The Angel Gabriella

We had a visit from the Angel Gabriella yesterday. I’ve known her for years. Her halo is a bit Gabriellacock-eyed and doesn’t float over her head because, as she says, “she just can’t do that floaty thing.” She doesn’t wear her wings because that makes it too hard to get in and out of cars and doorways. And, she always has a slightly different take on the traditional Christmas stories because she was there. Yes, our Bibles say it was Gabriel, but Gabriella insists the male writers of the Bible left a few letters off of her name on purpose.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

As Gabriella spoke yesterday, she seemed a bit miffed about the “sappy, sweet, sad-faced” Mary who is portrayed in portraits and statues all over the world. She wasn’t too happy about the church, either, who has turned Mary into a pious, obedient, innocent virgin. “Seriously,” Gabriella asked, “if you were God, would you send someone with no backbone or fortitude to bear a prophet? Would this be the type of woman you would want to raise the likes of Jesus and support him down the difficult path his life would take?” No. This was the resounding answer of the congregation. They would’ve chosen a woman who was strong, determined, independent, open-minded, self-assured, courageous and faithful. And that, Gabriella assured us, is exactly the kind of woman Mary was.

Just think of the things Mary had to live through above and beyond being an oppressed Jew. If we take the stories at face value, she lived through the stigma of being pregnant before she was married; she, Joseph and their son fled to Egypt shortly after his birth and lived as refugees in a foreign land; we assume she dealt with the death of Joseph at some point because he is never mentioned again; she followed Jesus throughout his ministry, fearing for his life on many occasions and finally watching his execution; most likely, Mary had to go into hiding afterwards. It took a tough woman, in a time when women had little to no respect, for her to deal with all of that.

Mary’s song of praise (Luke 1:47-55) that we now call the Magnificat, likely did not tumble out of her mouth word for word the instant she greeted her cousin Elizabeth. But the author of Luke clearly portrays Mary as a prophet who understand that the Divine One sought peace and harmony that could only be achieved through a level playing field. With the confidence of faith, she believed that the overthrow of the powerful would come not through mounting a war or rebellion, but through a child. In that radical act the powerful are deposed, the proud are scattered. And, in contrast, the lowly are exalted and the hungry are fed.

As we head into this Christmas week, perhaps we should rethink the submissive, milk-toast Mary we see so often on Christmas cards. She deserves to be remembered as a strong, determined, faithful, intelligent woman. She was a prophet in her own right, and she was a teacher of her son as well as his most devoted disciple.

Merry Christmas,

Kaye

Not a Norman Rockwell Christmas

“Rejoice in the Savior always! I say it again: Rejoice! Let everyone see your forbearing spirit. Our Savior is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds; instead, present your needs to God through prayer and petition, giving thanks for all circumstances. Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:4-7)

This is a perfect passage to read today as churches everywhere lift up the theme of joy on this third Sunday in Advent. Joy in the coming once again of the child who would bring so much light to the world.

And this passage is even more amazing when we realize that Paul is writing from a Roman prison where he was being held under a capital charge.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Without the threat of prison, it should be even easier for us to rejoice. And, if you look at all the advertising messages during this Christmas season, we are clearly a very happy society. Surely all of our homes reflect the joy and love portrayed in the images. Perfect children and adults in matching pjs, happy, laughing, and smiling, as they exchange the perfect gifts in front of the perfect tree while sipping the perfect cup of coffee. Or the beautiful young couple who are in love, and exchange that something special with a kiss and a hug. The Christmas carolers are perfectly dressed and singing in four-part harmony while snow gently falls. Grandma and Grandpa show up at the door loaded down with presents and … wait for it… the cute puppy the grandkids wanted … and mom and dad are happy! (I offered to send a puppy to my nephew and my brother said he’d kill me).

Christmas always brings to mind Norman Rockwell’s paintings, ads and magazine covers. mailmanSnow falling on the quaint little town. The family all rosy-cheeked, laden with presents showing up at grandma and grandpa’s door. Grandpa and his grandson riding on an old-fashioned rocking horse. The cozy couple bundled up for the perfect horse-drawn sleigh ride. Kid’s asleep waiting for Santa. The smiling mailman carrying beautifully wrapped gifts while surrounded by a pack of kids.The little boy on his knees saying his prayers

Then there are the Thomas Kinkade paintings with the houses and church beautifully decked out and lit up for Christmas with the gentle snow falling (there is never a snowstorm in any of these, nor is it 50 degrees, gray and rainy). And, we can’t forget the magazines with all the beautifully decorated Christmas cookies, tables laden with beautiful decorations and food.

