Our Prayer for the New Year

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We live in a weary world.
Our world searches for light, searches for hope.
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We who have the light and hope to offer…
…do we?
Our world behaves foolishly as it clutches after joy, looks frantically for peace.
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We who have knowledge to share of joy and peace in desperate circumstances…
…do we?
Do we shine out the light of the world in rejoicing or shutter it in fear?
Why would we do that? How selfish must we be to withhold life from a dying friend out of fear for ourselves?
Yet we do.
I do.
As we begin a new year, as we close out the old, could we who are light bearers join together in prayer?
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Could we pray together that God would give us boldness and courage, that He would give us words to say and opportunities to say them, that He would help us to behave wisely and to love well?
Oh, Lord, our God. We are yours. We say to you along with Mary, Behold, we are the servants of the Lord. Do with us what you will.
Amen.

Living in the Dark

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Christmas begins in the dark.
Dark
Advent, this season leading up to Christmas, is for us. It is for we who live in the dark.
This season seems to amplify pain. Those who are lonely feel more lonely, those who are grieving feel their grief more deeply, those who are hurting seem to suffer more.
And that’s okay.
It’s okay not to feel happy this time of year.
After all, Christmas doesn’t mean much if we don’t need it.
Mary
Mary understood. Her angel visitation led to a rift between her and her beloved, a painful journey on a donkey, and giving birth next to a chicken.
Even as she clutched her newborn son, she heard the prophecy of a sword piercing her heart and wondered.
Even after her Christmas, her beloved son grew farther and farther away from her, uttering such things as Why would you look for me? Don’t you know I must be about my Father’s business? and, when she came through the crowds to see him, My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.
Yet Mary stayed close. She trusted and held on to her faith in her son no matter how distant he seemed, even when he died. She stayed close. Everywhere we look in the gospels we see Mary, hovering on the outskirts, still showing up, still coming back to her son again and again.
Stay Close
Can we do the same?
Can we hold on to our faith in the Son no matter how distant He seems, even if He seems to be dead?
Light
This world is dark and we live in a continual Advent.
Don’t run away from the bitter-sweetness of this Advent season. You don’t have to pretend to feel joyful.
Colors
Tinsel
Don’t hide behind the tinsel and lights. Neither should you ignore the colors completely.
Linger as you abide with the sorrow and the joy, the hurt and the hope that are woven together in this season. Stay close to the Son however far away He may seem.
Christ
Settle into the knowing of how desperately we need Christmas, how desperately we need God-with-us.
Our Father promised that Christmas would come
Christmas
and it will be all the more beautiful for having lived through the darkness of Advent.

Art credit: Pieta by Michelangelo; all other photographs copyrighted by Elizabeth Giger

Longing and Hoping He Will Come

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Advent is a time of waiting. A time of light and of dark, a holy season of expectancy.
Come
Come
Advent means arrival and we are waiting for your arrival, oh Light of the world.
We sing our beautiful songs of longing and of hope and we pray that you will come.
Come
Come
Kings and prophets of old prayed, Come!
All my life, I have prayed, Come!
Yet has humanity gotten any closer to you in these thousands of years of our existence?
Have I gotten any closer to you in my few decades of life?
Or is the distance to you always the same no matter how far we travel?
When our bleeding feet have apparently covered a part of the distance to your eternity, don’t you always retreat twice as far away from us, into the immense reaches filled only by your infinite being?
You tell us that you have already come, once upon a time, as a baby in the straw. You tell us that you have come, have settled in among us and shared our drab and ordinary lives, but to be honest, it is hard to see you in this place.
Come
Come
To be honest, your arrival often feels more like a departure.
You came as you promised, but you did not change our poor and finite sort of life as you lived it. Instead, you became like us in every regard.
You lived every moment carefully, not letting any sort of torment slip from your cupped hands. You felt deeply every drop of this life and suffered it all, right to the bleeding end.
You, too, felt death coming for you, steadily, relentlessly. You, too, when you looked up to the One who is called Father, begging for comfort in your pain and dread, were met with deafening silence.
Is this why you came? Is this birth in Bethlehem and death on Golgotha the coming that is to redeem all of us from our human misery? Are we to be comforted simply because you also wept and met your end?
Come
No, now I begin to understand that we sing and pray this Come of hope and longing because you are still in the process of your coming. Your appearance as part of the very dirt you created was only the beginning of your coming.
You chose to rescue us from our misery by taking on our very misery and bringing it to the triumphant ending we could not have found. You alone are able to take the cross we all bear and change it into a triumphant banner of victory.
It is said you will come again, but again is misleading. It is said that you will appear again, and perhaps this is a better way of understanding because you have never really gone away. In all of our human existence you have never left us.
Come
Behold, you come. Now it is still the one single hour of your Advent, at the end of which we too shall have found out that you have really come. O God who is to come, grant me the grace to live now, in the hour of your Advent, in such a way that I may merit to live in your forever, in the blissful hour of your eternity.

