O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us,
O long-sought with-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name,
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness,
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

– Malcolm Guite

from: Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year

A Different Kind of Advent Story

Ex. 24:12-18

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.”

13 So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up to the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Indeed, Aaron and Hur are with you. If any man has a difficulty, let him go to them.” 15 Then Moses went up into the mountain, and a cloud covered the mountain.

16 Now the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 The sight of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel. 18 So Moses went into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Ex. 32:1

Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

There are so many stories that we tell of waiting, stories of the Simeons and the Annas, the Zechariahs and the Elizabeths that we lean into during the Advent season. There are stories of consummation and stories of hope deferred. There are stories of those days to come when every tear will be wiped from our eyes, when we will see it all clearly and know the goodness of God in the land of the living.

It’s a wonder to me in all this waiting that we don’t tell the story of Moses on the mountain, that we don’t tell the story of Exodus 24.

I suppose it’s because, for the most part, we see this as a story of failed waiting.

And, in some ways, that’s what it is. The Hebrew people, alone in the desert, need something to worship, something that they can see and touch and, here’s the real part, control. You’ve probably heard that talked about, taught, preached on. There’s no need to point out the idols, the golden calves, that we all have. We’ve had them pointed out enough, haven’t we? And even if we haven’t, we know, with just a cursory glance over our lives, we know what they are.

For me, though, the story of Moses and the children of Israel at Mount Sinai is an Advent passage not because of what happens in Exodus 32, but because of what happens in Exodus 24. Only four chapters earlier, the people told Moses that they were afraid to speak to God directly, that they wanted him to speak to the Lord and bring back His words. They’d seen lightning and fire, felt the shaking of the earth and the power of God’s presence.

Now, in Exodus 24, Moses is going up the mountain again, being beckoned there by God. “Wait here for us until we come back to you,” says Moses.

Wait.

With these words, Moses, their leader, the one who has calmed them, spoken for them, encouraged them and explained things to them leaves. To climb Mount Sinai (which, incidentally, is the very same mountain, Mount Horeb, where Moses met God at the burning bush—God does have a penchant for renaming things, you’ll notice).

Wait, says Moses.

He doesn’t tell them how long he’ll be gone, or what to do while he’s chatting with the Almighty. He doesn’t give them any further elaboration on the Ten Words (the most accurate translation from the Hebrew of what we call in English the Ten Commandments), or tell them to take up basket weaving while he’s gone. Just, wait.

So hard to do at the best of times.

And if I were the people of Israel, with the one that I trusted my life to throwing a few words over his shoulder as he trekked toward the One I’d seen turn the Nile into blood, I might just feel a little, well, abandoned.

It’s all of those pieces, I think, that contribute to the great contradiction that’s found in verses 16, 17 and 18.

Do you see it?

Take a moment. Scroll up and read it again.

Here’s Moses, at the top of Mount Sinai. Covered in cloud. If you’ve ever been in a thick, thick fog, where you couldn’t see your own outstretched hand, it was probably a little like that. White, muffled, still. And, like fog, the cloud would have softened the edges of everything, making the world seem porous. Moving around would have been a bit dangerous, so it’s possible that Moses was hanging out just in one place. It must’ve been something, hearing God’s voice from the midst of that white, wet wonderland. I would have wanted to stay, with the voice of the One who loves me reverberating off of all those suspended drops of water, like being inside the world’s womb.

It’s odd, then, what comes next. The words matter, and not just because they strike hard against the picture painted in verse 16. At the bottom of the mountain, what the people of Israel see, what the white, gentle, resonant cloud is to them, is a consuming fire. Not just burning—destroying, ravaging. The word consuming here has the same root as the word for that which they were commanded not to do in the Garden—eat. The image is stark, and as one who has watched wildfires consume great tracts of land, I get it. Consuming fire is terrifying, and nothing survives it.

So Moses went into the midst, says verse 18, but we’re back at the top of the mountain once more, and it isn’t fire, not really, it’s cloud.

The Scriptures are clear, here, that what is actually happening at the top of this mountain is different than what the nation of Israel is seeing when they look at the mountain.

