There is a principle in mathematics known as the Copernican principle which flies right in the face of modern values. The general premise is that things that have been around for a long time are the ones that will endure the test of time. And conversely, the more recent things will soon be gone. It tells us that the exceptions are fleeting and so rudely reminds us that nobody is special.Read More
One of my favorite childhood memories at Christmas time was waiting for the holiday specials to air on television. We’d read the TV guide beforehand to figure out what night Charlie Brown Christmas was going to be on, and then make sure we were ready with a huge bowl of popcorn for that wonderfully nostalgic moment when the revolving word “special” would appear and you’d know the wait was over. The anticipation was suddenly so worth it.Read More
Last Sunday was our Children’s Christmas Pageant and it just might have been my favorite one yet. Pageants are filled with so much delight; from the bright eyes of the angel choir to the voice squawks on the vocal solos to the lisps in the prophetic readings… “he shall be called, Printh of Peath!”.
There were so many tender and sweet moments this year!
One little angel, before the choir went up to sing, asked my friend Loretta if she thought you would have to pay for donuts in heaven? Loretta thought about it and carefully said, no, I think they would be free. The little angel’s eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “That sounds wonderful!”
Baby Jesus got fidgety in the first service and her big sister angel came over and took the baby from Mary and bounced her (yes, Jesus was a girl this year) until she was consoled.
One of my best friends, David, had a son in the pageant who refused to wear the sheep costume but instead wore his black power ranger suit. Personally, it made me feel a little more secure, and I’m sure Joseph and Mary did as well. I also found it inspiring. That is exactly what I would have wanted to wear at his age, I’m just not sure I would have had the guts to insist on it. Well done, Jude!
David used to be in my youth group over twenty years ago! Boy does time fly. It is that whole cliché about it feeling “just like yesterday.” It does. That is one of the weirdest things about aging…the way we feel time. Years get shorter and shorter. Reoccurring separate events start morphing into one.
I’ve watched this same pageant sixteen years now. I’ve seen my kids take various roles, from wise man, to angel, to inn keeper’s wife. Even my own daughter got to be Jesus one year. Such a blur. Details and specifics fade and we find ourselves holding on to a more nostalgic feeling of joy mixed with some sadness.
If we’re not careful, we can lose the magic and wonder in the familiarity of it all. We lose our imaginative hearts, the ones that dream about free donuts in heaven. We turn back to real life and there we find a much different story. Our news consists of catastrophe after catastrophe; either man’s doing or nature’s doing, or some combination of the two. We see hopeless politics, deep suffering, gross injustice. The temptation is to grow up, to leave behind our childlike optimism. To accept reality. To forget.
In an essay titled “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”, C.S. Lewis argues that this doesn’t have to be the case. We can grow without changing. Instead of leaving behind the wonder, our growth can embrace it, like the expanding rings of a tree. He writes, “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” Our appetites do change, but just because we now like mushrooms or a glass of red wine doesn’t mean we won’t devour a bowl of peppermint ice-cream from time to time. We grow and change, but we also cherish who we were, and who we still are.
Lewis writes, “when we read a good fairy tale we are obeying the old precept ‘Know thyself.’” Fairy tales remind us of who we truly are and who we long to be. They speak to us of adventure, of mystery, of vision, and a life of deep meaning.
But Lewis didn’t always believe in the truthfulness of myth. In fact, to his friend Tolkien, he once called them “lies breathed through silver.” As a result of that interaction Tolkien went home and wrote a poem and coined the term Mythopoeia. A new word was born to the English language, a distinct genre of writing fairytales to reveal deeper truths of reality. To reawaken our wonder. To help us remember the childlike magic which is the right response to reality.
Lewis was not just inspired by Tolkien’s views on mythopoeia, he would later make his own contributions to it. He would ultimately commit his life to this greater “myth.” Not only would he write the brilliant Chronicles of Narnia, but he would surrender his own life to the service of the lion, Aslan. Lewis knew and was inspired by all of the beautiful myths that have existed throughout history that push us further in, revealing deeper truths and currents in our reality, reminding us of what we’ve forgotten. But in the end, it was the reality that this one, this Christmas story, was unique. As Tolkien told him, this time the myth became fact.
