Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It's The End of the World As We Know It

Christmas Eve Sermon
Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Isaiah 11:1-9; Luke 2:1-20

It’s December 24 and we are still here. The world did not end a few days ago. Maybe the Mayans just got tired of making calendars out into the distant future. As I told the Tuesday morning Men’s Group awhile back, I didn’t think the potential end of the world would give me an excuse for not being ready for tonight’s worship services.
How many of your know REM? If you’re thinking it’s a kind of sleep, you are right, and I hope that my sermon helps you avoid it during the next few minutes. REM is also a band that began making music in the 1980s and just broke up about a year ago. One of their well-known songs is “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” I am not going to play it as I sometimes do, though I considered asking Tapestry/Bells if they might consider it. The song has never made a Christmas collection, to the best of my knowledge, but maybe it should
While the world may not have ended December 21 as some thought a Mayan prediction indicated it would, the message of Christmas is that it’s the end of the world as we know it. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book The First Christmas write: “Advent and Christmas are about a new world” (240). Advent and Christmas are about a new world. It’s the end of the world as we know it.
But how can this be? The world we live in is quite familiar to us – sometimes frustratingly and disappointingly familiar. There are still too many people who go hungry in our world. There are too many people who have no permanent place to call home. There are still too many people struggling with addictions. There are too many broken relationships. There is too much loneliness, even in our ever-crowded world. The world is frustratingly familiar in its violence. There are too many tragedies.
My heart is heavy tonight as I think about families in Newtown, Connecticut whose sons and daughters, first graders, will not be there to celebrate Christmas this year. I can’t just bracket them off. And the world is disappointingly familiar in some of our anemic responses to this tragic event. We have heard bad theology as the event has been blamed on systematically removing God from schools (Mike Huckabee), as God not going where God is not wanted (Bryan Fischer), or God allowing judgment to fall on America (James Dobson). Those who produce movies and video games may want to blame inadequate mental health care and guns – certainly not violent images in our culture. Those who speak for the gun manufacturers want to blame movies and video games and inadequate mental health care, certainly not guns. And if mental health care is part of the issue, how many are willing to make sure we as a county pay for better mental health care? We might have written the scripts of the responses to Sandy Hook Elementary even before we heard them
The end of the world as we know it? A newer world?
Christmas says that this is not the way the world has to be. The world does not have to be a place of hunger, addiction, loneliness, brokenness, violence, bad theology and unimaginative thinking. Christmas is the birth of someone who will announce and live a different way, a way in keeping with the grain of the universe. We can be different. There are possibilities for healing and wholeness in our lives that we can just barely imagine. Our world can be different. There are possibilities for community and connection that we have only allowed on the edges of our dreams.
Christmas says that we can be different, that the world can be different because God is at work, because God draws near. A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. (Isaiah 11). For a child has been born for us, a son given to us… and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9). Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2)
God draws near. God is at work, and this is the direction of God’s work, the direction the grain of the universe runs. Good news of great joy for all the people - glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace. (Luke 2) There shall be endless peace…. He will establish it with justice and with righteousness. (Isaiah 9). With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adders den. They will not hurt or destroy. (Isaiah 11)
God draws near. God is at work, working toward a newer world where love wins, a newer world where, in the words of the Psalmist: steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other (85:10).
God draws near. Joan Chittister writes: I realize more and more every year, it is the spark of the divine in life that Christmas is meant to celebrate. It is fragile life, holy life, that Christmas hallows (Living Well, 147) Christmas tells us that God is with us, that the spark of the divine in life is always there and that it is always working even in our fragile and sometimes frustratingly familiar lives to make our lives and the world new. The God of the Christmas story is not a God who turns away or a God whose primary activity is horrendous judgment so that we might pay God more attention. The God of the Christ child celebrates the spark of the divine in life, a spark that seeks to ignite flames of hope and healing in our lives and in our world. The spark of the divine in life works not so much in the palatial palaces of power as in the quiet places, through small miracles, in tender moments and acts of kindness and gentleness. God is there in those moments of awe when beauty is seen and new life is celebrated.
