Posts Tagged ‘humility’

nativity on our mantel this Christmas

The countdown to Christmas: 5 days as I write this. Five more days of Advent, five more days of “Waiting”. In our Christian liturgical year, Advent is the season to wait, prepare, expect, hope …. For what? For the familiar story of the Birth of Christ?

In the secular calendar it is the time to bake, buy, donate, decorate, wrap, wreath, plan, party, give, get, drink, despair… As Christians, we would like to think that we have a different focus this time of year. I hope we do. But what are we waiting FOR? What are we preparing FOR? What are we hoping FOR?

hand carved olive wood from Israel

Maybe we are hoping for some little light to come on inside of us. Some flicker of adoration and recognition of The Holy. Some faint stirring of awe and worship alongside the angelic host. Some kind of connection to the reality that God is truly with us, that all we say we believe has a beginning somewhere, and it is Real. These strike me as good things to hope for.

Our congregation’s challenge for advent this year was to cultivate an inner quiet, a place of quiet rest amid the world’s busy-ness. Many of us took up the challenge to avoid the use of electricity each Sunday evening during advent — meaning no TV or computers; oil lamps and candles instead of lights (Christmas tree lights allowed!); quiet conversation and reading instead of video games… I have been glad for the encouragement to slow down, and for the encouragement of others as we experience this together. This focus has done its work in me, and created enough space for me to be still enough inside to begin to listen.

On Christmas, we celebrate the fact that one little baby’s birth into the world changed everything. I found that pondering the birth of Christ can blow your mind if you let it. On Christmas day, God Almighty, the Creator and Commander of the Universe, was content to suffer the humiliation of becoming one of us. Let it sink in. He was willing, for our sake, to suffer the humiliation of becoming one of us.

And to all who recognize Him, and receive Him, to them He gives the right to become children of God. We know and believe that through Jesus’ life and suffering and death on the cross, and by his resurrection, we are forgiven and purchased and redeemed and transformed, and that it is not for ourselves alone, but so that we may be His Body in the world. As He is birthed in each one of us, does this mean that He also gives us the gift, the right (the responsibility?) to suffer the humiliation as well? Is this, the gift of the humiliation of humanity, is this what we are waiting for?

I’ve been thinking about this. The gift that is offered to the world: the humiliation of becoming one of them.

Really?  As Jesus did, to be content to suffer the humiliation of becoming one of them??  Really??  I much prefer the comfort and dignity of somehow being better than them. At least I seem to think I do.  But it seems that here, at Christmas, God is inviting me to be willing, to be content to suffer to become one of…   And not simply becoming one; but as one, bringing also strength and hope. Having stumbled into God’s saving grace as a young adult and since then being guided by the gospels and good teaching in many churches, I understand the call on my life is one of love and service to others. There are many ways I try to live this out. Most of the time, with joy. Yet this is a new thought to me: bringing bags of donated groceries to the food pantry, I remain separate from them. Bringing meals to the sick, or doing an overwhelmed young mother’s laundry, I am still separate from them. Driving elders to their doctor appointments, I still remain separate from them. Piecing quilts for refugee camps or sending off school kits to the orphanage in Haiti, I am definitely separate from them. Dropping coins into an outstretched cup in the city, I am so separate from them. I am the one with something to give, the ability to do; they are the needy ones. Even Mother Teresa felt this. We are separated by the gap. When God sent his son to save us, he didn’t simply throw a life ring and call out to us to grab on. He jumped right into the swirling flood alongside us.

I’m not imaging that Jesus is expecting me to become homeless; but Lord, if you suffered that humiliation by setting aside your glory and becoming one of us, if that is how you loved us, then show me how to love. Slowly, like the wakening dawn, I realize.

Recently, I sat down with a young woman who was in deep distress. I was the counselor, she the counselee; there was the gap. In time she was able to tell me about sexual abuse by both her father and her brother when she was a little girl. As we wept together, I didn’t think about the gift I was able to bring – but I see it now. Because of my own story, my own suffering of molestation by both father and brother, my own humiliation, I was able to be content to suffer hers alongside. I was able to offer strength and hope, not from someplace “separate”, but as someone who also spent time in the swirling flood. With a humble, grateful heart, can I claim to offer thanks for the gift of suffering, if it allows me to be content to enter another’s humiliation? Is this a gift of love that we have to offer a hurting world? Can I say Thank You??

I know that all manner of good and important work is done because some of us have the resources and abilities to offer those who lack. This is a very good thing. And I believe that, as Christians, we also have been given certain, most likely unwelcome, gifts that allow us to offer a unique sort of love to those who are looking for it. The kind of love that comes only from being content to suffer (or to have suffered) the humiliation of becoming one of them.

I think of Peter, who brashly thought of himself as someone separate, unique — Even if everyone else goes, I will never fall away! he said – and was gently reminded of his desperate humanity by Jesus’ words to him: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” Peter knew about temptation, about failure, about the humiliation of becoming one of them. He went on to write in his first letter, “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer all kinds of grief. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith…may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Even so, come, Lord Jesus. May I be content to let You be birthed in me.

