Come and see…

come and see

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined…”

There is a beauty in Isaiah’s words – but it is also dangerous. For when your eyes are used to darkness, the light can burn. And when darkness is what you have known, the light can be frightening, burning, scalding…

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined…”

I read Frederick Buechner’s words – an essay he wrote called “Come and See” – and there is a terrifying, challenging beauty to the truth that he proclaims.

Listen.

“The prophecy of Isaiah is that into this darkness a great light will shine, and of course the proclamation of the gospel, especially the wild and joy-drunk proclamation of Christmas, is that into this darkness there has already shone a light to dazzle the world with its glory and its terror, for if there is a terror about the darkness because we cannot see, there is also a terror about light because we can see. There is a terror about light because much of what we see in the light about ourselves and our world we would rather not see, would rather not have be seen. The first thing that the angel said to the shepherds was, “Be not afraid,” and he said it with the glory of the Lord shining round about them there in the fields, because there was terror as well as splendor in the light of the glory of the Lord.”

This is the promise of Christmas – that no matter how dark the days, no matter how dark our hearts, the light has come – and when the light has come, we see things as they are. We see ourselves for who we really are – in our beauty and our ugliness, in our joys and our sorrows. All is revealed. And if I’m honest, I am the first to run and hide… I am the one that hides from the light that burns, because it will burn… the light clarifies, and shines, it purifies and it warms, and it lets us see this new thing that is breaking loose. What is it?

“As the Gospels picture it, all heaven broke loose.

The darkness was shattered like glass, and the glory flooded through with the light of a thousand suns. A new star blazed forth where there had never been a star before,  and the air was filled with the bright wings of angels, the night sky came alive with the glittering armies of God, and a great hymn of victory rose up from them – “Glory to God in the highest” – and strange kings arrived out of the East to lay kingly gifts at the feet of this even stranger and more kingly child. This is how, after all the weary centuries of waiting, the light is said finally to have come into the world…”

A scintillating light shines in the darkness – a new light that was not there before – and somehow, the darkness is not strong enough to overcome this light – the beauty and fragility and promise that is one moment a glimmering flicker, and the next super-nova searing itself into the soul.

But what really happened? What did Joseph and Mary and the shepherds actually see? Was there something unexplainable, inexplicable, ineffable? Or was it just another night, like any other night – quiet, dark, lonely, cold? What was different about this child? Why was he special? Him alone, out of the billions born before and after? What was it about him?

“The birth of the child into the darkness of the world made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living life. Ever since the child was born, there have been people who have gotten drunk on him no less than they can get drunk on hard liquor… people who have been grasped by him, caught up into his life, who have found themselves in deep and private ways healed and transformed by their relationships with him… That in this child, in the man he grew up to be, there is the power of God to bring light into our darkness, to make us whole, to give a new kind of life to anybody who turns toward him in faith, even to such as you and me.”

And I see how this life has transformed countless people throughout the centuries: Saul who killed and persecuted in defense of the purity of his faith and people is now Paul, who gives his life for this truth, this person, this light; Oscar Romero who turned from a life of privilege and books and power to defend the common people of El Salvador, and paid with his life, murdered while proclaiming the good news for the poor, and forgiveness for those who were plotting his death; the power to forgive, to redeem, to reconcile, to bring life and wholeness where there should not be any good thing – this is the beauty and the promise that the baby Jesus came to give.

It seems to good to be true. How can it be?

“How do we find out for ourselves whether in this child born so long ago there really is the power to give us a new kind of life in which both suffering and joy are immeasurably deepened, a new kind of life in which little by little we begin to be able to love even our friends, at moments maybe even our enemies, maybe at last even ourselves, even God?”

Buechner answers in beautiful, powerful, poetic language:

Adeste fidelis. That is the only answer I know for people who want to find out whether or not this is true. Come all ye faithful, and all ye who would like to be faithful if only you could, all ye who walk in darkness and hunger for light. Have faith enough, hope enough, despair enough, foolishness enough at least to draw near to see for yourselves…

As far as I know, there is only one way to find out whether that is true, and that is to try it. Pray for him and see if he comes, in ways that only you will recognize. He says to follow him, to walk as he did into the world’s darkness, to throw yourself away as he threw himself away for love of the dark world. And he says that if you follow him, you will end up on some kind of cross, but that beyond your cross and even on your cross you will find your heart’s desire, the peace that passes all understanding… Follow him and see. And if the going gets too tough, you can always back out. Maybe you can always back out.

Adeste fidelis. Come and behold him, born the king of angels. Speak to him or be silent before him. In whatever way seems right to you and at whatever time, come to him with your empty hands. The great promise is that to come to him who was born at Bethlehem is to find coming to birth within ourselves something stronger and braver, gladder and kinder and holier, than ever we knew before or than ever we could have known without him.”