Sigh. I want all that. I want Paul’s joy, gratitude, and faith in the face of adversity, stress and struggle. I want the joy, love, harmony, innocence and magic of Norman Rockwell. I want the Thomas Kinkade beautifully decorated house and I want the Martha Stewart table! If I could just have all of this, my Christmas would be perfect, peaceful, holy! Yea, right.

But my holiday tends to look nothing like a Norman Rockwell, Thomas Kinkade or Martha Stewart Christmas! And, when I read Paul’s passage to the Philippians this last week, my head changed it around and it sounded something like this:

God help me! I say it again: God help me! I’ve lost my forbearing spirit, but I won’t let anyone see me panic. The Savior is near! Anxiety seems to have taken over my mind and I can’t seem to dismiss it. But, still, I present all my needs to God through prayer and petition, giving thanks for (heavy sigh) all circumstances.

(I really did try…)

Thank you God… now God, please help me to find the perfect gift for Julie, because she wants an air compressor and I just can’t go there.

Thank you God… now God, please help me not to strangle the woman in front of me in line who has 8,000 coupons and is paying with a check.

Thank you God… now God, please help me… I have four batches of cookies to bake, chocolates and caramel to make, presents to get in the mail, cards to address without fail, 90 more papers to grade and three more services to prepare before I fade.

And now I fear I’m losing my mind, as I’m starting to think in Dr. Seuss rhyme!

Why am I not feeling the peace??? It said if I presented my needs to God and gave thanks I’d feel the peace??

Norman Rockwell and Thomas Kinkade? Ha! When I put Christmas lights on the house I found that half the strings were old, half were new and half were dead. So, the “icicles” hanging from our house are completely mismatched… old long white ones, new un-stretched white ones and then blue ones. Perfect (not).

I tried to make beautiful arrangements for our outside pots with evergreen branches and berries, but they look more like I just shoved a bunch of things in the dirt to try and hide the stalks of the summer plants that I couldn’t get out!

Martha Stewart? Ha! We frosted cookies and my (19-year-old) son turned a reindeer into a rabbit and made a yellow snowman (just wrong). Plus, I now have a huge crack in my favorite cookie mixing bowl, and I just about needed to go to the chiropractor because I couldn’t stand up straight.

As for families on Christmas Day…  let’s just say we don’t have any who will meet us at the door with packages, smiles and singing.

So… let me tell you my advice to myself every Christmas time… “Kaye, lower your expectations.” It may as well be my mantra.

There is no such thing as a perfect Christmas. My head knows that… my heart, however, is an incurable romantic. So, we compromise… I do as much as I can, and then do my best to be happy about however it turns out.

I have lights on my house, even though they aren’t perfect.

I had fun trying to make arrangements in my planters, even if they don’t look like the ones at Stein’s or Mileager’s (or anywhere nice, really).

I don’t have family nearby to visit, but I have a beautiful spiritual community to be with on Christmas Eve, which is my most favorite holy, sacred time of the year. And I am so grateful to still have that.

Seriously, I am in awe of Paul. Paul reminds me that it is important to find time to rejoice simply on the presence of the Divine in my heart and my life. Everything else is nice, but it is the light within, that unquenchable light that keeps me going.

Blessings,

Kaye

Born of Fire

Anthony de Mello tells this wonderful story:

Once upon a time one of the disciples spoke to another disciple, in fear and anxiety. “This man worries me and I don’t know whether I can trust him.” He was new to the group.

The older disciple answered, “That’s all right. Even the Master says to reflect on his words, study them, practice them, and test their truth before you believe in them, or in him.”

But the other disciple responded, “Oh, it’s not so much his words that trouble me. They often bring enlightenment. It’s his presence. He burns so much in me.”

I wonder if this is what Jesus was like.