The Christmas story is meant to speak to us, not only about the past, but about our lives. We know the story, but what happens when we try to tell the story with children?
A pastor was once recruited to play the role of Joseph in his congregation’s Christmas program when the child playing Joseph fell ill. Getting ready to tell the Christmas story with these children, a kindergartner arrived wearing a feathery white swan costume. The director of the children’s program expected the pastor to discourage the child from wearing the swan costume. Who ever heard of a swan in the manger? The pastor knelt down to the five-year-old and asked if she wouldn’t rather be a sheep or a donkey. “I’m a swan,” she said. The pastor patiently explained that there were no swans around the cradle of Jesus in the manger. The child looked at the pastor with a thoughtfully furrowed brow and said calmly, “Don’t you think swans love Jesus too?” (The Christian Century, November 28, 2012, p. 10) The pageant had a swan that year, and I have heard of raccoons and giraffes appearing in other pageants. In the world as we know it, there are no swans or giraffes or raccoons in the Christmas story. Things need to be neat and tidy and the way they always have been. But with the God of the Jesus of Christmas, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and all have a place, and I feel fine.
Leo Buscaglia was a teacher and writer whose favorite topics were love and learning. He loved his demonstrative Italian family and loved to tell stories about lessons he learned from them. As Christmas 1982 was drawing near, Buscaglia went to the hospital for his annual exam. It was Christmas break from teaching and it seemed like a good time to go. It was something to get out of the way before a wonderful family Christmas celebration filled with food and laugher. While at the doctor’s office for his exam, Buscaglia suffered a heart attack. “It occurred quickly, without warning, and was totally incapacitating.” Buscaglia would have to undergo an emergency quintuple by-pass operation.
Buscaglia’s family immediately decided that there would be no family Christmas celebration that year. Not without Leo. But Buscaglia knew all the planning that had gone into Christmas that year, and so he convinced them they needed to go on, and they pledged to do so.
Buscaglia’s surgery went well, and his family supported him lovingly. Within days I was moved into a private room in the cardiac ward. A constant parade of loved ones made their way to my bedside. Each person was bearing gifts, things they were certain I couldn’t live without: baked lasagna, homemade sausage, salami, mortadella, pureed chestnuts, cut flowers, potted plants, and my favorite holiday treat – ‘frittura dussa’, breaded cornmeal with lemon peel, fried in butter (Seven Stories of Christmas Love, 108-109) Buscaglia felt surrounded by love and care. I have no idea what the cardiologists thought about his diet!
He continues his story. When visitors leave and darkness falls in a hospital, an eerie ambiance comes over the place. It was during one of these periods, while walking silently and cautiously around the ward, that I became aware of my neighbors. Seeing them alone, in semidarkness, I had the sudden inspiration to share my good fortune. To the elderly woman in the room immediately next to mine I gave my blooming poinsettia and a healthy serving of my sister’s best egg custard. With the man down the hall who had (I’d been told) lost the will to live, I shared my largest array of cut flowers. I also delivered a portion of ‘frittura dussa,’ which I was certain would add a new spark and perhaps an eagerness to try some more. The succulent wonder of that ambrosia is of itself reason enough to live. In a few hours we all became fast friends, bound together by the same mystery of the shared moment. (109-110)
Reflecting on this experience, Buscaglia writes: I shall never forget that Christmas…. I still have years ahead of me for giving, sharing, caring, accepting, loving. I want to live this allotted time in a holiday spirit. What better way to live? (110)
In the world as we know it, hospitals are not sites for joyous celebrations and the creation of community. With the God of the Jesus of Christmas, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.
In the world as we know it including a swan in a Christmas program or sharing custard and flowers are not considered significant. They don’t seem to be earth-shaking events. But with the God of the Jesus of Christmas, it is in these places of fragile life, holy life that the significant events happen. The world is changed as hearts are moved, softened, minds are sharpened and opened. It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
Christmas reminds us that God draws near, that God is at work nudging, coaxing, inviting us toward a newer life, a newer world. God draws near and is at work in you and in me, in our fragile lives which can be holy lives. With Christmas, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and with the God of the Christ Child, I feel fine. I hope you do too. Merry Christmas. Amen.


