Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Wallace's sermon today was based on the "Classic" week after Christmas text, John 1:1-18 (The "In the beginning was the Word" one), and it was fine, but it was not that reading that caught my attention. It was today's second reading, Galatians 3:23-25 and 4:4-7:

23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian... 4But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. 6And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ 7So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Maybe it was just that I've heard the first chapter of John so much it just didn't stick or something, and I was secretly hoping for the "alternative text" sermon, but that is a lot to ask for during the Christmas/Ephiphany season since I imagine Wallace is under pressure to stick to the "classic old schmaltz." Or maybe I just glommed onto the concept of no longer being under a disciplinarian and being adopted with no necessary jumping through hoops on our part. At any rate, I was guilty of hearing Wallace's words and trying to stick them to the "other" text rather than the one he used for the sermon.

But I really like that bit in Galatians 4. What it reminds me most of is the way most of the dogs that I ever had entered my life...they just "showed up" and I took them in. Most of the dogs in my life were not necessarily picked out by me. I didn't say, "Oh, I'd like to have THIS kind of dog" and go dog shopping. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time and discover a dumped dog, or a dog just showed up on my porch after being dumped (a common occurrence when you live in the country) or someone said, "I had a dog show up at my house, blah blah, and I'm looking for a home for him," or "I have to get rid of this dog b/c (landlord caught me, it doesn't get along with my other dog, etc. etc. fill in the blank)". In other words, I have been the recipient of more than my share of "dog karma." I think there is this grand karmic thing with dogs where they have a 6th sense of "where to show up and they'll be taken in," and I exude some sort of dog karmic vibes that lead them to me.

Then I think about how I sort of came to Trinity. After moving back to Kirksville, I was not really looking for a church home but I knew something was missing in my life to make me feel totally connected again; that my return and my connection was 90% whole but something was missing. Two of my friends invited me to come there for six years but I paid little attention. I knew this much: I DID miss celebrating the Eucharist and I missed reciting the liturgy, but I had been through considerable "church trauma" at this point in my life and considered myself a strong enough Christian to go it alone. (Maybe that is why I like John the Baptist. I can identify with a dude wearing hairy clothes and wandering around in the wilderness eating locusts and honey.)

I was just like those dogs that manage to live just fine in the wild; I got along, I was fine. I didn't really miss human companionship or a home. But just like how a dog out on his own finally just up and decides to light somewhere, I just sort of "showed up" on an Easter Sunday at Trinity, and it was immediate "dog karma". Dogs that just show up at your house like that literally act like it's their home; they don't ask your permission, they just look at you like, "Hi, I'm home, what's for supper?" Evidently, Wallace saw that in me, b/c at my confirmation he told the Bishop I just walked in, looked around, and said, "I'm home" in a wordless sort of way.

Well, this is God's promise in Galatians 4. We have ALREADY been adopted by God. All we have to do is show up. He put the spirit of his Son in us (which is just like dog karma, only better) so that you recognize "home" when you see it.

Thanks be to God.

Dear Lord, You have placed in each of our hearts the ability to recognize "home." Teach us that when we are troubled, or in need of guidance, or even when we're just aimlessly wandering without a care to realize that we already belong to you and we have the innate ability to find our way home to You. Help us put our trust in this built in GPS system and in the journey, so that we will always have the confidence that we will be taken in with You in that heavenly country. Amen.

Wow. Yesterday was a long day. I have been joking today that I have spent more time on my knees in 24 hours than I can ever remember. I attended both services yesterday at Trinity, and ended up spending midnight with my Roman Catholic friends on the insistence of their 8 year old. She had the important task last night of being the child who had the privilege of placing the figurine of the Christ Child in the creche at Mary Immaculate (known as "Mary I" to the Kirksville crowd). She wanted an audience, so how could I disappoint her? Besides, I am a golfing buddy of Mary I's Father Pat, so it was a great opportunity to tell him, "Pat, since I don't get to see you on the golf course this time of year, I figured I'd come visit you at the office." He's a better priest than a golfer, by the way.

