Friday, December 29, 2006

Unexpected Grace

My neighbors packed up their yard filled with Santas and snowmen. The shopping pages now blast New Year’s Day sales. The world has moved on from its brief fling with Christmas. Yet, those who celebrate the feast continue to roar in the echoing refrain of Glory to God in the highest.

Today is the fifth day of twelve-day feast, rejoicing in the miracle of the Incarnation of our Lord. And then comes Epiphany, an extended season for contemplating and celebrating the manifestation of the Son to the world. For many people in days gone by, Christmas carols would continue throughout Epiphany until February 2nd when the church celebrated the presentation of the Lord in the temple.

This year, my mind returns again and again the God’s coming in a way the no one could have anticipated and in a way that stirs the soul to awe. Here are a few thoughts that attempt to capture one theme that has been heavy in my heart:

The grace of God appears like an unexpected star on an uneventful night. Suddenly, light streams shower from a dark sky, and you step forward into the dawn of a coming Day.

The story of the nativity is the story of nighttime surprises. Gabriel greets an unexpecting Mary with the Word that brings new birth. Joseph’s dream awakens him to father the son of his Father above. The lonely shepherds behold a company of angels inviting them to come and see the Glory of God bursting out of heavens and into the earth. The heavenly drama beckons a few stargazers to leave behind an ancient world and behold the future made present.

While there are lessons to be learned from each story, these stories penetrate deeper than the moral truth of any Aesop’s fable. They illumine the ground upon which we tread. Each year we revisit Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Wise Men, and one day we might just realize we’re in the middle of the same story.

Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the Wise Men are not waiting for an invitation to Bethlehem. They do not anticipate God’s Word of favor to call them forth. Each of them are simply living their lives in the midst of countless other lives and countless other stories. They are not engaged in some heroic work; they are not calling down fire from heaven; they have no particular traits that will cause them to rise above the tapestry of history. Like their mothers and fathers before them, they were born, would live and eventually die with no particular lasting glory.

Suddenly, their common life is interrupted with a glory that exceeds the grasp of earthly minds. Suddenly God’s Word appears like favor, like new birth, like a sword of love that pierces the heart. Suddenly the light of morning grace awakens them, calls them to Bethlehem, and invites them to behold a new Day.

O come let us adore Him.

His glorious Word that sustains every living thing sounds in the cry of that baby in the manger. Halted in their journeys by this tiny vision of divine glory, the travelers can do nothing but worship. No words, no actions, no human ingenuity can add to the moment.

O come let us adore Him. Adore Him.

Jesus comes to dwell among us. Jesus comes to reveal the Father. Jesus comes to save His people from their sins. He enters history at a particular point in time through the womb of Mary. Yet, by His Spirit, He remains in history and continues to bring the Word of life to each of us.

The wondrous invitation to Bethlehem comes without warning and without expectation. In the middle of my dark night, His love surprised me like a sunrise casting its gentle glow over the surface of a black lake. In just a moment, the dark rippling water glowed with yellows and oranges and reds and blues and greens. The dawn overtook the night, and I stepped into the first light of a new Day.

And all I can do is worship.

O come let us adore Him. Adore Him. Adore Him.

I have more essays and reflections that I may or may not write this season. There is much to say and much to do. But at some point, when I pause and consider the splendor of that “wonderful, wonderful Day,” I am speechless. I am overwhelmed. I am falling before Him with a gratefulness that can never match His matchless grace.

O come let us adore Him. Adore Him. Adore Him. O Come let us adore Him.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Spirit of Christmas

Each year, I hear at least one person say, “Are you in the Christmas spirit?” Or another might say, “I just don’t feel like Christmas this year.” Year after year the refrain rolls on. I’m not always sure what the “Christmas spirit” is or feels like. But I think it has something to do with the anticipation and wonder experienced by many children.

Of course, most children live in a state of wonder from moment to moment. They might spend hours playing with their Christmas toys or they might spend hours playing with the boxes that held the Christmas toys.

Unfortunately most adults live in a world divorced from wonder, so naturally the Christmas spirit might seem elusive. Just as the anticipation of the tooth fairy, the hopes of finding a leprechaun, or the delight of a refrigerator box might also seem elusive.

Advent provides us a season for turning our hearts toward that yearning for the coming of the Lord. In some sense, this yearning may actually hold the key to rediscovering that wonder. That yearning is like the yearning for Narnia after having tasted of that world. When the children return home, Narnia seems so close:
And the memory of that moment stayed with them always, so that as long as they both lived, if ever they were sad or afraid or angry, the thought of all that golden goodness, and the feeling that it was still there, quite close, just round some corner or just behind some door, would come back and make them sure, deep down inside, that all was well. (The Magician's Nephew)

This yearning may help us to realize that heaven is closer than we think. But to fully grasp the yearning as well as the “Christmas spirit,” we first may have to face the bittersweet depth the Christmas tale, and not simply a flattened two-dimensional image.

This season I soaked myself in the stories and in the songs. Many of older carols are sung in minor keys and ring out less “holly jolly” and more “ransom captive Israel.” In other words, the songs and stories both carry a deep undercurrent of anguish.

While we paint a “happy go lucky” glaze across the top of our Christmas celebrations that is not anything like the spirit of Christmas. It is more like an eruption of holy laughter ringing out in the midst of a darkening night of grief.

The older carols capture this ominous sense. Listen to the hard rhythms and images of this old song:
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.
Bleak, moan, hard as iron, stone. All these images suggest a world gripped by the cold darkness of a winter that goes deeper than mere seasons. It is the winter of the soul that freezes our spirits, kills our wonder, eliminates our faith, drains our hope, and leaves us faltering in despair. This is the setting for the Christmas tale.

The Nativity story crashes contrasting images and emotions. Earthy vulgar shepherds behold heavenly glorious angels. Light blazes in the midst of a dark night. Simeon warns Mary that a sword will pierce her heart as well. The cry of baby Jesus is eventually drowned out by the cry of the weeping mothers of Ramah who cannot be comforted because Herod slaughtered their children. Joseph and Mary escape to Egypt, sparing the baby God.

Though the angels proclaim, “Fear not!” There seems much to fear. The world Jesus is born into instantly reveals its hatred for God and its desire to kill and destroy anything that would challenge its flight into darkness.

In light of the tale, how do we respond to the angels’ wondrous proclamation, “Peace on earth, goodwill to man!” The Christmas tale never takes the suffering of this world lightly. It does not brush over the pain and anguish caused by evil. This evil manifests in criminals, in war, in governments and rulers like Herod, but it also manifests in each human heart: in my human heart.

Evil strikes out within every human heart. Each of us suffers, yet each of us causes suffering. It is to this dark night of human existence that a child comes. It is in this bleak mid-winter that a stable will suffice.

The joy that rings out at Christmas is the joy of the ransomed heart. It is the joy of the soul who is not forsaken, not left out in the cold, not abandoned by the Savior. This joy is not tempered by pain and suffering around us; instead this joy blazes ever brighter as the dark seems to grow even darker.

Thus Chesterton really is right when he says that “Man chooses when he wishes to be most joyful the very moment when the whole material universe is most sad.” So the Christmas spirit is not something that gently comes upon us like a warm hug. Rather it is a defiant spirit that chooses to rejoice when the world say no.

Yes the world is suffering. Yes there is pain and hatred and cruelty and selfishness all around. Yes even our very Christmas celebration is turned into a parody with layers and layers of absurd marketing ploys. And yet even these cannot stop us from singing. We raise the banner of Christmas like warriors fighting off the coldness of unbelief and cynicism. And like Habakkuk of old, we proclaim,
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The LORD God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.
(Hab 3:17)
Christmas is a feast. Not because we feel good or warm or happy. It is a feast because we choose to rejoice when our world has lost its way. We choose to dance, to play, to laugh and to celebrate the infant whose cross-shaped love will triumph over all. And as we do, we might discover a world of wonder “just around the corner.” We might just be converted into little children: for only then can we enter the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

While Shepherds Watched Their Flock

Matthias sat down by the entrance to the cave. Rubbing his freezing, blistered hands together—specs of mud mixed with manure flecked onto the ground. The day had been long; the cold night would be longer. The warmth of the fire nearby gradually gave some relief to the bitter night.

His joints and bones ached and had ached for so long, it seemed normal. Years of nomadic life in summer and winter, rain and snow, blistering heat and freezing cold—aged his body. The once playful youth, who could rebound from every fall, now struggled sometimes to simply rise and sit. The lines carved into his face, the distant gaze in his eyes, and the creaking limbs betrayed his thirty-five years, suggesting an older, weaker man.

