Friday, December 28, 2012

Awaken Your Senses to Christ's Advent: Nostalgic Smells

"Often the strongest memories of our past are indelibly imprinted into our memory bank through our senses, especially the sense of smell." Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God, pg. 158

We smell our memories. Like pine trees, snicker doodles, winter air, steamy hot chocolate, a fire in the fire place....those are the smells I remember and associate with Christmas. Each is stored in my memory bank and awakened during the Christmas season when I re-smell them and re-member them again. Smells are nostalgic.

Take a moment and think about the smells that are most memorable to you at Christmas time. What do you associate with each? How do you react to each? Do you remember when you first smelled them?

Now imagine the smells of the first Christmas; the smells of a newborn babe--a mixture of blood and vernix--that cheesy-white, sweet-smelling substance that covers a newborn; the pungent smells of a stable, complete with manure, gamey animals and earthy shepherds; and two parents saturated in the scent of the journey, of dusty highways and sweat and roadside bathroom breaks.

It's not quite the same bouquet of nostalgic Christmas scents, is it?It strikes me how antiseptic the Advent of Jesus becomes when we forget to soak in the scents of the first Christmas.

How can you and I live more deeply in the real story of Christ's Advent? Perhaps by breathing in the fumes of our world; the unfiltered fragrance of our own stables and then linking them with his.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Awaken Your Senses to Christ's Advent: Touching Jesus

"I was in my usual hurry to work when I spied a big, black, evil SUV sitting in the curb lane. The no-parking lane. The lane I use to get to the parking lot....What a doofus, I thought.... Sitting there I got more and more upset with this person who was blocking my way—my important way—down the street.Then just as the light changed, the big, black, evil SUV took a hard right across all four lanes of traffic and pulled into a parking spot. The driver climbed out and bounded up the steps of St. Mary Catholic Church. There he stood in front of a statue of Jesus. He reached up and began touching its face, its hair, the folds of the robe. My anger drained. Embarrassed, I glanced in the rear-view mirror as I passed. The man still stood there, touching, caressing Jesus. I felt foolish. I also felt humbled. I rush by that statue every day. Sometimes I see it; most times not. But here was a man who stopped just to touch Jesus." Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God, pg. 117, 118

There's another man in the Christmas story who did the same thing. His name was Simeon. He was parked in the Temple, led there by the Spirit, because of an intuition that he would see the anointed one of God that particular day. So, when Mary and Joseph walked in, he saw Jesus in the arms of His parents, and "Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God" (Luke 2:28). Here was a man who stopped just to touch Jesus, too.

These two stories, side by side, provoke some honest reflection and  invite you and me to ask:
  • Where am I being led by the Spirit to find Jesus today? 
  • Am I willing to stop what I'm doing in order to reach out and touch him? 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Awaken Your Senses to Christ's Advent: Day 3

"Our sense of hearing is a rare, sophisticated, complex gift--the collaborative efforts of our outer, middle and inner ears with our auditory nervous system. Described simply, our ears pick up sound vibrations, which are transformed into nerve impulses that travel to the brain and are interpreted based on our memory of that sound. Amazingly, we can differentiate between thousands of auditory memories. And even though our auditory radar is turned on all the time--even when we're sleeping--hearing a sound is very different from listening to it." (Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God, pg. 126)

During Advent, many of the sounds that come to us--like Christmas carols, the ringing of the Salvation Army bell, or the reading of the Christmas story--have deep roots in our childhood. We recognize them because they are stored as a memory. 

I had one of those memories this morning as I read and prayed. Quite unintentionally, the words of the Apostle's Creed came to mind--words that I recited each Sunday in the Presbyterian church where I was raised. I "heard" the words file across my mind, condensing the Christmas story into a few simple lines.

There is something powerful about hearing our own voice read, speak or sing the familiar words of a creed, carol or the Christmas story. The challenge is to not merely "hear" the words, but "listen" to them.

As part of awakening your senses to Christ's Advent today, why don't you choose a familiar song, Scripture or story and read it out loud, being careful to listen to what it says to you today.

Here's the Apostle's Creed if this is one that has meaning for you: 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
    the Maker of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    born of the virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell. 
The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
    the holy catholic church;
    the communion of saints;
    the forgiveness of sins;
    the resurrection of the body;
    and the life everlasting.



Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Awaken Your Senses to Christ's Advent: Day #2

"Freeman Patterson says that 'letting go of self is an essential precondition to real seeing.'....All around you are the big scenes that make up your daily life. How could you reframe the things that you see so that they can tell you a new story?" (Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God, pg. 71, 72)

All around us are invitations to welcome Christ's advent--his coming again through the ancient story of the babe in the manger and his coming to us in the story of our own lives and his gifts of grace and salvation today. If Patterson is right, the reason we often miss Christ's advent is because we are so self-conscious.