Lewis would later write, “We trust, not because a God exists, but because thisGod exists.”
One of my very favorite children’s authors is A.A. Milne. He writes in the introduction to one of my favorite children’s books, The Wind in the Willows, “I must give you one word of warning. When you sit down to read this book, don’t be so ridiculous as to suppose that you are sitting in judgment on my taste, or on the taste of the author. You are merely sitting in judgment on yourself. You may be worthy: I don’t know. But it is you who are on trial.”
I love that so much! The story itself is so objectively true and beautiful that it is a test of our own hearts. The story holds us accountable. Do we have eyes to see?
In a Christmas pageant, we see the story through the fresh eyes of joy and delight in the children performing the various roles, but we’re also reminded to remember the story itself. It is a message of profound love, that comes in meekness and humility, that suffers innocently and without retaliation, that pours out everything in the name of love, not just for the unlovely, but for its enemies. It is a story of radical grace, love, and inclusion. It invites us in. It reminds us of who we truly are. It empowers us to live our lives in such a way.
Which is why our hearts spring to life when we see the pure joy in the hearts of our kids at Christmas. We remember. We see not just with the eyes of our mind but the eyes of the heart. We rediscover the story.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Einstein…maybe
“People who do not believe in miracles never experience miracles.” Richard Rohr
One of the most interesting facts about the advent story is that practically everyone missed it. The scribes, kings, Pharisees, religious leaders; none of them had any idea what had just taken place that Christmas night. Mary and Joseph enter Bethlehem in disgrace, shamed and shunned by both family and faith. Shepherds, unworthy of being counted in the census, are the ones that the angels sing to. It is the pagan magi from the east that discover the star, read the signs, and make the long journey to bear gifts for the newborn king.
The only ones who receive the good news are the ones who have forfeited their rights to it. They no longer fit in the inner circles. They are sitting on the outside. The outer ring turns out to be God’s inner circle.
Not that the message of peace on earth had an exclusive audience. Everyone just happened to be too busy or they were looking in the wrong places. The assumption was that any new truth or revelation would be even more orthodox, even more secure, even more validating of their current beliefs, not less. They were looking for revelation to match their existing categories, not redefine them.
Comfort and certainty have a way of narrowing us. They can blind us to receiving new revelation. We stop seeing. We become myopic. We stop searching. We lose that childlike wonder.
Which is why God writes stories like these. They are intentionally subversive, disruptive, and even deconstructive. All our assumptions are turned on their head. Because this is the only way we learn anything new. Suddenly we’re paying attention again.
I just read a statement from Richard Rohr where he writes, “There are basically two paths that allow people to have a genuinely new experience: the path of wonder and the path of suffering.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking…I’ll take wonder, please. Me too. But this is easier said than done. Wonder must be willing to be proven wrong, open to being converted, to compromise or being corrected. Too often our pursuit of our “faith” is really just seeking after the answers that make us “right.” We stop exploring. We stop questioning. We settle in and stop seeking. But when we do, we stop seeing, noticing, discovering.
I think that if the Messiah came to earth today, it would be the physicists that find him first. I say this because this is where I hear the most wonder being spoken today. It isn’t even what is being said, as much as how it is being said. It is the physicists that are searching, carefully, and even cautiously, and are discovering elegance, beauty and mystery.
Look at this for example from the renowned theoretical physicists, Frank Wilczek,
“Paradoxically, there’s a word to describe beauty that can’t be described in words—‘ineffable.’ Having experienced the ineffable beauty of Maxwell’s equations, one would be disappointed if they were wrong. As Einstein said in a similar context, when asked his general theory of relativity might be proved wrong, ‘Then I would feel sorry for the good Lord.’”