Standing at the foot of Sinai, it looks like there’s no way Moses will ever survive forty minutes, let alone forty days, in this raging inferno. Standing at the top of the mountain, Moses is surrounded by grace.

What we see tells us a whole lot about where we are.

Wait, says Moses, the word echoing down the centuries into our Advent here and now.

Wait, even when it looks like God is a fire. Wait, even when everything your eyes see is destruction. Wait, because everything that seems like consumption and death will be revealed as something else all along.

Wait, because your eyes have been shaped by the narrow place, by Egypt, and it hasn’t been so long since you’ve left that place where you couldn’t be you, couldn’t worship freely, behind. Wait, because those eyes aren’t the eyes of Moses, shaped by decades in the wilderness, eyes that saw the bush wasn’t consumed after all.

Wait, because you’ve been trained to see as a slave, live as a slave, seek leaders who will treat you as a slave. Wait, though your slave-eyes see fire, because the God who called you out into this wilderness, waiting place is coming to transform you.

Wait, oh, just wait, beloved, when you feel abandoned, because maybe, just maybe, you too, will be called up this mountain. Maybe, just maybe, you too, will see that this place that was fire is truly cloud and the voice of the Lord will call to you from within it, calling out all of who you are and all of who you are meant to be.

Now that’s an Advent story, wouldn’t you say?

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An Advent Announcement

I’m so excited to share this great early Christmas present I got in the mail early last week:

2013-12-08 16.31.57

I know, I know, you can’t really tell, right? I’m just holding a piece of paper in front of a Christmas tree (whose name is Tilly, by the way.)

Well, that piece of paper is the contract I signed with my new and amazing agent, Rachelle Gardner!

I’m humbled to be able to work with Rachelle, who represents a few people you might already know.

I’m really thrilled to be partnering with such a talented, thoughtful and like-spirited agent. As I finish up edits on my current project (which has a title! that I’m not going to tell you yet!), Rachelle and I are planning and dreaming and thinking about what’s coming next in the writing world for me and for Anam Cara.

In that light, I wanted to let you know about a few upcoming events in the Anam Cara world that you might be interested in:

Coming Home to the Body: A Woman’s Journey toward Contemplative Embodiment: I’m thrilled to be partnering with Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts in teaching in her online retreat, Coming Home to the Body. There’s a huge lineup of amazing teachers, and I think this is a topic we in the body of Christ desperately need to address more fully and more regularly. This will be a wonderful journey starting January 1, and what a better time to be kind to and aware of your body, when the New Year’s resolution shame-machine is ramping up to a frenzied pitch. I love how Christine describe this time: “This program is rooted in the conviction that our bodies offer us the deepest wisdom, wisdom that can guide us through the river of life. The more we deepen into the body’s wisdom the more we will find greater freedom, joy, nourishment, rest, and empowerment for exquisite self-care.  This is the dancing monk’s practice.  This is the journey into the “last unexplored wilderness.””

Christianity21: Also in January, I’ll be giving a seven-minute talk at Christianity21 in Denver (Jan 9.-11). This is going to be my first time on a big stage doing a TED-like talk, so please come out and cheer me on. That, plus the event is packed with amazing speakers, including the incomparable Phyllis Tickle. (This is a GREAT. BIG. DEAL., so please be praying even if you can’t attend.)

Book Giveaway: Finally, if you missed it, the winners from last week’s guest post and book giveaway are posted on the blog. If you get me your name and address, I’ll get you your book by Christmas.

Thanks for celebrating with me, friends! 2014 is going to be an exciting year.

Guest Post from John Blase + Book Giveaway

I’m so very honored to be hosting John Blase on the blog today. John is a sage and a mystic, a man with clay feet and a psalmist’s heart. His words got me through writing the first draft of the book (and I’m in edits now, which is why the blog has been so quiet.) More than anything, I love the way John loves, and the way he abides in God. Ever since the release of his newest book, Know When To Hold ‘Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood, I’ve wanted to introduce it (and him) to you, to give it away like candy. And because of his publisher’s generosity, I get to do just that. So, enough of my words, and more of John’s. (And you can scroll to the bottom if you want to know how to win a copy of his book, but to miss the soul spilled out in between would be a poverty.)

