Monday, December 31, 2012

Scars in the Snow

Few experiences compare to waking up to a fresh blanket of snow--shimmering impartially upon house, tree, field and road. At my childhood country home, we could linger as long as we wished in the warmth of the kitchen and still be the first to disturb the soft contours of the fallen flakes. When the urge to play could be denied no longer, we ventured into our front yard turned wonderland.

There is something sacred about that first step into the beautiful pristine white...

I would follow in the footsteps of my father's stride, unwilling to mar the landscape any more than necessary. My relative shortness required me to hop from hole to hole, but my two little feet fit comfortably within the canyon left by size 14 muckboots.

I envied the birds on these days, not for their flight, but for their lightness of foot. They would hop from seed to seed, leaving no trace of their presence. These delicate creatures somehow evade gravity on land as well as sky. I felt like an oaf compared to these winter birds. How I longed to play like them!
To enjoy the wonderland without ruining it.

Ah, but isn't all life like this?
           A new year is around the corner--unstained only because it has not seen life.

As soon as we touch anything with our humanity--be it a snow field, a pristine wilderness, a family, a lover--we risk making a mess of it. The snow becomes slush, the wilderness defiled, the family broken, lover hurt. As I became aware of this messiness I bring with my presence, this inevitable marring of the pristine, I have often opted to remain inside where my offending footprints do not offend. But in this hunkered down state, afraid of the weight of my steps I hear:
"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
Retreating from the world for fear of the pain it may bring me, or I may bring it, is no abundance. It's barely life.

What, then, is this call to abundant life? Permission to disregard responsibility? To intentionally damage?  Certainly not! Rather, it is an invitation to be free! Free to play, to love, to hurt, to change, to fail.  For where life is abundant, so is grace.

This new year I resolve to live abundantly--not perfectly. To live abundantly--not fearfully. To dive headlong into the beauty of it all--to sled, make snowmen, have snowball fights.

And then, after hours of abundant living, to come back indoors, warm my hands and throat with a cup of hot chocolate and look outside.  There will be a scene no longer pristine, but one that has had life happen to it in a disruptive, joyful, memorable, scarring and abundant way.

How will you live abundantly this year?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Preparing to Host

Observing my parents host Christmas dinner over the years has become a familiar cadence of cooking, cleaning, decorating and waiting.  Lists of prioritized tasks litter the cabinets.  A list of things to collect.  Folding chairs from Mother and Daddy.  Things to do.  Decorate porch.  Wrap presents.  Food to prepare. Bake sticky buns. Thaw roast. Peel potatoes. The rate of activity accelerates predictably as the anticipated day approaches, until the morning of the festive day.

             This moment holds its breath.
A nostalgic view

We pause, Mom, Dad, and I, over a breakfast of sticky buns and coffee.  We comment on the weather, our hope for a white Christmas never completely defeated until the day's end.  Dad looks out the window over his few acres with satisfaction--a garden asleep for the winter, a fattening calf, unseen hens nestled in their coop.  Mornings such as this, remind me how much my family has given me, and how little is required for an abundant life. We get lost in the warmth of the winter kitchen, not avoiding our work ahead, but not overly aware of it either.

Until that moment, the inevitable moment, when my mother realizes we've lingered too long.  There is no more tarrying after this. The last minute preparations have begun!  "Lengthen the table."  "How many place settings? 15? 16?"  The whir of the mixing mashed potatoes drowns out the answer.

The flurry continues until all the dust is dusted, the place settings placed and the roast, roasted.  Any overlooked preparations would remain unattended to for the time has come.  The guests are arriving.  The celebration begins.

My father, from whom I inherited my optimistic time management, cinches his belt just in time.  The doorbell rings, as if cued by his tucked in shirttail.  Little ones, eager to bound into Grandma's festive home--there is nothing quite like a Grandmother's house at Christmastime--leave no space for the doorbell to resolve its refrain.  Di- di- di- di- di-dong!  The overworked chime sighs its final note, but its conclusion is lost amid a chorus of  "Come in!  Come in!"  "Merry Christmas!" "How was the drive?"  The kiddies slip past a jungle of towering legs and through the welcome opening that separates the crisp winter evening from the smell of Christmas dinner, the soft light of the Christmas tree, and the warmth of home.

The week of cooking, cleaning, and anticipating will be consumed, dirtied and over by bedtime that evening. Hospitality is odd that way.

Advent is our time of preparation for a spiritual hospitality.  To make our inner homes a worthy dwelling place for a King.  "Prepare the way of the Lord!" exhorts John the Baptist.  Clear the cobwebs of bitterness!  Prepare the feast of a grateful heart!  Set a place setting worthy of your Lord!

Yet, is it because of our preparation that the holy chooses to come to our house?  Or will he come whether the table is set or not?  Will he come if we have overslept? Or couldn't afford a feast? Or had to work?  Or were too busy grieving the loss of a child, father or friend?  Will he come whether we are prepared or not?