Don’t you love that? Maybe you don’t, but I sure do. These brilliant scientific minds have discovered something so beautiful that they can’t put it into words, elegance that leaves them breathless, speechless. Something that holds even our spiritual beliefs accountable. If our beliefs aren’t big enough to contain the cosmos, then so much for our beliefs.
Often we see science as the enemy of faith, but I think this is nonsense. Certainly it can be misused in such a way, like any tool. But when our faith causes us to put up blinders, to cling to our small stories and see ideas and forward thinking as necessarily harmful, we cost ourselves not just our intellectual credibility. We lose out on the wonder of new discovery, of expanding beauty, of the kingdom of heaven growing from that mustard seed into a massive and expanding tree in which the birds take rest.
When we cut ourselves off from the wonder, we do more than stop growing. We wither. Our faith becomes dulled, threatened, too small. When the wonder goes, so goes the revelation, and with it, our joy.
In classical philosophy there are three transcendentals or properties of being. Three absolutes that all men long for and long for absolutely. They are truth, goodness, and beauty. We are drawn to truth by its goodness, and we are drawn to goodness by its beauty.
One of my favorite scientists turned philosopher was Michael Polanyi. Polanyi believed that the inspiration of the artist and the scientist were one and the same. His friend and peer, Einstein, concurred.
Truth seekers are artists. They aren’t afraid of ideas or questions. Like the magi, they will follow the stars. Because this wonder, this childlike faith can be trusted. It yields the right kind of fruit. It is beautiful.
Why do I say all this? Because it is at this time of year, the season of advent, where we let this story of the coming of the Messiah continue to do its work. To disrupt us. To overturn the tables of our complacency and comfortability, and to see again with new eyes. What we see is a story of such beauty and simplicity, where the very nature of God’s heart is revealed. The Truth comes in meekness. It empties itself and doesn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. It humbles itself by becoming obedient, even to the point of death on a cross.
The beauty of this story speaks for itself. What we must do is let this beautiful story change our own hearts. We can sit in this story and let the mystery do its work. Chesterton said, “The world will never starve for want of wonders, only want of wonder.”
This third week of advent, this week of joy, may our eyes be opened to the wonder of the world and the cosmos around us. May the story of the incarnation work its mystery in our own hearts, and may our lives reveal the beauty of the goodness of the Truth, the miracle of Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Blaise Pascal
It is the second week of advent and this week’s theme is on Peace.
I’m struggling for a good definition of peace. Most of the places I’ve looked define peace by what it’s not. It is the absence of conflict, the freedom from disturbance, a lack of worry or contention, or the cessation of war. A peaceful environment is one free from threats or the things that trigger our anxieties. If we’re safe, secure, and in control we’re at peace.
Except that we aren’t. At least I’m not.
I’d like to think that the external things that threaten my peace are like germs and if I can sterilize my environment from disturbances, then my heart will be calm. If I could just remove the irritants, I’d go back to my normal place of rest. If my kids would just do their homework without needing constant reminders, I would be able to relax and not stress. If the guy not letting me merge in on PCH would just be cool, I wouldn’t have to mumble bad words under my breath. If the guy that just paddled into my wave hadn’t dropped in on me, I’d be having the best surf session of my life. And on and on.
If only this was true. But it isn’t. The worry and fear isn’t out there. It’s in here. And it goes deep.
Often it is in moments of quiet that I become aware of just how troubled the waters of my soul truly are. My natural state of rest is anything but restful. It is uneasy. It is insecure. It longs for distraction, for diversion. Anything will do…endless Instagram scrolling, bored Facebook meandering. Videos of cats and cucumbers.
Pascal writes this about diversion. He says,
“What people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the burdens of office, but the agitation that takes our mind off it and diverts us. That is why we prefer the hunt to the capture.”
That last line is so convicting. It isn’t the prize we’re after, it is the thought of the prize. Most of us know by now that the new thing we’re saving to buy won’t deliver the satisfaction we hope for, but we’ll keep playing that game. Why? Because it is what we like. Even if the process is broken. Even if it is hopeless. Any time those piercing thoughts pass by we pull out our phones. We pull out our credit cards. Peace is just one purchase away.
