Highway to Holiness

Filed under:Johannine Advent, advent, being jesus, children, church, history — posted by Sonja on December 18, 2007 @ 7:26 pm

8 And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it;
it will be for those who walk in that Way;
wicked fools will not go about on it.

9 No lion will be there,
nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,

10 and the ransomed of the LORD will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, we did lectio divina the other night with 7 children and 5 adults. There were varying reactions. LightBoy recognized elements of the Psalms in this reading which cheered his mother’s heart greatly.

It was very interesting to me that verse 8 rang out to me and LightHusband and LightGirl, but for different reasons and in different ways, but when we put all of our parts together the story became complete. LightGirl heard a command to holiness and was offended because no one can be completely holy in this life, so who could walk on this highway? I heard a promise that all will be kept safe from highway men and beasts. LightHusband heard a prophecy fulfilled in that we live after Jesus in a time and place when there are no unclean, and the lions and ferocious beasts are penned. We have been redeemed and walk in freedom.

Not all who live in the world are so blessed I reminded LightHusband. Those who live in the land where these words were originally spoken might disagree that they have been fulfilled. Then one of the other children wanted to know where they had been spoken, so we talked about that for a little.

This Highway … it made quite an impression on me. I’ve been pondering it. Isaiah’s prophecy is rich in description here. I went looking for his timeline and place. Isaiah is dated to sometime towards the trickly end of the Assyrian Empire, he did some of his prophesying during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. This puts him close to 700 BCE and makes the capital of the Assyrian Empire, Nineveh. Ohhh … where have we heard about that city before? I wanted to know where Nineveh is/was. It’s about 2/3 of the way up the Tigris river in what is modern day Iraq. The ancient ruins were completely looted in 2003 and much of our common history was lost.

I found a map ..
… of the Assyrian Empire.

Now, if you look at that map, the red line indicates the path that the Hebrew exiles took out of Israel when the Assyrians overran them. Take a moment and ponder the idea of exile in 722 BCE. Let the stink and sweat of fear, loss, hunger and death permeate your bones for a few minutes as you consider a forced march and endless footsteps of dry, dusty desert to slavery.

Read Isaiah’s prophecy again. Read what he has to tell those Hebrew men and women about what God has in store for them. Wait, he says, wait. God’s road back will be filled with water, and safety and clean clothes, and good food to eat and there will be joy and singing at the end. You will come home. You will come home. And we will have a party. What faith. What hope.

Can we too hang on? Can we remember this? This road back to God … She promises it will be filled with good food and water and there is going to be a party at the end. We’ll be safe too. We just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, with our eyes on Him.

Swords Into Plowshares – December Synchroblog

Filed under:Johannine Advent, being jesus, community, holidays, hope, justice, peace — posted by Sonja on December 12, 2007 @ 8:11 am

Swords into plowsharesHe will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Isaiah 2:4

I still remember my first encounter with this verse. It was at this monument to peace outside the United Nations. Across the street from the General Assembly building. It is engraved on the foundation stone. I was with a group of students who were studying at the United Nations for a semester. This day was our introduction to the General Assembly and we were exploring on a break. I recall standing in front of this statue transfixed by the thought and the beauty of the man. I was 20 years old at the time. Fresh out of the country side of Vermont. I stood there for a long, long time … drinking it in. And I’ve never forgotten it.

I remember very, very little from that semester. There are moments that I’ve captured. The moment that I think I was very nearly arrested at the Romanian mission was one … they just did not believe I was merely seeking information about their country’s response to the Law of the Sea treaty! The day I spent at Central Park listening to the first Simon & Garfunkle reunion concert was another. The moment I first saw this statue was a third.

The fright at the Romanian mission and the Simon & Garfunkle concert have remained interesting and titillating memories. But the moment before the statue changed something deep in my soul. At the time, I had not had enough exposure to Biblical literature to understand that the “poem” came from scripture. It was quite simply breathtaking. It stayed with me for years and years. I remembered it and it whispered in the deep places of my mind for a decade until I read the Bible for the first time.

Ironically, the statue was a gift to the United Nations from the (then) Soviet Union in 1959. I say, ironically, because the Soviet Union is/was known for being atheist. So it is ironic to me that a statue dedicated to peace would have Judeo-Christian scripture engraved upon it.

I’ve been thinking about that scripture quite a bit this week. It was one of the scriptures we read during our advent candle lighting last Sunday. I found it interesting. Last Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent, was the Sunday of Hope. I’ve been wondering why this reading from Isaiah 2 was included. It seems to be more synchronous with the second Sunday, the Sunday of Peace.

