Of much worth

A friend (kindly) remarked today that she found my previous post encouraging. To be honest, it was a timely comment. I need the same truth I wrote about a few week ago just as much today as I did then. I think I am a slow learner – sometimes it takes a long time for the truth to sink in. But maybe we all need to hear these truths more than once, repeatedly even. Thankfully this Truth stays the same, yesterday, today and forever! Over and over, day after day, the same reminder that we are so loved, that He has done it all well. That we can breath easy in the wide open spaces of His grace. I gear up, face my to-do list, and struggle through it … till I am reminded to look up. Reminded of words I have said, truths I have known for such a long time. No matter, I still need to hear them over and over, I still need to be reminded less me, more  Him, less fear, more joy. So here I am writing again. Mostly for me, but maybe these words will encourage you too!

Advent : the season of waiting.

In the Northern Hemisphere the images of waiting for light in a dark season ring true. This year, having been transplanted from the Southern Hemisphere into the North, I have been thinking about what we wait for in our warm Australian Christmas season. Rest comes to mind, as the busyness of another school year winds up in a whirlwind. Refreshment, as the waves and sunshine of the beach calls us tired students and workers toward the summer holidays. Maybe even shade and shelter, from the fiery southern sun! Despite the differences that geography makes to our theology, some of our deeper longings may draw us together instead.

 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Even though we stand in a long line of those who have not valued God for who He is and what He does, the story of Christmas is the story of ‘Immanuel’, literally the story of ‘God-with-us’ in the Hebrew. The story of Christmas is, as Eugene Petterson puts it in the Message, the story of God “move[ing] right into the neighborhood”. We may not have listened to His prophets, we may not have understood His plans and purposes, we may not have even wanted too, but that did not deter Him. This is a God who loves the fragile, stubborn, dusty earthlings He has made with a “never-stopping-never-giving-up-always-and-forever-love” (with thanks to John Mustol and Sally Lloyd Jones). Perhaps you have been avoiding His voice and call, are struggling to hear it over the loud, demanding voices of the world or don’t feel you are worthy of it, painfully aware as you are of your brokenness. Whichever is closest to your story, John tells us that the Word itself, Himself, God-in-Action, came near that first Christmas.

You don’t come near if you don’t care.
You don’t come near if you are indifferent.
You come near when you can’t help yourself any longer.
You come near when being far away a moment more will break you.

The first Christmas marked the beginning of a life that was not glamorous or guarded. He did not hold Himself back, He was not disengaged.  He moved right into our mess because He cared. He wanted us to know that we were worth more than the mess, worth the more than the brokenness, worth coming near. Worth knowing, worth loving and worth saving. He let coming near break Him, His life and death showing, beyond a sceric of a doubt, that He thought we were worth it, worth it all. The whole glorious complex creation, now-broken-but-waiting-breath-bated project was and is still worthwhile to Him.

It is worth knowing then, that while we do wait in eager expectation to see His final (re-)creative handiwork in the full renewal of His creation project, we do not have to wait to know what He thinks of us. Jesus came near, reached out, held hands, partied, mourned, ate and drank with people just like us. Each one “precious and honored” Isaiah 43:4, and of much worth in His sight. So when a dark moment or mood unmoors you, remember Immanuel. Remember that Christmas is the story of God drawing near, of Him moving into the neighbourhood (even when it was not a very ‘nice’ one). Of God giving us “His son, His only Son, whom He loved” (my rewording of Genesis 22:2), showing us how much we are worth to Him.

What if it is all gift?

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I love gifts. I love giving them and I love receiving them. ‘Gifts’ are one of my top ‘love languages’. Unnecessary, they are given in love to bring delight, to show favour. They are usually above and beyond what we need or deserve, given ‘just because’.

Just recently I have been thinking about the idea that God chose to create, not because He had to, but because He wanted to. He made a beautiful world, affirming its goodness over and over again. Then He made us, and gave it to us to live in, to enjoy with Him. While I do not want to overlook the pain and brokenness that entered our human existence through our collective turning from God, I think that, this side of the cross, we are perhaps even in a better position to understand our lives as gift.

The story began as gift and ends as gift, John tells us that “Out of His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given” (John 1:16). God chose to create, He chose to call Abraham, He chose rescue Israel, He chose to send Jesus. And He chooses to work in us, inviting us into fullness of life (John 10:10). What if we lived into this? What if our lives were a place where we received “Every good and perfect gift [as] from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17 ‘is’ to ‘as’ – my editorial change)?

Sometimes there will be a painful tension here, I realise that. The brokenness of life ‘under the sun’ (a la Ecclesiastes) is real, so real in fact that God dealt with it fully and finally in Jesus. He knows and deeply feels our hurts, showing us by giving us Himself.