On this cool dark night he watched. He guarded the sheep asleep in the cave and watched for anything that might hurt the sheep or his fellow shepherds. While Bethlehem nights were usually quiet and peaceful, he could take no chances. Someone must watch in case of bandits, wolves, other creatures or other problems.

Matthias struggled to stay awake. Last night was his turn to rest, but a commotion among the dogs of the flock kept him awake most of the night. And now his mind and body fought hard to recover that sleep.

Puling out a little pipe from his leather pouch, Matthias began to play a tune. In a life of constant struggle for survival, this little pipe was one of his few joys. When he played, he dreamed. He traveled back to boyhood. To sitting by the fire as his grandfather told stories about days long gone.

According to pappa, shepherds were beloved of God and were the reason God chose Israel as his people. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were shepherds. Moses was a shepherd. David was a shepherd.

Yes God loved shepherds and would one day restore their glory. They wouldn’t always be outsiders. Stories weaved through the cities accusing shepherds of everything from stealing, tricking and killing townspeople to even mating with their flocks.

Not every rumor was false. Their lives were hard, and sometimes survival meant doing things that made you less than proud. Poverty so gripped and controlled their lives, they no longer even owned the sheep they herded. Instead, wealthy landowners bought the sheep from the shepherds and then lorded over them like slaves.

This humiliation, this constant struggle, this life of virtual slavery drove shepherds to play a role that sometimes included the very worst of the rumors. A shadow of regret and guilt darkened many of their lives.

Living on the margin of the world, they felt forgotten, abandoned and even hated by God. They were dirty, smelly, poor and knew nothing but shepherding. Yet in spite of this, Matthias still dreamed on his pipe. Pappa made the life of shepherding seem wondrous, magical. Pappa’s words kept him alive on the inside even when the outside seemed to be crumbling.

In the desolate hours, Matthias felt the desolation of his life stir a yearning deep within for something. A longing burned and burned and he expressed the longing in slow lamentation on the pipe. He played on and on through the monotonous minutes and hours of the cold winter eve.

Suddenly a light jolted through him and the pipe flew from his hands. Instantly Matthias fell to the ground screaming. The other shepherds followed suit. God had finally come and the end was at hand. They would be judged…and found wanting.

But then two words, two words which promised hope and love and…possibility. “Fear not!”

As the words washed over him in a flood a peace, Matthias looked up at the cause of his travail. A light figure stood or floated before him. He could see no features for the intense brilliance almost blinded him.

Then the voice of a thousand bells spoke again, “For behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."

“Unto me? A baby born to me? A savior born for me?” The questions raced through his head, but in a moment, laughter erupted from Matthias’s belly like a sudden flood. The other shepherds laughed as well. Soon they were dancing and singing. The joy that burned within them was brighter and more furiously playful than anything they had ever known.

Shearing days could not compare to this spontaneous festival of laughter and dancing and frolicking that broke out in their midst. As though one angel was not enough to witness this joy, the sky suddenly flamed with thousands upon thousands of angel singing, ringing, shouting proclaiming

"Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

As they danced, Matthias heard Pappa’s words ringing in his ears. “God really does love shepherds.” Then he out of the blue remembered something else Pappa would say, something he had forgotten all these years, “God loves shepherds because he is a shepherd and we’re his sheep.”

For the first time since childhood, Matthias beamed with a heaven-sent pride. He was called of God, chosen to shepherd the sheep. Chosen to reveal the wisdom and kindness of God upon the earth. And now, unexpectedly chosen to share in the joy of God’s redeeming Israel by sending the baby shepherd king who would restore his flock and lead them home.

His dreams stopped short when the sky turned black. As suddenly as they came, the angels departed, and Matthias turned to his fellow herders, “Come my friends, we must go at once. Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

O Antiphons - Dec 17

I realize that most of you will read this on Monday morning, but tonight (as in Sunday) the singing of O Antiphons begins. For the next seven evenings the church traditionally sings (chants) a series of prayers that express our longing for the coming of the Lord. Each chant draws from of different title for the Messiah. This time of singing is a countdown to Christmas Eve. The rhythm of Advents shifts from a focus on the second coming of Christ to the first coming. This gives us an opportunity to meditate upon the various passages of Scripture focusing on the coming of the Messiah.

From Christmas Eve we shift from Advent to Christmastide. A 12 day feast centered on the Incarnation (thus the 12 days of Christmas). I'll write more about that later.

Those who have read my meditations for a while have both taught me this rhythms of the season and learned the rhythms alongside me. Instead of rewriting a summary on O Antiphons, I've simply included an excellent summary below.

What Are the ’O Antiphons’? FR. WILLIAM SAUNDERS

The “O Antiphons” refer to the seven antiphons that are recited (or chanted) preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. They cover the special period of Advent preparation known as the Octave before Christmas, Dec. 17-23, with Dec. 24 being Christmas Eve and Vespers for that evening being for the Christmas Vigil.

The exact origin of the “O Antiphons” is not known. Boethius (c. 480-524) made a slight reference to them, thereby suggesting their presence at that time. At the Benedictine abbey of Fleury (now Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire), these antiphons were recited by the abbot and other abbey leaders in descending rank, and then a gift was given to each member of the community. By the eighth century, they are in use in the liturgical celebrations in Rome. The usage of the “O Antiphons” was so prevalent in monasteries that the phrases, “Keep your O” and “The Great O Antiphons” were common parlance. One may thereby conclude that in some fashion the “O Antiphons” have been part of our liturgical tradition since the very early Church.

The importance of “O Antiphons” is twofold: Each one highlights a title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. Let’s now look at each antiphon with just a sample of Isaiah’s related prophecies :

O Sapientia: “O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to salvation.” Isaiah had prophesied, “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 fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.” (11:2-3), and “Wonderful is His counsel and great is His wisdom.” (28:29).

O Adonai: “O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.” (11:4-5); and “Indeed the Lord will be there with us, majestic; yes the Lord our judge, the Lord our lawgiver, the Lord our king, he it is who will save us.” (33:22).

O Radix Jesse: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” Isaiah had prophesied, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (11:1), and A On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (11:10). Remember also that Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:1).

O Clavis David: “O Key of David, O royal Power of Israel controlling at your will the gate of Heaven: Come, break down the prison walls of death for those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death; and lead your captive people into freedom.” Isaiah had prophesied, AI will place the Key of the House of David on His shoulder; when he opens, no one will shut, when he shuts, no one will open.” (22:22), and “His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David’s throne, and over His kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by judgment and justice, both now and forever.” (9:6).

O Oriens: “O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown.” (9:1).

O Rex Gentium: “O King of all the nations, the only joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of man, come and save the creature you fashioned from the dust.” Isaiah had prophesied, “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (9:5), and “He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” (2:4) .

O Emmanuel: “O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God.” Isaiah had prophesied, “The Lord himself will give you this sign: the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

(7:14). Remember “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”

According to Professor Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Benedictine monks arranged these antiphons with a definite purpose. If one starts with the last title and takes the first letter of each one - Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia - the Latin words ero cras are formed, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” Therefore, the Lord Jesus, whose coming we have prepared for in Advent and whom we have addressed in these seven Messianic titles, now speaks to us, “Tomorrow, I will come.” So the “O Antiphons” not only bring intensity to our Advent preparation, but bring it to a joyful conclusion.


Saunders, Rev. William. “What are the ‘O Antiphons’?” Arlington Catholic Herald.

Reprinted with permission of the Arlington Catholic Herald.


Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria, Virginia. The above article is a “Straight Answers” column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

Copyright © 2000 Arlington Catholic Herald


Saunders, Rev. William. "{title1}." Arlington Catholic Herald.

This article is reprinted with permission from Arlington Catholic Herald.


Father William Saunders is dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College and pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria, Virginia. The above article is a "Straight Answers" column he wrote for the Arlington Catholic Herald. Father Saunders is also the author of Straight Answers, a book based on 100 of his columns and published by Cathedral Press in Baltimore.

Copyright © 200{#} Arlington Catholic Herald

Friday, December 15, 2006

Joseph's Surprise

Here's another attempt to retell one of the nativity stories. In this short sketch, I was trying to thinking about questions the bible doesn't address like how did Joseph find out about Mary's pregnancy and what happened to the customs of the day? While this is beyond the text, it helped me to see Joseph a real person and not a two-dimensional character.

Surprised by Love

The town gathered in anticipation, excitement: could he be the one? Every birth in the tarnished house of David brought expectation that maybe just maybe the ancient prophecies would come true, and Jesse’s root would bloom once again. Then the royal house of David would once more rule the land, and the darkness of Rome and of Herod’s wicked rule would finally come to an end.

The family waited anxiously for news of the coming baby. Could he be the true Son of David that restores our fallen house? Could he really be the one?