I’ve also been thinking about how to go about keeping the peace. About the nitty-gritty, if you will, of peaceful living. Living at at peace with my fellow men and women with whom I’m walking the earth. Ohhhh … there are days when beating swords into plowshares seems like the easy button.

As I have been going about my days this phrase, “swords into plowshares” has been fluttering around my head beating against the edges like a caged butterfly. They resound inside my head and there is, as Aslan might say, a deeper magic there. I think I might have found some of it finally as I was driving to (or was it fro) the rink the other day.

We think of war and think of killing, bombs, guns, destruction, death. We think of ugliness. Often in movies I’ve noticed that times of war and war scenes are subtly shot in greyed out colors, stark, brutal.

What is the opposite of war? Peace. How do we think of peace? What do we imagine a peaceful existence to look like? Have we, as a culture or community, ever imagined peace?

whirled peas

People joke about it. But we cannot truly envision it. Some of us Jesus-y types speak in erudite terms about the Kingdom of God and we think glow-y thoughts. We know the glimpses of it when we see it, but we don’t know how to define it. We want to bring it closer, but know that we cannot … not on our own. So what is the opposite of war? Peace. What does that look like?

Plowshares. It looks like plowshares. It finally hit me. Peace looks like plowshares.

For those of you who are currently thinking, “Girlfrien’s done lost her pea-pickin’ mind,” give me a minute or two. First, you’re probably wondering what a plowshare is. A plowshare is the metal/iron part of the plow that actually digs up the dirt, breaks up the clods, and prepares the ground for planting. It generally has to be sort of sharp, not like a sword, but it has to be sharpened for each use as well. So turning swords into plowshares is not as unlikely as it seems. At the time that the words were spoken, both were made of the same material (iron) and forged by the same guy (blacksmith). This held true for many hundreds of years afterwards.

I started to think about what a plowshare could stand for, now that we are not an agrarian society any longer. Plowshares … they are the source. They allow creativity, development, beauty, art and ultimately, life. They could be an icon for fullness, life, food, community, family (a person cannot plow alone), health. We have talked about peace for so long that we no longer really know what it means. It is ephemeral, evanescent, fugitive and flitting. It dances around the edges of our consciousness and taunts us with it’s shadow.

Looking for peace. Looking for signs of the plowshare. Places where swords have been consciously put down and redeemed into the icons of those things that can give humans back their gifts. Where people are redeemed and not sacrificed to Baal, er, the system. That’s what I’m looking for this season. Sometimes I see it peeking around the corner at me. I’m still working on my definition. But at least this year, I’m beginning to know what I’m looking for.

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Redeeming the Season is the Topic for this month’s SynchroBlog. Now there are a variety of seasons being celebrated at the end of each year from Christmas to Hannukah to Eid al-Adha and Muharram, from the Winter Solstice to Kwanzaa and Yule. Some people celebrate none of these seasonal holydays, and do so for good reason. Below is a variety of responses to the subject of redeeming the season. From the discipline of simplicity, to uninhibited celebration, to refraining from celebrating, to celebrating another’s holyday for the purpose of cultural identification the subject is explored. Follow the links below to “Redeeming the Season.” For more holidays to consider see here

Recapturing the Spirit of Christmas at Adam Gonnerman’s Igneous Quill
Swords into Plowshares at Sonja Andrew’s Calacirian
Fanning the Flickering Flame of Advent at Paul Walker’s Out of the Cocoon
Lainie Petersen at Headspace
Eager Longing at Elizaphanian
The Battle Rages at Bryan Riley’s Charis Shalom
Secularizing Christmas at JohnSmulo.com
There’s Something About Mary at Hello Said Jenelle
Geocentric Versus Anthropocentric Holydays at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
Celebrating Christmas in a Pluralistic Society at Erin Word’s Decompressing Faith
Redeeming the season — season of redemption by Steve Hayes
Remembering the Incarnation at Alan Knox’ The Assembling of the Church
A Biblical Response to a Secular Christmas by Glenn Ansley’s Bad Theology
Happy Life Day at The Agent B Files
What’s So Bad About Christmas? at Julie Clawson’s One Hand Clapping

Advent = Waiting

Filed under:Johannine Advent, advent, children, expectantly, faith, family, holidays, holy spirit, hope — posted by Sonja on December 11, 2007 @ 10:27 am

I know most people have heard the term, “ants in your pants,” and most of us have talked about being itchy for something. But I think I’ve taken the idea of being itchy and waiting too literally this year.

