Welcoming 2013

Dear Lord,

I suppose each and every moment is an invitation from you to consider life and love and light and all the big questions. If so, I must plead guilty to hardly ever hearing the invitation, let alone responding to it in a meaningful way. So let me stop here, and begin by thanking You for continually inviting this deaf and mute and blind servant of yours to become more attentive, more open to hear and see and say what is really right here. Thank You for that constant gift.

Somehow, in the midst of that blessed and ongoing invitation, the end of a year as we measure it, and the advent of another, seems more to get my attention, to help me actually to hear You opening the opportunity for me to take the measure of life and to see You alive within it; indeed to see you as the reason there is life at all.

Thank You for this moment then, and for those that have preceded throughout 2012, and for those about to follow in the time that we will name 2013. I have to say that over the past 12 months I have rarely valued the moment, so caught up have I been in responding to what had just transpired, or in anticipation of what I thought was about to happen. Caught between past and future, I most often neglected the present.

Further, with television and internet and myriad means of communication all around, I often neglected my immediate context so caught up was I in the big world around me. This is a conundrum. I am a part of that larger world, and I believe that with all others I share a responsibility for the totality of this human world. And yet, if I focus there almost to the exclusion of the reality closer at hand, what do I fail to see, to say, to note, to learn from, to appreciate, to savor, to love? So caught again between macro and micro, I often failed to appreciate what was directly before me.

Every year during this Christmas season I am reminded, along with all Christian brothers and sisters, that you are Emmanuel. That is, that you are God-with-us. And this means that You are God with us principally in this present moment, In this time and place. Yes, it is blessedly true that You have been with us through all the moments that we now experience as past. When I dwell on any part of that past, I gain a deeper sense of your faithfulness and love for me. And it is true, as I heard it said recently, that You come to us out of the future, that all that is to come is Yours.

And yet, the moment that I have to spend with You, the moment that I have to be with You, the moment that I have to realize that You live and speak and love, is this moment. This moment. Right now. And right here. I have only this moment, each one as they come forth from Your heart. And that is enough. Much more than enough.

I cannot know what the year ahead will bring, in any of its moments. I can guess from those that have gone before that it will include all that we have yet experienced, both those things that make our hearts sing and those that bring us near the abode of despair. I can guess too that it may bring us to extremes that we have not yet seen. Our times seem more and more to be extreme times. But all the details are hidden from me. And I am glad that they are. Life, death, and all in-between is coming down the celestial highway. I am content to meet each part in its own time.

But in it all, help me to listen more often and carefully for your gentle invitations. Allow me to greet the succeeding moments with more confidence than fear, with more expectation than dread. And grant me in doing so to be for others a source of comfort, of encouragement, and an inspiration to live joyfully.

Bless this world as You wish, Lord God, in the coming days. Help us to be a people more willing to embrace Your good gifts, or rather to allow ourselves to be embraced by them. Every moment is a new creation, and at each new creation I hear Your voice again: “It is good. It is very good.”

Thank You, Lover and Giver and Savior, for the invitation into a new year.

Amen.

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Formless Void & Re-Creation: standing with Sandy Hook

Schools are places of order. Like courthouses and churches, we consider them to be oases of order in a disordered world. In our schools our sense of how the world should be is set up and put in place for the benefit of each generation, and in them for the benefit of society at large.

I am writing the morning after the choking violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in southwestern Connecticut. I am writing within a school, the Mercer School of Theology of the Diocese of Long Island. Down the corridor adults, men and women who desire to serve the church and world as deacons are in class, learning the beauty of Scripture, the gift of theological thought, the history that precedes this day.

It is quiet here. It is ordered.

But yesterday’s event is an horrific reminder that the order we forge, the tidiness that we work at creating can in a moment be overrun by the primordial disorder, the “formless void and darkness” named in the second verse of the Hebrew Scriptures. That void itself takes shape in the society of our nation with deeply disturbing regularity. This Advent weekend it has left behind families robbed of light, emptied classrooms, broken hearts, and photos of human sorrow the very viewing of which widens that circle of grieving hearts.

After Christmas each year Christians remember the Holy Innocents, those children who were killed in Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus by a ruler overwhelmed by fear. This year the Holy Innocents have lost their lives before we recall the coming of God among us in Christ. Things are out of order. Completely.

Face to face with chaos of this magnitude, with a turmoil that boils over from a single human mind to claim life after life, what should we do?

First, we must take the time to mourn. Far beyond the borders of Newtown, families, parents, loving individuals and communities must not allow the onward rush of this lurching world too soon to move us beyond the fundamental human loss here. These lives lost, from the youngest to the oldest, are worthy of our tears. Of a river of tears.

Secondly, we can allow our confrontation with the inward and outward anarchy of these hours to place us in solidarity with suffering around the planet. A bereft Connecticut community suffers along with Syrian towns where incendiary ‘barrel bombs’ tumble from the sky today and take the lives of children. Families who have lost loved ones are held in the prayers today of those whose dear ones died in prior days at Aurora, Colorado, at the Amish country West Nickel Mines School in Lancaster County, at Columbine High School, and at almost innumerable other sites where the formless void has erupted among us. Again and again.