Sermon preached December 23, 2012
We also had a Cantata of Lessons and Songs this day

Texts: Luke 1:39-45

Are you expecting? That’s been our theme these past weeks of the Advent season. When families are expecting a child, whether it be by birth or by adoption, they spend time learning. They get stuff ready – they nest. We want to be well prepared for the arrival of new life in our midst. That’s a good thing.
Yet no matter how much we learn, no matter how much we prepare, no matter how much we nest, there will be surprises along the way. “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb.” No matter how ready we are, there will be those leaping moments of surprise.
The same holds true in our spiritual lives, in our journey with Jesus, in our journey with God. God’s Spirit surprises no matter how deep our prayer life, no matter how sophisticated our theology. If we journey with Jesus, we will be surprised. There will be leaps of joy within us.
I have been surprised this Advent by a video. A few days ago, I was sent a link to a video of an orchestral flash mob. A flash mob is a gathering of folks typically called together through social media, and they just show up in a place. This particular flash mob was better organized than that. It was the town square in the Spanish community of Sabadell. It began with a bass. A crowd begins to gather as the musician plays. Other musician join the “mob” slowly. The final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, his “Ode to Joy” was played and sung by this gathered group. Watching it brought joy, especially as I remembered that Beethoven was suffering profound hearing loss as he wrote this, his final symphony. The story is told that after he conducted it, he had to be turned around to see the applause of the audience, because he could not hear it, and seeing their appreciation, he wept. Surprise.

Ode to Joy

Last Sunday, we had a friend of our community, Hajii, come as he has come the past few years, to bring goods made by refugees, the sale of which supports refugees. Before he left, Hajii made a gift of this print to us. It is a picture of a community and he thought it a nice symbol for us all. Surprise.
This past Thursday, out of the blue a member of the congregation called. He said he had recently heard about Julie’s mother’s health issues. Julie’s mom is receiving in-home hospice care. He said he didn’t know that it would make a difference, but just wanted me to know he was thinking about me. Surprise, and I thought of all the other times in our years together I have been surprised by your love and care. Not surprised that you cared, just delighted by particular expressions of that care.
Are you expecting? Are you expecting to be surprised by the Spirit of God this Advent and Christmas? God is about the business of such surprise, of moments of leaping joy.
And here’s another surprise. I’m done.