I cannot stop itching. I’ve had this rashy thing going on since early November. I had a brief respite last week through the wonders of pr*dnisone. So I have an appointment with a dermatologist today and an allergist tomorrow.

In the meantime I’m on my version of an allergy-free diet (I’m not allergic to meat, dairy, potatoes, apples, and spinach) and I’m waiting. The joke around the house has become that I can eat dirt. If it lives in the dirt, I can eat it. LightHusband (unwittingly) bought a nice pork butt for the crock pot today. I announced, as I put dinner together this morning, “Great! I’m now eating dirt and butt. What a wonderful life!” In true 10 year old fashion, LightBoy pounced on the idea of eating butt.

“Are we really eating butt?”

“Yes.” flat-eye look.

“Well. I hope they washed it first.” and he knocked himself over with his comic prowess.

Being itchy as I am has given me a weird dynamic to reflect on the waiting that we do and how we do it. I suppose I shouldn’t speak for everyone here, I can only really speak for myself. I’m not a very good wait-er. I don’t think our culture is very good at waiting. We want what we want when we want it. If it’s not given to us, then we go out and get it for ourselves somehow. We find ways around the rules. We don’t like change so much. Change requires that we live within the rules and work through them.

God requires that we wait. She sent a baby in response to several hundred years of waiting for a king. It was so upside down that no one saw what was happening. Despite the prophecy, they could not see it. I’ll bet none of us could have seen it. The Light came and the darkness didn’t know it.  History is always obvious once you know what is going to happen. But in the moment? Not so much. And no one took note of a poor Hebrew couple from a hick town who were so unorganized and disconnected they couldn’t even find a room for the night. It wasn’t the holiday season back then. It wasn’t cHannukah. It wasn’t anything. It was just mid-winter and a census. There was nothing going on … it was the long dry spell between the high holy days of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret in the autumn and the Pesach holiday in the spring. Into that period of waiting and rest for the winter, Herod called a census.

So, the child/babe was born. We celebrate this every year. But here’s the thing. He had to grow up. More waiting. 30 years of it. For Mary, thirty years of clinging to a couple of sentences with an angel in a barn, sprinkled with a few incidents throughout Jesus’ young life. We throw around casual phrases, “Jesus was either a liar or a lunatic or Lord of all,” and think we’re cute. I wonder about how those paradigms played out for the waiting that Mary lived. Or Joseph. What is it like to have a 12 year old son break all the strict rules when you know in your heart He is the messiah? And very few others recognize that? Mary had a powerful, earthy faith in the Father that allowed her to continue on. We don’t know what questions her heart asked. But we do know that she kept on in the face of them.

How we wait and whether we wait, I’m coming to believe, is a reflection of our levels of faith, hope and peace. Waiting is difficult. Whether or not we can talk ourselves through it is a reflection of where our faith is, whether or not we have hope and what we think of of peace. Are we willing to wait on God and Her timing for a particular issue, or will we shoehorn our timing and plans in where they do not belong? Waiting is hard and discerning the difference between God’s plans and mine is even more difficult sometimes. It is very beguiling to think that because this or that appears to be working out, it must be within the Divine will. So, I must wait. Wait. And wait again. Even then I usually get it wrong. When we want something, that still small voice would appear to become smaller and even more still. This means we need to sit very, very quietly. Instead, what do we do?

When we are not hearing from God, when there is “an issue” looming large, bearing down on us … in our families, in our personal lives, in our communities. What do we do? Do we sit quietly and wait? Do we, in fact and deed, trust that God will come through for us? Or is our real bottom line that we think that God helps those who help themselves?

So, while you’re out shopping, prepping dinner, making cookies, whatever … think about how you wait and how you trust. What do those say about your faith?

Good Gifts

Filed under:Johannine Advent, being jesus, expectantly, family, gifts, holidays, holy spirit — posted by Sonja on December 8, 2007 @ 10:10 am

It’s that “most wonderful time of the year” again. And we’re all pushing and shoving to get good gifts for each other. The malls are filled, although each year we hear gloom and doom about how they are not filled “enough.” The economic predictions are always grey and cloudy. I have to wonder who is in bed with whom when that happens.