I think overall that my plan to embrace the gloominess of Advent was a good one, because by Trinity's 8 p.m. Christmas Eve service, I was ready for the release of Christmas finally being here. Trinity's two services yesterday were a 10 a.m. prayer service and the 8 p.m. eucharistic service. What I have always noticed on the times of the year where the calendar forces a "squeezing down" of the time between the 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas (in this case, one day) that there is an emotional whirlwind in my mind that sort of catches me short in my reflective prayer time. Most years, you have a few days to put that mental preparation together in your mind. On years like this, it's more like a precipitous delivery.

Many years ago, I worked in a Labor and Delivery ward. The striking thing about that experience was no matter how good or how hasty the staff's preparations for the expectant mother, that baby was coming anyway. The "ideal" delivery was when the expected mother was coming in with her cervix dilated 3 cm or so, labor pains 15 minutes apart or so, no signs of fetal distress on the monitor. There was time to prepare the room, time for family members and the expectant dad to make ready, whether it was to make sure the videocam was working, making phone calls to relatives and friends, or just spending quiet time together. Those were often the deliveries that were "textbook". Anticipation and apprehension, but no fear or trauma.

Then there were the ones where the elevator door opened and a gaggle of staff barreled their way through the hall yelling, "She's effaced and pushing! Get out of the way!" There was a high likeihood that the new arrival's actual place of birth was in the hallway. When you overheard the staff conversations, you could sense the tension because no one had time to feel for where the cord was, about the only thing they might know for sure was which way the baby was facing. Or maybe in this situation, she was effaced, pushing, and everyone could tell the baby was not coming out the way he or she should. The tension was palpable, for everyone knew it takes a little time to set up the OR for an emergency C-section and everyone was working on the fly. Everyone was fearing the worst...but if everything turned out ok, the sense of immediate relief could immedately clear the fog of that tension surrounding everyone.

That feeling of a "precipitous delivery" was very palpable in my psyche yesterday, and, to a lesser extent, today, because there are still plenty of family things to be done at my house and tomorrow, I'll be back at work. I have lived through plenty of short time periods between 4th Sunday of Advent and Christmas before, and I have lived through those outbursts of frustration and crankiness I have just prior to Christmas, but this is the first time I've sensed that they could be linked. This will be something I will have to pay attention to next year when the gap between the two days is longer.

But there were two great messages in the sermons yesterday, both of which are applicable for this situation in my psyche. Once again, Wallace and Carrol made a great tag team. I don't know whether they flipped a coin or what for "who did which service" but whatever they did, it worked.

Wallace had the morning sermon and it played a little on the pop culture hype of "The Da Vinci Code." He used the offense that some people took to the book or the movie as more of an indictment that what was really offending people was that they were examining their own humanity, their flaws, their OWN brokenness and this was what was truly offending the sensibilities of these people. In other words, they knew their own brokenness and did not wish to ascribe these characteristics to their Christ. Then he turned it around and pointed out that God is not offended by us, warts and all, and if anything, that feeling of shame and guilt of our own flaws is actually our avenue to understanding God, the route by which we turn to Him. Good "last message" for the Advent season.

Carrol got the Christmas service. I've decided that one of the "pluses" that female priests bring to our church is...well...that they can talk about the birth of Jesus from Mary's viewpoint in a more um..."first person" way. She laid out the contrast between the Nativity we all know from the American cultural viewpoint of children dressed in clean sheets and bathrobes to the urgency and the reality of what really happened...insignificant people with no place to go, having what was probably a very ordinary birth for those days and times, in a less than desirable locale.

We were still not ready, but the Baby came anyway. That is the heart of the Christmas message. Merry Christmas!