He was not the one.

His father named him Joseph. And he grew in his father’s footsteps, a simple man bearing the quiet dignity of a royal family that had long since lost its status. They were simple people, simple carpenters. And they were faithful. Their lives revolved around God’s precious gift to the His people: the Torah.

Joseph, like his father and like his father’s father, observed Torah. He worshipped the Holy One of Israel. He expressed his devotion through obedience. A man of few words, Joseph’s actions defined his faith. He remained faithful to the ways of the fathers.

In the fullness of time, he looked for a righteous wife from a righteous people. The family must observe Torah. The family must walk in the ways of the Lord. The family must be a trustworthy, holy people. Joseph found such a family. And within that family, he found Mary.

Joseph’s family and Mary’s family entered into covenant. They celebrated the betrothal between Joseph and Mary. As the time of feasting came to a close, Joseph took Mary by the hands, looked her in the eyes and proclaimed, “I am going now to prepare a place for you, but I will come again and take you into my house.”

As Joseph and his family traveled home, an excitement danced in the air. He began to dream. Soon his life would be transformed: his house would be a place joy overflowing with children. This poor man would treat Mary as a princess. The royal blood of the House of David would still shine in their simple life and their simple home.

Months passed and one night Mary’s brother suddenly appeared at Joseph’s home. Marked with the anguished look of a man bearing news that split through his heart, he tried to speak. Joseph assumed the worst: “Is Mary dead?”

“No. She’s with child.” Falling to his knees, her brother began weeping and begging for mercy upon her and the family.

Stunned, Joseph stumbled to the floor.

Soon he began weeping as though Mary really has died. God’s surprise appearance in Joseph’s life was unexpected and unwelcome.

He grieved for the betrayal. He grieved for the dreams now dead He grieved for her family who could not escape her shame He even grieved for her.

He wanted to spare them, yet the Torah constrained Joseph to act in certain ways. How could he act faithfully and yet with mercy toward her family? The dismissal would be a quiet affair. No trial. No public shame.

A weak and weary man lay to sleep that night with a heart torn between betrayal and compassion. His sleep offered no respite. Suddenly his room lit up like the Eastern sky at sunrise and an angel of the Lord appeared in his dream, “Son of David!”

These three words resounded deep within his soul, deep within his blood, deep within his family, and Joseph woke up for the first time in his life.

His family bore the shame of a fallen house. “Son of David” echoed through his soul. It came as a blessing, a song of deliverance. It came as a surprise of love. In these words of life, God’s “hesed,” his lovingkindess, his unrestrained mercy, his unfathomable love brought life to Joseph.

“Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.”

Joseph arose.

The once dead root, now stirred. God called Joseph forth, and he obeyed. His heart burned from the visitation, from the word of God. And now his mind now raced with a flood of dreams, memories and new responsiblities.

For some reason an old legend about Moses’ father captured his imagination. A similar dream, a similar visitation, a similar command, “For he will save the Hebrews from their bondage in Egypt.” Moses’ father faithfully and quietly obeyed. He received no earthly glory and simply faded into the shadows, and yet his faithfulness made a way for the redemption of God’s people.

Now Joseph has been offered a similar commission.

A loved burned in his heart for Mary and for the baby within her womb. He would lay down his life for them. From now on, his life would be in service of their life. He would name the child “Jesus.” And by naming him, he would legally claim Jesus as his own child.

As the Son of David, Joseph would obey the commission of God and make way for the long awaited, true Son of David to come forth, restoring David’s fallen house and restoring God’s people.

The time, the time, the time. He must hurry.

In a moment, he’s running. Running to his parents’ house, alerting them that there’s going to be a wedding. While he makes no mention of the baby, he explains the Lord told him the wedding must happen right away. Soon the whole town is percolating with energy as everyone joins in the preparation.

Then a few nights later, Joseph dresses in the full regalia of the bridegroom. Flowers and robe flowed around him. The Son of David goes to claim his bride.

The wedding party slips away in the middle of the night with torches, music, dancing and celebration.

He appears at Mary’s family’s house like a thief in the night.

Mary’s grieving family had awaited his appearing for days with terror. They feared the trial, the public shame, the end of their family name. Their feared the curse over their poor, foolish daughter.

But Joseph doesn’t show up as the judge. He comes as the bridegroom to claim his bride.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

[springlist] God' little move

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

When the hopes and fears of all the years finally does show up, he shows up in the little town of Bethlehem. He arrives at the most inopportune time. Joseph and Mary are in the middle of a traveling—not too fun for Mary. The innkeepers have no idea he’s coming, so they’re no prepared.

His parents find refuge in an animal stable that was most likely underground in some cave. The stench probably revolted a pregnant mother and simply added to her miserable condition.

There are no grand parades. No key to the city. No international commission. God sends a sky full of angels to alert a few shepherds keeping watch. Then he sends a sign to some pagan stargazers that a king has been born. Everyone else misses the big announcement.

God makes the most dramatic intervention into human affairs in the history of the world, and He does so in a small, almost unnoticeable way. The Savior appears. He reveals himself in little and lowly places. He comes unexpectedly to unexpected people, and he fulfills expectations of all the ages.

And yet, we continue to expect God to show up in the big, the dramatic, and the exciting. We expect God’s action in our life to be larger than life. It isn’t.

A silent, shuddering voice stirs us, awakens us and in the midst of our problems, our frustrations, our longing for change, we cry out for God to come—not realizing it is His nudge that caused us to cry out in the first place.

The God who loves to surprise the world with little graces is coming to your heart. He is coming to transform you and transform the world. Instead of demanding He perform His life-changing work in a bold, dramatic and even entertaining way, why not bow and simply pray gently, “Let it be unto me O Lord, according to your word.”

Who knows what the Sovereign of Surprise might birth in you?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Telling Stories during Advent

The story of the shepherds, a manger, a husband and his young wife all surrounding the manger of a newly born Savior has been told, retold and told again for countless generations in multiple languages. It inspires young and old, poor and rich, religious and even irreligious.

As your making your list (and counting it twice), I would encourage to pause a little to reflect on the stories of the nativity. Let the stories soak deep into your imagination. Read and reread them. And if possible, tell the stories.

The gospels emerge from a storied culture. There were no movie theatres or televisions to entertain. Storytelling played a fundamental role in shaping these people. While most ancient people groups focused their calendar on agricultural rhythms, the ancient Hebrews focused their calendar on stories. Not just any stories, but stories they claimed and believed to be actual history. They reenacted the stories in their rituals. They retold and relived the stories year after year after year.

The stories gave them power to survive occupation, captivity and persecution. The stories of Abraham, Moses, and David filled the imagination of the disciples. The letters of Paul, Peter, John and even Jude are filled with allusions to stories. They thought in stories and they often wrote atop stories.

We need those stories inside us, and sometimes the process of telling the stories impacts us even more than hearing or reading them. So I encourage you to take time to tell the stories: whether in a journal or in gatherings with family or friends. My sister said she might give each member of her family an assignment to tell the story of a different character.

However you tell the stories, I encourage you to do it. You don’t have to be a grand novelist to tell the stories. By virtue of being human, we are all born storytellers. As the ancient Jews heard the story of the Exodus over and over, they begin to realize they were still a part of the story of a people redeemed from the hand of a great oppressor.

It is important to get the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and others into the very fibre of your soul. It is important to take these figures out of the two-dimensional flannel board world and let our imagination help us see them as three-dimensional, fully human, beings: real people with real problems who encounter a real God.

As we tell the stories, we might begin to grasp the far grander mystery: that we are part of the story ourselves.

To help stir you and get you motivated, I thought I might share some of my feeble attempts at trying to retell these stories. I used my imagination to fill details and took some creative license, but I also tried to be true to what I knew of the history at the time. I’ll share few to help motivate you. But I encourage you that it is more important for you to tell the story than to read the story I send out.

The first story I worked with is the story of Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary. This is long (and long than my average post), so those who want to read may choose to print it out.

Zechariah and Elizabeth carried their shame with a quiet dignity. Years of anguished longing and fervent prayers with no result: God remained silent. And in his silence, He marked them with a sign of public humiliation: barrenness. The time for birthing children came and went, Elizabeth’s womb dried up and her cries had no avail.

Zechariah and Elizabeth took their shame, their disappointment, their loss, their hopelessness and found hope in God alone. Their anguish became devotion to the God of Israel. Born into a priestly family, Zechariah’s life would be defined by serving and worshipping God every day in the Temple. The God who failed him. The God who turned His back to him. The God who abandoned him. Every day, Zechariah stood in the Temple and faithfully worshipped and served the Holy One of Israel.