Thirdly, we can marshal the tools needed to take a step back and assess our society and our culture. This society and culture are not alien to us. They are us. And so we have the responsibility to ask: why do these crimes of mass murder afflict this nation like a plague? The by-now usual suspects will be rounded up as this national discussion is, for the moment at least, renewed. And they must be. There will always be mental illness in our population, suffered by individuals and if not taken seriously, potentially bringing suffering to many beyond the ill individuals and their families. There will always be violence among us, though statistically violence has decreased worldwide. But will there always be as many firearms among us? Will they always be as available as they are? Will the weapons in the hands of the enraged, the out-of-control, the ill, always be those capable of creating the bloodiest carnage? Will we ever possess the heart, the character, the strength as a people to struggle through a shared conversation on this constellation of grievous topics until we reach a conclusion which, if not shared by all, we can at least live with, rather than die by suddenly and helplessly?

The voices of twenty children, and those of adults who cared and loved and educated them, were stilled yesterday at Sandy Hook. Our voices are not. To paraphrase Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Living, able to speak, we are responsible to insist that a national conversation on more-than-adequate mental healthcare for all, and on firearm violence among us, begins now and does not cease until we as a people are satisfied and at peace.

Disorder will continue to afflict our world. But we are responsible nonetheless, in the sight of God, to bring order out of chaos. As often as we must.

John McGinty
(c) December 15, 2012

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[Photo from Globalgrind.com]

Seeing the Signs (1 Advent 2012)

First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:13-16; Psalm 25:1-10; ! Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21: 25-36
December 2, 2012

Yesterday morning I was walking the dog. The remaining green is only on the evergreens that we so value this time of year that we bring them into our homes as decorations for the celebration of the Incarnation of the Christ. But the other trees, those still sanding after Sandy, are bare. I looked at them stripped of all evidence of life, naked before the white wintry sky.

And I thought of the parable Jesus gives us in Luke’s 21st chapter on this first Sunday of the new season of Advent. He talks about the fig tree and all the trees; how we know that summer is coming and the growing season is near when we see them begin to bud and leaf up again. Jesus is saying that there are signs around us that we catch, and that we recognize their meaning. As I walked I saw the bare trees, without any sign (some of them) that a leaf had ever been on their branches, and I wondered what sign these give us, what meaning they carry?

They certainly tell us that the growing season for 2012 is past in our hemisphere. They tell us to bundle up, to prepare for winter, to get ready to bear with the cold and the darkness until the earth turns again toward the sun, and warmth returns.

Every year, on the first season of Advent, we are invited not to look back – to the manger at Bethlehem – that comes later in the season. Instead we are asked on this Sunday as the church’s new year begins to look ahead, to look further than we can even see, and to use the signs we recognize around us to help us see that bit further.

What are the signs we see today in our time and place? We need to take that question seriously, for within the answer we provide it is our sense of how (and whether) God is present with us in our living today. I came back from walking the dog yesterday to hear the news of a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker killing his girlfriend and then himself. I heard the news of continuing tension between Israel and Palestine, of ongoing civil war in Syria, and I saw families bringing Christmas trees home and putting up decorations that will be covered with lights to make a statement in the darkness of this time of year. I rose this morning to hear of an attack on American base in Afghanistan and to see the photo of a young New York City police officer with loving care placing boots he bought himself on the wounded feet of a homeless man in Times Square this past week. In the midst of all this, what does the Word tell us about where and who God is? What does the opening of Advent tell us about the deepest truth of who we are called to become and to be?

The ancient voice of Jeremiah lives and is fresh today as he speaks prophetically in God’s name and says, “Know that I will keep the promises that I have made, and that my promises are for your good and your salvation, whatever may happen. I am with you.” The voice of Paul the Apostle is filled with a bright and burning love. He is writing to the brand new church at Thessalonika. He had been living with them and teaching them the Gospel, calling them to faith in Jesus for probably less than a month when circumstances separated Paul from them for a period of time that they would have no way to measure or predict. The Apostle had only known them for a brief moment, but did you hear the love he expresses for that community, and the desire to see them again?

“Night and day we pray most most earnestly that we may see you face to face . . . . May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another, just as we abound in love for you!”

And Jesus, speaking of dreadful disasters to come of moon and sun and stars and sea and waves, yet encourages us in the next breath, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is near at hand!” Your redemption: your being made right with God, your completion and perfection as a person, your salvation. These blessings are coming near directly within the travails and troubles of the time.

What are the signs telling us?
That come what may, God is with us.
That whatever may happen, God loves us.
That no matter what, God’s desire is to save us and to embrace us closely.
And that we are of inestimable value in the eyes of the One who brought all things to be in creation.

What are we being told?
Pay attention as you live.
Respond to what you see happening around you.
Know that you will come into hard times.
Never falter.
Always live in hope. God can bring new possibility for blessing out of impossible hardship.

That last is a theme we will see repeated throughout this season of Advent. God is doing something new. It is more than we can imagine. It is more than all of our decorations and our shopping, our gift-giving and our singing could ever express. There is something big going on here. Pay attention!

Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest, icon of the 60’s and of anti-war and peace movements, now in his 90’s, is also a poet. His poem, “Advent,” says it all on this first Sunday as we begin to live this season worth living, this season of Advent hope:

“Advent,” by Daniel Berrigan

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss —
This is true: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction —
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever —
This is true: For unto us a child is born, and unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of Peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world —
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth,
and lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted,
who are the prophets of the Church, before we can be peacemakers.
This is true: I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your young shall see visions,
and your old shall have dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for the liberation of humanity, for justice, human dignity, and
peace are not meant for this earth and for this history —
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope.
Let us see visions of love and peace and justice.
Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage:
Jesus Christ — the Life of the world.

[Source: “Testimony: The Word Made Fresh,” by Daniel Berrigan. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004.]

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