“Love be our song and love our prayer, and love our endless story…” an excerpt from verse 4 of Awake, Awake and Greet the New Morn.
When I was in 5th grade, I memorized I Corinthians 13 (the “love chapter” of the Bible) at camp. I did it for the challenge — and because I was a geek– and (most of all) for the T-shirt! I grew up in a UCC congregation, which though not liberal, was certainly not fundamentalist. At camp that summer I first encountered the notion that I must pray to be “saved” and “take Jesus into my heart” otherwise I would go to hell. Ironically, this initial exposure to fear-based religion also helped to kindle in me a fervent love for scripture. It also introduced me to an incredibly passionate love for Jesus: when we sang those Gospel songs, we sang with all our hearts! It’s hard to explain, but this singing filled a deep yearning in me.
This “ancient history” came to mind this evening in the midst of a Bible study on I Corinthians 13. Studying this text reminded me that love– love for ourselves, love for our neighbors and families, love for the world, passionate, fervent, love– is complex and imperfect, and absolutely most important thing. Advent is, above all, about the way that the love of God comes to be born among us, and for us, and within us. Advent is the story of a love that is big enough and wide enough and deep enough to embrace us all.
Each winter as the year grows older, we all grow older too. The chill sets in a little colder; the verities I knew seem shaken and untrue. / When race and class cry out for treason, when sirens call for war, they overshout the voice of reason, and scream till we ignore all we held dear before./ But I believe beyond believing, that life can spring from death; that growth can flower from our grieving; that we can catch our breath and turn transfixed by faith. / So even as the sun is turning to journey to the north, the living flame in secret burning, can kindel on the earth, and bring God’s love to birth. / O Child of estascy and sorrows, O Child of peace and pain, brighten today’s world by tomorrow’s renew our lives again; Christ Jesus, come and reign! words by William Gay
On Sunday, one of our elders gifted me with a conversation about the experience of aging. She had read a striking article that confirmed her sense that old age as a wonderful time of life. She acknowledged that, yes, it is hard to face the physical challenges of aging. And, yes, it is terrible to lose a spouse and countless other loved ones. And yet, she mused, for the first time in her life, she was free. She could do whatever she wanted to do with her days.
The Advent hymn I quote here isn’t well-known, but I love it. Life in this world confronts us continually with hard truths and real fears, but it also offers joy and delight at surprising times and in unexpected places. Where, in this season of your life, do you see “the living flame in secret burning”?
“To us, to all in sorrow and fear, Emmanuel comes a singing, whose humble song is quiet and near, yet fills the earth with its ringing. Music to heal the broken soul and hymns of loving kindness, the thunder of the anthems roll to shatter all hate and injustice.” (verse 2 of Awake, Awake and Greet the New Morn by Marty Haugen)
I’ve been following the stories of violence in the powderhorn neighborhood: the 12 year old shot and paralyzed, and the mother and two children who were assaulted at gunpoint in the park. Today’s Star Trib reported that neighbors are planning a gathering in the park this week. “Instead of grief and outrage, participants have been asked to ‘bring music, art, puppets, laughter, hope and food’ The mother “said that she and her family are forgiving of the suspects, not much older than her children. ‘I guess I might fall into despair, hopelessness and hatred sometime along my healing journey, but I can honestly say I don’t experience them right now,’ she wrote. ‘My spiritual practices ground me in love and possibility.” That’s Advent! God’s love and healing and creativity dawns in our deepest night!
This is the first of our daily Advent postings. We will frame each brief reflection with a snippet from an Advent or Christmas hymn. We hope you will join us, as we ponder what it looks to “make room” and “open doors” in our lives for the one who is coming.
Wake, awake, for night is flying! (Philipp Nicolai, 1599)
This morning, I awoke at 4 am. In the inky morning darkness, I delivered my partner and our 19 month old daughter to the airport. They will spend a week at Holden Village, a retreat center in the mountains of Washington State. I will miss them AND I will enjoy time and space for myself while they are away! Advent calls us to cultivate a wakeful spirit. Ironically, I find that to be awake, I must rest. In order to engage an Advent attitude– alert yet calm, full of yearning and full of hope– I need to sleep and exercise and pray. I’m making [more] room for this balance in my life this Advent.
A few weeks ago, a 12-year-old girl named Guadalupe Galeno-Hernandez was shot at 34th & Chicago in South Minneapolis. Guadalupe survived the shooting but is likely paralyzed from the waist down.
I pass through this intersection on a virtually daily basis. It’s on my path to 35W, the highway that takes me almost everywhere I need to go. I was safe at home when this act of terrible violence took place. I had no idea it happened for several days. Now, when I drive past the site of the crime, there is no evidence I can see. Just a “normal” house.
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Listening to the radio last night, I caught most of a piece about a study called: “The Old and New Politics of Faith: Religion and the 2010 Election.” Here’s the full transcript: www.npr.org/2010/11/17/131393356/faith-politics-and-the-2010-election
What really grabbed my attention in this piece was this particular exchange:
SIEGEL: But when you speak of American exceptionalism in these terms, what are you speaking of?
Mr. GALSTON: Well, the idea that America is a chosen nation that has been singled out by God for a distinctive mission in the world, we put a very strong version of that proposition on the table in this survey and 6 in 10 Americans affirmed it. Indeed, 30 percent of people who probably don’t believe in God at all affirmed it. So, this is a remarkably persistent part of America’s cultural and political DNA that I think our political leaders ignore at their peril.
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I know lots of First Churchers voted on Tuesday. Some of you folks even voted at the church itself, as it is a long-time polling place for this neighborhood. There was a sense of excitement as people flowed through our doors.
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