One evening as Zechariah went to serve in the Temple, something happened that only happened a once in a lifetime. This priest humiliated by God was selected to an act of highest honor, offering incense in the Presence of the Most High.

With trepidation, Zechariah approached the Holy Place. Even though it was just a few steps, he was walking between worlds, stepping into the very place of heaven on earth where God’s glory shined and could overwhelm anyone. Long ago, Aaron’s sons approached the holy place irreverently and were instantly killed. And since that time, a certain holy fear surrounded this terrible, wondrous place.

Standing in the Presence of the Unnamable, the terrible glorious Creator, Zechariah obediently carried out his service of offering the incense. Suddenly Gabriel stepped out from the Presence and spoke. The moment the glory touched him, Zechariah fell to the ground in terror.

“Do not be afraid Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear a son and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (The Message)

As Gabriel spoke, Zechariah’s trembling turned to tears. The anguish of carrying the years of shame swept over him, and he lay there moaning before the throne. His tears came from a deep wellspring, deeper even then his own grief. Suddenly, he was grieving with Abraham and Sarah in their barrenness. The pain of their dying world turned within him. Abraham and Sarah seemed to carry the barrenness of their generation as signs in their own bodies. Their world was dying around them, and in some impossible way God had chosen to recreate the world through them.

God’s promise filled their emptiness with hope of a world restored. Through them God would bless all creation. And through them, came Izaak. And through Izaak came Jacob. And through Jacob, came twelve sons who formed twelve tribes. Jacob’s clan would form a nation of people chosen to bear the blessing of God for all creation: Israel the chosen people, chosen to bless, restore, and break the curse. Unfortunately, story wisted in upon itself. Instead of blessing the world, they fell under a curse. Prophet after prophet after prophet called them back to the Law, back to the covenant, back to their commission to be the light of the world. Instead it seemed that darkness really did overcome the light.

Eventually Israel fell to surrounding empires. Her brightest and best were carried away, taken captive. Daniel, one of those captives, cried out day and night for the God to restore his people and to renew to covenant. Just as Zechariah and Elizabeth and had cried out day after day after day for God’s favor.

One night as Daniel prayed, Gabriel suddenly appeared. He promised the curse wouldn’t last forever. 70 weeks or 490 years would pass before God’s judgment would be complete. But then something new. God’s promises would be fulfilled.

And then Gabriel left. No words for many, many years. In fact, some suggested it had been close to 490 years and they were waiting expectantly for the end of the curse.

So Zechariah’s grieving took him through the whole history of Israel. He experienced the curse, the shame of God’s people from within. Now he realized, that he and Elizabeth bore the shame of Israel’s barrenness. For God’s people, in spite of their outward rituals, were a barren people, crushed under the curse of sin. No one could redeem, save God alone.

As Zechariah came to his senses, he began to grasp the impact of Gabriel’s words. He and Elizabeth would bear a son? But how could this be? They were too old? And how could this signal the end of exile? The end of the curse?

As he turned to Gabriel, he stuttered searching for a sign, “But how shall I know?”

Gabriel gave him a sign. He took away his words. Man shall live by the Word of Lord alone. And if he can’t do that, he will have no words. So Zechariah stumbled out from the Temple, just beginning to realize the power of words and the weight of God’s Word.

He could not tell the people what happened. He could give the priestly blessing. Even in this he was a living sign. For the priestly blessing would now be handed over to another. One day soon, the real Priest would stand and bless his people before He departed to be with His Father.

Zechariah held onto Gabriel’s last words, “My words which will be fulfilled in their own time.” The words were not dependent on man’s planning, man’s praying, man’s wrestling. The words carried the force of God’s blessing and would be fulfilled in God’s time by God’s hand.

Zechariah stumbled home to his wife. Silently, he embraced her unable to express the glory of what was happening. And yet, the hope of their future, and the hope of Israel’s future brought new life to a dying body and soon the life manifested in Elizabeth’s womb. The old woman cried out with the joy of teenage girl: “the Lord has dealt with me, He has looked on me, He has taken away my reproach among people.” As Elizabeth hid herself away to prepare for the coming child, Mary, her young cousin, was about to experience her own surprise.

Mary’s parents knew it was time to prepare their little girl for womanhood. So they found a husband. While much older, Joseph could provide for Mary, and her parents were delighted in such a match. Their marriage was sealed and now Mary need only wait for the time when Joseph would come to welcome her to his home. As Joseph went away to prepare a home for her, Mary waited quietly and patiently, preparing her heart for a new life, a new family and a new world. But nothing she did could prepare her for a visit from Gabriel.

Suddenly the angel appeared. “Rejoice young lady! Your beauty is God’s beauty and your joy is God’s joy. For God delights in you and has chosen to bless you!”

Puzzled and fearful, Mary bowed beneath the shining glory of this figure. Gabriel took her hand and gently helped her. “Mary, you have nothing to fear! This is good news! God has a special surprise for you: you are going to give birth to a son and you’ll name him Jesus.

He will be great,
be called 'Son of the Highest.'
The Lord God will give him
the throne of his father David;
He will rule Jacob's house forever—
no end, ever, to his kingdom." from the Message)

Sheepishly, Mary replied, “But, but how can this people. I am young girl. I’ve, I’ve never even been with a man.”

The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
the power of the Highest hover over you;
Therefore, the child you bring to birth
will be called Holy, Son of God. (from the Message)

And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God."

As Gabriel spoke, a peace overwhelmed Mary. She couldn’t grasp what all he meant, and yet God was moving, working. She thought of her cousin Elizabeth. Years of shame would now disperse, as Elizabeth would bear the mark of God’s favor. Yet, even at the same time, Mary realized her own life would now be marked by shame. For she, not yet alone with Joseph, would be with child. All the questions people would raise. As these thoughts overwhelmed her mind, she rested in God’s promise.

In some mysterious way, He was restoring the throne of David. And in some way, the Spirit of God would hover over her womb (still formless and void like a new born earth) and He would breathe life. It was too much too grasp, she simply fell again beneath Gabriel’s words and submitted to the Word of God.

“Let it be to me according to your word.”

The angel left. The Spirit moved. Mary arose. With the child who would change the world, she traveled to see Elizabeth.

Resting in the shade of her courtyard, Elizabeth drifted between waking and sleeping when suddenly a voice burst into her daydreams. Mary’s greeting penetrated her womb and the baby within leapt for joy. Waves and waves and waves of joy rippled through her body. Elizabeth jumped and ran to her young cousin. They hugged and cried and laughed. Their voices lifted up into the Presence of God and the angels joined in a chorus of praise for the wonder, the mystery, the surprise of God’s love revealed in these ladies. For a moment, the whole world seemed to sparkle in the light of this joy.

Elizabeth and Mary began to speak, to proclaim, the prophecy the wonder of God’s grace revealed in their midst. Mary exclaimed:

I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now. (from the Message)

In a world of wickedness and oppression, Mary saw God coming in the midst to set things right. Her baby. Her son. Her gift from heaven would usher in a new kingdom. The kingdom of God, and the poor and downtrodden would be restored. As Mary sang, she sang the future into being. For Mary, like the prophets of old, sang of the world’s future. Our future. And the song she sang and continues to sing is a song of hope. Grace and mercy and justice really will prevail. God’s love really does triumph. And wickedness and evil and pain and death are ultimately crushed by the loving-kindness of God.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Advent Peace

The songs we sing to celebrate this season carry profound messages of hope and possibility in the midst of dark nights and sometimes even darker days. One song that captured my heart last week is the familiar “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

For many of us, the words of the first verse echo easily through our minds after years and years of singing:
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious night of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heavens’ all gracious King;”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

This verse brings to mind the stories of childhood: shepherds in the field; Mary and Joseph in the stable; a glorious display of heavenly light as angels proclaim the good tidings of heaven. These images make me feel warm and safe—like the world is all right.

But the world is not all right.

It is easy to sentimentalize the sweetness of the angelic images and forget the arresting power of the song. Verse three paints a picture much closer to home:

Yet with woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And men, at war with men, hear not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

We may sing of Christmas cheer, but our world aches of war and rumors of war.

War infects this world. Each moment on earth reveals more cruelty, more hatred, more human aggression. Nation attacks nation. One race fights another race. Fathers turn against sons and sons turn against fathers. Brothers kill brothers; lovers deceive lovers. And even the human heart divides against itself. We are at war: inside and out.

Beneath our bullets, our fists, our angry hearts, a soft refrain persists:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heavens’ all gracious King;”

During Advent, we pause to hear the steady plainchant that reminds generation after generation after generation: peace is coming. Unmoved by our constant striving, the promise of peace continues to echo and ripple into the fabric of all creation.