May we come before him, behold him, and remember why it is that we celebrate, what it is that we wait for, and what it means for our lives, our futures, and our loves.

This is why we sing “joy to the world…”

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas

nativity

 

Celebrating the birth of Jesus – the gift of newness, the unexpected “thrill of hope” that shoots through us when new possibilities are revealed, new opportunities are before us, and new life springs up where before there was only death, and barrenness, and emptiness, and loss. Because of this, we have hope – and we are reminded once more that “He is making all things new…

Walter Brueggemann reminds us of what it means to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and what that can mean for us:

There is a time to be born, and it is now

There is a time to be born and a time to die.
And this is a time to be born.
So we turn to you, God of our life,
                   God of our years
                   God of our beginning.
      Our times are in your hand.

Hear us as we pray:
     For those of us too much into obedience,
          birth us to the freedom of the gospel.
     For those of us too much into self-indulgence,
          birth us to discipleship in your ministry.
     For those too much into cynicism,
          birth us to the innocence of the Christ child.
     For those of us too much into cowardice,
          birth us to the courage to stand before
               principalities and powers.
     For those of us too much into guilt,
          birth us into forgiveness worked in your generosity.
     For those of us too much into despair,
          birth us into the promises you make to your people.
     For those of us too much into control,
          birth us into the vulnerability of the cross.
     For those of us too much into victimization,
          birth us into the power of Easter.
     For those of us too much into fatigue,
          birth us into the energy of Pentecost.

We dare pray that you will do for us and among us and through us
     what is needful for newness.

Give us the power to be receptive,
     to take the newness you give,
     to move from womb warmth to real life.

We make this prayer not only for ourselves, but
     for our school at the brink of birth,
     for the church at the edge of life,
     for our city waiting for newness,
     for your whole creation, with which we yearn
          in eager longing.

There is a time to be born, and it is now.
    We sense the pangs and groans of your newness.
    Come here now in the name of Jesus.  Amen.

From Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

For birth is not easy. It is painful. Frightening. Unsettling. But it is worth it.

May we have the eyes to see that which longs to be birthed in our hearts and in our lives in this coming year, the courage to welcome it, and the grace to persevere…

 

 

A thrill of hope…

It’s a few days before Christmas, and I’m sitting at my parent’s home in front of a roaring fire on a dark winter’s night, sipping a glass of wine while listening to Christmas carols, writing and reflecting a little bit on this past year, and taking a break every now and then to mute the music and pull out the guitar and play a little… Tomorrow morning I’ll fly out of Chicago for sun, warmth, the ocean, the Cameron/Miller/Floyd/Smith/Temple clan, family time, and a big heaping scoop of crazy (with sides of laughter, games, pranks, and some of my favorite people in the world). While I love it, it often isn’t the most conducive to reflection, quietness, and solitude… And I wanted to take a few minutes to send out this “newsy-reflective-thoughtful Christmas-y letter,” to update you on life, ask for thoughts and prayers, and reach out to many of you I haven’t touched based with in a while.

This past year has been formative in ways that I never would have imagined – but above all, it’s been a year that has been full of beginnings, of newness, of promise. However, usually things can’t begin until other things end. So while it’s been a year full of beginnings, it has also been a year full of endings – of letting go, of surrender, of transition.

This year began for me when I was living in Philadelphia – at a time when I was trying to discern if the master’s program I was enrolled in was the correct one, and was a part of a sweet community and a life-giving church. Through prayer, listening, and reflection (as well as a healthy dollop of advice), I came to the conclusion that while the program itself was interesting, it wasn’t leading me anywhere. There was no end goal in mind as I meandered down the path, and while that might be OK at some points, I think I realized how staying there would have been simply me looking to stay with the familiar and known rather than to follow the direction that I wanted to go, the direction that I felt God was leading.

At the same time, a serious relationship I was involved in was coming to an end, and neither one of us (but probably more me) wanted to let go of it, even though it was what we had to do. After a complicated beginning, a long term friendship, and 8 months of long-distance dating, we were taking time apart to pray and listen to what we both really wanted, and what (if anything) we felt the Lord was saying to us.

It was a lot of endings to take in a short time.

Yet God was faithful through it all. And as these two things were ending, God was in the process of bringing new things into my life – new beginnings and possibilities – which resulted in a melancholy, confused, bittersweet mess at times.

Some of those new things include:

– beginning a master’s program in mental health counseling at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. This has been a great fit – loving the program, the professors, my fellow students, and am seeing a continued clarification of where I’m headed. At this stage, I’d love to be involved in some capacity working with children and adolescents who have undergone trauma (like many of our friends in Brazil). We’ll see what doors the Lord opens regarding that. And I’d also like to work with cross-cultural workers dealing with transition, adjustment, sustainability in vocation, etc. Trusting that those will come together in the right timing…

– moving into an apartment w/ 4 other amazing, quality guys in Chicago that has been loads of fun.

