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Invitations of Advent

I just posted this over at the Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor, but I will share it here as well. Today I feel invited to by the first reading, to try to live in a new way. Of course, I’ve been at that for years now – will it ever stick?

Interestingly enough, I was sitting with some folks from here at IC and they got to witness my anger – which I feel very embarrassed about. (No – it was not a loud outburst, but I was very angry and upset.) This reminds me of the importance of how faith is lived in community. If I were in my former loner mode of life, my anger would be flamed onward by itself. That however, is another reflection for another day.)

Last night I attended “The Infancy Narratives,” offered here at St. Edward the Confessor by Peter Avvento. If you have not taken any of Peter’s classes, I highly recommend them.

Near the end of the session, Peter did an amazing job – in my estimation – of describing the oppression of the Roman occupiers, on the First Century Palestinian Jews. He spoke about this backdrop and how it formed Jesus and many people of his time. Perhaps most chilling was the description that Peter offered of the sound of marching Roman armies – stomp stomp stomp – that Jesus might have heard. Then he spoke of the same scary sound in the same scary way, about the sound of jackboots on the streets of Germany in the 30’s.

Although I was born and raised Catholic, my father was Jewish and I have many Jewish friends and relatives. My own Jewishness is part of my Catholic life. I am not suggesting that Jews should convert; I am saying that my own faith is profoundly influenced by knowing more about Judaism and Jewish life. I grew up against a backdrop of insults about Jews and the confusion that my father was Jewish; I am highly sensitive about perceived and real anti-Semitism.

After Peter said this, I was chilled and that only grew worse as two people, however innocently, offered thoughts about how the Jews of Jesus’ time were not that oppressed. They both posited that things were made bad for the Jews by the Jews. Now while there may be some truth to the latter, the former is not true at all. The Romans made sure that there was “peace” – through the power of their military presence and so much more.

So what does all of this have to do with today’s Scriptures?

Just sink into that amazing reading from Isaiah, where I had to encounter my own thoughts and actions with trepidation.

The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.

Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide,

Well – that knocked me back when I read it this morning. What did I do in return for what I perceived? I did the same thing. I did not lean into knowledge and wisdom and understanding. No I – by hearsay – judged.

Let’s make no mistake – the “bad Jew” trope is alive and well and we are well advised to be aware of it. However, how do we react? The invitation is to follow Christ. This opens up possibilities.

Jesus – the ultimate game changer. Advent – our time to prepare for such change. Kind of like our current liturgical changes, it is going to take some time. There might be resistance. You know – like the resistance to see Jews as anything other than lesser than or somehow the makers of their own misery. (And trust me, as a partially Jewish person, I can say that we are good at that, so we don’t need the extra urging…)

And to continue with Isaiah,

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. the cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down

Oh. I get it. Justice, not judgement. Not fairness, as I understand it. (Read this for some wisdom about that.)

Peter’s words were scary and fear often makes us go back to the “old” places – and for many of us, myself included, that means places of less wisdom. Fear of God, which is awe, not the fear of anxiety, is the invitation to step forth, to see and hear new things and to change.

Last night I reacted with tremendous anger and fear. This morning I find the words that will lead me, once again, to see with new eyes, hear with new ears and to renew my heart. If our encounter with Christ does not do that – well then, what are we doing here?

Let’s see if it really sinks in this time. Thank God, Jesus is very patient indeed.


Monday Musing – Advent, Week 1

Advent is here. I feel deeply invited to slow down and I mean really slow down, in ways that I have not for a long, long time. Will I respond to the invitation?

On Sunday I was out doing some errands, eliminating the unnecessary as I went along. No – not because of Advent. While I would like to assign some deeper and more significant meaning to my acts, I must admit that it was little more than extreme exhaustion. Sleep has been spotty for me lately and I am just too tired to do to much.

While I was I was listening to NPR and there was an interview with musician Gabriel Kahane. I had never heard of him, but I sat in the car, listening to the story, not getting out, even though I had arrived at my destination.