Normally, I'm going to refrain from church politics on this blog, but I just had to air my feelings on the recent decision of two Va. congregations voting to leave the ECUSA. From the day that our new Presiding Bishop took office, I started my mental countdown on how long it would take before someone actively voted to seek alternative leadership and leave the ECUSA. I am sorry to see them go, but am not surprised. I'm sure the folks who did not want to leave the ECUSA had already voted with their feet and departed those congregations long ago for ones with a viewpoint more in line with the ECUSA's stance on "the gay issue".

I simply do not understand why religious conservatives are so obsessed with the portions of the Bible that speak to homosexuality when it didn't even make the top 10 list given to Moses (but coveting your neighbor's donkey DID) nor even seemed to be of interest to Christ, since the Gospels have no report of Christ's opinion on the subject. Yet I'm sure these conservative members ignore the parts of Leviticus that say to not wear clothes made of two different fibers (Verily, cotton-poly blend is also an abomination!) this I say....*sigh*...

It will be interesting to see how the ownership of the "stuff" will be handled. I'm sure these members will feel the church property is "theirs" and the ECUSA will also say it is "theirs". The news coverage of this is so irritating b/c it reduces Episcopal thought in the eyes of the lay public to "All those Episcopalians do is fuss and holler and squabble about gays." It detracts terribly from the positive aspects of my church. I am thinking about how one of the wonderful things about Trinity in Kirksville is that we are an Oasis congregation (for you non-Episcopalians, it means that we are very gay-welcoming). We just don't think of gays in our congregation as "our gay members," they are simply "our members" and contribute to the health and well-being of our congregation same as all the straight ones. It's just simply a non-issue at Trinity.

I must admit I feel much like the anonymous "Donnie" whose response on AmericaBlog was certainly in line with my opinion....he said:

"Therefore with the angels and archangels, and all the Company of Heaven, we pray in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that the door doesn’t bang you on the ass on your way out."

How many times do I say this time of year, "Man, I hate going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark?" This time of the year, even in the middle of the country, it's just too dark too soon. (Good thing I don't live in North Dakota or Alaska, hmmm?) My little dashboard widget on my computer that shows dawn, sunrise, sunset, and dusk has more than half of the little pie graph in dark blue. There's that hedginess that comes over me about feeding the long-eared equines in the dark. (I hate it. Mostly because when you are dealing with hooved animals that weigh up to a thousand pounds, you just don't like to be throwing hay to them in the dark. They are not crazy about a flashlight, and they spook more easily. You just don't like being in a position where they could put a hoof in your noggin and you'd never know what hit you.)

I'll tell you something I notice about dusk during Advent time that is unlike dusk the rest of the year. Because it is happening during the shortest days of the year, your biological rhythms are just not ready for the dark. You still have energy and things you need to do. It's not like when dark comes in the summer, when your mind and body are slowing down for the day and the dark is a welcome friend, where the dark brings the cool evening, and a sense of relief. Advent time darkness brings a darkness that is cold, forboding, and with a sense it can consume you. Your mind is saying, "No, wait! I still have stuff to do, I am NOT ready for this. I am not prepared for this."

In an essay about life's end, A.T. Still, the founder of osteopathic medicine, referred to that gripping sense of darkness as "the wolf of dread." I was so very struck by that term the first time I heard it. It is "the wolf of dread" that grips your chest when you lie in bed at night and think, "Maybe this is all there is. Maybe we die and that's it." For me, the darkness at Advent time is best thought of in terms of that "wolf of dread."

I was thinking about that during Wallace's sermon today. The Gospel was Luke 3:7-18, where John the Baptist was telling people to repent because the Messiah was coming. We are only a week from Christmas Eve and unlike a lot of things where the closer you get to it you see the light at the end of the tunnel, I find myself filled with more and more of "the wolf of dread" right up to Christmas Eve, and never seem to mentally see "light" until I actually wake up and it is Christmas Day. It's odd, but it makes sense. Right up till Christ's birth, Mary and Joseph were scrambling around at night, hoping for something, ANYTHING to pop up where they could hang their hats for the night. I imagine poor Mary was probably in the first stage of labor and didn't want to get Joseph any more stressed. In their lives, that night, the "wolf of dread" must have looked pretty fierce.