Advent reminds us to stop, to wait, to watch, to listen. For the Prince of Peace has come, is coming and comes even now. As we behold him, we are changed. Like the lonely shepherds, we rise up and follow. We follow the infant king to the place of peace: the cross.

Yes, even as we rejoice in the birth of a baby, we cannot ignore the death of a Savior. The path to Bethlehem ends at Calvary. The Advent wind whispers, calling us to follow the true Peacemaker into the ways of peace, into the place of cross.

Peace begins not with a treaty, not with a protest, not with gunshot, but with a cross. We embrace the place of death, laying down our rights, our needs, our glory, our importance, our name, our reputation. We lay down our lives. And in the wonder of Advent, we discover His life and His peace flowing out through us in love.

Come O Advent King. We are weary and worried. The war inside us breaks out all around us. We hurt the ones we love. We betray our friends. Our world reflects our hearts. We suffer and we cause those around us to suffer. Have mercy upon us. Lead us in the way of peace. May we sing, may we live, may we embody the angel song:

For lo! The days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the time foretold
When the whole heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace their king
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Advent Poem

Every Advent I pause to reflect upon certain poems and writings that have touched me, stirred me, and opened my heart to His coming. Here is one poem I revisit each year and usually share. I hesitate to say much about the poem because it touches me at a level deeper than analysis. Let me just say that reading this poem each year, awakens a longing, a yearning, an ache for the coming of the Lord.

Advent Calendar (by Rowan Williams)

He will come like last leaf's fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud's folding.

He will come like the frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

Friday, December 01, 2006


As we wait and watch for the coming of the Lord, we pray for eyes to see…and ears to hear.

Our ears so easily become clogged, blocked with the constant inner voice of our own importance that it becomes difficult to listen, truly listen to the voice outside of us. As pilgrims of Christ, we move toward sight. The great consummation of our faith is beholding Him as He is: for then we will be changed.

And yet, much of the journey at present is characterized by listening: listening for the voice that says, “This is the way, walk ye in it.”

To listen, to truly listen, is to submit. The listener yields to the speaker. In a world consumed by power games, listening suggests weakness. The powerful speak, the weak listen.

So we find it difficult to listen to God and to one another. In other words, we fail to have ears that hear. We pass through each moment, deaf to rich voices surrounding us. Martin Buber once suggested that most conversations are simply two people engaged in monologues. In other words, we talk at one another.

To truly face another person, is to risk listening, to risk yielding, to risk be changed. For many years, I have felt compelled by the Lord to cultivate a heart that listens. And yet, it is difficult. It is hard work. In fact, it is easier to act like I’m listening than to actually listen. It is easier to look someone in the eye, nod and react: all the while simply waiting for them to pause and breathe, so I can start talking again.

I once thought I was listening and waiting for another person to say something of value that I should remember. Maybe God would be speaking to me through them. But then the process became listening and filtering at the same time. Most of their words fell to the ground while I was trying to sort through them, searching for something that might be of value.

This is not the way to listen. This reduces my relationship with the person to a completely utilitarian level. They only serve my need. They only have value when they can impart something useful, interesting, entertaining to me.

More recently, it seems the Lord has challenged to simply listen. Every word we speak is a precious gift from God. We have yet to grasp the full power of speech. Words release such power that the writer of Proverbs warns us to be wise in the use of words.

When a person speaks to me, they are expressing part of who they are. Whether they seem to rattle on about trivial issues or whether they share deep secrets of the heart. As I yield, as I listen, I am meeting that person, beholding that person, encountering that person. As I pay attention, I hear something deeper than the surface appearance of the words, I hear the person.

Far more is spoken and revealed in our words than we ever realized. And the people we are most likely to ignore, may be the very ones we should be listening to. We might think: they complain too much; they’re boring; they tell long, meaningless stories. We might think of a whole host of reasons for not listening. And yet, this person is a treasure, a precious creation made in the image of God. Can I for one moment pause in wonder at the glory and mystery before me?

I am learning and struggling to learn, that if I turn and face another person, that if I truly listen, I will hear. I really will hear that person, and when I hear them, I can love them. Even though I may disagree with them, the grace God working in and through me can teach me to love them. And the amazing thing is that God can and really does speak through the people who often irritate, bore and even disagree with me.

There’s a story told of Andrew Murray speaking at one of the Keswick conferences. A man rose to challenge Murray and the whole proceedings. The leaders gathered with Murray and suggested they remove that man from the conference. Murray said, “No. He may be right.” In the end, Murray and the man became friends.

Today, as I watch for the coming of the Son, I seek to listen, to pay attention to the people around me. For He is coming in each and every moment, and as I listen and watch, He’ll reveal himself and His love in and through the rich tapestry of people He has woven into my life.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

the advent wind is blowing

Listen. Can you hear it? Can you hear Him? The swoosh of Holy Spirit’s advent wind hovers over Mary’s formless and void womb. “Let there be light.” And there is light.

The Light of the World takes flesh inside the virgin. Beholding the Light, the Father proclaims: “This is my Beloved in whom I am well pleased!”

“All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made.”

The one through whom all things were made, comes to life within a virgin, within Nazareth, within His people, within His world. He enters His own story.

A baby. A God. A Savior.

Who could have guessed? Who could have expected this? Who could have seen it coming?

When God comes, He comes as surprise. We are the people living in the land of darkness, but then…


…the Light shines out in the darkness—and the darkness cannot overcome it.

We are smitten by the beauty of a Lover God. We fall from our thrones, our kingdoms, our empires, to worship the baby who is our Lord, our King, our Ruler.

When God reveals His power, He chooses not the armies of Pharaoh, the wisdom of Greece, the might of Rome. When God reveals His power, when God bares His mighty arm, when the Lord of Hosts appears, He comes in weakness.

A baby in a manger; a Savior on a cross.

As we wait, as we watch, for the advent wind, for the coming our God, we might look down, we might fall down: for He will surprise us yet again

And again.

“And blessed is the servant whom the master finds watching when He comes. For He will set them at the wedding feast, and put on his apron and serve them!”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Advent - An Invitation

Like a deer in the snow, Advent softly approaches. As we scurry back and forth between distractions, we are gripped, embraced, enveloped in a season of anticipation. A time for waiting.

And watching.

But how do we watch for the unexpected? Did Zechariah expect Gabriel to interrupt his prayers with a promise of a baby son? As an aging couple how could Zechariah and Elizabeth watch and wait for an end to barrenness? It was impossible.

Could the virgin expect news of a child within her womb? How could she anticipate news of a baby who held the world in his hands coming to life inside of her? It was impossible.

So we watch and wait for what? For what we cannot grasp.

He is coming. And He comes like a surprise.

Like wise virgins with candles lit, we try to peel back the sleep from our weary eyes…and yet, the continuous droning of a world gone wrong lulls us into a dull stupor. We cannot see and we cannot hear.

We grow too dull and too lazy to pause and listen. So we move and move and move and move. We sleep. Awake and move and move and move. Like a junk room piled high, we fill our time with clutter. The tempo of this constant clutter keeps clacking and cracking. The whole world seems to suffer from attention deficit. We cannot listen to one another, we cannot listen to our own heart, and we cannot listen to God.

In the midst of this mad-dash of motion, Advent softly steps into the recesses of our heart. A cool breeze whispers: He is coming.

Like a mouse on a wheel, the world races faster and faster and faster, yet never moving anywhere. We join them, trying to catch up to someone or something for some reason. The soft rhythm of Advent calls out to us like a still small voice.

Watch and wait: He is coming.

Enter the disciplined silence of listening. The Psalmist invites us to “wait on the Lord.” Like Zechariah, we enter the Holy Place offering the incense of our prayers, our quiet worship, our deep yearning, our sad regrets. We offer up our joys and sorrows, our victories and failures to the One who gives us breath. We pause and simply wait upon the Lord.

The rhythm of Advent is the rhythm of waiting. It is the choice to stop, to pause, to listen, to watch, and to wait for the coming of the Lord. Advent waits with hope for the end of all things to be summed up Christ alone. Advent waits for the shalom of God: when war finally will end. When true peace finally will be revealed. When the lion really will lay down with the lamb.

The rhythm of Advent is a rhythm that moves in four directions: we look forward with hope to the day of the His coming, we look backward with joy at the advent of His first coming, we look inward with gratitude for His coming into our lives, and we look outward with expectation for His coming into our world even now. These four motions, these four gazes, these four directions train us to listen, to watch and to obey.

The watching servant learns to do only what he sees the Father do. We learn to act in the world as cross-bearers, lovers, healers and reconcilers.

The days grow short. The night grows long. The shadow of death looms over the world and over our souls. As the chill winter approaches, let us enter the season of waiting and watching for our Lord. Let us prepare for a surprise, for coming of the Lord who does the impossible.

