Sunday, November 27, 2011

An Advent Surprise-a Kiss from God

 A tender statue in the middle of a small fountain 
at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos, CA

It's been a strange ten days or so. I've felt out of sync, out of sorts, out of step. We've done a lot of driving, a lot of worrying, a lot of wondering. What is the best next step for each of our mothers? Is there a 'next step?' We're neck deep in providing some financial counseling to younger couples in a bind, something my husband and I have learned to love doing together since my pastoring days. The Thanksgiving holiday bore down on us like a mack truck, filling the landscape with planning and shopping and the usual fol-de-rol. 

And in the middle of all of that, I stopped writing. For about 10 days. That's the longest stretch since about one year ago, when I dove into this stuff head first, intrigued, driven, wanting to wrestle with the words, to wrestle with God, to get it down there in black and white. But I've wondered about it these last days. Wondered if I should just chuck it and devote myself to family and spiritual direction and give up this 'thing,' this force that takes enormous amounts of time and energy and thought and prayer and wondering. I've been asking God about it a lot. "Is this what I should be doing with my time?" 

Today in our first-Sunday-in-Advent service, I was visited by the Holy Spirit in a way that totally surprised me. It came out of left field, as a friend - sitting to our left, across the aisle - strode up to the podium to lead us in congregational prayer. She took out the little prayer book I gave to folks as a thank-you gift for our years together in this place, a collection of written public prayers and a few photos that I handed out at my retirement dinner last December. And she thanked me for it. Then she read a prayer from it - along with one by Walter Bruggemann, yes, THE Walter Brueggemann!! And as she read and I listened, something shifted inside me. Something opened. I have never heard anything I've written read by someone else. And I hadn't even looked at this prayer for more than a year, so it came to me fresh. And it touched something in me. That 'something' felt like a kiss from God. Yes, that's what it felt like. A kiss - a gesture, an answer, a sweet call, a kind 'yes.' So, that's my first-Sunday-in-Advent report for this week. The sermon was wonderful, the music perfect. But it was the prayer - my own, God-given words - that spoke to me at some deep level this week, as the door to this season of waiting swung wide.  Yes indeed, it's been a very strange 10 days or so. (The formatting is a tad funky - I had to cut and paste and the line breaks did not all cooperate):

Prayer for the 1st Sunday in Advent, 2009
written by Diana R.G. Trautwein

Funny thing, Lord – it doesn’t quite feel like New Year’s.
But that’s where we find ourselves today, isn’t it?
The first Sunday in Advent – the very beginning of
    the church calendar.
Starting over.
Looking back at the beginning again.
Yet also looking forward, even leaning forward,
    with anticipation and expectation and hope.
That’s what Advent is for us, Lord, and we’re so grateful for it.
And for the promise this season brings –
    the promise of good things still to come,
    the promise of the manger,
    the promise of you – visiting us in some new way,
        coming to us with your arms wide open,
        ready to meet us, right where we live.

But… I have to admit that it’s sometimes tough to slide into the     

    spirit of this wonderful season when it comes so close
    on the heels of the holiday just past .
We’re still full from all the feasting,
    we’re still dizzy from all the football,
    we’re still dealing with the aftermath of family
        gatherings and conversations –
        some of which were wonderful and refreshing;
        some of which were exhausting and complicated.

So.  Today – this morning – right now –
    as we sit here with our heads bowed and our spirits quiet,
    remind us again of why we ‘do’ Advent here.

Tell us the old, old story, and open our hearts to hear it anew.
Whisper to us of starry nights,
    and shepherds,
    and wise men coming from faraway places.
Sing to us – and teach us to sing to one another – 

    about crowded inns,
    and strange dreams,
    and, O Lord, remind us about the angels!
Your special envoys, messengers come to tell us Big News,
    Good News.
And help us to hear what the angels have to say –
    what they have to say to the lead players in the                           

    Christmas story of long ago -
    and what they have to say to us,
        today, right here, right now.
Bless and encourage our pastor Don as he brings us 

    your word of hope this 1st Sunday in Advent.

For that is our primary prayer this morning, Lord:
    Building that hope on the sure foundation of your word,
    living that hope in the nitty-gritty of every day
        decision making,
        and relationship building
        and kid-tending,
        and school assignments,
        and jobs;
    and sharing that hope in the hard places of our lives,
    offering it to those who seem to have little of it.

So, Lord God, as we take in the scent of this beautiful tree
    and enjoy the beauty of our first lit candle,
    and as we begin to move ourselves,
    both literally and figuratively,
    from the colors of autumn to the colors of Christmas,
call us again to hope, hope in you.
Take the gifts we’ve brought today and multiply
    them in the miraculous way that only you can do.

Build your kingdom in this world, Lord,
    and use us and our gifts to help do that!
And build your kingdom in us –
    heal our diseases,
    bind up our broken hearts,
    forgive our sins,
    transform our very beings so that we might
        look more and more like Jesus,
        who is the reason for the season,
        and in whose name we pray today,

Joining with Jen and with Michelle for their weekly invitation, after several weeks away. I am so grateful for each of them and for the communities they are building. And also sending this out to the community at Bonnie Gray's place and over to Emily Wierenga, too.