Keeping Winter Solstice in Christmas

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“Keep Christ in Christmas” read the sign posted beside the Nativity Scene in my wife’s hometown. I have to admit that I involuntarily roll my eyes when I hear that phrase. It’s not that I have anything against celebrating Jesus’ birth on Christmas. I actually think we couldn’t have picked a better season! I just think that sentiment misses the mark and causes us to be blind to so much of the gift of this blessed season.

A little history might be helpful before moving on. Despite popular folklore, most scholars do not believe that Jesus was born on December 25th. The most common theory I have heard is that He was born sometime in the Spring.

You will read a variety of narratives if you google, “Origin of Christmas on December 25”. Each of them–while varying in detail–paints a picture that might help us understand this season a little better as we (Christians) celebrate Advent and the birth of Christ.

Before Christianity claimed this season for itself (or even existed), most of the known world celebrated the mystery of the longest night of the year, and the rebirthing of the light–Winter Solstice. It’s one of the ways that we see a deep connection between spirituality and the natural world in human history.

Some Christian streams have maintained this deep connection with Creation while others have dismissed it as “Nature Worship” and heretical. The impact of the latter has helped create the current above referenced sentiment around Christmas–dismissing all other seasonal celebrations and making it all about the birth of Jesus.

Celtic Christianity stands in the gap as a stream of Christianity that embraces a deep connection with Creation as an essential part of human spirituality. There doesn’t seem to be a desire to totally do away with the Paganism of the ancient Celts. Instead wisdom led many Celtic Christians throughout the centuries to marry the truth of Christianity with the truth of their Pagan ancestry. It is through the lens of this rich tradition that I have experienced this Advent/Winter Solstice–and it has truly been a gift!

There is something beautiful about celebrating Christ’s birth around Winter Solstice. Jesus is often called the “Light of the World”. When we consider that mystery alongside the mystery of Winter Solstice we witness a beautiful dance between Creation and Creator. Life is born out of darkness throughout all of Creation. Consider the baby in the womb, seeds in the earth, birds in the egg, etc. It is from within the darkness that Jesus–the Light–is born into the human story. In that sense, Winter Solstice is the perfect time of year to celebrate the beautiful mystery of the Incarnation–God becoming flesh.

That simple intentionality around considering nature as I engage with the season of Advent has deeply impacted how I experience and celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

I wonder what other gifts exist at the heart of other traditions if only I stop fighting against them and choose to learn their wisdom? I wonder what gifts of wisdom could be offered to other traditions from within Christianity?

Please keep Christ in Christmas if you are a Christian! Hold the mystery of the Incarnation with the utmost conviction! But also remember that long before Jesus was born, this season was sacred for humanity and there is a deep gift in learning the wisdom of those traditions while practicing our own.

Happy Winter Solstice / Merry Christmas

 

 

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Advent 2015 (Week 4)-Consent & Simplicity

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I was literally doing all I could to not vomit. Somehow I had gotten the idea in my head that being transferred to the hospital during our home-birth meant that my wife and child were almost certainly going to die. I pulled out of the driveway and turned down the most convenient street to get us to the hospital. At that moment a train began to pass by, blocking my route. After uttering a colorful word under my breath I backed up on the one-way street, grateful for the fact that it was 3am and desolate. The second route got us to the hospital a mere 20 minutes before my son was born.

We are entering the 4th and final week of Advent. As we look at the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, the word ‘chaos’ comes to mind. I imagine Joseph filled with terror as Mary uttered the words that informed him the baby was coming. In the story they are in Bethlehem, they apparently don’t have a place to stay, and Joseph is desperately trying to find Mary a place–any place–to experience the miracle of giving birth.

Somehow the desperate couple found their way to a stable where they found shelter. It was in this stable that Mary completed the journey of labor and held her beloved Son for the first time outside of her womb.

Movement 1: Consenting to the Process

My wife works as a Birth Doula, and she has taught me a lot about the importance of consenting to the process of labor. As Mary is in a situation that is anything but ideal for labor, she is faced with the opportunity to consent to the miracle unfolding within her–she is being invited to give up resistance and trust the process (and herself) entirely.

Acceptance is not the same as consent. When a mother doesn’t truly give herself over to the process, labor can come to a stand still. Of course this is only a momentary pause, but it can cause what could otherwise be a beautiful experience to be much more painful and difficult. Either way though, the baby is coming.

It is my prayer that I find the courage within myself to consent to the life unfolding before me–even when that life is filled with sorrow, pain, fear, and disorientation. I pray that I remember that my resistance only stalls the necessary transformation. It doesn’t finally stop it.

