“The Word was made flesh and lived among us.”
Amazing, wondrous flesh: a baby with bright eyes and smile, tiny fingers, a bundle of new living love. Fragile, frail flesh: reliant on others for food, warmth, provision. Whether child, youth, adult, or elder, even with great care, each will sicken and die. Connected, touching flesh: face-to-face baby and parents bond before and beyond words. Human bodies relate in families and communities both given and chosen. Looking at each other, faces light up and we know love. The Word became flesh—amazing, fragile, connected—and lived among us.
Disconnected this year, we long to be together in the flesh, to see and touch, hug and hold. Fragile and frail, we mourn the dead and dying, struggle to tend the sick, to care for each other, to make ends meet. We are weary from so much change and adaptation.
Being human is amazing. Remember the wonder of our breath, every movement we make, our capacity for imagination and discovery, for being playful and creative. Remember how skin and other organs work to protect from and then restore after injury. Remember the healing power of touch, listening, tears, and laughter.
God became human in Jesus, to live as one of us. “Pleased with us in flesh to dwell Jesus our Emmanuel.”[i] God was pleased to fully immerse into being human. The “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Mighty God, … Prince of Peace”[ii]came and still comes for, with, and as one of us. Jesus longs with us, mourns with us, and with a twinkling eye reminds us of amazing bodies and wondrous love.
Look at the Child of Bethlehem. We have hope. God still comes. Take a deep breath and let it out with a sigh. With one hand on your heart, reach out to another. This is a way to show and feel affection on Zoom. Though distant, we are still connected. Look to the glory embodied, and share the love. Merry Christmas!
[i] Charles Wesley, 1739, alt. “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” verse 2
[ii] Isaiah 9:6
“Are you greater than our father Abraham?” They were confused and upset. How could those who kept his word not see death? They clung to what they knew and could not hear or see something more. They clung so tightly to being Abraham’s children, that they missed really seeing Jesus.
What might you be clinging to so tightly such that it’s hard to recognize what is real? What is getting in the way between you and Jesus?
Perhaps it’s who we are or what we have: heritage, group-identity, connections. Perhaps it’s the people we love or who love us best, our meaningful relationships. Perhaps it’s comfort or privilege, standard of living, status or success. Perhaps it’s abilities, gifts, how we serve, what we do well—including for God.
A master entrusts property to slaves before going on a journey: five talents to one, two talents to another, and one talent to the third. Some scholars say this is a huge amount, a talent as a lifetime’s wages.[i] It’s extravagant, an amazing invitation. I’m entrusting you with all of this. Either way it is a surprise, a gift, and an invitation to act. They are differing amounts, “according to the ability of each.” The master trusted with particularity, noting the unique ability of each.
After a long time, the master returns. The first two say: You entrusted me with this amount, and see I have doubled it. “Well done, [you are] good and trustworthy.” Having been trustworthy, I will give you more. The master doesn’t say: You are successful. Rather: you are good and trustworthy.[ii] You stepped out on my behalf buying and selling property, investing what I handed over. It appears that engagement and participation are more important than a particular return.
Jesus paints the picture of two people: a judge, a man with authority with no respect for others who won’t be ashamed, and a widow, weak and vulnerable. The widow comes persistently asking for justice such that the judge relents, so as to stop being bothered.
Have you agreed to something like the judge? Given in just to stop someone from bothering you. Have you received something for acting like the widow? Persistently present, continually asking. Have you ever felt that God is like the unjust judge? Distant, unhearing, refusing, without respect or shame. Has prayer felt like repetitive knocking or finger pointing?
Holy Cross Day
Look at the cross, and pray with Jesus. Look from the various gospel perspectives. [i] There is meaning for each of us today.
With Matthew, remember Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and Pilate washing his hands.[ii] Remember our own racism, lies, and violence. Acknowledge our power and privilege. Ask how have we have cried “crucify” in word or deed, with inaction or silence. Pray with penitence saying: Forgive us.
With Mark, pray Jesus’ agony—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—that first line of Psalm 22, which surely Jesus knew.[iii] As a psalm of lament, it goes back and forth from trouble to trust. Pray specifically your pain, hurts, and fear. Then remember back. How have you received love? Cling to past provision as hope in today’s desolation. Pray both trouble and trust.
Amid a year of loss and grief, where we now try to return to school and have fires raging round, much is unsettling and frightening. Remember Elijah, that great prophet of God, who was afraid. Tonight’s passage is between two dramatic scenes. Just prior, there’s the showdown between 850 false prophets and Elijah. Their gods didn’t answer the requests for fire. When Elijah prayed, God sent an astounding, consuming fire.
Elijah tells King Ahab to eat and drink because it’s about to rain after the long drought. When Ahab rides off in his chariot, and Elijah miraculously runs ahead of him. Queen Jezebel soon says: You’ll be dead by tomorrow. Elijah runs again to flee, afraid. Elijah is afraid even though God sent dramatic fire, brought back the rain, enabled him to run ahead, and provided in many previous ways recorded in scripture. Even this great prophet of God who has seen provision quite recently and over a lifetime, gets worn out, doubts, and fears. We do too.
An angel comes twice pointing to food provided in the wilderness. Elijah told Ahab to eat before his journey. Now God provides food for Elijah with similar encouragement. God provides in our deepest struggles, where life is killing us. God provides when we doubt, question, and are afraid, no matter how much we have received before. God provides when we can’t see or imagine how life could get any better, when we’re afraid and tired, and when we’ve lost hope.