Friday, December 21, 2012


Sermon preached December 16, 2012

Texts: Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:7-18

Are you expecting? That’s a delicate question and our Advent theme this year. When parents are expecting a child, they often learn about the process of giving birth and about what parenting might entail. The journey of faith, our journey together with the God we know in Jesus is meant to be a life-long journey of learning. God’s love may be unchanging – though I would argue that we need to be a bit careful with that assertion because God’s love responds to the circumstances in our lives and in the world, God’s love may be unchanging, but we change and the world we try to love with the love of God changes. What we learned in confirmation was important but it may not carry us far enough in a world where we can induce comas to keep young people alive and yet cannot finally prevent death from touching us all, in a world of instant communication yet persistent isolation and alienation, in a world where twice in one week a lone gunman opened fire on unsuspecting people, Friday on a group of school children. We need to keep learning and growing.
As I was discussing the Advent theme with the worship committee, I planned out three sub-themes to “Are you expecting” – learning, getting the right stuff together and surprise. When I was talking with Velda and Cynthia about the getting the right stuff together I elaborated – you know how parents buy cribs and highchairs and car seats and playpens and all that. Cynthia said, “You mean like nesting?”
Nesting. That was a new term for me. Nesting. It is kind of an old-fashioned term. I remember Jimmy Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life” asking his wife, played by Donna Reed – “You on the nest Mary?” If there is worse question to ask a woman of childbearing years than “Are you expecting?” – “You on the nest?” may be it!
But we do “nest” when we are expecting a baby. We buy all the necessary supplies – car seats, blankets, diapers, pack and play. And it does kind of remind you of bird’s building their nests – finding what they need to make a comfortable home for the newly arrived. When you see a bird’s nest, they are rather fascinating – carefully constructed, with an occasional odd item used. They want a safe and secure place for their newly hatched. We humans want a warm, safe and secure environment for our children coming into our lives.
Is there something here about the spiritual journey? Does it make sense to try and talk about our lives as places where God will come and feel welcome? What can we do to welcome God, to make in our lives a warm and welcoming place for this ever-arriving God? I want to say three things in response to this question.
First, we need to admit that there is something a little odd in talking about a God who arrives, who comes. We affirm, after all, a God who is ever present. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)
We affirm that there is no place we can go where God is not, yet the human experience of God is that God can seem absent. God’s presence can be elusive in our experience. Often we have such experiences when things happen in our lives and in our world that don’t fit well with our ideas about God. Where is God when science explains things we used to attribute to God? Where is God when a job is lost? Where is God when dreams turn into disappointments? Where is God when a child dies in infancy? Where is God when a mother is killed in a car accident? Where is God when children are shot and killed in a school? Where is God when a vibrant twenty-three year old is attacked by unknown organisms affecting her nervous system? Where is God when rape and torture become weapons in wars of liberation? Where is God when six million Jews are killed during the Holocaust?
We ask deep questions that have no easy answers. God seems distant or drifting. We experience what Christian mystics have called “the dark night of the soul.” Such dark night of the soul experiences are not the absence of God, but can signal a need for growth on our part. Gerald May: when habitual senses of God do disappear in the process of the dark night, it is surely because it is time for us to relinquish our attachment to them (The Dark Night of the Soul, 91).
God is not absent, but our experience of God’s distance may perhaps mean we need to tune into God differently. We need to reconstruct our nest for God’s presence in our lives. We can be more attentive to God’s presence. We can be more perceptive of God’s presence. This is the second point I want to make about nesting as a part of our spiritual journey.
Michael Eigen is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist whose writings I have discovered over the past couple of years. In a recent book, Eigen reflects on the experience of the biblical character Job. You remember that Job loses everything, and his friends try to help by offering their opinions about where God is in Job’s life. They seem focused on the idea that because Job’s life has gone south, he must have done something wrong. God finally shows up at the end of the book and tells Job’s friend they just got it wrong. God shows up and meets with Job, but never really answers Job’s questions about why all this stuff happened to him. God just shows up in a new way in Job’s life. Eigen: [God] simply shows himself…. Job is awed by the immensity of existence, the bare fact of being. God’s show of power blows a hole through him. Talking with his Creator brings unsuspected moments of illumination, new levels of intensity, realization…. Life would not be the same after his rock-bottom shake-up and meeting God face to face. (Contact With the Depths, 34, 35).
We can be more open to God’s presence. We can be more perceptive of God’s presence. We can be more attentive to God’s presence. We can do things in our lives that make them more open to God, a better nest for welcoming the Spirit.
So here’s my final point. Remember points one and two: (1) God is always present, but our experience of God is not always attuned to that presence; (2) we can be more perceptive of and attentive to God’s presence. Here’s three: We become more perceptive of God, more attentive to God through soul work, and an important part of soul work follows the Mobius principle. Clear as mud?!
Soul work is the nesting of our spiritual journey, the way we make our lives more open to the presence of God who is always present, ever-arriving. We often think of soul work as things like meditation, prayer, spiritual direction, depth therapy. They are important. Philippians 4 reminds us of the importance of prayer, especially prayers of joy. There is a wonderful insight here. We tend to more naturally pray when things are not going so well. Our prayers are simple: “Help!” When things are going well, prayer can find a back seat. Pray prayers of joy – prayers of “thanks” and “wow.”
Then there’s the Mobius principle part of soul work – good works are also soul work. The Mobius strip moves in and out. What is in our souls is expressed in our action, but our actions also shape our souls. Kurt Vonnegut, in one of his novels wrote: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be” (Mother Night, quoted in Timothy White Strangers to Ourselves, 203). Psychologist Timothy White writes: “the first step to changing our non-conscious inclinations is to change our behavior” (212).
So here’s John the Baptist, the paradigmatic figure for Advent. We have not forgotten about him. “Bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:8). We sometimes think that first comes the repentance, then the works – the soul work of repentance expressing itself in living differently. What if, however, the actions are part of the repentance, the soul work? A new thing is on the horizon. Our understanding of God’s action and presence is changing. Repentance is the soul work we do to be more attentive to God’s presence. Part of that soul work is good works. Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise. Tax collectors – collect no more that the amount prescribed for you. Soldiers – do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages. (Luke 3:10-14, edited). By the way John was not against wage increases. Soldiers in John’s time added to their wages by taking money from common people.
Good works are also soul work, preparing us to be more attentive to God’s presence. We don’t do good to earn God’s love. God already loves. We do good in response to God’s love and to open ourselves more deeply. Our soul work benefits the world, another Mobius moment and right now our world needs our kindness and gentleness.
So how are you doing shaping a place for God? How are you doing in being more perceptive of God’s presence? How are you doing in being more attentive to God’s presence?
Advent is soul work time, including the soul work of good works. You on the nest?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Advent Reflection

Last Sunday was the children and youth Christmas program at our church. I did not preach, but earlier in the week I lead a communion service at a local senior care facility. Here is my reflection from that service.