Merry Christmas to all my dear friends and readers. Wishing you the truest riches of the grace of Christ, uniquely birthed in you.

part of our handmade folkart nativity

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We woke up Monday morning to a perfect blue and green summer day.  Sky was crisp with brilliant puffy clouds, the air fresh and crystal clear, the song sparrow and phoebe having their usual friendly morning conversation.  Our power was out, so it was that eerie kind of quiet, and the rumble from the brook was still loud, but diminished from the night before.  The night before it roared and thundered and sounded like a million freight trains as trees and boulders and debris catapulted through the swirling brown torrent, and our flooding wasn’t too bad.  But now, it was a beautiful morning.

We brewed our coffee with our camp stove, and then decided to drive into town to find cell coverage to make some calls.  Where our brook cuts out to the main road and passes through culverts and under bridges – that was when we got our first glimpse of the destruction.  The road was simply gone in some places, cars slowly making their way past on one lane.  A neighbor’s driveway bridge was demolished – twisted and torn with logs and uprooted trees smashed against it.  Parts of the road were still awash with the brown, mucky water.

In town, the mood was somber, neighbors wandered in shock.  Eyes were glazed, expressionless, quiet comprehension dawning about the enormity of the devastation as folks learned of friends and loved ones whose homes had washed away, businesses flooded and torn apart, beloved historic covered bridges destroyed, some communities totally isolated from the rest of the world with all roads in or out impassable and with no phone or power.  The bright, clear blue sky and fresh, fresh air seemed bizarre, like wait a minute, aren’t you paying attention??!

on Route 12, Woodstock

Hurricane Irene ripped through Vermont, a state with stately green hills, pristine valleys, contented cows, and laced with charming brooks, streams and rivers,  turning those bubbling brooks into weapons and wreaking violence on the landscape. Even in those communities unaffected by the storm, everyone is traumatized by the incomprehensible magnitude of the damage.  It will be years, and maybe not even in our lifetime, before Vermont returns to “normal”.

Vermont’s Public Utilities Company knew the storm was coming, and crews from Texas, Illinois, Missouri, and Ontario had begun arriving by Saturday.  Before the rains had stopped, convoys were heading out as the calls came in.  Some crews were building their own roads to access power lines when town crews were busy elsewhere.  Power across the state has been restored in record time, crews working around the clock.  Within hours, road crews and heavy equipment volunteers were creating detours, making roads safe and passable, re-moving debris.  There is a long way to go, but the cooperation, willingness and determination to pitch in and get Vermont up and running again is evident in every single community.

It is uplifting to read of the many, many volunteers and small acts of kindness extended to neighbors and to strangers.  Well, no one is a stranger this week.  A notice is posted, and the town turns out with work-boots, leather gloves and shovels to help dig out the flooded elementary school.  A family with two middle-school boys riding in the back of their pick-up truck spends the day distributing water in 10-gallon plastic containers.  A man from out of town shows up, and walks the street with his shovel over his shoulder, looking for someone that could use a hand.  A woman on horseback volunteers to carry a bag of needed medicine across a swollen stream where the road is closed, delivering to someone she has never met.  Neighbors and strangers arrive to help a farmer milk his suffering cows by hand, for without power he cannot use his milking machine on his large herd.  A man with a dirt bike offers to take a young man he doesn’t know to check on his grandparents who are stranded far on the other side of a road which is no longer there, without power or phone. A mail person walks her impassable eight-mile route on foot to deliver her mail.  A Pastor visits the Red Cross shelter set up in the High School gym, just to sit and listen.  The stories and tears tumble out.

Vermont is a plucky state, and we will rebuild, and we will move on.  Yet the trauma and tragedy and devastation all around are real and leave their mark.  Vermonters celebrate their stubborn independence and gritty determination of self-sufficiency.  Yet to survive this trauma requires cooperation and receiving help in the midst of vulnerability.  Vermonters are strong.  Yet my prayer is that out of this tragedy may come the kind of brokenness that leads to a yielded strength, the honest sort of humility that Jesus finds precious.  I’d like to share something my beloved JR wrote, as he absorbs the physical violence done to our beautiful towns, and considers the violence that has been done to his own soul many long years ago:

Over time, I have made an on-going choice to stay in Vermont despite the normal hardships associated with long, harsh winters and short growing seasons.  The difficulties are predictable and expected, and my capacity for resiliency and adaptation and creativity have been stretched and deepened in ways that softer locales would not call for.  But this…  This is an assault, and my simplicity and innocence have been violated.  The sense of calm and rest that I draw from so deeply each late summer has been cut off in violence.  Suddenly, I am older in an unwelcome and surreal way, and my capacity to trust in old hills is shaken beyond counting.  Visible sorts of daily graces, the kind derived from living in beauty, have become grotesque.  It would appear that, if I am to again rest within at all, that Something more solid yet than Creation must be sought and found. 

Nickel Mines was a horrible and senseless violation of a beautiful and innocent community.  But there was a perpetrator with a face, someone who could be held responsible and then forgiven.  But this…  I don’t have access to the grace that comes from finding forgiveness, because there is no one with a face to be responsible or forgive.

The images and videos of the wreckage and loss are a graphic of damage already sustained over long years in the otherwise calm water of my soul.  What now is seen has been so, without exaggeration, for a lifetime.  When is something beyond repair, and who decides to make the call that others must then live with?

All the famous attributes of gritty determination and stoic pluck are enemies of what is being revealed beneath and within.  Ancient road beds are undermined, familiar ways of traveling are impassible, and a new and living way must be found – or else being an island, isolated and cut off, is a fresh and selfish choice; anger and defiance the only tenants.




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