LightHusband’s company holiday party was the other evening. The event happened to coincide with a need for having my hair done. Really. It did. So I went to my favorite hairdresser for just a cut and style this time … no color or anything fancy. The salon is in a mall nearby and on my way out, I paused in a department store to purchase a few items which were necessary for the evening. Okay, pantyhose. I hardly ever wear it anymore and I didn’t have any.

Once, I’d finally located the goods in the store in question, I made my selections and stood in line to make my purchase. I was third. Then I was second. At first I was slightly annoyed by this turn of affairs because I was all rushy and needing to be on my way. But then I started to breath and watch the unfolding event in front of me. I was fascinated.

She was a smallish woman in her early 30’s. There wasn’t anything very remarkable about her as she stood at the jewelry counter. Nothing except the stacks of boxes of cheesy jewelry which she’d painstakingly selected from the rummage of the final markdown table. I sighed and rolled my eyes at the dozen or so boxes of necklaces and bracelets; all of them cheap and none of them particularly noteworthy. All were on sale, of course. While each item didn’t cost more than $5.00, she ended up spending over one hundred and fifty dollars on cheap plastic jewelry. As the clerk carefully rang each item up and replaced the cover on the box, I noticed that she pulled a neatly folded sheaf of papers from her purse. Within the sheaf was a flyer from the store with coupons for $$ off in consideration of $$ spent. But the sheaf itself was a marvel to behold. It was an Excel spreadsheet of gift beneficiaries … one would assume for the cheap plastic jewelry. I studied the spreadsheet from the appropriate stranger distance and thought of all the questions I wanted to ask this very tidy woman over coffee. I peeked into her purse and noticed it was very organized as well.

I’ve found myself wondering about the very tidy woman and her jewelry gift purchases over the last couple of days. She and the clerk, and eventually me too were drawn into some minimal conversation. Those of us in line were gently admonished to have extra patience for long lines during the holiday time. I was fascinated, so I needed no patience.

I’ve been thinking though, about the gifts we give each other during this “wonderful time of the year.” And what we might really want from those we love. It seems to me that what we always long for from our friends, lovers, loved ones, and family is time spent with them. We don’t think we have that to give, so instead we’re willing to spend hours on Excel spreadsheets organizing our gift giving, more hours rummaging through final markdown tables for cheap, plastic jewelry, still more wrapping it up in funky wrapping paper and then boxes to send to it’s final destination.

Oh, what’s that you say? You’re not that organized or obsessed. You do not spend hours on Excel spreadsheets. You, or course, would never buy cheap, plastic jewelry for anyone. Oh well, then, I’m not talking to you, am I?

Or … am I?

How much time do you spend on your gift organizing and purchasing? We all have some method to our madness. We all do something to organize ourselves and plan in some way. So we do something. We all have the same 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year to our lives. Now this is not another mid-Advent polemic on doing away with Christmas gift giving, shopping, buying, or etc. Just wait to see where I’m headed, okay.

I was also thinking about this in terms of my recent Thanksgiving blowout extravaganza. It took me three days to recover from that. But as I look back over it, I realize it was a huge gift to my mother-in-law and father-in-law to have their family all together in one place for several days. They enjoyed it enormously and it was a blessing to them.

It was a blessing to all of us in many ways. It was to me, too. I had the gift of time with my nieces and nephew and my sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law. We all had that. My sister-in-law with whom the road has been rocky at times and I had a wonderful visit. She gave me the gift of her decorating abilities and I gave to her time with her family.

There were some funny moments though. One of the things I wanted to give my sister-in-law (LightHusband’s sister) was time to relax and enjoy her mornings. She works and gets 4 children out the door to school every morning. So I thought her time here might be a good time to sit, breath, and relax. Instead, every morning she kept after me to mop the kitchen floor. She wanted to know where the supplies and mop were. “I want to mop your floor!” was the declaration. “I mop my floor every day.” It was said without judgement or animosity, but with need. Finally, one morning in a tiny, pleading voice, “I need to mop … it’s how I wake up in the morning.” And, I burst into laughter; so did she. I told her that I had been trying to give her some time to relax; she, on the other hand, had been trying to give me free housecleaning (and she legitimately *does* clean to wake up). Her normal morning is so busy and regimented that sitting still just doesn’t make it onto her radar.

So I’ve been thinking about all the gifts we give each other. The tangibles and the intangibles. How we wrap them up with love and time and worry and care. Some people put theirs into an Excel spreadsheet and time spent rummaging through the markdown jewelry table. Others put theirs into carefully handcrafting gifts. Still others put theirs into hours spent in Google searches. But in the end I think it works out to the same time … or so. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Then we wrap those gifts up with paper and love, bows and care.

