Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas in the Desert 2004

tucson gardenFriday, Christmas Eve, as I flew into Tucson and into another southwestern sunset, the desert displayed its breathtakingly barren, apparently bleak magnificence for what felt like the thousandth time. Despite the Nativity-tides I've spent in the snowy climates of New England and the Intermountain West and notwithstanding representations of snowy if not actually snowbound states of nature generally being considered most illustrative of Christmas, for me the fullness of the reality of God's incarnation as a human alive in human history becomes most poignant among the palms, tucson gardensands, rocks, cliffs, cacti, aloes and agaves (Partial list of local plants: barrel cacti, chollas, desert broom, Joshua trees, mesquite, ocotillo, palo verde, prickly pear cactus, saguaro…), the reality of God-among-us all the time no matter what, remains most self-evident in the fire of a desert sunset, in the budding dawn and incipient day the desert sunrise promises. [why? I'll leave my readers thinking and guessing, though my essential theology gives you a major clue] And somehow remembering Jesus' birth in the Arizona desert is very different from recalling Jesus' Birth in the coastal desert of San Diego, where I've been spent more than a few wintertimes.

tucson garden

At Patti and Floyd's place way outside the Tucson city limits, our dinner for the big yearly gala was amazing! The buffet included chips and dips, a plethora of flavorsome and savory Mexican menu items (tacos, tostadas, flautas—or were they taquitos?—tamales, red chile, green chile, guacamole, refritos, arroz…as well as several sweet flavorfuls: giant cookies, chocolate layer cake, vanilla ice cream and homemade flan).

tucson garden
Now Christmas Day evening has arrived; sundown's here again and we're ready to enjoy traditional turkey while the 7 (seven!) Husky, almost-Husky and Husky-look-alikes (Blues, Copper Queen, Denali, Easter Angel, Nanook, Nikki and Spirit of 2004) lounge around enjoying and protecting their gift toys and treats. Meanwhile, the evening news just announced it snowed today in Corpus Christi, TX, for the first time in over a century!

A most blessed Feast of the Nativity to all my readers and to God's entire beloved creation, reborn and redeemed in Christ Jesus!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Patterns of Prayer

On Moving Godward, blogger Anita Van Ingen wrote:
Prayer is not only a matter of speaking to God, but also of listening to God as he speaks. ... How do we listen? How do we tell him, in honesty, that we heard what he said? Did we even hear what he said?

Deepening prayer is frequently accompanied by repeating back the things we have heard God say. … "Your word says, 'Lo, I am with you always' and so I trust that you are here."

Although I wrote a short reply to Anita on her comments link; here, where I have more space, I want to say a little more:

Anita, you said, "I feel silly in constantly repeating back to God the words in the Bible. ... However, when I repeat back to him the words of the Bible, I am saying, I heard you when you spoke that promise."

Somewhere on this blog I wrote about participating in a discussion of Lauren Winner's Mudhouse Sabbath during Lent 2004. She says Jewish prayer is liturgical prayer, and when she neglects formal, printed praying (currently she belongs to the very liturgical Book of Common Prayer. For extemporaneous prayer, her prayer life and her total relationship with God both disintegrate. I'd say when you pray directly from scripture you're being liturgical and you are praying in continuity with Jesus of Nazareth’s Jewish heritage, which is the tradition in which we Christians find our source!

Recently I heard an account about a Jewish person's asking a Christian "Do you have a prayer for that?" implying that within Judaism people do not customarily pray what we'd call free prayer but rather in praying they connect with the saints that have gone before and those saints who will live on earth after they are gone, something parallel to what Christians regularly do during the eucharistic liturgy's anamnesis. That anecdote reminds us, too, that Jesus' bestowing a sample formula prayer at his disciples' request was commonly expected from spiritual leaders in that time, because people were unaccustomed to free prayer.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

morning watch

Patterned after the church's ancient liturgical practice of praying the canonical hours but now in remembrance and anticipation of Easter dawn, there's a Christian tradition of Morning Watch or "vigils." The fourth and last segment of the night watch, the morning watch of antiquity and of the New Testament epoch (that's us!) is from 3-6 AM; during this final watch of the night, darkness gently eases into the quiet early light of Easter dawn and God's Glory softly splashes over all creation. I've started compiling a series of Morning Watch devotionals; here's the first one.

O God, Thou art my God, and I will seek Thee all day long
O God, Thou are my God, and I will praise Thee with all my heart
I will seek Thee in the morning, at noon and in the dark of night
And walk with Thee in safety
Throughout the rage of time


Jeremiah 29

11 'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. 12 'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.
13 'You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
14 'I will be found by you,'declares the LORD, 'and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,' declares the LORD, 'and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.' NASB

11 "I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out--plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
12 "When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I'll listen.
13 "When you come looking for me, you'll find me.
"Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, 14 "I'll make sure you won't be disappointed." GOD's Decree.
"I'll turn things around for you. I'll bring you back from all the countries into which I drove you"—GOD's Decree—"bring you home to the place from which I sent you off into exile. You can count on it. MSG


John 20:1

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. NASB

Realized Hope: Resurrection!

John 20:1

Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone was moved away from the entrance. MSG

A Mandate:

Jeremiah 29

5 'Build houses and dwell in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce.
6 'Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease.
7 'Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare.' NASB


Psalm 73:25, MSG

You're all I want in heaven!
You're all I want on earth!


Psalm 23, MSG

A David psalm

1 GOD, my shepherd! I don't need a thing.
2 You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
3 True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

4 Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I'm not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd's crook
makes me feel secure.