Hosea 10:1-3, 12
There is a new fence going up. So far it is just the posts. They are taller and more robust. The perimeter expands further, and—fittingly—it is beautiful. There is a new fence going up at the Monks’ Garden at Emery House. Everything grown there is given away. The first beets were just harvested; 100 pounds will be distributed this week at the Newbury Food Pantry.[i]
The garden is in partnership with Nourishing the North Shore. We provide the land and water. They grow, harvest, and distribute. We also host land for the Organic Community Garden. We Brothers share in Nourishing the North Shore’s mission: “to ensure equal access to healthy, local food to all members of the North Shore communities in a manner that builds community, fosters connection, and promotes dignity and self-reliance.”[ii] Food justice is expanding step by step in further work with local schools and with a bigger garden: mission in action.
A bigger garden could be used for exclusion and greed, to horde and squander. In today’s text, the prophet Hosea shows bad and good images. God’s people were like “a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.” With more fruit, they built monuments to idols, like self-praise, ignoring God. “Their heart is false … The Lord will break down their altars, and destroy their pillars.”
“Let me hear thee softly speaking;
in my spirit’s ear whisper: ‘I am near.’ …
voice, that oft of love hast told me;
arms, so strong to clasp and hold me;
thou thy watch wilt keep,
Savior, o’er my sleep.”[i]
We have just sung this prayer for sleep and God’s safe-keeping. How is your sleep these days? Many of us are more tired from the stresses of our present suffering: changed work, isolation and separation, the pandemic increasing, so much death and loss, cries of injustice, racism and privilege further exposed. When is change? Where is healing? How do we sleep at a time like this?
Paul in his letter to the Romans acknowledges suffering. In today’s text he speaks of us groaning and not just us but all of creation, groaning as in labor pains, waiting for restoration in a new birth. He also speak of hope, of that which is not seen. What does having hope look like? Especially when we’re groaning, and when it is hard to sleep?
Earlier in chapter 4, Paul wrote about Abraham as one who “hoping against hope … believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’” as God had said, with numerous descendants.[ii] Abraham believed despite overwhelming contrary physical evidence. Abraham was about 100 years old, and Sarah, his wife, was barren. Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do as promised.”[iii] Paul quotes Genesis 15 which says Abraham’s faith “‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’”[iv] Remember what happened at that reckoning?
We Brothers recently spent a few weeks at our rural sanctuary Emery House. I am most alive praying out in woods and fields and by water. I love to go out to the northern bluff and then down to the riverbank, especially at low tide and sunset. I am embarrassed to admit I long ignored stepping over the plastic bottles. My excuses included: “It’s not my problem. This is a big job. I just want to enjoy this place.” Something shifted in me the past few weeks. I brought gloves and bags to collect the bottles. As I began to see anew and more, I carried out rusty barrels, tires, and foam.
Though talking more about caring for the environment this year, it felt distant, both abstract and daunting. What could I really do? Collecting trash on the riverbank opens a connection. This is how I can treasure creation right here. See the beauty and the harm. I stand still to gaze and lament at the scene and admit being part of the problem. I see this as lurking grace, God surprisingly starting to change me.
When grace found me at the riverbank, protests against racial injustice and police brutality began springing up round the country. Something has shifted. We are disturbed. Perhaps the pandemic and our leaders’ varied actions increase pressure or permission for us to act differently. It can be inviting stepping up together. I am uncomfortable and disturbed, feeling more daunted and distant by racism. It’s harder to remain with the discomfort, including not knowing what to do. I am trying to listen and learn more. I appreciate Brené Brown’s podcast “Unlocking Us” especially recent conversations with Austin Channing Brown and Ibram X. Kendi. I find Peter Jarrett-Schell helpful reflecting on being White.
While I am sad these days at sickness, loss, change, murder, and injustice, I am also grateful and hopeful. Grateful for what is shifting in us, in numerous peaceful protests and rippling changes. Grateful for what is shifting in me, for surprising invitations, practical steps, and provocative voices. Hopeful because these are glimpses of divine activity echoing past experience. Jesus keeps bringing light especially where we are blind, bound in narrow perspectives, unaware of history or the impact our actions.
Each sunrise and sunset reminds me of God’s loving gaze now and steadfast presence over generations. I sense the Spirit breathing in and through us. I hear an invitation to keep returning to riverbank, going to be refreshed and going with gloves in hand to refresh that treasure. I am also invited to listen to Black voices and reflect on being White, seeking to remain with discomfort.
What has surprised you? What is shifting? What is God’s invitation for you?
We Brothers pray for you and are grateful for your sustaining friendship.
May you be surprised and empowered today with the Spirit’s lurking grace.
When you ask a monk a question, ask another and you may get a very different answer. It’s clear the fourteen of us – or even just a few – have a whole lot to say and many perspectives. We began with a long list of topics to discuss and from the start we had much to share.
We are so grateful to work with Jay Vogt, our organizational consultant and facilitator, this year. From our varied topics and desires, Jay created an overall scheme for the year and worked with a team of Brothers to plan the sessions. As more thoughts and desires emerged through the year, Jay kept adapting. Referring to our past intentions, the planned scheme for the year, and discoveries from recent discussions, he gave options for where we could go next. Jay prompted next steps and helped us proceed. He organized and facilitated sessions, keeping us all involved.