the two show us a different way of understanding our lives. Our happiness and well being do not depend on what we do or how many goals we attain. It depends on understanding this beloved-ness and that all others are equally beloved. Life is for being open to whatever comes along- for being present to one another - it's not about how much we achieve or how much money we make.
The psalmist has it right- presence - God's presence in our lives and our becoming God's presence in the world -- that is the kindom -- that is our longing and desire.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness
comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Barbara Brown Taylor speaks on the intersection of religion and spirituality. She says "I am religious, but not contentious"and I am spiritual, but not detached". She offers a very articulate discussion of religious dualism. Q and A, too: