A moment of unlimited access

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Photo by Sindre Strøm on Pexels.com

For me, this week is the best part of Christmas.  The advertisements are slowing down, the need to shop has all but stopped, and most of the returns and exchanges have been made.  And with a deep and glorious sigh, I now have time, time to rest in the Christmas season which will not officially end until January 6th.  Growing up in New Orleans I think I took Epiphany traditions for granted.  January 6 was an important day! It was, sadly,  time to take down the Christmas decorations, but it also marked the beginning of Carnival season and my favorite treat the King Cake.  Over time, as with many traditions, the significance of Epiphany has developed into something much more precious.

It is during this time that we reflect on the Magi, also known as the Wise Men, and the Star of Bethlehem.   The wise men, traveling across the desert, saw a star.   Knowing the Old Testament prophecies, understanding the stars, and recognizing that this one was new and in motion, they would have been compelled to investigate.  Faithful to the promises made in history they would seek the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior.

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.   Matthew 2:10 (NRSV)

As they entered the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, their reverence and adoration brought them to their knees.  So much hope led them to this place, and in this moment they were given a miraculous gift.

The gift of unlimited access to the love of God was given.

In my mind, it is as if time stood still.  King Herod, the wily and efficient ruler and a cruel tyrant, is forgotten and all the love that is God radiates in the room where the Christ child rests in his mother’s arms.

If we are wise, faithful to the promises and follow the light, we too are given unlimited access to the love of God.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.   Psalm 119:105 (NLT) 

January 5th “Twelfth Night” by tradition I will add the “Three Kings” to my nativity in preparation for Epiphany.  I will pause and contemplate the power in the moment when they saw the star, in the moment when they first laid eyes on the child, the Messiah, who was promised to the people of God, and in the moment when they fell to their knees and worshiped him.   I will take out my Bible, and I will remember that we to have been given a guiding light.   I will recognize that we too have been given unlimited access to the Love of God.  I will let time stand still for a moment, and I will offer my reverence, adoration, and gratitude to, Christ, Emanuel, God with us.

A moment for tending

TEND–care for or look after; give one’s attention to

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The Kiss Painting by Gustav Klimt

My daughter decided a couple of years ago to learn bartending skills.  She spent a good deal of time in our liquor cabinet reading and mixing recipes.  While discovering her talent as a mixologist, she came across ” The Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch.” The book was a gift to my husband our first Christmas together, with of course a nice bottle of single malt scotch. Inside she found the inscription, “Clay,  May all our years together be as they are now.  Alana”.  Touched by the words I had written, she shared her discovery with me.  A book that had long since been forgotten warmed my daughter’s heart as she encountered a moment from the past.

Last weekend my husband and I celebrated 22 years of marriage.  There have been awesome moments, terrible moments and everything in between. When I am asked about marriage and what makes it last there is no simple answer.  However, there are a few things I have learned along the way, from personal experience and the insights of others.

Have faith.  When moments were painful, my faith had a great deal to do with how I handled things.  Maybe not in the heat of the moment but in the moments after I would recall my belief that we were called together for a reason.  All that scripture taught me about love needed to be lived out in my home first.

Take joy in the little things.  Love isn’t always shown in grand gestures, often it is the simple things that happen every day.  Stop and take notice.  When my shoes make it back into my closet from wherever I threw them off, I used to get frustrated that I couldn’t find them.  Now those little things remind me of how our lives are woven together.

Tending to each other and to the relationship matters.  When a couple is committed to attending to each other, it is not always simultaneously happening, and it may often seem like one, is giving in to the other.  I have found that it is important to recognize who has the most sensitivity to the situation and attend to that.  This creates an element of safety and allows for honesty.   The most important truths, in my discovery, are “I need…” and “It hurts when…”.  The environment that allows these truths to be spoken and attended to will be vulnerable and scary but also safe and binding.

Forgive.  We will have moments of selfishness and frustration.  That makes forgiveness a crucial key to marriages that last.  Ask and offer forgiveness often.  Giving and accepting forgiveness will have a much more significant impact on marriage than any other negotiations.

When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

And when all else fails, laugh!  One of the best ways of coping with the difficulties of negotiating in a marriage is understanding the humor in it all.  Sometimes we are fighting for the most trivial of reasons or in the silliest ways.  Recognize those moments and laugh.  Laughing together is a beautiful thing.

Some time ago I attended a church service where anyone celebrating a birthday or anniversary was invited to the altar for prayer.  A couple who had been married 60 years stood at the altar, and after the prayer, the priest asked them to share something about their years together.  The husband with a happy smile said something like, “Everyday has been wonderful!”  The wife with a surprised look and a chuckle replied, “Well not every day.”  Then they chuckled together.  This moment made quite an impression on me.  60 years and they were still not on the same page and yet, they were.  I think both statements were equally honest and sincere.