“And blessed is the servant whom the master finds watching when He comes. For He will set them at the wedding feast, and put on his apron and serve them!”

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

[springlist] Limits of Time and Space

Despite my best efforts, nothing happened. I ran. I jumped. I even flapped my arms. Nothing. No matter how hard I tried, I failed. After dreaming again and again and again that I could fly, I almost convinced myself it was possible. Sitting in church, I’d visualize myself hovering above the room, encircling the congregation and soaring up into the sky. Then the sermon would end, and I would realize that I was the one preaching!

A couple weeks ago while sitting in a large hall at a business conference in Chicago, I gazed up at the ornate ceiling. The old sense of flying returned. Ah, this looked like the perfect room to let my imagination soar. Suddenly my mind flashed with light and I discovered this profound insight: I cannot fly.

No matter how hard I wish, no matter how hard I flap my arms, this body is not going to start floating. Catching my breath from this overwhelming illumination, I wondered where does this desire to fly come from? While there are many reasons why other people and myself dream of flying, one reason stands out in the moment: the desire to fly can sometimes be a desire to escape the limits of the material world.

The gift of this physical world comes with a variety of limitations. We cannot stare at the sun. We cannot breathe underwater. We cannot walk through walls. We cannot fly. By virtue of affirming the realness of the world around me, I must accept the limits of this same wondrous world. Limitations play an essential part in the game of life.

Each of us walks through life with a variety of particular limitations such as race, heredity, age, height, eye color and more. There are limitations by virtue of our birth, limitations due to natural laws and limitations that are imposed on us by others or even ourselves.

If I turn right at the stop sign, I cannot turn left at the same time. By turning right, I limit myself to the world on the right hand side. Every decision is a confinement, a limitation that I impose.

Limitations can also be imposed upon me. Education, finances, health, family and other factors may all limit the choices readily available to me in life. Sure we may exalt the few who seem to break through these limits but most of us do not. We live in the midst of certain constraints we will never overcome.

Most of us will never be billionaires with the freedom to jet about the world at our hearts desire. We will work regular jobs, raise families and learn to carve out a life without the excesses of unlimited income.

Most of us will never rule nations or even cities for the matter. We may hold certain levels of responsibility within our work, our church and our communities, but we will not shape world events. Like the unnamed masses throughout history, we simply live and eventually die, making a small ripple upon a tiny pool that soon fades.

This may sound negative. In fact, limitations seem negative. They seem like a denial. So we can easily focus on the limitations in our own lives and suddenly dream of flying. For example, instead of accepting the limitations of our own particular finances, it is easy to continuously wish for more money. Or worse yet, to act as though we have more money by incurring debts that are beyond our ability to pay.

Our limitations may drive us to wishing. We may wish to live in another time period. We may wish to live in another part of the world. We may wish to have different parents, different relatives or different skin color. We may wish for a different life: any life but our own. We may also regret: regret the choices we didn’t make, the person we didn’t marry, the job we never had, the house we never built, the life we never lived.

Or, we might just learn to revel in the limitations of our particularity. While there may be a time for “breaking out of the box,” there is also a time to be grateful for our particular box. This tension between pressing up against my limitations and accepting my limitations may not be an obstacle to fulfillment but may actually be the specific point where the wonder of God’s grace manifests in my life.

Looking back over the last 25 years, I realize that being diagnosed in High School with chronic kidney disease provided a limitation that shaped the person I became. In the midst of the challenges, I learned gratitude and wonder and delight in each waking moment. Sure I could have read that in a book, but that would not make the idea a core part of me.

While we read good ideas and hear good teachings, it is in the arena of living our lives with our particular constraints that we become whom we are. We are not all created equal. We are all created particular. The Creator formed each of us uniquely. We may curse these unique qualities that define us who we are or we may celebrate them.

In this act of celebration, we express gratitude for the gift of our particular life. And at this point, we might just realize the defining limitation in our life: we are not God. Those who do rule the world, those who do become rich and famous and those who are recorded in the history books are still not God. The distance between the Creator and the creature is not measurable and cannot be overcome.

If we are not God, then we are dependent. Life is a gift. Breath is a gift. Our particularities are gifts. Instead of wishing for other gifts, we might celebrate the gifts already given. We might learn to live within the constraints. We might discover the creative wonder at our disposal right this moment.

The limitation of gravity combined with the design of the human body means that we cannot fly. In the midst of this insurmountable obstacle something new emerged: humans discovered the possibility of creating machines that do fly. And in fact, after my conference in Chicago was complete, I boarded an airplane and flew home.

As I reflect on the wonder of that flight home, I pause and give thanks to God, anticipating the other wonders He is revealing in and through the limitations in my life and the lives of those around me.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

[springlist] Updates - health and more

Dear friends and family,

Sorry for the long silence. I have not sent out any updates since August.
Here are a few tidbits about my health, the retreats and the upcoming Advent
meditations. I have one or two meditations that I hope to send out before
Thanksgiving, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you in this update.

Health update
My kidney continues to function well, and I am feeling great. In August, I
transitioned back into work and by the end of the month was working full
time again. For the first six months, I am still on a large dosage of
medications but after that the doctors will hopefully start tapering off the
medications levels.

These past few months have been an amazing transition from weakness to
strength. In the midst of blessing, I am learning to trust God in different
ways and through different seasons. Each moment is an opportunity to trust
the in the goodness and faithfulness of God.

Izaak continues to do well and is making a splash a Maryville College. He
started a new student group dedicated to libertarianism.

Due to my health issues, I postponed all my planned retreats this year with
the exception of recent Law Enforcement Conference. By God’s grace, the
folks at Spring of Light and I are planning a new year of retreats for 2007.

We plan at least three weekend retreats and the first one will be in March.
This retreat will focus on the Blessing of Weakness and how God surprises us
with His grace in the midst of our weak, dark and broken places. I had
planned this retreat for 2006 but it turns out that I was too weak to do it.
I have been contemplating this one for several years and using 2 Corinthians
as our starting point, I believe this weekend will be a time a healing, hope
and clarification about our calling. I am looking at either the second
weekend (9-11) or the fourth weekend (23-25). If you’re interested, let me
know which weekend looks better for you. I’ll send out an official
announcement after the New Year.

Saturday Seminars – Starting next year, I am going to host half day Saturday
seminars that explore a variety of themes. The first one in January will be
“Brunch with the Bard.” On this Saturday morning, we’ll enjoy a presentation
on Shakespeare and think about ways his writings can inspire us today. I’ll
send out dates and more topics at the first of January.

Movie nights – We will continue showing and discussing movies once a month
next year. If you’re interested, let me know. We’re also looking at doing a
special weekend exploration of JRR Tolkien and Lord of the Rings with
several fascinating lectures focused on Tolkien and Lewis.

While my emails can be rather sporadic: from weekly to bi-weekly to
bi-monthly. I do begin sending out regular emails during
Advent-Christmas-Epiphany. This usually means 4 or 5 meditation emails a
week during the season. This is just a warning in case you are not
interested; you can remove yourself from the list or ask me to remove you.

Grace and Peace,

Doug Floyd

"You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find
rest in You."
St. Augustine

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Friday, August 11, 2006

[springlist] Expectation

Over the last couple years, my struggles with the failing kidney gradually drained my capacity to dream. I learned to find joy in the midst of my struggles and trust God's goodness, and yet I had difficulty looking forward to the future with any expectation.

In the midst of this, I sensed God continuing to challenge me in Scripture to trust Him not just for today but for tomorrow as well. Abraham became a picture for me of someone who was moving toward a vision of tomorrow and yet still lived in the present reality of today's problems. In him, I saw God's grace at work and the essay below is a way of processing this. While others may not have kidney problems, I realize everyone struggles in different ways, and sometimes the weight of today can cause us to lose hope in tomorrow. This is my poor attempt to reflect on that struggle.

Abraham walks across the arid places of my imagination like a memory of time before my time and a vision of time beyond my time.  He is dreaming of a family that will bless all creation. He is following a voice from above, calling him out, calling him forward, calling him into covenant with God. Abraham sees the future: not only his future but our future as well. He sees past the world corrupted by sin and evil to a world that is blessed, restored and glorified in and through the love of God.

Called to be the father of many nations, Abraham dreams of the day when his heirs will cover the earth with the blessing of God. And even as Abraham dreams, he wanders across dry places with no heir in sight. His journey will lead him through famines, wars, family problems, and personal failure.

Long stretches of time will pass with no hope for the future in sight. And as Abraham waits, his vision sometimes falters. Dark clouds of discouragement dim the bright possibility of tomorrow. Today threatens to end the vision with absolute finality.

