Monday, December 11, 2017

Giving Birth

On Sunday, December 10, 2017, I had the privilege to facilitate worship with the UUCF (Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship) of the congregation I serve here in Charlottesville.  This is the text of the reflections I offered (along with some of the other elements of the service):

Chalice Lighting:  The mystic  Evelyn Underhill wrote, "The Incarnation, which is for popular Christianity synonymous with the historical birth and earthly life of Christ, is for the mystic not only this but also a perpetual Cosmic and personal process.  It is an everlasting bringing forth, in the universe and also in the individual ascending soul, of the divine and perfect Life, the pure character of God."
Prelude:  Islamo-Christian Ave Maria (Tania Kassis)
Opening Words:  Two more quotes about the mystical, cosmic nature of Christmas. Thomas Aquinas said simply, "The incarnation accomplished the following:  that God became human and that humans became God and sharers in the divine nature."  And in the 13th century the Christian mystic Meister Eckhardt wrote, "People think God has only become a human being there--in his historical incarnation--but that is not so; for God is here--in this very place--just as much incarnate as in a human being long ago.  And this is why God has become a human being: that God might give birth to you as the only begotten [child], and no less."  In another sermon he wrote, "We are all meant to be mothers of God.  For God is always needing to be born."
Opening Hymn:  “Silent Night”
A while ago I was reading a book I’ve read several times –  Francis:  the journey and the dream, a beautiful blending of biography and meditation on the life of St. Francis of Assisi by the Franciscan priest and poet, Fr. Murray Bodo.  In it I found this wonderful reflection on Francis' understanding of Christmas:

"At Christmas it was the infant Christ who was born again in human hearts, and it struck Francis that God came to earth as a baby so that we would have someone to care for.  Christmas was the dearest of feasts because it meant that God was now one of us.  Flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, this child we could approach without fear.  We could be silly and uninhibited as we sought to make [God] laugh.  We could be totally ourselves because a child accepts us just as we are and screams with delight at our little performances on his behalf.

Someone to care for, someone to try and please, someone to love.  God, a helpless babe; God, a piece of Bread.  How much trust God had in creatures!  In the Eucharist and in the Nativity, we grow [?] up, because God places Himself [and I’d add, “Herself … Itself …”] in our care.  We come out of ourselves if we are aware, because we now have responsibilities for God.  Not only the earth to till and creation to subdue, but now God to care for."
It is common for people to comment on the Incarnation as a both powerful and beautiful description of the nature of God.  God – King, Creator of the Universe – did not choose to incarnate as one of the mighty and powerful.  God’s incarnation, God’s becoming “one of us,” took place in the midst of a poor family from a tiny, backwater of an oppressed land.  Yet Francis reminds us that this isn’t the end of it – God can as “one of us” in the midst of a poor family from a tiny, backwater of an oppressed land as a baby!  An infant.  A utterly dependent infant.  That struck Francis’ fancy; that touched his heart deeply; that was for him a sign of the true nature of the Divine.
There is a phrase that rather graphically describes the utter dependence, the fragility of this “God made flesh” who resides in that manger crib of myth and faith.  I couldn’t remember it exactly, and I couldn’t remember who’d written it or where I’d read it.  So I turned to Google, and found something really interesting.  It showed up without a citation in a 2013 sermon by the Episcopal priest, the Rev.
“The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation.”
Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush-one handed.
History has it that the first nativity scene was created by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223 because he wanted to encourage people to really engage with "God [the] helpless babe."  This seems to have gotten lost in all the hubbub and hullabaloo surrounding the holiday.  Yet even those who would have us "put the Christ back in Christmas" seem to be totally focused on the adult Jesus, even the crucified Christ.  But what about that baby?  That little, helpless baby for which we "now have responsibilities"?  What would it mean to your spiritual life if you spent this Advent season not so much preparing to receive God, as preparing to take care of God?  (Something I’ll leave you to ponder …)
Now … the mystics we heard from a moment ago were clear that for them the deepest understanding of the birth of Christ in the Christian tradition(s) really has little to do with the birthing of the baby Jesus—it has to do with the sacred coming to birth in and through us.  It has to do with us being, in that wonderful phrase from Meister Eckhardt, “mothers of God, because God is always needing to be born.”
Consider:  what needs to be born in you today? Can you imagine the possibility of giving birth to gifts you’ve felt within you but feared to let out because you are afraid that you’ll not be “good enough”?  Do you need to give birth to a little more patience or playfulness?  Are you ready to give birth to greater understanding of those with whom you disagree, or more self-confidence, or a little more hope in these trying times?  Maybe there’s a project that you’ve long dreamed of starting, or a change you’d like to make ...  What would it take for these things to be born in you—through you—this year?
So what needs to be born in you this year?  Let’s find out.
Take to share with one another the things people feel called to “birth.”
I did my Spiritual Direction training with the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.  They had what seemed to me at the time, and does still, as a radical understanding of prayer.  We do not pray, they said.  They suggested that God is always praying within us, and that our act of prayer is really an emptying of ourselves, and a quieting of our minds and spirits, so that we can hear what God’s prayer is for us.
With that in mind, the question we were just discussing is something of a trick question.  For us to consider what we want to give birth to is important, yet the even deeper spiritual issue is what it is that God wants to birth in and through us. 
Take two minutes of silence for individuals to try (as best they can) to nurture such silence.
When teaching about this approach to prayer, Tilden Edwards (one of the founds of Shalem) said that the first thing that comes to mind may well not be the thing you’re listening for.  So set it aside.  It may not be the second or third things, either.  Set them aside as well.  But when you notice yourself going back to the same thing repeatedly – especially, perhaps, if it’s a surprise to you, or feels unwelcome – that may well be it.

Going back to the image of that “first” Christmas, I’d just remind us that the author of “silent night” clearly had never spent much time around infants – who are rarely silent for long – and most definitely did not have any acquaintance with births.  Labor and delivery are not easy.  There’s panting, and grunting, and crying, and laughing, and fear, and courage, and challenges, and celebrations.  (A friend who’d given birth once told me that it was like passing a ham.)  And so it will no doubt be for us.  Whether the thing we wish to birth, or the thing that wishes to be birthed, it will not be easy, it won’t always be fun, it won’t be spiritual and serene.  It will be hard.  It will be messy.  It will quite probably be painful.  But as just about any mother will tell you, it will be worth it.  
Pax tecum,

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1 comment:

nour eldeaan said...

تتميز بأنها تعمل دائما بالتواصل السريع وأيضا تقوم بتقديم خدمات جميع عملائها بالسرعة وبالرغم من السرعة ألي أن الشركة تهتم بجميع التفاصيل وبدقة عالية وبتقديم جميع الخدمات بأسرع وقت وبخدماته كاملا وهذا ما يميز شركتنا عن غيرها فشركة نقل الأثاث تتميز عن الكثير من الشركات ومما وضحنا إليكم بعض مميزاتها فشركتنا شركة تنظيف بمحايل عسير تقدم لكم الخدمات المتعددة وذلك في عملية نقل الأثاث أو العفش فشركتنا تعتبر من رواد في نقل العفش فالشركة تقدم خدمة خدمة التنظيف شركة تنظيف ببيشة لجميع عملائها خدمات علي اعلي مستوي من الجودة العالية وذلك من خلال استخدام أجود وأفضل الأدوات والتي أيضا تعمل شركة نقل الأثاث علي تقديم جميع الخدمات الكاملة والمميزة والتي تكون ذات الكفاءة العالية كل هذا معنا فى شركة تنظيف منازل بنجران التى تعتبر من اهم مايميزنا فى منطثة نجران بشهاده عملائنا