~ all quotes are from Karl Rahner (1904-1984), German Jesuit priest and theologian. Many of the ideas in this essay are also from him.

Lift Up Your Head

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The deep darkness in this world can sometimes weigh our heads down. Our eyes remain fixed on our next step, our minds focused on not stumbling, not falling flat on our faces.
It is easy to become mired in the muck of a broken world. We struggle and strive, our backs bent under the bulk of all that is upon us.
Yet God is here.
Right here.
Closer than your breath.
The evidence is all around you. So lift up your head just for a moment.
Beauty 1

 

Beauty 2

 

Beauty 3

 

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Beauty 5
You who are bowed down with physical pain, lift up your head.
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Beauty 8

 

Beauty 9
You who dwell under the weight of loneliness or depression, lift up your head.
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Beauty 11

 

Beauty 12

 

Beauty 13

 

Beauty 14
You who are crushed by a grief that prevents you from even getting out of bed in the morning, lift up your head.
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Beauty 16

 

Beauty 17

 

Beauty 18
You who are burdened by the venom between fellow countrymen and fellow Christ followers, lift up your head.
Beauty 19

 

Beauty 20

 

Beauty 21

 

Beauty 22

 

Beauty 23
You who plead with God to do something, to rescue you, to save you, for God’s sake doesn’t He even care,
lift up your head.
Beauty 24

 

Beauty 25

 

Beauty 26

 

Beauty 27

 

Beauty 28

 

Beauty 29
Lift up your head and take a breath of wonder. He is all around you. This beauty is for you.
It doesn’t fully dispel the darkness, at least not yet, but it will give you the strength to keep shining your own light for another day.
And that’s all you need. Just one more day.
Lift up your head.

Art credits: Mountain photos and tulip photo by Kirk Sewell; Space photos by NASAElk photo by Kevin Tuck; Elephant photo by Stella Bogdanic; all other photos are mine

God in the Darkness

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Sometimes it happens this way.
Sometimes when you are closest to God, you feel as though you are farthest away.
It seems to happen that when you are a new Christian, God speaks clearly, you feel His presence solidly, light is all around you.
New
Fresh
As you progress in your faith, God’s voice gets fainter, His presence is harder to grasp, the clouds begin to form around you.Old
Dry
This is how it was for Mother Theresa who began her life full of fire and certainty and spent the last fifty years of her life full of darkness and silence. She continued to obey, even when the dry times outnumbered the rich times.
As a baby, you need God to discernibly carry you. When you become more mature, you need to trust that God is still carrying you.
When God first showed Himself to Moses, it was in the light.
Light
In a miracle of a fiery bush that did not become ash, He revealed Himself to a man who did not yet know Him.
Later, God showed Himself to Moses in a cloud.
Cloud
In the middle of the cloudy dimness of a pillar of cloud, God spoke to a man who was learning to trust Him.
Once Moses became more perfected, he saw God in the darkness.
Dark
In the darkness on the top of a mountain, God gave His Word to a man who knew Him.
We should not think that this is unusual. We should not despair when we must enter the darkness. We should not give up on God when we can no longer see Him.
Rather, we should continue to obey, continue to trust, continue to speak and to listen.
What you discovered about God in the fiery light does not disappear once He cloaks Himself in darkness.
He is still there, He still loves you, and He is still working to perfect you.
Becoming
Perfect
Especially in the darkness.

Ideas in this post come from St. Gregory of Nissa (335-395 AD)

Art Credits: God Appears to Moses from Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg; Pillar of Cloud is a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company; Promulgation of the Law by Gerard Hoet

His is a Terrible Love

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There is darkness in all of us.

