Gimme Peace!

One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies has Robert Duvall shouting at God: ”Gimme peace!” 

I feel like the whole world is shouting that lately: “Give us peace! Give us peace!” Of course, opinions about how we achieve this run the gamut: more gun control, less gun control, accepting refugees, banning refugees, direct engagement, isolationism. Whatever the means proposed, the end is the same: Give us peace.

Here’s the good news: In just two days, Peace will come. Maybe not the way we envision, but Peace will come. In just two days, the Prince of Peace will once again enter a world as broken, violent and messy as the one on the first Christmas to remind us that Peace is not a political solution. Peace is not a military solution. Peace is not something we can legislate, manufacture or create. Peace is a person. And until we understand that, the peace we are desperate for — in our world, in our communities, in our homes, in our hearts — will elude us.

The Bible talks a lot about peace, but only sometimes as the absence of war or conflict. Most of the time, the Bible’s idea of peace — Shalom — has to do with the human heart. It takes several words in English to capture it’s meaning: Integrity. Wholeness. Satisfaction. Rest. Healing. Serenity. Fulfillment. Harmony in relationships, with God and with each other. In short, shalom is everything God wants for us, and everything only He can offer us.

Now, this hasn’t stopped us from trying to find it elsewhere. The Bible also talks a lot about how we look for shalom in all the wrong places. Adam and Eve were the first to turn from God, longing for something more, something else to satisfy them, but they weren’t the last. We still can fall into the trap of wanting to be like God, of thinking that we can make ourselves and our world secure, happy and whole apart from Him.

When we count on ephemeral things for eternal peace in our hearts or our homes, we will be disappointed every time. When we think that the right legislation or military strategy or social policy will by itself bring peace or justice to our world, we will fail and never understand why.

Peace isn’t a concept, an idea or an abstraction. Peace is Jehovah Shalom — the Lord is Peace — and we celebrate His coming, past, present and future.

766fc8c0e27e59ba371384606e6ae651

May wholeness be with you this Advent and always. May healing be with you. May tranquility and serenity in the face of trials be with you. May rest and fulfillment be with you. May you allow Peace personified to make you whole. May this be the beginning of peace in our hearts, in our homes, our churches, our cities, our country, our world. Shalom.

Share this post facebooktwittermail
Follow In Ordinary Time facebooktwitterrss

Jesus Is

“It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.” This was the famous response then-President Bill Clinton gave to a question asked of him about the scandal that rocked his presidency. Much fun was made of his lawyerly parsing of the question, of his squirrelly, squirming attempt to avoid telling the plain truth.

Oddly enough, this phrase came to mind when I considered the third aspect of Advent: the Advent of the present tense. In between the Advent of history — when Jesus came — and the Advent of the end of history — when Jesus will come again — is the Advent of the present, when Jesus comes into our personal history. It is here that we consider the Jesus of the here and now, the Jesus who is.

But what does it mean that Jesus is? In Advent, we contemplate Jesus’ Incarnation, His becoming human. But having “put on humanity” in the Incarnation, did He shed it once His earthly assignment was done? In other words, is Jesus still human? When we speak about Jesus in the present tense, are we talking about a purely spiritual being that has gone “home”, reverting to some pre-incarnation state? Or are we talking about someone who retains His humanity even as He has been glorified and is seated on the throne?

This isn’t merely a matter of splitting semantic hairs. It makes all the difference in the world to me. I always took great comfort in knowing that Jesus was human. He laughed and loved and mourned. He was hungry and tired. He became angry and frustrated and felt pain when his friends betrayed him. But if Jesus’ humanity isn’t just past tense, if it isn’t just some sense memory, if He knows what it is like to be human because he is still human — that adds a dimension of intimacy and immediacy that someone who is merely remembering an experience can’t give.

Jesus is — and not just in an ethereal way, at great remove. Now, maybe this isn’t the revelation to you that it has been to me. Perhaps you are one of those people who talks about and actually has a personal relationship with Jesus. Maybe you talk about Jesus as your friend or brother. I’ve long felt like a second-class Christian because as often as I’d heard these words, that was not how I saw Jesus.   Until recently, that is.

I was in a prayer session and during a guided meditation, I was asked to recall an early childhood memory. What surfaced was a frightening one: I’m five years old, blinded by the bandages covering my eyes after eye surgery. My cousin taunts me about all the monsters I can’t see lurking around every corner. I am helpless and afraid and vow that I never will be again. This was a seminal experience; so much of my life has been spent trying to protect that little girl.

My prayer partner asks me to imagine Jesus in the scene. I see Him sitting next to me, I feel His arm around me. She asks, “What does he say to you?” “He is says ‘I’ll take care of little Laura. You go and do what you have to do’.”

Jesus has never been more real to me than at that moment and all the moments since when I feel weak and small. Jesus comes, body and soul, to reassure, to comfort and to free me to move forward. In His eternal humanity, He comes as my brother and friend, who knows firsthand the joys and sorrows of this life. He comes as “the image of the invisible God” to offer me hope and healing as only God can. And every time is a new Advent, a new coming of Jesus into the world, my world. Jesus is.  

 

Share this post facebooktwittermail
Follow In Ordinary Time facebooktwitterrss

The God Who Will Come

Sometimes I get discouraged. I think whatever needs saying about a particular subject has already been said. And I’m sure that its been said in ways far more persuasive, incisive, poetic, amusing, enlightening and inspired than anything I could offer.