 

The Message of Christmas

They were a team, two speakers taking turns at commentary. They were squeezed in- between the sounds of the season as performed by a university choir and orchestra. The man used the phrase love demands, not once but several times in the courses of his brief homilies. The woman spoke variations on that theme, like Christ will not return as a baby but as a man. After all, how could a baby demand everything?

I am a man who pays attention to words. And at least in my mind the man and woman seemed to have determined beforehand with a handshake and a wink to focus on the word demand, and to weave it in the evening as many times as they could. To me they definitely seemed in cahoots. As their commentary continued I kept thinking does love demand? Is that the message of Christmas? I am also a man who pays attention to the audience. And the audience nodded and a few even moaned yes, yes at the spoken passages of demand. But just because a crowd does something is not any indication of its goodness or rightness, even at a Christmas concert. So I kept thinking does love demand? Is that what Christmas is all about?

On my better days I am even a man who pays attention to the weather. And as I drove home after the concert it began to slowly snow. And the question I’d been thinking about became as clear as I could see in the cold night. No, I’m very sorry all you cahooters, but love does not demand.

SIMPLY

The falling whiteness does not demand.
It simply falls, scattered.
If you choose to marvel at its beauty, fine.
But if you’re too busy, say on a phone call
with someone convinced of their importance,
well, that’s fine too.

Love, like snow, does not demand.
It simply descends, offered.
If you choose to be amazed at its falling, fine.
But if you don’t, you’re not the first.
It will melt away until it comes giving
again in a future season.

 

 

johnblase

John Blase is the author of Know When To Hold ‘Em: The High Stakes Game of Fatherhood (Abingdon 2013). He is also a poet who practices the craft at www.thebeautifuldue.wordpress.com. He lives with his wife and three children in  colorful Colorado.

 

 

 

Book Giveaway

So, the rules are simple. I have six copies of the book to giveaway. (And if you’ve already read it, you know what a great Christmas gift it will make.) Comment on this blog post, and you’ll be entered to win. You can just say hi, or you could share a little about what these words meant to you, or what the meaning of Christmas really is, or whether or not you’re going to make your grandma’s pudding for Christmas day this year. Anything you like. Just share your words, and you’ll be entered to win. I’ll be drawing six random winners on Sunday, December 15 (Gaudete Sunday, good for joy and winning), and I’ll post their names here. I’ll also comment on your post to let you know that you’ve won, and you can send me your address via email. I’ll pop these beauties in the mail right away.

So, have at it.

Winners Announced!

Our giveaway winners are:

Eric
Linda__M
Josh Freeman
Jamie
Billie Spiers
Jenny Wells

Please email me your full name and mailing address, and I’ll get these books to you by Christmas!

I’ll Be Home For Christmas + Coming Home Synchroblog

I have a penchant for depressing Christmas music, I admit it. As the winter closes her dark wings over us, my husband and I like to turn off all the lights, ignite the (admittedly, depressingly fake) fire and listen to Christmas music that makes us ache. The tree twinkles, the house creaks in the wind, and we sit in semi-darkness, feeling the edges of ourselves.

We’re not masochists, I promise.

And I don’t think we’re alone.

There’s something about this season filled with thanksgiving and tinsel and joy and song that feels a little like homesickness to me. It’s not strident, it’s not brash, but the undercurrent of the holidays tugs at us with its longings for something more. Something we struggle to name, something about hope and about disappointment, something about desire and about loneliness, something, I would hazard a guess, about where Home really is.

I’ve had the familiar tune, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” wending its way through my thoughts and emotions since, oh, probably late September. It appeared as a snatch of a song, and it has been persistently presence—you can count on me—almost every day in some way—there’ll be snow and mistletoe—shape or form.

It takes me a while to catch on, sometimes, and that’s why God winds melodies into my story to suggest, to invite, to point me in the right direction. It happened when I first came to know Him with a hymn I’d learned during choir practice, and this year, it happened again with my Christmas earworm.

If you’d told me in August that I’d feel compelled (with joy, even) to offer a 6-week interactive online journey and retreat through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, I’d have laughed and called you crazy. This holiday season is busy, after all. There are so many things to juggle, so much pressure from consumer culture shot through with a desire to redeem the time, to find the sacred in all this mundane, to listen with my heart’s ear to the story of Christ in the world, Emmanuel, God with us.

lightthroughwindow

I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.