The Road

It is a part of being human to feel the weightiness of the absence of God.
And there is an absence of God in this world.  The Bible we profess speaks of it.
The prophets and psalms all speak of Him who is not there when He is most needed.  The author of Hebrews strips all of our pretense away when he speaks of Noah, of Abraham, of Gideon and David and the rest who “all died without having received what was promised.”
It is the anguish of glimpsing the briefest glow of the light of presence without being allowed to bask in the sun.
Glimpse of light
It is a terrible love, this love of God for us.  It is a love that means His absence as often as it means His presence.  It is a love that Jesus speaks of when He utters in His darkest moment the piercing cry of Where are you, God?
You who are in heaven for us, why are you not down here in hell with us?

Light of presence

It is a terrible love that speaks of carrying our own cross, that utters the truth that all ye labor and are heavy laden.
It is a terrible love that wounds, or allows the wounds, before the healing can come.
It is a terrible love that weeps at the death of a friend, of Lazarus.  They are tears that speak of the absence of God.  Of the part of God in the very body of Jesus who would not save the life of His own friend.
This is, after all, the Gospel.  It is terrible before it is beautiful.  It is darkness before it is light.
Darkness before light
We all labor and are heavy laden.  We work so very hard to pretend that it is not so, but even when we are appalled at the darkness, we cannot help but listen to Jesus because we see in Him not only the darkness of being without God but the glorious light of what it looks like to be with God.
It is out of the absence of God that He becomes most present.  It is out of the whirlwind, out of the storm that God first speaks to Job, answering Him not with answers but with Himself.
It is out of darkness that we first begin to perceive the light.
Paul says that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.  God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”, and he points to “the apparent emptiness of the world where God belongs and to how the emptiness starts to echo like an empty shell after a while until you can hear in it the still, small voice of the sea, hear strength in weakness, victory in defeat, presence in absence.” ~ Frederick Buechner
Rembrandt
The cross itself is a symbol of defeat before it is a symbol of victory and it, too, speaks of the absence of God.
When the absence is all that we see, when we are tempted to see in it a well of doubt that could lead us into atheism or at least into becoming agnostic, there is yet something else to see as well.
It was out of the darkness and absence that God first spoke.  “In the beginning…the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
Darkness is upon our faces as well, a void that sinks deep into our hearts.  And perhaps it is necessary for the reality of this darkness to fold itself around us for us to be able to glimpse the reality of the word that God spoke into the darkness, “God said let there be light, and there was light.”
And there was light
It is a terrible love that is offered to us, and perhaps we must face the truth of the terribleness before we are capable of accepting the love.

Art credits: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt; Supernova photo by NASA

edited from the archives

The Word

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In the beginning, God spoke.
Word created
God spoke His Word and Word created.
God’s Word created sun and moon, trees and sea grass, sparrows and lions.
Nothing exists that was not created through Him.
In the beginning was the Word.
Word put on flesh
God’s Word created man.
He created man and then God’s Word became a man. He put on flesh and dwelt among us.
The Word incarnate.
The Word came so that the incarnation can continue, so that our lives can become incarnate, the whole of life an incarnation of the Word.

Word Incarnate

The Word taught us, He showed us how to love and how to live.
God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path while we live on this earth.
The Word came to be light, to shine in the darkness. To be the way so we can know how to go.
He spoke words for us to hear and was the Word for us to see. He was the words He spoke because we are simple and slow and need more than one way to comprehend.
Someday we will no longer need the sun for the Word will be our lamp in the new Jerusalem.
The Word will be our lamp and so we will know the way, will remain in the way.
The Word is light and the Word is love, and the Word shows us that love knows no bounds.
All while teaching by example, the Word gave Himself up for us.

Word gave Himself

The Word gave Himself so that we can know love. The Word gave Himself so that we can be love.
The Word is in the beginning and the Word is in the end and the Word holds all the in-between together.
In Him is life.