How could you reframe the things that you see today so that they tell you a new story about Christ's coming? 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Awaken Your Senses to Christ's Advent Today! Day #1

"Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation." I Peter 2:2

"Peter used the analogy of a newborn who urgently roots for his or her mother's breast, having tasted the wonderful sustenance of her milk and wanting more. The mother's milk maintains the life of this little one who is incapable of consuming or digesting any other form of nourishment." (Awaken Your Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God, pg. 41)  

As I meditated on the Christmas story this morning and thought about the sense of taste, what surprisingly came to mind was the image of Jesus being satisfied by his mother's milk. What a picture of the astonishing humility of God to nourish and sustain God's Son at the breast of a human mother!

Just as the infant Jesus craved his mother's milk, what do you crave during this Advent season? How will you satisfy your craving? With "pure spiritual milk" or with a cheap substitute? 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What are you avoiding? Good Question! # 10

Some questions are so direct it's as though they "fillet" our soul. They cut to the chase; they zero in; they expose to the bone. I don't particularly like questions like that because they feel invasive and put people on the spot. And yet, like no other question, this kind of question can really do the heavy lifting of *"raising us toward God."

This is the kind of question one of my spiritual direction clients presented to me just the other day. She was sharing her take on the gospel story of the rich, young ruler. This is the guy that Jesus told to go and sell all he had and then come and follow him. The rich, young ruler walked away, head hanging, heart exposed, soul filleted. (Matthew 19: 16-22)

My directee said, through tender tears, that she could relate to this guy. She saw herself in him--someone who has tried everything; done it all; attempted to be really good. But like him, there was one thing she avoided. It didn't have to do with possessions or wealth. It had to do with pain. Feeling pain.

Feeling uncomfortable, difficult, painful emotions is something my friend finds especially difficult. There are lots of reasons why. And so her natural inclination is to avoid them or numb them. This is the "one thing" that Jesus has been putting his finger on lately. He's asked her, "What are you avoiding?"

It's a question that turns us in a different direction. It's not about what we are doing but what we are not doing. It's not about what's present in our lives but what's absent. It's about the negative space in our heart because of what we turn away from.

I sat with this question myself and found Jesus' finger filleting my soul and zeroing in on something I have avoided. It had to do with a hatchet that I needed to bury. The question, "What am I avoiding?" helped me see what has kept me from keeping pace with Jesus in my own followership.

So--sorry to do this, but not really. Here's the question for you: What are you avoiding? Will you sit with it for a time and allow the Spirit's finger to do some poking and niggling? And if something comes to you, don't forget that you don't have to walk away with your head down. Tell Jesus how you feel and ask him to help you face it.... and then see what happens.

*This series of blog posts on good questions is generated from the quote, "People raise themselves toward God by the questions they ask." It's a quote from Rabbi Moshe, Elie Wiesel's mentor.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Where do you need to loiter? Good Question! # 9

You've probably seen the sign on walls in public places--NO LOITERING. And, like me, you know why it's there. It's posted in an effort to keep people from camping out in a place they are only intended to visit for a short while. That can be a problem in cities, especially those with a large homeless population in search of shelter and warmth.

This week, I found myself thinking about loitering in a different light.

I was reading in Celtic Treasure, by J. Philip Newell, a meditation on John 20 about the story of Mary Magdalene going to Jesus' tomb in the wee hours of the morning. When she arrived, the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. Alarmed, Mary quickly ran to alert Jesus' disciples, Peter and John and they returned to the tomb together.

But "Mary remained in the garden after the disciples had gone."  She loitered.

You might recall what happened next. She must have heard something, noticed something that caught her eye. So, Mary peered into the empty tomb again and this time she saw two angels! And when she turned back, there was Jesus, standing next to her.Wow.

Think about what she would have missed if she hadn't remained--if she hadn't loitered!

It would have been so natural for her to follow the boys home; to go find refuge in the company of other distraught disciples. But instead, something inside Mary caused her to remain; to linger. And because she did, she came face to face with two angels--not to mention, Jesus.

As I read this story, I found myself drawn to the phrase, "Mary remained in the garden...." The words had that shimmering quality that I've learned to pay attention to. Soon, a question formed within me: Where do I need to remain?" Where do I need to wait, linger, dawdle,... loiter.

I've noticed over the last few years that some of my richest times of growth have come when I've been willing to "loiter" in a place--even an uncomfortable place--because I sensed there was something important for me to discover.  

So, here's the question I'd like to pose to you. Where do you need to loiter? Where do you need to linger in order to see something you'd otherwise miss? 

Here are some possible places for you to consider:
  • A story or passage in Scripture 
  • A conversation, even conflict, with one of your kids, spouse or friend
  • An experience where you were deeply moved
  • A decision that you need to take your time to make
  • A prayer that you feel like giving up on 
And don't let your internal "NO LOITERING"signs move you on until you see the angels--or better yet, Jesus.