Movement 2: Simplicity Through Necessity

Mary certainly had a vision for how her labor would happen. I would be willing to bet money that neither a stable nor a manger factored into that vision. As a poor couple they probably didn’t have expectations of grandeur, but I imagine they had a short list of things/people that they “needed” in order to usher their son into the world. I would also imagine that most (if not all) of those things/people were glaringly absent when labor surprised Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem.

We all have moments when everything comes into perspective. We realize that what we thought we needed, we in fact only found some unnecessary comfort in. Birth and death are particularly powerful examples of this.

It is my prayer that I become aware of what my needs actually are. I pray that as I encounter invitations into the truth of my experience, full of joy or sorrow, I will have enough wisdom to see what can (and maybe should) be let go of as I enter into that moment–as I consent to the transformation happening within me.

May you learn to willingly give yourself over to the experience of transformation in your own life. May you realize that refusing consent will only be a temporary relief–especially if the transformation is born out of a place of deep sorrow. May you find the courage and strength necessary to take the next step on your journey, realizing along the way how much you’re already capable of.

Are you just now finding this Advent series? No worries! Week 1, Week 2, Week 3.

Advent 2015 (Week 3)-A Healing Inclusion

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It’s not uncommon for new residents of Joshua Station to cry when they first see their new apartment. Most of them expect something far less warm and inviting. They expect to be moving into a cheap motel and instead they are welcomed into a home. Coming from backgrounds of drug and alcohol abuse, generational poverty, immigration struggles, etc., the message our families have received from their society often serves to remind them that they belong on the margins–not with the rest of us. I believe that God’s response to this message is to spend an awful lot of time on the margins, inviting In those folks that many of us would cast out.

Today marks the beginning of the third week of Advent.  The people within the Advent story that guide my reflection this week are the Shepherds. The Shepherds seem to always be present within the Nativity Scene. But there are some details about them that often go unnoticed.

The Shepherds were very poor. They were seen as social outcasts–as well as geographical outcasts since their flocks were outside of the residential areas. It is believed by many that they were not trusted by their fellow people and were considered crude and morally questionable.

But God does what God seems to love to do. The people you might think would be invited to participate in the beautiful moment of Jesus’ birth–the birth of “The King”–like high ranking officials, social and religious elite, etc. are bypassed. Instead God announces the birth of Jesus to these crude and morally questionable people who were tending their flock on the margins of their society–where they knew they belonged. God invites them to participate in this blessed moment. God invites them In.

Movement 1: The Beggar Within

Jesus, in the Beatitudes found in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, mentions the “Poor in Spirit”. Perhaps the best way to understand this phrase is simply as “The Beggar Within”.

Like the Shepherds, there are pieces of ourselves that we feel don’t belong. We carry shame when we think about them and often we ignore their presence until we no longer can. We do everything within our power to hide them from even those closest to us–even God.

It is my prayer this week that I might realize God’s tendency to invite the marginalized in. I pray that I might accept that God will connect with me most through these painful places in my life. I pray that I–like the Shepherds–will accept that invitation to allow all of who I am to be brought In.

Movement 2: The Beggar Without

The Advent story reveals something profound about God through the Shepherds. Apparently God is not impressed with “Status” nor does God have special places prepared for those who have it in good supply. Instead God sees the pain our obsession with having the “Ins” and “Outs” has caused, and over and over again decides to identify with the “Outs”.

It is my prayer that I might begin to remove myself from the systems that create illusions of who belongs and who doesn’t. I pray that I have the courage to seek ways of being present on the margins of my society–knowing that God is already there.

May you understand that God invites all of who you are–including your own “Beggar Within”–into the transformational relationship happening between you. May you also see the ways that your life perpetuates the myth that some belong and others don’t. May we all follow God’s example and invite In those who have been cast Out. Amen.

Did you miss weeks 1 & 2? No worries! Week 1. Week 2.

Advent 2015 (Week 2)-The Journey & The Stranger

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I most certainly did not expect the invitation to look like that. I am a pretty quiet and non-confrontational guy. I seek out ways to calm the sea, not create waves. So how exactly did I find myself on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol participating in a Black Lives Matter demonstration? I felt as out of place as it sounds. But I also knew that I was being invited into something that would profoundly shake me to the core. I knew that this unfamiliar package contained an invitation to encounter Christ. I knew I would never be the same.

We are entering the second week of Advent. It seems that my Advent guides always use this week to tell the story of the Magi–the Wise Men–who travel from a distant land, following a star, in order to lay gifts at the feet of the newborn King of the Jews.