Of course, it isn’t actually. We already know this. But the hunt is often enough to divert our attention away from this reality. Diversion is just another form of self-medication.
True peace is costly. It is painful. It requires us pressing further into the anxiety. It requires an uncomfortable amount of vulnerability. It is humbling, even humiliating. We are letting light shine into our closets and exposing the shadow sides of ourselves. The road to peace is anything but peaceful.
Merton says that what we find, when we remain in this honest place without diversion, is “the one truth that can help us solve our ethical and political problems: that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness and our tendency to aggressivity and hypocrisy.”
It reminds me of that story about G.K. Chesterton being asked the question by the London Times, “What is wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s response: “I am.”
This is the birthplace of peace. It begins with the painful dying of the ego and the humiliating admission of our own insufficiency. We can’t do it alone. This is the beginning of hope.
Because as our hands open in helplessness, we realize that the God of peace is always already there. Richard Rohr writes, “This doesn’t take a lot of thinking. It doesn’t take a lot of theology. It doesn’t take a lot of education. It doesn’t even take a lot of morality. You just have to walk and breathe and receive and give, and –voila!- you’re in the flow.”
This is one of the most beautiful reminders of advent. Emmanuel means God with us. As Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)
The key is not in us avoiding conflict, nor is it us detaching from pain, but moving through it with humility and accepting the gift of peace that has already been given. If it sounds too simple, I would just say, give it a try.
This sort of peace can’t be hoarded. When we accept this peace, we realize that all those around us are equally as deserving. We are empowered to forgive by the forgiveness we’ve received. We extend mercy because we’ve been shown mercy.
Merton writes, “If we can love the men we cannot trust (without trusting them foolishly) and if we can to some extent share the burden of their sin by identifying ourselves with them, then perhaps there is some hope of a kind of peace on earth, based not on the wisdom and the manipulations of men but on the inscrutable mercy of God.”
Amen to that!
My prayer for this week is that we would allow the light of God’s truth to illuminate our hearts, and that, in this place of humility, we would accept the tremendous gift of God’s love and mercy, and allow the peace of God to fill us and flow through us to a world in such desperate need.
The advent season has officially begun. Advent, in Latin, means coming, and at Christmas time we celebrate the reality that we live in the space between the first and second advent. We celebrate the coming of the divine to earth in the birth of Jesus, and we look forward with anticipation for the coming day when all things will be made new.
The advent season is a place of tension. It is a liminal space. Our hearts are lifted with joy at the remembrance of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, and yet they groan with the weight of suffering and pain that continues in our world today.
It is in this place of tension that the true depth and reality of our hope are seen and felt. Christ comes not with sentimental assurances and easy answers. He comes with the kind of love that seeks after the broken hearted, that extends grace to one’s enemies, that endures hardship and enters into the sufferings of others.
This kind of love requires a gaze that is fixed ahead of itself. Dallas Willard defines hope as the joyous anticipation of the good. This is how Christ endured the cross…it was the joy set before him. The joy of a world set right and intimacy with mankind restored. This reality is what allows us to enter in to the brokenness and mess of our world without avoiding the pain. Our hope is fixed on what lies beyond. The difficulties, in light of eternity, become light and momentary.
Our hope is fixed on the second advent. As C.S. Lewis writes,
“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
To live in this middle place, between advents, is to experience the kingdom of heaven on earth. It isn’t simply remembering, nor anticipating, but being caught up in this moment of God with us. Jesus continues to enter in to our broken hearts, and through the joy of that reality, extend hope to a world that is in such need.
As Meister Eckart wrote,
“What good is it that Christ was born 2,000 years ago if he is not born now in your heart?”
” Lord, we do far too much celebrating your actual coming. I believe in God, but do I believe in God-in-me? I believe in God in heaven, but do I believe in God-on-earth? I believe in God out there, but do I believe in God-with-us?”
“Lord, be born in my heart. Come alive in me this Christmas! Amen.”