Suddenly God, in His great faithfulness, appears to Abraham with words of encouragement and promise. These occasional suddenlies give Abraham strength to continue moving forward to the vision of things that will be. God works through this long and winding journey of 100 plus years to continue His plan of restoring His people and His creation into a glory that makes the heavens sing.

This slow kingdom has come and yet still comes. In Jesus Christ, the power of evil is forever crushed and the hope of eternal life is made real. And yet, we wait for the full unveiling of the kingdom when Christ returns in glory. So like, Abraham, we look forward in hope for the glory that is coming.

And as we look, we dream. As children of Abraham, we are dreamers, aching for a future that our present cannot begin to grasp. Our dreams for a future glory also find hope in smaller dreams of our own particular future. In my own life, I've had dreams in ministry, dreams in family, and other dreams, many of which I believed were God-given. These dreams animated my actions and moved me forward to a future where I felt God was calling.

But my desert places often clouded those dreams. The increasing struggles of health over the last several years, made it difficult to see tomorrow. Today threatened to end my visions with absolute finality. Gradually, the dreams diminished and I learned to find joy in the present moment. And yet, this still small voice continued to prick my mind and heart with the word "expectation."

Followers of Christ are dreamers. We see something that the world around us cannot see. We move toward a hope that other dismiss as foolish and futile. And yet, we dream. We dream not only of the end of the ages when Christ appears in glory, we also dream about our future, our family's future, our church's future, and even our community's future. God in His great grace often works in and through these dreams weaving us into His plan and purposes for this world.

Our dreams can lead to action in the present moment as we plan and move toward tomorrow. So whether we are aware of it or not, our future creates our present. If we have no hope for tomorrow, we fail to act or make plans for tomorrow: our present grows dim, our actions will seem futile.

This is the challenge: we move with hope toward the future in the midst of present that may appear to have no possibility for that future. As Jesus goes to the cross, he is talking drinking the new wine of the kingdom. Even as He walks toward death, He sees a life to come.

The present moment often meets us in the work of the cross, and yet we are called to embrace the cross and see beyond it to the hope ahead. Abraham struggled to keep hope alive because he had no heir. Our dreams may die for other reasons: health, age, distractions of the world, failures, family problems and more. We suffer in different ways, and this suffering often drains our capacity to dream of tomorrow.

We live in a world of suffering, but God can even bring redemption through the suffering.

Paul, the great apostle of faith, suffered in body and mind. At times he even despaired of life. Yet Paul came to embrace this suffering as a gift, leading to greater glory. For he realized, the Father's hand continued to transform and perfect him in the midst of suffering. This "slight momentary affliction was preparing him for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison."

Like Paul, we walk in the present reality of the cross, with our eyes upon the hope of glory. Even Jesus "endured the cross for the joy before Him." The grace of God calls us into the paradox of suffering and expectation, of dying and dreaming, of death and resurrection. Abraham continues dreaming long after he passes the 100-year mark.  His dreams allow him to obey the voice of God that calls him to sacrifice Isaac. For he knows, God is faithful and he trusts that God will fulfill the dreams of tomorrow.

All of us, no matter our age, our struggles, or our challenges in this life, are called to dream dreams. And to live out those dreams of tomorrow in the way we act, in the way we treat people, and in the way we serve as Christ's ambassadors in the world around us. We live in hope and walk toward the glory that is coming even now.

Grace and Peace,

Doug Floyd
"To find my home in one sentence, concise, as if hammered in metal. Not to enchant anybody. Not to earn a lasting name in posterity. An unnamed need for order, for rhythm, for form, which three words are opposed to chaos and nothingness."
Czeslaw Milosz

"When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale."
GK Chesterton

"Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit"

Friday, July 21, 2006

5 Weeks After My New Kidney

Five weeks and two days ago, I received the priceless gift of Izaak’s kidney. Each week my body grows a little stronger, and I feel a little better. Soon I will be back to full strength. Every morning and evening, I record my blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, and temperature. At different times through the day, I take a variety of medications.

Part of the challenge is checking and rechecking medications when I leave the house. Twice I’ve had to turn around and come home because I forgot one, and these medications are time specific. Gradually, all these little things are becoming part of a routine.

The doctors say my progress is great, and the dietician was amazed that I’ve lost weight. Apparently, weight gain is more common. Overall, the road to health has been blessed and I am grateful.

Five weeks ago, Izaak and I were surrounded by friends, family, and oddly enough the media. There was a rush of excitement complete with crying, hugging, and hand shaking. Izaak and I spent the first to weeks recovering: falling asleep during movies, falling asleep after lunch, and just generally falling asleep.

But then quiet.

I thought I would do more during this time off from work, but I haven’t done much at all. I thought I might watch lots of movies, but something in me feels strange watching movies at home during the day, so I have not watched movies.

I thought I might make progress on my book that has been on hold since the start of the year, when my kidney problems began to take over my focus. But alas, little progress. I’ve done some research but not much writing.

I thought I might have time to think some profound thoughts and write some profound essays. Once again, nothing.

My days have been rather ordinary. I am creature of ritual, so I’ve had my daily rituals of rising, checking vitals, shaving, showering, dressing, eating, some time set aside for prayer and meditation, then reading, listening to music and of course, checking my email and updating my blog. Then there’s an occasional trip to the store but mostly at home, resting and recovering.

While the activities have been slightly more low-keyed, it has not been that different from my normal working life. Many of us follow a basic set of rituals each day. The rituals differ from person to person but they often include things like dressing, eating, possibly checking the news, driving to work, and so on.

Most of our lives are rather ordinary. On occasion, we break from the ordinary. During holidays or vacations, we follow different rituals or no rituals at all. We may dress different, eat different, sleep less or sleep more. But at some point, most of us are ready to get back to the common, ordinary rituals that our bodies have grown accustomed to.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy fought in World War I, and the most striking comment he made about the war was that in between battles much of the time soldiers were bored. It was not constant excitement. Rather long lulls in between bursts of activity. Much like the rest of life.

We live in culture of 24-hour news cycles, unnatural celebrity lifestyles, exorbitant wealth, and the illusion that something spectacular should be happening all the time. But life really isn’t like that. G.K. Chesterton once observed that one of the signs of fallenness is our inability to exalt in monotony. We continually want something new, more exciting, more stimulating.

Our sensual cravings may be directed toward food, entertainment and even spiritual quests (Christian and otherwise), but there is a drive for something more spectacular. Chesterton’s observation continued that children and God are similar in that they both exalt in monotony. Children can do the same thing over and over and over with amazing glee. God creates billions and billions of daisies with absolute delight.

While spectacular events do happen to each of us, much of life is lived in the ordinary, common habits of everyday routine. And this is the realm where God works out his dramatic plan of redemption in our lives. In the midst of ordinary living, He transforms us.

Abraham, in a flourishing challenge to the culture around him, leaves the land of his fathers and follows the Lord’s command to go forth. God promises to bless all mankind through this simple sojourner. The story of Abraham records several spectacular encounters with the Lord and the world around him. But actually, in light of Abraham’s long life of over 100 years, these encounters are relatively small in number.

Most of Abraham’s life was lived in the ordinary issues of caring for his flocks, taking care of his family, and working through the challenges of relationships. His life wasn’t that different than ours: it was ordinary.

The kingdom of heaven is often slow and hidden. God may spend hundreds if not thousands of years working out his purposes. In our own lives, we often want his work to be faster and more visible. Then we would feel like we’re making progress! And who knows, we might write a book about our own spiritual encounters, and we might even get to headline conferences.

But the transforming grace of God usually penetrates the secret places of the heart and often works in and through the most ordinary circumstances.

If I understand him correctly, Kierkegaard suggested the true knight of faith is not the crusader embarking upon another adventure. Rather, the knight of faith is the common man who is faithful to the common tasks of his ordinary life. In this ordinary existence, he finds meaning and redemption.

If we could learn to embrace the commonness of our existence instead of endlessly searching for some new form of stimulation, we might finally have eyes to behold the wonder all about us. Instead of ignoring the boring people around us in search of someone more exciting, we might actually look in their faces and realize the honor of standing in their presence.

Instead of cursing our present circumstances in hopes of a better job, newer house, a bigger car, and more luxurious lifestyle, we might rejoice in the simple wonders of each hour. The sunlight flickering through the trees across the front yard; the gentle breeze of early morning, the neighborhood children clamoring down the street; the exhilarating smells of fresh cut grass.

Right in the middle of our ordinary existence, shines the glory and wonder of God in ways we cannot even begin to count. May we have eyes to behold the beauty of the Lord hidden all around us and lift our hearts and voices in thanksgiving.