On Sunday we heard from the prophet Malachi who warned the people of his day to be ready because One was coming who would “be like a smelter’s fire, a launderer’s soap. The One will preside as refiner and purifier…” (Malachi 3:1-4)

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Have you had people like this in your life? Someone who by their example, or their insight, or maybe even their confrontation about your actions or words or behaviors, has helped you to see where your own stuff is holding you back? Those people can sometimes be uncomfortable to be around, but we recognize how much they help us to grow and mature, they bring us back to what is important, they bring us back to our true selves. They are the ones we trust enough to listen to their words, reflect on them, and maybe even seek to change (to refine ourselves, difficult though it may be) because of them.

We wait for the One who comes… the One who had compassion, wisdom and love for all people and, without judging, helped to bring them back to themselves and back to God. Some were ready to hear him and some weren’t.

The Sufi master and poet, Rumi, was known for his passionate devotion to the Holy One.  Many people sought to be one of his disciples and to be personally tutored in the ways of the mystic traditions of the dervishes.

One day a new seeker arrived and spoke to Rumi, “Master, I have come to present myself before you. Are you ready to teach me?”

Rumi, a master, indeed, in the art of discerning another’s soul, eyed him long and deeply, then responded, “It all depends. Are you ready to learn from me?”

We are preparing for the coming of Jesus, but this isn’t only about Jesus… it is about all those who are in our path to teach us, to show us the way, to bring us back to ourselves.

Are we ready?

Kaye

Waiting in Hope

These days I worry about my children in a way I didn’t worry about them when they hope3were younger and I could shelter and care for them. What will the world be like for them? Will they find jobs? Will they be burdened with debt? Will the world become less and less safe? Will we have an earth fit to live on for much longer?

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Our world feels like it is going hell in the proverbial handbasket. Seriously, I would welcome a reputable prophet right about now proclaiming that one was coming who would make the world a safe, peaceful place to live. Not to mention someone who, as Jeremiah said, will bring justice and integrity to the land (Jer. 33:15)!

The increasing darkness (how do people in Alaska do it?) seems to simply add to this feeling that everything is spinning out of control, and that we are sinking deeper and deeper into despair and darkness. For many folks, the physical darkness and the holidays often bring depression for people. We are drawn into our own shadows and confronted once again with our brokenness, our broken families, our loneliness and our loss.

We need hope. The country needs hope. Our world needs hope.

Hope… I can’t quite explain where it comes from, it seems it must simply be a gift of God’s grace. It also seems to me that if we didn’t have hope we’d all be taking our own lives.

Day after day we continue hoping that (despite reality) things will get better, hoping that love will win, hoping that people will learn to understand one another, hoping that we will be healed, hoping that our children will be healthy, that our puppy won’t pee in the house (yes, I’m living this right now) and we’ll still have a job next week.

It is interesting to me that over 2000 years since Jesus was born, we still anticipate the celebration of his birth with such hope. Why? What did Jesus bring? In a nutshell, I think he reminded us of what was important, and it wasn’t laws and rules. It was people and compassion, it was love and joy. He transformed lives by restoring relationship and bringing people back to themselves and God. He believed in justice that included equality for all people and he lived in integrity to himself, to God and to his message.

Yes, Jesus was awesome, but here’s what I think we all missed… from the beginning, people have wanted Jesus to fix things by himself. Certainly, people have reasoned, the Messiah is anointed by God and, therefore, great enough to fix this world. Think about it, we’re always asking for God’s intervention in our lives… do this, do that, fix this, change that, heal me, change them, let me win the lottery.

He showed us how to live with peace in our hearts by connecting to the God of compassion and love. He showed us this so that we might help transform the world, so that we might be light and hope to the world. It’s just like a kid with homework… we can’t do it for them, we just have to help and guide. Our homework is deal with our shadows, and all that covers up our authentic light-filled selves, so we can BE light, BE peace, BE hope.

I know we don’t want to hear this. We don’t want the burden. We want some miracle to come and change things, fix things… fix us. We want a genie or a magic wand. But it just doesn’t work like that.

The spiritual path is not only to wait in hope, to live in hope, but to BE hope.

For today, the waiting is important… it is time to sink into the darkness, to check in with ourselves, to incubate and spend time in self-reflection. It is time to look at our lives, where we need to be healed, where the Divine is nudging us to open up, or to let go. And we start there.

Then we look outward, not judging, because we know we have our own burdens and brokenness. We look outward with compassion and with forgiveness, trying to bring joy, hope and a better day.

Peace,

Kaye