It took me a few years to see why this particular part of the story is so jarring. The people around Jesus, people of “The Book”, didn’t see it. But the Magi–a people of a different nationality and even a different religion–were led to Jesus through the intentional practice of their own religious tradition. These outsiders saw what God had presented as the sign of Jesus’ birth–a sign that made them perhaps most likely to see it.

Movement 1: Intentionality & Faith

The Magi found the discovery of “The Star” so compelling that they embarked on a journey that some scholars believe would have taken approximately 2 years to complete. I don’t believe that they knew exactly where they were going. They only saw the star and followed it with intentionality. They had faith that their journey would indeed take them to the King.

It is my prayer this week that I might be inspired by the Magi. Though I do not see the destination, I see the invitation to embark on the journey of today. I pray that I will find the strength within myself to embark on that journey with intentionality, having faith that it will lead me to an encounter with Christ–even if that journey takes me to unfamiliar “distant lands”.

Movement 2: Embracing the Mystery & Welcoming the Stranger

The Magi claimed to know how to find the Christ. To many Jews this might have seemed impossible. These foreigners are not of the right faith to have any understanding to offer. But assuming that God will only reveal God’s self in expected places and through expected people might be why the Magi weren’t accompanied by hundreds of faithful Jews eager to see the Messiah.

It is my prayer that I might recognize the Magi in my own life. Who are the outsiders, the strangers, the foreigners around me? Who in my life has God sent on a journey that leads to Christ? I pray that I embrace the mystery and look for truth and wisdom in unfamiliar places. I pray that I am reminded to welcome the stranger–the outsider–knowing that they could very well have seen something that I have missed–something transformational.

May you feel the invitation to embark on the journey being laid out before you–even if the only guide is a distant star. And may you welcome the strangers and outsiders among you–and may they all play a part in leading you to an encounter with Christ.

 

Did you miss Week 1? No worries! You can find it Here.

Advent 2015 (Week 1) – Joy & Sorrow

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It is fitting that I was the only man who showed up. In our little group were 3 women–2 of them mothers–who spoke the language of the grieving mother in ways I couldn’t. We didn’t speak any magic spell or promise to take away the pain. We simply stood with my neighbors and said, “I see you. I see your pain. I won’t give in to the temptation to look away.” The Moment of Blessing we performed at my neighbor’s home won’t take the pain away from the grieving mom, dad, brothers, and girlfriend. Dillon is gone. Murdered in his parent’s driveway on Halloween. None of what we did that morning will take away the pain, but it communicates that we are here–and so is God.

It’s Advent again, and that is the simplest message of the season, isn’t it? God is here. God is with us. Jesus, according to my belief system, is God incarnated among us. God took on the flesh of His/Her Creation and entered deeply into the human experience.

The invitation of Advent is not to somehow transcend the humanity in the Gospel story in an effort to connect with the divine. Instead, the invitation is to deeply embrace the reality of our unique part of the human experience–and realize that this is exactly where we will encounter the divine!

The Advent story begins with Mary becoming pregnant and visiting her cousin, Elizabeth, who is also expecting a child after a supernatural encounter.

Maybe it’s because my wife has worked as a Birth Doula for the past few years, but I believe there is no better lens through which to read this story than through the lens of motherhood. Last year I shared an advent blog called, “The Mourning Mother’s Advent“. I was openly processing the strong connections I felt between the story of Advent, my wife’s pregnancy, and the many young men tragically killed during police encounters. I saw images of grieving mothers and I couldn’t help but think of Mary and Elizabeth, both of whom (unless Elizabeth died before John) had to endure every mother’s worst nightmare–the violent death of her child.

The connection between Advent and motherhood is strong. So I want to offer 2 prayerful movements that I plan to practice during this first week of Advent. They are born from an attempt to view this story through the lens of motherhood and they are meant to be held in tension with each other. I invite you to join me if you don’t already have an Advent practice.

Movement 1: Joy, Anticipation, Excitement, Celebration

There is something profound in Mary’s realization that she will be participating in God’s transformation of the world as she knew it. This was incredibly unique to her, but the experience of pregnancy and the miracle of life growing within her is a shared experience by mothers across our world. Like Mary, a pregnant woman is acting as a vessel through which God’s Image will be born into the world. It is a sacred invitation to participate in the ongoing act of Creation.

In this movement I seek to allow myself to be fully incarnated into the blessed human experience of Birth. May I celebrate and wait with joyful anticipation alongside those in my life who are expecting a child, as well as celebrate my own children and the miracle of their births.  I also pray for boldness to accept the invitation to participate in the ongoing act of Creating beauty, love, and peace through my work, family, and friendships.

*Feel free to adapt this movement to your experience. It is not meant to be for parents only. Play with what it looks like to participate in the ongoing act of Creation in your life.

