Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.
So be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful.
That the gift has been given.
~ Mary Oliver
Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God!
The poet and the psalmist have the true message. We have to slow down to truly feel the loving touch of God’s hand. We are in the midst of this Advent season and are waiting for the coming. At first thought, the waiting should be in stillness and calm but that not the way it is at all. We are so rushed and busy with the many responsibilities and obligations of the season. There are gifts to buy, parties to go to, special church services to attend, and for most of us, Christmas will be a relief. It is a relief, because we can slow down and rest from the “holidays” that our world has created.
Let me urge you to think in a counter-cultural way. Try to see these coming days between now and Christmas day as a time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas is love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16) The true joy of Christmas is the celebration of this incredible act of love. That is so easy to forget in the social cacophony of competing ideas that surround us. Let us resolve not to be carried away by popular culture or religious extremism.
A few suggestions:
Give something to a total stranger. (not just a homeless person)
Take the time to make eye contact and speak to store clerks who serve you.
Reaffirm your love(with words) to your family and friends.
Pay someone a compliment.
Share your belief in the love of the God of Christmas with someone.
Attend worship on Christmas Eve.
Don’t argue about Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.
Reconcile with someone.
Spend a little time in silence every day.
Those are just a few of the many things that we can do in this season if we just slow down and look outside of ourselves. I am sure that you can think of some on your own, but you have to be still long enough to do so. I hope that you can find a way to grab the opportunities that come with the Christmas season.
Lord, there are times when I just want to ask your help so that I may just spend some time living like you. May I follow the example of Jesus as I share the love that was modeled by Him. Such a love is without strings or stipulation but merely a love that is waiting to be accepted. Let me reach out with open arms to all. May you guide in my decisions this season and allow me to be a source of blessing to those I touch.
One day when he was sitting in front of the church, the brethren were consulting him about their thoughts. One of the old men who saw it became a prey to jealousy and said to him, ‘John, your vessel is full of poison.’ Abba John said to him, ‘That is very true, Abba; and you have said that when you only see the outside, but if you were able to see the inside, too, what would you say then?’
—-Abba John the Dwarf
We only reveal to others what we want them to see. All of us have to deal with the jealousy of people who envy us for one reason or another. This saying deals with just such a situation. I cannot know what it was that motivated the brother to be jealous of John, but I do admire John’s answer. He is saying, “You ought to see how really bad I am on the inside.” We all have filters that limit what we let others see of our true selves. God sees all and offers grace to us.
The lesson is one of refraining from jealousy, envy and judgment, because we can never really know. Our worse bouts of jealously and envy come from only what we can see – the outside. God, on the other hand, sees the in and out of all of His creation. Even though He knows the worst of us, He gives us the best of Himself. That sort of servanthood is something that we are taught by the sacrifice that God made through Jesus. God knows us and loves us. God sees all and yet He finds the grace that allows forgiveness rather than the jealously that we harbor toward one another.
In Rudyard Kipling’s “Gunga Din” he finally acknowledges the worth of a servant by saying..
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ God that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!
It takes an awful lot to acknowledge the true worth of an individual, but God does.
Dear Lord help me to stop looking at the exterior of persons around me and using that criteria to deem myself as more worthy. Release me from the bondage to jealously and envy and set me free to soar with you. Help me to see in others what you see in me. Give me the humility necessary to be a servant and the confidence to carry out the task.
We are caught in a bitter conflict between flesh and spirit. Jesus has delivered us from sin, but not from the weaknesses and desires of the flesh. We have to reproduce in our life the Cross of Christ so that, have died sacramentally to sin in baptism, we may also put to death sin in our flesh by restraining our evil desires and bad tendencies. This is the basis of monastic asceticism. (Or the Christian walk)
—-Thomas Merton from Basic Principles of Monastic Spirituality
There is not one among us who has not felt the tug of war caused by the conflict of flesh and spirit. This conflict of soul lives in everyone, and the battle rages with little relief. As we face this reality and own it, the conflict takes on a new aspect. The acknowledgement of our fleshly weaknesses allows us to turn to the spirit that is promised by Jesus. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.(John 14:26) Through this spirit we can achieve small victories over our desires, but we have to work at it, and be vigilant.
Merton points to a very important, and the often neglected reality of sacramental grace. Through our baptism the community lift us up so that we might die to sin. That grace is an important tool in our battle with the flesh, and one that should not be neglected. When the congregation (community) says, “-we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith-” that pledge is the communion of saints in action. We must never abandon the strength that can be garnered from the sacramental community.
The journey of every believer brings him to the tough intersection of the world and our desire to be one with God. Oneness with the One who created us in His own image is built into our souls. Thomas Merton once said: “Contemplation will be denied to a man in proportion as he belongs to the world.” The world refers to the things we love of the world -the busyness, prestige, glitzy things, and pride that so represent us to those around us. We are called away from such a life as we seek to be contemplatives. We begin to practice the art of belonging.
As we approach that intersection, and we approach every day, we must make the decision of just how much time we have for the things of the spirit. I would be the first to admit that we don’t have the option of becoming monastic hermits, but we do have the option of giving some priority time to contemplation. To be contemplative in our world we must establish a pattern and routine of prayer.
Prayer comes in many forms. For some it is silence, for others it is much more active. How do you practice prayer in your life? Prayer has to be much more than a weekly worship time, it must be a special part of your day that keeps you focused on the things of God. Pray the daily office, practice Lectio Divina, centering prayer, or journaling and know that these practices will lead you closer to God. Contemplation and prayer is movement toward belonging to God.