Before receiving the body and blood of Christ we pray:
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
I wonder if our most important preparation this season is simply to cry out for help.  To ask our Lord to simply say a word and in doing so, healing our soul.

What are your thoughts?  How should we prepare for the coming of a King?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Come To Us

Only in Christ is weakness made strong
Loss is gain
Uncertainty bends

Come to us, O Lord!

Loneliness cowers in the presence of friends
Fear runs away
Apathy flees

Come to us, O Lord!

Can a spark be dull?
Can hope find room in a jaded heart?

Bitterness refuses to hold hands with freedom.
Clarity chases confusion away
And home relieves all concerns of not knowing one's way

Come to us, O Lord!

Bring us strength.  Bring us freedom
Bring us hope. Bring us life.

Come to us, O Lord!

Bring us home. Bring home to us.

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's Good to Be Home

"It's good to be home."  I heave a sigh of contented agreement in reply.  The words of my dear friend may sound odd to an eavesdropping ear given our context--the portion of the Appalachian Trail that weaves its way through the Shenandoah Valley.  After all, it is the first time either of us have tread upon this particular piece of land and the loads on our back betray our nomadic intentions.  The vistas are novel feasts for our eyes.  Our breakfast companions are new acquaintances.  And the trail does not exist because of our travels, but is a gift from the hundreds of hikers that went before us.  Yet here, in this new, yet strangely familiar place, is where we experience a comfort that too often eludes us at the addresses that claim our residence. How could a place previously unknown apart from maps, photos and hearsay every deserve this heartfelt description, "home"?

As I reflect on the Advent season, the same paradox both bewilders my reason and quickens my spirit.  Advent--a time of anticipation, expectation, hope.  And what do we anticipate if not wholeness, belonging, rest?  What do we hope for other than to be fully at home? Yet a hope that is seen is no hope at all.  So we hope for what we do not see. We look forward to a home unknown apart from maps and hearsay.   
For the Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God ....
                 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as  we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
            For in this hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees? 
                                                                      But if we hope for  what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8)  
As we plod through ordinary life, tasks and routine we are tempted to believe that the fullness of home has arrived.  On our most common of days, we look only to the few yards in front of our toes.  Yet, in this season we are reminded to look up!  To remember the whole story.  To remember that the painful severing of our family bonds, the exploitation of our lands, the abuse of our children, the cancer that plagues our bodies, the greed, power lust and pride that threatens to strangle our communities is not the home God meant for us.  Advent calls us into a beautiful adventure--to place our hope in the humble, unimpressive, human child who is God himself.  This is an adventure that promises to take all the disrepair which we have come to accept and transform it into something beautiful.  An adventure that will bring us home.

This Advent, let us anticipate the day in which we find ourselves in a kingdom entirely new, yet strangely familiar.  And in a peace that passes all understanding we will sigh at last, "It's good to be home."

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Welcome to Adventuring Slowly!

A brick pattern, more fully known by my feet
than my eyes, marks the onset of my
morning walk to work
In this inch of infinite virtual space I tend to explore the tension between seeking and dwelling, searching out the unknown and resting in the familiar.  This desire for both adventure and home is primarily a personal quest, although I observe it in the culture and conversations that surround me with a distinct regularity. Planted within me is a spirit that quickens at the call of exploration and discovery.  Learning a new skill. Navigating through unfamiliar terrain. Nurturing young relationships.  Yet the constant companion of this adventurous spirit is an old soul who delights in predictability and the supposed mundane.  Recognizing the cracks in the sidewalk between home and work.  Being served my preferred drink at the bar before uttering a word. The chorus of "Amens" at the appropriate liturgical pauses.

Too often I have neglected either adventure or home in an infatuated pursuit of the other.  But perhaps the two can coexist?  Perhaps they even complement one another, spurring the other on to be more fully itself and more fully appreciated.  Maybe adventure strengthens home and home provides a context for adventure.

"Seeking enlightenment or the Promised Land or the way home, a man would go or be forced to go into the wilderness, measure himself against the Creation, recognize finally his true place within it, and thus be saved both from pride and from despair.  Seeing himself as a tiny member of a world he cannot comprehend or master or in any final sense possess, he cannot possibly think of himself as a god.  And by the same token, since he shares in, depends upon, and is graced by all of which he is a part, neither can he become a fiend; he cannot descend into the final despair of destructiveness.  Returning from the wilderness, he becomes a restorer of order, a preserver.  He sees the truth, recognizes his true heir, honors his forebears and his heritage, and gives his blessing to his successors.  He embodies the passing of human time, living and dying within the human limits of grief and joy." 
From The Body and the Earth by Wendell Berry
I invite you to join me as I embark on this adventure of seeking and dwelling!