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.”
I don’t know about you, but it sounds a lot like the morning news programs. Hurricane Sandy certainly had roaring seas and waves. Fear and foreboding – fiscal cliff, the end of the Mayan calendar. Fear leaps at us from our radios, televisions, computers, and even our phones.
So in the midst of all this chaos and confusion, what does Jesus in this part of the Gospel According to Luke have to say? “Stand up and raise up you heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
It’s Advent, and Jesus is coming.
Jesus is coming, and I don’t mean that the world as we know it is going to end. I was kidding some men at my church yesterday, saying that even though some think the world will be ending December 21 (Mayan calendar), I can’t use that as an excuse not to work on my Christmas Eve sermon. Jesus is coming in ways that Jesus has been coming since he first came – on a quiet night, in the midst of the ordinary. Jesus may also be coming at some later time on a cloud with power and glory, but if that is the only coming of Jesus we concern ourselves with, we miss the meaning, the mystery, the magic of Advent. In Advent, we would do well to pay more attention to the quiet comings of God’s love, God’s grace in Jesus.
Joan Chittister is a nun and a prolific writer. She is also among my favorite authors. Joan’s early years were spent in an industrial town in Pennsylvania, the kind of place where “coal dirt belched from the chimneys of the large corrugated shop segments day and night.” It was a place where “house paints, whatever their original colors, turned an inevitable uniform gray” (Living Well, 146)
When she was about ten years old, Joan’s family moved to Erie, Pennsylvania, and Joan was captivated by it. The place vibrated life…. Trees and thick bushes in big yards and wild grasses in open lots and live flowers everywhere (147). Reflecting on this years later, Joan draws a lesson for Advent, for the coming of Jesus. The truth is that life is not only about living. Life is also, purely and simply, about life, about the holiness of creation, about God’s love incarnate in the world around us. And, interestingly enough, I realize more and more every year, it is the spark of the divine in life that Christmas is meant to celebrate. It is fragile life, holy life, that Christmas hallows, that Christmas calls us to recognize, that Christmas reminds us to bow down before as we go. (147)
It is Advent and Jesus is coming. Stand up, raise your heads.
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also when you see these things taking place, you will know that the kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:29-31). I am told that fig trees are rather unique. When there are no leaves, their bare spiky branches give the tree and appearance of being “utterly dead.” The budding leaves allow those paying attention to watch as sap returns to the tree, and it can be observed with particular clarity. (Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 120) It is as if the tree is moving from death to life. When places vibrate life, the kingdom of God is near. Jesus is present.
Mary Oliver is a favorite poet of mine. Her poem “Sometimes” (Red Bird) is divided into short sections, each a poem in itself.

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

This is like the perfect Advent poem. It is Advent and Jesus is coming. Raise your heads. Look around. Pay attention. Be astonished.
How might Jesus be trying to be born in you and around you this Advent What beauty is there to see? What kindness is extended toward you? What kindness are you extending toward others? Where is there a smile that shares God’s grace that it will be all right? Where is the gentle holding of the hand that shares the peace of Christ?
It is Advent and Jesus is coming. Raise your heads. Look. Pay attention. Be astonished. Amen.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Are You Expecting?