The problem of pain aside (while still wanting to acknowledge its weight), receiving a gift well actually forces our focus to shift. It involves humility, gratitude and it usually results in joy. Hands out, we open ourselves to the giver. Thanks on our lips, we slow down, stilling ourself to appreciate the moment. Delight bubbles up, not just in the gift, lovely as it maybe, but in the way it points us to the one who has given it. In recognition of their kindness toward us, their care for us.

If we received our times and our days like this, if I received my times and my days like this, I think, perhaps I might be on the right track. Because He is my Father and He does indeed give good gifts (Matthew 7:11). I think that there is a lightness to be found here, a joy God is calling us into. Grace upon grace, gift upon gift. Like a child eager for Christmas morning or their birthday, I want to try and live in anticipation of His readiness to gift – I do love presents, after all! What if our everyday-walking-around-lives were shaped by the joy of Love demonstrated in gifts given and received?

Going back and starting with Joy

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Some of my recent posts have been good to articulate (see Waiting, Walking and Working 1 & 2, and Ambivalent Consumer), but they took precedence over that which should have come before. They are desperate and true and difficult and so need tempering. Sometimes they end in a good place, but, perhaps, with a better beginning, the journey home may not be so hard. I want to return to a framework of joy so that I can work out the issues of embodiment, eating and clothing in a good place, in the right frame. In God’s story of good Creation and full Redemption. In Christ.

In his book, For the Life of the World, Schmemann insists that “from it’s very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of joy” (24). In the night, in our fragile, expectant state Luke calls out voicing a strong truth, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). It needs to be my theme verse! Maybe it needs to be yours too! At the other end of his biography of Jesus we see His disciples, beginning to grasp the meaning of that good news “worship[ing] Him and return[ing] to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52).

I think that Schmemann is right. It seems imperative we “recover the meaning of this great joy. We must if possible partake of it, before we discuss anything else – programs and missions, projects and techniques” (24-25). In other words, before we ‘do’ our praxis (or even try and figure out what our practical-lived-out-Christian life might be), we need to know, get, do joy. Maybe it will involve something like the Sons of Korah call us to in Psalm 46:10-11. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress”. The Lord is indeed with us, John affirms, He came and dwelt with us (1:14), loving us before we loved Him (1 John 4:10).

I suspect my natural tendency is always going to be to skip joy and get to the to-do list. I was so relieved to be told this morning reading Schmemann that I was getting it wrong, putting the cart before the horse, so to speak! The cart goes behind the horse because left in front it will not get anywhere and, by extension, will end up no good to anyone. I need the joy that comes from operating out of a right understanding of reality. That there is One who knows all, made all and loves all that He has made. That I am known and loved by Him, the One who brings real fullness of Life. That He is working good and His plans for cosmic wholeness will come to pass.

The list comes later. It is good and beautiful in its time, but only because these illuminating truths come first and inform it.

So, joy first. Even perhaps, little joys that remind me how to do Big Joy. Flowers that “unsettle the room” (thanks Kirk Patston) bringing grace and beauty. Making things. Talking to friends. All these things are deeply sacred, gifts from the Good Giver. Turning to thank Him for them a chance to be caught up into His Truth again, “the only possible joy on earth” (24), as Schmemann says.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:4-8)

Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963.

Collaboration

Cassette Dissasembled

One of the surprising things that has emerged from our ‘season of transition’ these last few months is an album! Inspired (but also daunted) by the 100 days of creativity movement, my husband decided to set himself the challenge of producing a song a week for all of Term 2. Ten songs in ten weeks resulted in an album, ’Ten’, which he is selling online at Bandcamp as a digital download and a cassette tape! With skills and interests elsewhere, it was a great delight for me to be able to help, not with the music side of things, but with the lyrics for a few of the songs.

I was really happy with the way this one turned out. The piece reminded me of a lullaby and I liked the idea of trying to write lyrics to match. I had also been listening to Eugene Petterson speak on prayer – particularly about how the church used to use Mary and Zechariah’s ‘song’s’ in daily prayers. As we wrote our lullaby, infused with truths from Zechariah’s song, we realised that what we were singing was true not just for Zechariah. Isaac, John and Jesus were all born as answers to prayers, as promises kept. Thorough the ages our hope has always been in God, coming through for His people, bringing light in the darkness. Today we walk in Abraham’s footsteps, following a God whose mercy and love guide our feet and call us to Him. Hope you enjoy it as much as we loved writing and playing it!

Abraham’s Child

Night falls fast
Eyelids droop
Heart beats slow
Day draws closed
Moon on high, haloed
Shadows on the door
Dark all around me

Stars shine through
We watch on
Count each one
All from You
Faithful to this house
We watch for Your dawn
The Son from on high to come

You my child
Are one of his
Our answered prayer
Now walk for Him
May His tenderness
Mercy and love
Guide our feet in peace

In the dark
A light shines forth
Our hope came in the morning

A promise kept
A babe is born
Our hope comes in the morning