Sometimes, I’m right. Yesterday, I heard a brilliant sermon on what would have been my topic for this week: Advent/The God Who Will Come. The preacher, Rev. Jacky Gatliff, simply and powerfully explains why Christ’s return gives us reason to hope, even here and now, during this most unsettled Advent. I couldn’t improve on it in any way, so I encourage you to listen to it here. If you already heard it yesterday, listen again. It’s that good.

Share this post facebooktwittermail
Follow In Ordinary Time facebooktwitterrss

Laura to Daily News: Drop Dead

I grew up reading the N.Y. Daily News, “New York’s Hometown Paper.” Its the paper my Dad brought home from work, the paper I cut articles out of for my “current events” class in elementary school.  It was the only newspaper I knew until I got to my college-prep junior high school, where they made you subscribe to the New York Times. (So much more appropriate for us “intellectually gifted” Hunter girls.) I even worked for a time as their public relations person. And I confess to reading it still on my occasional train rides into the city. So it pained me to write that headline.
But it was the first thing that came to mind when I saw their headline on this morning’s front page.

CVRBkkRWUAAcuHJ
The News’ front page screams our fear and frustration that mayhem has once again been unleashed on our soil, where we once felt safe. I’m OK with that. It ridicules the oft-repeated, empty phrase “Our thoughts and prayers are with you . . . “ intoned by countless politicians, in the wake of various tragedies. I’m with them on that, too. Whenever I hear anyone say that — and it has slipped into our everyday speech like a thief in the night — I cringe. It sounds like you’re saying something comforting, soothing and caring without really saying it. First, I can’t stand the passive tone — we don’t want to be so bold as to say “I’m praying for you” — that would be too in-your-face religious, and you know how our culture feels about that. And I can’t help thinking that “thoughts” are thrown in just in case the speaker or listener wouldn’t welcome prayers. If I were grieving, I’d rather have someone say nothing than something so weasly, but that’s just me. Whatever happened to “My condolences”?

So, I have no issue with them calling politicians to account for offering us this verbal pablum when what we need is muscular action. But the headline — oh that headline — is an accusation, a taunt, a declaration that prayer is useless. Worse than useless, it makes us complicit in evil because it relieves us of our responsibility to act. (Just an aside here. All the politicians they quote are Republicans. Am I to assume that the prayers of Democrats, who just as often cite the offending phrase, are welcomed?)

So, Daily News, my old friend, I’m going to keep praying. I’m going to pray that people in power — on both sides of the aisle — will have the guts to do what is right in God’s eyes, and not just about gun control.   I’m going to pray that God will comfort his people. I’m going to pray that the media shows restraint and however tempting it is, avoids inflaming our worst thoughts and actions.  I’m going to pray that God shows us how to “fix it” and that evil will be defeated in my heart and the hearts of those who wish me harm.

Years ago, I had a friend who was doing “street evangelism” and she asked someone if she could pray for him. He said, “No, I don’t believe in that stuff.” “That’s okay,” she said, “I do.”  

Share this post facebooktwittermail
Follow In Ordinary Time facebooktwitterrss

The God Who Came

images

We are no longer in Ordinary Time. We have entered the season of Advent, and all around me I hear calls to hope, to anticipation, to stillness. I know that I am supposed to mirror the prayerful waiting, the confident expectation of God’s deliverance that the prophets Anna and Simeon so beautifully embody, but this year, my spirit is drawing me elsewhere.

For Christians, Advent condenses into four weeks what Israel had experienced for centuries: waiting and longing for God to break in, for God to keep his promise of salvation. Generation after generation prayed, waited and wondered, “When, God, when?”

The thing is, I do know when and how and who and where and even why God finally set in motion his plan to redeem the broken world. And somehow that is making it hard for me this year to muster the appropriate Advent attitude of hopeful, reverent waiting.

What I have been contemplating is how Advent reveals three aspects of God: The God who Came, the God Who Comes and the God Who Will Come. Each of these asks its own questions and presents its own challenges to how I live my life. This week, we consider the God Who Came.

In commemorating The God Who Came, we remember the beautifully mysterious story of how God broke into history by becoming a baby. We retell the stories of Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Mary and Joseph, of angels bearing news of impossible pregnancies and the coming of the Savior. We marvel at what God did in that time and place, with these people who are as familiar to us as our own family. Young, faithful, brave Mary. Loving, loyal, obedient Joseph. The shepherds, the angels, the magi and the evil King Herod. Like all good family stories, we tell stories of the God Who Came lovingly, reverently, nostalgically.

The problem is, it can be easy to relegate the story to Advent Past, leaving my tidy, 21st century life untouched. Don’t get me wrong — I love the stories of Advent Past. But I don’t think they are meant to stay safely boxed, to be taken out once a year, like the nativity on my mantle. When all the comforting nostalgia is put aside, what difference does it make to me here and now that God Came?  In Luke’s Gospel, we hear the story of a demon-possessed man, living in the tombs in the hills of the Decapolis, and his encounter with Jesus:

 “When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” (Luke 8:28)

Unlike many who were presumably “in their right minds”, this tortured soul recognizes Jesus for who He is. And he knows that he will not emerge from the encounter unchanged.

“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”

This question echoes through the ages, from the tombs of the Decapolis to the cul-de-sac I live on. It reminds me that the mission of The God Who Came is at once universal and intensely individual. God came and taught and loved and laughed and cried and suffered and died and defeated death. And He meant it to change the world. And He means it to change me.

“What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?”  This Advent, instead of quietly anticipating the arrival of The God Who Came, I find myself at His feet, wondering:  Where do you want me to go? Who do you want me to serve? What will you ask of me?   Like Mary during the very first Advent, I find I have many things to ponder in my heart.

 

Share this post facebooktwittermail
Follow In Ordinary Time facebooktwitterrss