During the interview, Kahane starts to talk about music in “the age of Spotify.” He went on to discuss – and mind you, this is a younger person – the challenges of so much information, this in the form of music on the internet. He spoke of music in the not-too-distant past, as well as the past as something else and he even used the words to say that we were once “curators” of our collections. Now music is just everywhere and available and he spoke of the challenge to “listen” as opposed to just “hear.”

This “inattentive listening” and how, in the age of the internet, with the ease of purchase (click!) means that we might not really focus on things in the same way. I liked how he talked about buying albums in the past and I was reminded of my once huge and unusual album (yes, I mean vinyl!) collection.

In that era, you would find me in obscure record stores, mulling over my options. Would I like all the songs? I did not know, so I would really have to consider what I was buying. Once home, I would remove the shrink wrap, take the vinyl from the sleeve and place it on the turntable… Then it would play and I would not be doing other things, but I would sit and listen to the songs. Sometimes I would be delighted and other times I would not be. However, Kahane spoke of playing things more than once to see if you would like it – you know, to slowly give the music a chance. It often worked that way for me – I would grow to like the album over time and it was an investment. It was – well, like a relationship!

Today we live in a try-it-once-discard-it-quickly world. Not happy? Be done with it, move on. Our relationships are like this too. As for God – well – how many of us actually spend time with God? Even those of us who profess to do so? Do we listen? Do we invest? Seriously?

Thus – it is Advent and I want to slow down and to spend some time in deep listening. I may not like what I hear, but maybe if grace helps me to be patient, and I slowly keep at it, things will deepen. The days will grow shorter and darker, I will be pulled at, as will you, to do more and be more and to certainly buy more.

However, at least for today, I want to be moving at a different speed, so that is how I will begin my Monday. Pray for me that I might stick with it. And be assured, I will be praying for you. Ready, set… slow. Have a good first week of Advent.

First Sunday of Advent

Be alert! That is what Advent calls us to – being watchful, waiting, creating a place for the Child that is to come into our hearts.

I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the stark contrast of the days leading up to today and the days that today leads to. We come out of Thanksgiving – a holiday where we tend to over-stuff ourselves with food, food that tends to put us to sleep no less! Then we watch football or something like that.

The next day comes and our culture is immersed in the frenetic activity of too much shopping. It is a day when people are called to work at midnight, perhaps missing part of their Thanksgiving day with family. It is a day when others go out in the dark of night to line up to… shop?! To get more stuff, to get more things. Oh yes, ostensibly, this is to be able to be “good givers.” What does that mean?

Yet here we are, from sundown on Saturday, into this season of quiet, watching and waiting. It is a time of winter cold and barren landscapes – open spaces in which we quietly, patiently listen, watch and wait.

I do know this much – I am not ready for Christmas, but Advent… I am ready for that. Let the days unfold in quietude and in expectant hope. And I pray that I am attentive enough to be there for them; attentive enough to make space for the Lord, who is waiting to be born.

Saturday Song

This has got to be one of my favorite versions of one of my favorite songs for Advent, O Come O Come Emmanuel, by Sufjan Stevens.  It is easy to confuse music for Advent and music for Christmas. I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready for Christmas. Advent – that I am ready for.

Watch. Wait. Be alert!

Thanksgiving For All Who Have Lost Someone

I just got off the phone with a parishioner who recently lost someone close to her. We see a lot of death here at the rectory… both in funeral activity as well as the losses of those in our community. We might not even know the deceased, but they were a brother, a sister, a friend, a parent or whomever to someone in this parish. The loss is felt by all as we mourn with others. It occurred to me that this post, which I put up at my home parish blog for St. Edward the Confessor in Clifton Park, might be appropriate here in Glenville. Read on…

This past year, my husband’s sister Olga died. Although she had been sick before, her cancer was in remission – so we all thought. We spent a great Christmas together, our happiest ever perhaps. She went home and did not feel well in January and immediately went to the doctor. Her surgery was on January 30. On March 23, she was gone.