Monday, July 10, 2006

kidney updates

Some folks were asking about my kidney, so I've posted a few updates over at Doug Watching. Hopefully I can write some more this week.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

[springlist] A few updates

I hope you all enjoyed Jeremy's kidneyblogging at This last
couple weeks has been an amazing whirlwind. I am still mostly confined to
the house although I went to the doctor twice this week. Early in the week I
was so tired I felt like sleeping much of the day, but my energy is
returning. I've been walking up our hill at least twice a day. This aren't
long walks just ten minutes but by the time I get to the top of the hill I
am exhuasted. And by the time I get home, Im ready for a nap.

I continue to rejoice in this wondrous blessing.

During one of my waking moments this week I decided to start another blog on
Word Press. I debated transfering all my Floydville blog to Word Press and
did in fact import all the archives. But after a couple days, I realize
these will be two very differnt blogs.

So I am keeping Floydville as the place where I will post on my meditations
that I send out to this list. And the new blog, Doug Watching, will offer
shorter entries that dela with the stuff I am researching on the Web day in
and day out.

So if anyone is interested, here are the addresses for both blogs:

Doug Watching -
Floydville -

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Word Press

I messed around with Word Press and Blogspot all day and for now it appears Word Press will be easier for me to manage. It doesn't do all I need yet, but it doesn't require a knowledge of programming to customize. And I simply don't have time to invest in figuring some of this stuff out. All my Floydville posts are available at the new blog. So if you subscribe, bookmark or peruse on occasion, adjust your settings to


Now that I see the way the script adds tags it is not relly doing what I want. Unlike many web piddlers I am not interested in spending too much time figuring out scripts and such. So I will probalby experiment a little but I will also begin posting at For a while I may publish simultaneously to both. When I decide which meets my needs the most, I'll use that blogging service.

Updating Floydville

I primarily use floydville as a way of posting my occasional meditations, but lately I've wanted to post some interesting websites I run across. But I wanted to a way to categorize and didn't see that in blogspot. So I started to switch over to another hosting service then I found a way to tags using a greasemonkey add-on. So now I may (or may not depending on my overall laziness add a few more posts on interesting web services that might help others. I probably post a few today to get it out of my system and then we'll see.

Monday, June 19, 2006

[springlist] Cultivating Trust

In the last six days, my life has transformed in ways I have yet to fully
grasp. I am grateful to a world of people who’ve played various roles in
this event. First and foremost, Izaak’s gift and act of personal sacrifice
goes beyond my ability to fully express adequate appreciation. All I can say
is “Thank you for laying down your life for mine.”

As always, my secret weapon in life is my wife Kelly. She stays in the
background, taking care of me and host of other issues that allow me to
simply be. She is a gift I never deserved but received and I am thankful.
Then I think of the family and friends who surrounded Izaak and myself with
various forms of support from Jeremy’s popular and continuous kidneyblogging to the ongoing presence of my parents, Kelly’s parents and Izaak’s parents.
We were touched by so many friends it would be difficult to single some out
for fear I might forget others, but I hold the steady encouragement of
friends in my heart as a gift from heaven.

I could continue by mentioning the thousands of people who have been praying
for days, weeks, months and even years. The medical staff who tirelessly
worked to make sure both of us received the care we needed for complete
recovery. And there are countless other people who contributed in ways we
will never fully realize. I know you’re there and I am thankful.

In one sense, it seems as though a major landmark has passed. And often
during a crisis our need to reach for God and others intensifies. Thus last
week I wrote a few thoughts on learning to rest in the arms of everlasting
love. Sometimes I fear that after the event passes we might be tempted to
return to our culture’s abiding value of self-reliance. After the intensity
of the crisis diminishes, we can return to “normal lives.”

But in another sense, crisis simply reveals the illusion of self-reliance.
We are deeply dependent creatures and trust is an essential part of a truly
human community. We live in a world that often strains our capacity to
trust. We live in a world of bank fraud and corporate corruption, political
sloganeering and shameless marketing manipulation. We live in a world of
broken vows and broken hearts.

How is possible for trust to ever grow and flourish when we are continually
confronted with so many reasons to trust in ourselves but be cautious with
others. I cannot speak for others, but for myself trust in people can only
grow from trust in God. But one might say “How can I trust God when I prayed
for help and he never responded?” I might suppose more agnostics and
atheists arise from a sense of personal disappointment in God than from
reasoned argument.

My ability to trust God does not grow from a generic sense of the divine but
from a story that echoes through history. In Jesus, I behold a life of
absolute trust in the goodness of the Father. Jesus enters time as “God with
us.” This unique person who is both man and God reveals one God who is three
persons: a communion of love. Acting on behalf of the Father and by the
power of the Spirit, Jesus comes to address the deep chaos that tears
through creation replacing evil with good.

Jesus comes to address this evil by offering God’s response to this evil.
His response is to bear the chaos, the brokenness, and the death of this
disturbance within himself. When I look at his story from the outside, I see
a strange story of a young prophet who woefully crosses the wrong people and
ends up dying. His story appears to give no reason for trust in God or
people. In fact, his story appears to reinforce the reason why we cannot
ever really trust another.

And yet the gospel writers tell a fuller, more complete story. Yes, they
admit the shameful death and apparent defeat. But then they bear witness to
another reality that changes everything: resurrection. In the resurrection
of Jesus, their faith is reborn and their world is recreated. What appears
to be tragedy turns out to be comedy of the highest order. Good truly
prevails. The Father ultimately vindicates the Son and the Son’s message of

So when someone is convinced that God abandoned him or her at the critical
moment in life, I can only look to Jesus who reveals that what appears to be
abandonment today may in fact turn out to be vindication tomorrow. We see
the amazing story of vindication repeated again and again throughout history
in the lives of Jesus’ followers. Paul dies an apparent failure in his
mission to the Gentiles and yet his message of grace continues to echo.
Countless early Christians died at the hands of pagans and heretics as they
stood for the truth revealed in Jesus and yet that truth did not die and
continues to reverberate around the world.

Vindication cannot be understood in the moment but only in light of history.
I may not see vindication today or tomorrow but I can trust a God who is
faithful and will vindicate me through His love in Jesus Christ. By
realizing that God is truly faithful, I can trust him with my life and rest
that I do exist for a purpose, my life is not a meaningless occurrence and
that in the end He will vindicate me in His love.

This trust allows me to rest when the daily barrage of disappointments
challenge that trust. It allows me to move beyond a momentary trust in the
midst of disaster to an abiding trust through both the good and the bad. It
allows me to rest in peace whether sitting at a dialysis machine or enjoying
the gift of a new transplant. And from this trust in the absolute
faithfulness of God, I can begin trust other people.

Reciprocal love is an illusion without trust. It is simply a contract. But
trust moves relationship beyond a social contract to a communion of love. By
cultivating trust in other people, I can enjoy the fruit of an eternal
loving community even now. Trust is a gift for living moment by moment in a
world of broken people. It is a gift of God that gives us hope to reach
toward to future restoration when everything I see questions that hope.

So how do I cultivate trust in other people? It is not a technique or a
formula that our science obsessed culture always looks to discover. It is
not some secret wisdom that has been hidden and only the best–selling
motivational writers have unveiled. Trust is organic more like gardening. It
is something cultivated day in and day out.

When I plant a garden, I face a host of small responsibilities to keep the
plants healthy and productive. I plant seed, water the ground, remove weeds
and allow the wonder of the sun to awaken life. There is no magic technique
that makes gardening more enriching. In fact, as many people can attest, the
tomatoes from a simple home garden consistently taste better than tomatoes
produced with the very latest technological advances.

Cultivating a garden means that there will be disappointment. Some plants
will simply not produce as I had hoped. Other times external conditions like
too much blistering sun or too much flooding rain diminish or even destroy a
harvest. And yet, gardening also surprises us with delight of fresh
vegetables that often overshadows store-bought counterparts.

Cultivating trust in the people around me requires small daily attentions.
There are times of weeding, times of planting, times of watering, times of
waiting, time of harvest. All these small attentions enrich our lives in
ways that money, entertainment, and more stuff simply cannot do. Of course,
we will experience disappointment. In fact, profound disappointments that
can even cause us to despair of life. And yet there are also surprises of
delight that simply cannot compare to any artificial technological

As we rest in the ultimate faithfulness of God, we are free to risk a life
of trust in other people. And this risk is very real, yet the reward in one
sense makes us human.

As I recover and relearn life as a kidney transplant recipient, I realize my
essential priorities are still the same. I realize I need people and I need
God’s unfathomable grace. So I return to the little details, the little
things, the little dailies of cultivating trust and building relationships
with friends and strangers that will transform a barren plain into a
fruitful paradise.