Our lives are made up of moments and our moments all together make up our lives.  My hope expressed in the statement, “May all our years together be as they are now.” is being realized.  Those early years filled with challenges were rich in laughter and love, And the years gone by have been richer still.

and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”Mark 10:7-9  (NRSV)

 

A moment with Job

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Are you afraid of the dark?  I am.  Silly, but it is true.  I don’t like turning off the lights at night.  My vision changes in the dark, and I often see things entirely differently and usually not in a good way.  So, in my room, I have several electronics that keep me from being in total darkness.  My alarm clock and my phone charger both give off enough light to keep me feeling ok.

Reading the scriptures about Job feels a lot like being in the dark.  I am a bit afraid of his story.   I have glanced through it, but not willing to look too hard.  For this Sunday’s teaching though, I needed to look deeper.  What I needed was to move into the darkness of it all to understand it better.  Job was a man who was “Blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” Job 1:1.  He lived a life of wealth and prosperity.  And yet, God wages a bet with Satan regarding Job and suddenly he is found alone, wanting, and in poor health.  For thirty-six chapters we witness the suffering of Job.  Thirty-six chapters!  His conversations with God, his friends, and family offering no relief.  Why was his agony so long?  Why was it so harsh?  The God of my understanding does not play with our lives. Therefore I know he must have had a profound purpose.

In the Gospel of Mark we witness another kind of darkness.  A man named Bartimaeus is blind and begging by the roadside.  As Jesus and his disciples walk by, he calls out to Jesus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Though the crowd tries to hush him, he cries out again, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”  In the span of one paragraph, Jesus hears him and heals him saying “Go your faith has made you well.”  This seems utterly unfair to me when read alongside Job’s story.  And yet, once again, the God of my understanding would have a profound purpose for this man as well.

This truth for me is realized in the life of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  He had a distressing youth.  As a young boy, he suffered from polio.  Then, at the age of 15, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He noticed that almost all of the patients who started to hemorrhage and cough up blood ended up being wheeled out to the morgue.  When he began coughing up blood, he spoke to God and said.  “God, if you want, if this is curtains for me, Then it’s okay.”  He was surprised by the calm and peace that came over him.  He turned 87 this month.   In 2016 in The Book of Joy, he speaks of death, saying,

“Because God is God, because God is infinite, because none of us who are creatures will ever fathom the infinitude that is God, heaven is going to be forever a place of new discovery.”  The Archbishop’s eyes were transfixed, his gaze distant.  “I would say, ‘Oh, God, you’re so beautiful.’ And I will call, I will call, ‘Come, come and see,’ and this other one will say, ‘Have you seen just how beautiful God is?'” p. 162

Perhaps these stories bound together by dark times are also bound together by the prayers that they have offered and the light that they have shared.  I can only imagine the prayers of intercession the Archbishop has offered on behalf of others in his lifetime.  And how many times he would have shared his vision of the beauty of God.

Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, whose sight was restored in an instant, followed Christ and the apostles whose next destination was to Jerusalem where the progression toward the cross begins.  Perhaps his eyes were opened so that he could see clearly as Christ offered himself for the sins of others.  Maybe he went on to share with others what he saw.

And Job, well Job allowed his suffering to transform his faith. He spoke with God and agreed to listen better.  As a result, he grew even closer to God.  He saw people differently.  He had compassion for the friends who had thrown accusations at him.  And after offering prayers for his friends, his fortunes were restored and doubled.  We know he saw the world differently when he broke social ground, by naming his daughters and giving them an inheritance along with their brothers.

‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;  Job 42:4-5  (NRSV)

Are you in the dark?  Do you feel afraid?

Speak with God.  He listens.

Allow Him to give you a new vision of things.

Perhaps you need to see a friend differently.

Perhaps you need a new vision for your future.

Perhaps you need to see God for the first time.

Speak, God listens.  Listen, God speaks.

​A moment for questions

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So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”   John 20:25-27 (NRSV)

As many of us do, I live with a heart like Thomas, asking “show me.”  What specifically am I asking for?  In the Bible, there are many stories where the proof is shown.  Am I asking to see the wounds of Christ? Am I seeking a burning bush, a rainbow or to be swallowed by a whale until I have an understanding?  Maybe really I am just asking for some clarity.  How important is it that I believe in God and Satan or burning bushes and rainbow promises.  It doesn’t seem likely that we will ever have the privilege of the certainty that Thomas received.  So, what can we be sure of?

Perhaps more important than certainty is being able to recognize love and hate and to know that good and evil do exist.  We may never see a burning bush, hear the audible voice of God, or be swallowed by a whale.  But we can recognize the power of love, the peace that comes after a storm, and the push of our conscience to follow our gut.  Sometimes the stories in scripture frustrate me because the literal interpretation makes them implausible.  The intended message, however, is not.

When I see the sadness in the world, I think “There can’t be a God,” and the despair I feel brings me back to the story of Thomas. The disciples gathered in a house after his death.  They were full of the desperation they must have felt for the loss of Jesus and the leadership they had come to rely on.   Jesus entered and in the act of love and understanding showed Thomas his wounds and offered comfort.

The absence of God leaves despair, and the presence of God brings peace.  That is clear enough for me.  God is Love.  Jesus shows us what love looks like.  By our loving each other and bringing comfort and peace and we remove doubt and despair.