This will be our first Thanksgiving without Olga and we are all bereft. I think of my friend who lost her husband one year ago from this Thursday. I think of another woman who lost her mom, who lived with her and was her best friend. I keep thinking of so many people who face Thanksgiving with an empty chair like ours.

(Click here to continue reading this post.)

Monday Musing

Matthew 25 - sheep and goats - powerpoint
Many people in many churches, beyond the boundaries of our Catholic church, heard the same Gospel that we did on Sunday, that Gospel being Matthew 25:31-46.

This Gospel is so challenging and yet, I think it is so often misunderstood. I can’t speak for others, but I can speak for myself, how I personally have misunderstood and misused these words of Christ!

Matthew 25 – and duly so at one level – is a real charge of the social Gospel. As for my part, in an angrier and more passionate era of my life, I would frequently invoke these words. Yes, it is time for me, your humble parish secretary and office manager to admit something… I have spent most of my life being little more than a dirty, filthy hippy. (OK, feel free to smile, I am trying to be funny, but I am telling the truth.)

As such, I was just pretty angry at what I perceived as all the injustices in the world. Dang you people, I thought! Be nice to the poor people, just like Jesus told us!!! This was my…  um – er – it was my mantra.  So I spent a lot of time railing at the very world I was a part of for not being nicer and more peaceful. This was what Jesus was telling us, no?

Well – He was telling us that. He was also – IS also – telling us a lot more than just that. Hint – this is why we are MANY members but ONE body. As we come together, we literally re-member or restore the Body of Christ.

So back to the hippy part – I was sure that I was onto something important. Very Important! Now every time I would encounter someone that I thought was ignoring Jesus, I would be tempted to tell them so. However, I have come to begin to understand something of late. Do you think that I’m onto something here… Jesus is talking to ALL of us. That’s right – all of us, sheep and goats.  We are all both. So even if we are pretty certain that we are doing what Jesus tells us to do, we might also want to reconsider. I mean – maybe we are doing that – but I am thinking that we are all missing something too.

The Gospel is meant to make all of us uncomfortable and to challenge us. This brings me to the words of author Anne Lamott, (a pretty dirty, filthy hippy herself), who once said, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

So when I heard the words about who fed, clothed, visited and tended and about who did not feed, clothe, visit and tend on Sunday morning, I felt a little ill. Jesus was not feeding me lines. I’m now pretty sure that he was actually speaking to me. And you. And all of us. Always.

What a pain.

Yesterday, someone reminded me of something that I “knew” but that I had not integrated… If we think that we somehow grow closer to God by coming to Mass alone, we are sadly misinformed. We do come to mass to be close to God and to feed at the table that gives us strength and grace. Then we do what mass really means – to be dismissed – to be a blessing to others and to (in the words of one option of dismissal, added at the behest of Pope Benedict XVI!)  “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.”  (That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?)

So where am I headed on this ramble? Well, we all have questions to answer about who we feed, clothe, tend and visit no matter who we are. If we leave mass and go announcing what we are pretty smug about ourselves, we may be in trouble. Our obligation is not to exhale, thinking that we have “made it” but rather to take a deep breath and meet head on the obligation to do that feeding, clothing, visiting and tending in places not of our own choosing, then maybe we might get somewhere.

In the end, perhaps if we feel good about what we have done, rather than scorn others for what we think that they have yet to do, we might remember that each one of us tends to some form of the “least” of these. As for the least of these that you disdain… well, they need tending too. Which all brings me to one of the other options for dismissal in the New Roman Missal – “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”  Hearing that makes it a lot harder to feel good about my tending and to disdain you for yours.

We are one.

Saturday Song – Soon and Very Soon

Soon and Very Soon is a Gospel song by Andrae Crouch. We do sing this at my home parish of St. Edward the Confessor. I am posting it as today’s Saturday Song as this is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, Christ the King. This song is also a reminder that we soon and very soon, we will go to see the King for Christmas!

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