Word became life

The Way I Treat Jesus

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
I like to feel good about myself.
You too?
I find it tempting to feel better about myself at the expense of judging others, especially in the privacy of my own mind.
You too?
Semiradsky
It is easy to watch the vitriol that happens on the internet and decide they need to do better at seeing the image of Jesus in those they are lambasting.
It is effortless to look at the women gathered in impenetrable circles at church and think that if they saw Jesus in those around them, they would be more inclusive.
It is troublesome to aim the same spotlight at myself.
Yet I must. 
If I am to live in Jesus who is the Truth, if I am to allow the Spirit to mold me into someone who looks like Him, I must be honest with myself. I must step into the Light that allows no shadows to remain.
Let_the_Little_Children_Come_unto_Jesus
Here is the truth.
When I erupt into hissing rage at my children, it is Jesus’ face that flinches back.
When I spit a sideways look and sigh at my husband, it is Jesus’ eyes that fill with hurt.
When I impatiently wrench my car into the path of the elderly driver beside me, it is Jesus’ mouth that compresses in fear.
Bloch
How can I do this?
How can I treat the One who made me as though He were dirt under my feet?
How can I regard the One who gave me new life as nothing more than an irritation?
I forget.
I forget to see those around me as an image of the One to whom I owe everything.
le-sueur
Imago Dei. The doctrine of the image of God.
This is the doctrine that says if every human is created in the image of God, then how we treat others is a reflection of how we truly feel about God.
Jesus, as He did most for most laws, raised this to a higher level. Jesus said that when we do something to another person, we are not just reflecting our view of Him, we are actually doing that action to Him.
Whatever I do to those in my little world I am doing to Jesus.
Vermeer
It is a frightening thought.
Perhaps I need to be frightened. Perhaps it would help me to remember.
To remember that the way I treat the people in my world is the way I treat Christ.
Siemiradzki
Lord, have mercy. Help me to remember.
Into Thy hands. Only You can help me.
Thee I adore. I trust that You will, indeed, help me to remember.

Art Credits: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Siemiradzki; Let the Little Children Come unto Jesus by Bloch; Gethsemane by Bloch; Christ Healing the Blind Man by Le Sueur; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Vermeer; Christ and Samaritan Woman by Siemiradzki

There Is Good News

Sometimes I am weary of this world.
Wearied
Often I adore this crazy beauty that surrounds us. There is much to love, much to be grateful for.
Every once in a while, however, the brokenness of it all begins to weigh heavy on me.
Broken
My former pastor shares that he has cancer.
Blood work comes back and tells me I must take my daughter to a specialist.
The vitriol in the politics on my Facebook makes me just close my eyes.
Sinful
There are no easy answers. For all of its goodness, the fact remains that we have sinned and thus infused our world with darkness.
Darkness
The ugliness we see around us is here until Jesus returns.
The good news for right now?
He is here in the meantime.
God came down to live this same life in the midst of the brokenness.
God came
God died on a cross so that we can be with Him now through forever, so that we can be part of Him making the ugly beautiful again.
God died
God stayed here with us, to walk with us through the darkness. More than that, to be light inside of us that cannot be overcome by the darkness.
God lives
So as I feel the heaviness press down, I don’t try to escape the hurt of this world.
Rather, I try to lean into it as God did, knowing that He is working through me to heal.
Healed
Knowing that in the end He will heal it all perfectly.
And all that will remain will be beauty.

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

Art credit: The Holy Night by Correggio; photo of Christ on the Cross statue by Asta Rastauskiene; Pentecost by Mildorfer

God Revealing Himself

God, where are you?
We who live in this dark world are searching for the light.
We want God to show up in a big way.
We want the cancer healed, the baby conceived, the loneliness taken away.
We wonder why He won’t reveal Himself in all of His glory so that all will believe.
Why does He hide and make it so hard to find Him?
Why does He let us suffer when He could heal us all with just a Word?
We wonder why this world remains so dark.
Those at the foot of the cross wondered the same.
The chief priests mockingly wondered why He would not save Himself when He had claimed to save others.
The women weepingly wondered why He would not come down from the cross when He had healed so many others.
I begin to understand, but don’t want to admit it. So much suffering is contained in the answer.
If Jesus had come down from the cross in a blaze of glory, tens of thousands of angels at His side, He would not have gained love but would have become a tyrant.
If God were to reveal Himself in all of His glory, He would not have children who love Him for Himself but would have slaves who serve out of fear or compulsion.
God instead reveals Himself in the small. He shows Himself in the weak. His light shines through the poor, the sick, the hungry, the captive.
If we cannot find Him in the common, everyday miracle of life, we cannot love Him as Himself.
If He always arrived to take away the darkness, we would never learn to love Him. We would, instead, love the comfort of the light.
If He made it impossible to deny Him, He would be our dictator, not our Father. And we would be His cowering slaves.
He must forebear to reveal His power and glory by presenting Himself as Himself, and must be present only in the ordinary miracle of the existence of His creatures. Those who wish to see Him must see Him in the poor, the hungry, the hurt, the wordless creatures, the groaning and travailing beautiful world. ~ Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
So let us seek Him and find Him in the faces of the weak, and let us love Him as we stoop to serve the small.