I wonder though about the good gifts we try to give each other and the good gifts from our Creator above. I’ve been pondering that. S/He gave us the gift of presence. The gift of God with Us, Emmanuel. It had never been done before and has not been done since. Or, really has been ever since if we consider the Holy Spirit. So those gifts, carefully wrapped and lovingly bowed, under our trees each year are like the shadows in Plato’s cave of the gift lovingly wrapped and given so long ago. It causes me to consider that the thing we truly seek after with one another and with God is not presents, but presence. We seek after each other’s presence, we long for it. Our children desire more of it, our spouses, our friends, our families. God even desires more of it from us and we from Him.

But that is not what we give each other. Sadly, we use up that time and energy on other things that we have declared more precious. I wonder what would happen if we began to give the present of presence? What other good gifts might come of that?

What Did You Expect?

Filed under:Johannine Advent, church, expectantly, hope — posted by Sonja on December 1, 2007 @ 8:31 am

I’ve been reading a lot recently. So I cannot for the life of me remember where I read this. I suspect it was a conversation in The Shack, by William Young, but I can’t be sure of it. In any case, it has grabbed hold of me and I’ve been chewing on it for a good while now. I’ve been enjoying the flavor of it as we approach Advent.

The conversation was about the difference between expectation and expectantly. I should probably try to track it down, but the thought is overwhelming. So I will try to recreate it.

There is a difference between having expectations and living expectantly. For instance, say I have a good friend, one with whom I spend a lot of time laughing and giggling. When we are apart, I live (in part) expectantly that anticipates the next time we will be together laughing and giggling. But because I also know that we are both human, I know that there will be times when we do not laugh and giggle. There might be times when we cry together. But I look forward to the good times together, understanding that there are going to be difficult times too. Things begin to change, on the other hand, if I layer the friendship with the expectation that we laugh and/or giggle a certain percentage of the time that we are together. Or if my friend layers the relationship with an expectation of something else.

Right. So that’s a simplistic and silly sort of example that most people will shoot a lot of holes through. But hopefully you will see the point … the difference between living with expectations and living expectantly.

I looked the definition of expectation up in Merriam-Webster and here is what I found:

1: the act or state of expecting : anticipation
2 a: something expected b: basis for expecting : assurance
c: prospects of inheritance —usually used in plural
3: the state of being expected
4 a: expectancy 2b b: expected value

I looked up expectantly and found this:

1 : characterized by expectation
2 : expecting the birth of a child

and, my favorite from Visual Thesauraus – marked by eager anticipation.

Obviously, the two are quite closely related. But there is a significant difference. I think the difference lies in our usage and in (if you’ll pardon me) our expectation. We all have all sorts of expectations. We rise each morning with the expectation that we’ll see the sunset. We have expectations or standards for our children. We have expectations of our co-workers and co-laborers. We expect that people in certain wage and education brackets will behave with certain manners. We expect that other drivers will drive in certain ways at certain times, especially when we are in a rush. Many of us are not filled with grace for those people who do not live up to our expectations of behavior, particularly when we are pinched for time, or money, or love, or sleep, or any combination of those.

I think we are at the most risk for lacking in grace, for losing God, when our expectations are not being met. We all have them. For some this looks like our hopes and dreams being dashed on the rocks of reality. For some this looks much smaller … a more daily thing. In whatever way it happens, over the many years, hope begins to erode and fade like a cloud of fog burned away by the sun.

Here’s what I’ve been chewing on lately. What if? What if we somehow, someway learned a new way? What if we learned to live each day “marked by eager anticipation” of each moment? I don’t think I’m suggesting that we throw the ropes to wind, never save any money, etc. I am suggesting that we give more of ourselves away … more of our expectations away and begin to live more expectantly as we search out the source of Hope. Real hope. Not small hopes and dreams. But HOPE. And see where that road leads. It may end up being much, much more interesting than the road you expect to be on.

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This is the first in an occasional Advent series that I will be doing. I am also participating in an Advent synchroblog series organized by Brother Maynard. Does this now make him Father Maynard? Is he now head of our order? :D Cheeky questions for this Saturday morning. I will be the member always writing lines because I’m in trouble, that’s for certain. In any case, here is a list of the other participants. You can also keep track of who is posting when by glancing at the widget in my sidebar that’s entitled “Johannine Advent” … well, you can as soon as Brother Maynard’s blog comes back up this morning (yikes).