Movement 2: Grief, Mourning, Lament

The shadow side of the Advent story is seen when you look ahead in the Gospel accounts, and it is a true reality of the human experience.

Mary, more than 30 years after experiencing the miracle of giving birth to her beloved son, is forced to endure the pain of watching Him be murdered before a blood thirsty crowd of “her people”.

Elizabeth, if she was still alive, would have to endure the pain of hearing of her son’s gruesome murder while imprisoned by Herod.

2 mothers. 2 murdered sons. As tempting as it is to see Advent as a light hearted celebration filled with laughter and joy, it must be held in tension with what we know to come later in the story. This is the reality of the human experience. It is not all joy. It is not all sorrow. It is a generous mix of both.

In this movement I seek to allow myself to be fully incarnated into the all too true human experience of loss. May I resist the temptation to look away when faced with the grief of my neighbor.

Your list will likely look different than mine, but I intentionally remember the loss of these children of God and I acknowledge the mourning of their mothers and other loved ones.

Diana kasl, Garrett Swasey, Ke’Arre M. Stewart, The other victims of the Planned Parenthood attack, Michael Lee Marshall, Dillon Bueno, Jessie Hernandez, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Laquan McDonald, The other victims of a broken system, Rev. Clementa Pickney, Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, The other victims of violent racism, The victims of the violence in Paris, Kenya, Syria, and all the other beautiful people whose lost lives have been tragically under-reported, Those killed every year through the violence of war, all who have died–known to me and unknown.

May you feel the invitation this Advent to dive deeply into your unique part of the human experience–filled with both tremendous Joy and heart wrenching Sorrow–and may you realize that it is in those experiences that you encounter the One whose birth we most celebrate during this season. Amen.

The Mourning Mother’s Advent

Mary_ElizabethAdvent has become a deeply important season for my spirituality. I was aware of it for a long time–especially coming from Germany where Advent is celebrated by nearly everyone. The depth of this season, however, was mostly lost on me. I wouldn’t have called my awareness of Advent a “spiritual” awareness as much as an awareness of the 24 pieces of chocolate I would get from my $5 Advent Calendar from the Grocery store.

This year I am finding it profound that my wife, Nicole is pregnant during Advent. Sometimes I lose sight of the humanity of the characters of Advent. Mary, Elizabeth, Joseph, Zechariah, Jesus, John. These–according to my beliefs–are real people. They are real people who experienced real emotions around these events. That’s new this year–my understanding that acknowledging the deep spirituality of Advent also requires me to acknowledge the humanity of those involved in the story.

The Shadow of Advent

I know I am jumping a bit ahead of the Advent story, but it is also not lost on me that Mary and possibly Elizabeth (She may have already been dead at this point) experienced every Mother’s worst nightmare–the loss of her child.

I am in a season of meditation focused on the Mother’s journey through Advent and more specifically the Mourning Mother’s journey. In the wake of the many stories burning up our newsfeed and making the front page, I can’t turn my gaze away from the Mourning Mother.

I am specifically thinking, lamenting, and praying for:

My wife, Nicole, who experienced the early miscarriage of our triplets, gave birth to our daughter Emery, and is pregnant again.

 

Many friends of mine who have also experienced miscarriage.

 

The Mother who courageously gave birth to her child who she knew was no longer alive.

 

A friend and former Joshua Station resident who lost her son in a traumatic accident.

 

Mayra Lazos-Guerrero, who was probably terrified for her child’s life after a Denver police officer tripped her causing her to fall on her stomach.

 

Lesley McSpadden, who lost her son, Mike Brown, in Ferguson in August.

 

Samaria Rice, who lost her son Tamir when he was shot and killed in Cleveland.

 

Sybrina Fulton, who lost her son Trayvon Martin, in February of 2012 when he was shot and killed.

 

All Mothers have a connection to the Advent story that I will never have. They have felt the movements of their children long before anyone else would have the privilege of holding them. They all felt simultaneous hope and anxiety when they carried their children within the safety of their womb. They all felt fear, and many of them have experienced the deep pain of loss.

As I journey through this Advent season, I am praying that God helps me see the deep humanity within this story. The humanity of a young woman who was scared to death about what would happen to her life through this transformative experience. The humanity of a whaling Mother who had to let go of her son far too soon. The humanity of it all reminds me of the deep spirituality that we are all invited into. The humanity of it all reminds me that Mothers have a particularly miraculous connection to the core of this story. It is because of this connection that I am trying to practice the discipline of listening–listening to the deeply spiritual stories of the many Mothers around me, especially those who have experienced the loss of a child.