The plaintive last line of the song called me back to myself and to what, I suspect, is going on in more than a few of us. I’d rather bury the ache with busy-ness than face it head on. The hope, the desire, the longing for more. I’d rather not risk the homesickness getting deeper, wider in me, instead I’ll cram my calendar full so I can’t feel any of the empty. I’d rather try to dress it up with decorations than press into it, let it bloom into something that might, just might, lead me closer to that which I’m longing for.

But what if the Christian calendar actually invites us to less, not more? What if coming home isn’t about the destination (the perfect turkey, the Martha Stewart tree, the ideal present wrapped flawless for everyone) but about the journey?

Here, I’m back to the depressing Christmas songs, not because they are dark, but because they acknowledge the complexity of this time of year. It’s no coincidence that the longest night of the year occurs right before Christmas itself, that within the rhythm of the seasons there’s an acknowledgement that things come with a cost, that they aren’t as they should be.

And there are treasures of darkness to be found, too (Is. 45:3, NKJV). There is something to dwelling in the hidden places in this season of flash and fanfare, letting the desire for more rise through us as we wait for the light to increase. There is something to choosing silence while the world turns up the Christmas carols, something to finding solitude when the holiday-party-merry-go-round starts spinning.

So, instead of running from Bing Crosby’s siren call, I pressed in, listening. What I heard was the call of the One who loves us most, the incarnational hope of the One who became small enough to hold. Could I trust God’s voice? Could I lean into a call and a community this Advent, finding and forming a journey together into complexity of what it means to come home?

My heart said yes, as it had been saying yes since the first strains of the song sang through it.

And that’s how Coming Home: An Online Journey Into Advent, Christmas and Epiphany was born.

It’s a risk, I know, one bigger than I’ve offered to take with this crazy community of seekers, dreamers, lovers and learners before. It seems so much larger than me, and that’s probably the way it should stay, because I can’t control God any more than I can control the winter wind. I’m excited and terrified and hopeful and full of longing. I’m wondering and nervous and brimming with the sense that the Wild One is up to something gloriously good.

“It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different—deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.” ― C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia

window

 I’m stepping into another first for this space, today—a synchroblog.

My friend, Esther Emery, has started us off with this beautiful post on her feelings about the Christmas season.

So, here’s my invitation. Below you’ll find some blog prompts on the holiday season and what it feels like to be starting it down right now. Is it scary? Hopeful? Painful? Exciting?

Write about it.

Then, at the end of your post, use the image and link below to link back to the Coming Home registration page (and there’s a $25 discount on registration until this Friday, November 15).

Once you’ve done that, add your post to the synchroblog on or before November 17.

And because I’m so grateful for your support and words, I’m going to be giving away a copy of one of my favorite Advent resources, God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, to one of the bloggers who links up before Sunday:

6a00e5501890df88340162fc25941c970d

 

I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner, and announce it here on this post and on the Anam Cara Facebook community on Monday, November 18.

So, have at it. And thanks for being on the journey together.

Blog Prompts:

Does Christmas make you homesick for something more? Maybe something you’ve never had?

Is there something about the spiritual “home” that you’ve lived in that makes you feel sick (as in sick-of-home) and longing for something more?

Has the ancient church intrigued you? Is there something about the ancient practices and places that are drawing you right now?

Do the holidays already make you feel “too busy”? Have you ever felt yourself feeling like you’re too busy for the deeper things of Christmas, but can’t add one more thing to your to-do list? What would fulfill that for you?

Have you ever felt empty after Christmas, longing for more? What does the idea that Christmas starts (not ends) with the 25th and runs to Epiphany do in your heart?

Coming Home Icon:

cominghome_icon1

Coming Home Link:

http://www.anamcara.com/coming-home-2013/


A Big Thank You!

Thank you SO much to all who participated in the synchroblog! It was my first, and it was great to read all of your entries. Wonderful words, all.

Using Random.org, the entry on the synchroblog that won a copy of God With Us is entry # 8, Jennifer Upton of Spiritual Glasses. Congratulations, Jennifer!