5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I'm back home in the house of GOD
for the rest of my life.

The Message, © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Times of the traditional watches:

Ancient Night Watch

First watch | until midnight
Middle watch | until 3 a.m.
Morning watch | until 6 a.m.

Ancient Day Watch

Morning | until about 10 a.m.
Heat of day | until about 2 p.m.
Cool of day | until about 6 p.m.

New Testament Night Watch

First watch, evening | 6-9 p.m.
Second watch, midnight | 9-12 p.m.
Third watch, cock-crow | 12-3 a.m.
Fourth watch, morning | 3-6 a.m.

New Testament Day Watch

Third hour | 6-9 a.m.
Sixth hour | 9-12 midday
Ninth hour | 12-3 p.m.
Twelfth hour | 3-6 p.m.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Advent 2004

Advent 1 hope
From Advent 1, year B: Isaiah 64

1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. ...

From Advent 3, year C: Luke 3

7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
11 John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told
14 them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.

Advent 3 joy
Again Advent is here: Reign of Christ, a.k.a. the last Sunday of the liturgical year is behind us, so once more we’ll search the skies and search our hearts, seeking the world’s Redeemer and our Redeemer, too. Although the first Sunday of Advent 2004 began lectionary year A, Isaiah 64 is from year B and Luke's John the Baptist text from year C.

This past Wednesday morning the speaker at the ecumenical Advent breakfast preached on Matthew’s version of *the* John the Baptist text and said the uniqueness of Christianity was and still should be in its care for the poor and, of course, inclusive community.

It seems only a little while ago (but it was an entire year ago, during Advent 2003) I suggested God-among-us truly would be an Alleluia! moment, but then I quoted Luke’s John the Baptizer’s calling the people a brood of vipers and warning them they’d better flee from the wrath to come immediately before that same John announced the approaching Sovereignty of Heaven’s overcoming the chaos, dysfunction and sometimes despair on earth! As they awaited baptism, John’s riverside congregation asked, “The coming wrath? Fruits of repentance? God in our very midst? What then should we be doing?!”

Hmmmm...the God Who covenants and Who spoke to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and Who later sojourned with the people, faithfully leading them through the Exodus desert, bestowing gifts of water from the rock and sustenance from the sky, the Mighty One Who shepherded the people to the border and across the River into the land of milk and honey, to the Land of the Promise of the completeness of the Reign of God, that very same God soon will be arriving here, into our midst, and instead of shouting “Hallelujah!” the people ask what how they can escape from the wrath to come?! God is ready to honor the people’s plea of, “O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” but when they hear John the Baptist’s description of that day of the Holy One’s arrival and the nature of those “awesome deeds” they “did not expect,” they want to escape!

In response to the people’s asking what on earth they should be doing preceding God’s potential wrathful judgment, John says, “If you have two coats—share. If you have food—share.” The Greek word translated share means “gift giving” at its root. To religious types (like us?), this is astounding! John, foretelling God’s fiery arrival, did not say, “run and hide” or “go and pray,” nor did he remotely suggest, “make costly sacrifices to atone for your sins.” John the cousin of Jesus the forthcoming Messiah said, “Share, give a gift.”

Go beyond yourself and get beyond yourselves! If you have, whatever you have, share it with the have-nots. If you have two coats, give one to someone who has no coat and needs one. If you have food, give food to the hungry. Because when you share, if you give gifts, you prepare for the coming of God, our Judge and Redeemer by being the person God created you in His image to be, by being a bearer of gracious gifts. When by sharing what you have you help create a kindred community of equals, you become a big part of making God’s reign happen here in this place.

Caring for the poor among us and community are two essential aspects of being Christian, necessary facets of claiming the name of Jesus Christ who lived to embrace and to reconcile all creation to its Creator and to itself. Remember that Spirit-saturated, radically communitarian church we read about in Acts 2?

God’s advent into the midst of our human condition, God’s arrival in human history will be a time of wrath but also a Day of Grace: the text from 3rd Isaiah reminds the Sovereign Lord we are the people of His creation and cites our obligation to wait, to do righteousness, to remember God’s ways . . . According to 3rd Isaiah, God meets “those who gladly do right, those who remember God in His ways.”

Remembering the ways of God means doing those ways and works of God, performing justice and gifting others by sharing our clothing and food, welcoming the strangers and the sojourners into our community, into our commonality, because when we do so we realize both our humanity and the essence of the Divine image in which God created us; when we welcomingly embrace and gift our neighbors with our substance we become more and more like those early Christians who daily had walked with Jesus of Nazareth and who then finally recognized the Risen Christ among them when he broke bread with them, when he broke bread to share his life within their gathered community.

This Advent, as you anticipate God’s arrival, become who you are baptized to be, become the people of God, and be the people of God, live in the image of God’s justice God created you in: sharing what you have, opening your eyes and your hearts to those right around you, to those next door and down the street from you, to those who have less than you; in the Spirit assume your part in creating the Reign of God on this earth and right here in our midst. The righteous, the just are those people who live in the image of the God of Righteousness and Justice .

...because when God comes, God arrives with winnowing fork in hand, thrashing the wheat and chaff. All gets thrashed; the chaff blows away and gets burnt up, the wheat remains in God’s divine presence. The just, the “righteous” remain with God. Luke’s text describes this as John’s preaching “Good News,” preaching Gospel to the people! God is coming—what then are we going to do?