What I have tried to do as the years roll by is to have the courage during Advent to let the darkness swallow me, to stand there and let it roll right over me and for me to crawl into it in my contemplative prayer time. It sounds odd, but I am trying really hard to connect with that pain, to connect with that feeling of "the wolf of dread" so I can better understand the magnitude of the light that Christ's birth brought to the world.

Dear Lord, as darkness and sadness closes in on us during these Advent nights, teach us rather than to resist the cold and the darkness and the emptiness to instead allow it to settle upon us. Give us the courage to allow our souls to be swallowed by it, much as how Jonah was swallowed by the great fish, and to spit us out with a new understanding of that darkness. Teach us the value of Christ's light that He brought to the world and the power of his saving grace. Amen.

Sunday, I had an opportunity to go to St. Louis and attend services at Christ Church Cathedral. Wow. We are talking serious pagentry here. Three priests, a deacon, eight acolytes, and a verger...and that is just for a "regular" service there!

It was my first time inside the cathedral so I spent a lot of time just gawking. They have an amazing set of sculptures behind the communion rail. You could go to that rail every week of the year and see something different.

Maybe this is because it's Advent, but I felt really connected to my own "smallness" in there. "Smallness" is not hard to experience in a cathedral!

I bumped into a great article about Advent blog-surfing and really liked it b/c it gave me a mental place to go.

I really like this one. Probably mostly because it speaks to some of the emptiness that permeates my own soul during the Christmas season. For the record, much of my childhood was rooted in alcoholism and violence. Often I find myself overwhelmed with thoughts of, even though my life is pretty boring and staid during the holidays now, “Who’s having the Christmas from Hell now?”. It really eats on me that I know, deep in my heart, somewhere some other family is most certainly dealing with drunken tirades, beatings, food being thrown, Christmas toys being destroyed “just because they can.” I have never really chased that doppelganger away from my mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I feel so lucky in so many ways b/c I have been able to not only get past a lot of things in my life but thrive (with God’s help), but it still doesn’t change the fact this is always an emotionally tough time of year for me.

I really needed to hear that there is a “spirituality of emptiness.” My entire adult life has been one of “making peace with Christmas,” at least in the secular American sense of it. I have spent so many years of my adult life running from the pain of it all and mentally flailing out at the phoniness and greed of the season, of all its broken promises and the feeling if you are not “happy happy joy joy” there is something wrong with you. Then, about ten years ago, I realized that in order for me to fully understand the meaning of the season I had to strip myself of visual distractions and see value in what was right around me at this time of the season, unvarnished, and to use the right combinations of seasonal music to take my mind away from the commercialization of it all and focus my mind more towards Advent.

Then there’s my donkeys. I have to take a minute to tell you about my two jennies. (female donkeys, for you non-rural folk, are "jennies.") You don’t know how much my donkeys make me feel good about the season. I have this slightly goofy notion that every donkey knows something we don’t about Christmas, and they’re not telling. The lowly ass plays a lot of bit parts in the story of Christ and the Bible is rife with symbolism about donkeys. I believe that God stuck something in donkey DNA that makes them special in that regard. There is nothing I like more out at my place to look out at my two "donks" grazing in the starry winter night sky. I can look at them and feel my soul literally transported to 2000 years ago. They truly make me feel connected to Christ in a way I cannot entirely explain but certainly can feel. This sounds really goofy, but I can pet them and look into their eyes and see the reflection of the Christ Child this time of year.

Well, and this year the column in the link above gives me some thought. I don’t have to hide from my emptiness, I can use it to understand the emptiness in the world before Christ’s birth. Instead of running from secular Christmas, instead of beating my demons with a stick year after year, I can keep moving towards embracing the power of Advent. That is a power I never considered in quite so full a sense until I read this column.

Blessed Advent, y'all!



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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