Sermon preached December 2, 2012

Play beginning of Buffalo Springfield, “Expecting To Fly”

Expecting To Fly

Now that’s a strange way to begin Advent. Were you expecting something else? Maybe you’ve come to expect the unexpected sometimes here?
Are you expecting? That is a question in which context is everything. If your postal delivery person asks it of you, it would be considered a courtesy. If you ask it of a woman of child-bearing years – well, don’t do that.
Of course, the typical context for “Are you expecting?” has to do with pregnancy. Are you expecting a child? One of the things parents do when they are expecting a child is that they learn. What is this going to mean? What should we be doing? The number of books for expectant parents is amazing. I did a little on-line research and one of the sites I found – had a list of forty great pregnancy books. Forty great pregnancy books! They listed them out by the forty weeks of pregnancy from week one: Taking Charge of Your Fertility, to week forty: Baby Signs. In between were such books as Frankly Pregnant, What’s Going On In There?, and The Expectant Father. Forty books!
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also when you see these things taking place, you will know that the kingdom of God is near. (Luke 21:29-31)
I am told that fig trees are rather unique. When there are no leaves, their bare spiky branches give the tree an appearance of being “utterly dead.” The budding leaves allows those paying attention to watch as sap returns to the tree. It can be observed with particular clarity. (Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus, 120) It is as if the tree is moving from death to life.
This parable of the fig tree is a parable about learning. One of the things expectant parents tend to do is learn. They may not read forty books in forty weeks. They may not read much at all, but then they may learn from classes, or from parents about what it will mean to have this baby in their lives. Such learning happens most vigorously when a first child is expected, but it doesn’t end when more children come. What’s it going to be like when you have two babies in the home? One of the stories we tell at our household is the story of bringing Beth home from the hospital. David, our oldest, was about twenty-months old, and when we brought this little baby home to be part of our family, he sat there and cried. We were learning about having two infant children.
Expectant parents learn. Followers of Jesus, disciples of Jesus, learn. Our journey of faith is a journey of learning, or is intended to be anyway. We think parenting involves learning. Many professions require evidence of continued learning – CEUs. Why do we sometimes assume that our journey of faith is different? God’s love may be unchanging, but I would argue that it is only so in a particular way. God’s love may be unchanging, but our lives change. Our world changes. What love requires of us can change. Prayer can change. I think there is a difference in thinking about prayer disciplines in an age of almost constant communication in contrast to an age before radio, television, computers, the internet, and phones that are multi-media communication devices.
Our lives change. Our world changes. Do we expect, in the midst of all this change, God’s kingdom to break in? Do we expect, in the midst of all this change, God’s persistent, persuasive, loving presence to show up, to touch us, to move us? Taking my Bible and my faith seriously, God shows up. God’s love keeps on coming. That’s grace. And our response – look, watch, learn. Learn to see. Learn to hear. Learn to think in new ways. Learn to feel in new ways.
Kent Ira Groff is a writer and teacher about the Christian spiritual journey. He believes that one powerful image for this journey is the West African image of the Sankofa (project). Groff: Picture the primodern bird joyously dancing its way through life, feet forward, eyes backward, sideways, head forward again! Go back and fetch the essence of life…. Dance is the ideal metaphor for Sankofa and the final answer to the question, How shall we then live? “Dance then, wherever you may be!” Dance with all life’s opposites – the personal and the political, your disciplines and delights. (What Would I Believe if I Didn't Believe Anything: A Handbook for Spiritual Orphans, 183)

Like the parable of the fig tree, the parable of the Sankofa is a parable about our need to learn. That sense of the spiritual journey as a journey of on-going learning is also captured well in this short poem from Mary Oliver’s new book A Thousand Mornings.

“Three Things To Remember”

As long as you’re dancing, you can
break the rules.
Sometimes breaking the rules is just
extending the rules.

Sometimes there are no rules.

The poem takes rules seriously, seriously enough to know that sometimes rules need to be extended in new ways to new situation, and seriously enough to know that sometimes rules can become outdated – rules that enforced segregated lunch counters, or segregated marriages.
How do we live when dancing is required, required by a God whose love dances through the cosmos? We expect that love to be active. We learn where it may be found. We look. We pay attention. We trip over our own two feet sometimes and learn even from that.
Leo Buscaglia (1924-1998) wrote a rather famous book about love. In a later book, he shared this conversation: “Dr. Buscaglia, will you define love?” “Nooo! But if you follow me around I’ll try to live it.” (Living, Loving, Learning, 131)
The lesson of the fig tree is learn – learn to see, hear, think in new ways, feel in new ways. The related lesson of the Sankofa and of the poet is dance. The related lesson of Buscagli is love. The lesson of Jesus is all of these – learn, dance, love. What else would you expect? Blessed Advent.