– feeling a sense of clarity and direction as I pursue something that is life-giving to myself and to others.

– finishing my first half-marathon (13.1 miles) in May.

– finding a new church community that has been a breath of fresh air in so many, many ways.

– connecting with friends both old and new in surprising ways.

– slowly acclimating to mid-Western winters again (I even went for a run this evening in 34 degree weather, and didn’t complain hardly at all!)

– a slow re-discovery of myself – who I am, who I want to be, the things that I want my life to be about, and what that looks like in the context of living once again in the United States.

I feel like in the last few months, I’ve slowly been coming to life again after a long time spent dormant – shut down and hibernating. It’s a great feeling – and there is such a sense of hope that I feel about the coming year, what God has been doing and will continue to be doing… I see his fingerprints all over the place when I stop to look closely, and am blessed, and excited, and hopeful (and honestly, pretty full to the brim of anticipation and expectation to see what it is that God will do next…)

As for the family… Dad and Heath are doing well – spending several months a year travelling and consulting with language programs, and the rest of the time doing so remotely from their home base in Rockford (where they can garden, be involved in our church, and enjoy hot water, electricity, and not having their bank account emptied by criminals in Columbia).

Kaitlyn is now living and working in San Diego as an OR nurse, and seems to be keeping herself busy (mostly with trips back up to the south bay area to connect with people… ok, well, one person really in particular.) I’m excited to spend a little time with her (and him), as I haven’t seen her since August when she was back here in the mid-west for a dear friend’s wedding.

Carly will be missing from our family celebration (boo!!!) as she’s once again teaching English in South Korea – and is unable to get time off to fly over for a couple of days. But she is loving it there for the most part (except for missing her family at the holidays), and has wonderful colleagues, friends, church, and community there that have really made it feel normal and home-like for her to be there. I treasured the adventures we were able to have this fall when she came back to the US for a few weeks.

Jon is back in Hawaii safe and sound (thankfully) after 6+ months of being deployed in Iraq… And I’m excited to sit down with him and play a bit, as we haven’t seen each other since last Christmas.

We’re all doing well though, and are grateful for your presence in our lives… =) more than words can say.

I’m feeling in so many ways the presence of Emmanuel – God with us – the promise that he will be and is present through all of our endings, and through all of our beginnings. And I want to leave you (and me) with a prayer for this coming year – to remind us all to be looking for the new things that are beginning in our lives – for no matter the stage of life we find ourselves in, I believe he is always doing a new thing. Let us have the eyes to see it.

"Help Me to Believe in Beginnings"

God of history and of my heart,
so much has happened to me during these whirlwind days:
   I've known death and birth;
   I've been brave and scared;
   I've hurt, I've helped;
   I've been honest, I've lied;
   I've destroyed, I've created;
   I've been with people, I've been lonely;
   I've been loyal, I've betrayed;
   I've decided, I've waffled;
   I've laughed and I’ve cried.
You know my frail heart and my frayed history -
and now another day begins.

O God, help me to believe in beginnings
and in my beginning again,
no matter how often I've failed before.

Help me to make beginnings:
  to begin going out of my weary mind into fresh dreams,
    daring to make my own bold tracks in the land of now;
  to begin forgiving
    that I might experience mercy;
  to begin questioning the unquestionable
    that I may know truth;
  to begin disciplining
    that I might create beauty;
  to begin sacrificing
    that I may accomplish justice;
  to begin risking
    that I may make peace;
  to begin loving
    that I may realize joy.

Help me to be a beginning for others,
   to be a singer to the songless,
   a storyteller to the aimless,
   a befriender of the friendless;
to become a beginning of hope for the despairing,
   of assurance for the doubting,
   of reconciliation for the divided;
to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
   of comfort for the sorrowing,
   of friendship for the forgotten;
to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
   of sweetness for the soured,
   of gentleness for the angry,
   of wholeness for the broken,
   of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.

Help me to believe in beginnings,
  to make a beginning,
    to be a beginning,
so that I may not just grow old,
  but grow new
each day of this wild, amazing life
  you call me to live
    with the passion of Jesus Christ."

Ted Loder, Guerillas of Grace

I think we are continually being called into new things, if only we have the eyes to see them… may we be able to see the things that call out to us, that move us, that break our hearts, and not hide from them out of fear or uncertainty.

I heard a reflection the other day on Abraham and Sarah – who at the age of 75 and 66, left their country, their people, and their family. They traded that which was known for that which was unknown, and traded certainty for relationship, risk, and trust… They began something new, and out of their obedience and faithfulness, hope flowed and flowered. This is what they heard God saying to them, and this is what he says to us, each and every day:

“Do not be afraid of endings, or beginnings.
Follow me with abandon at every age
with the eager expectation that I can use your life for my purposes.

Risk often…
Never completely settle…
Be different…
Be mine…
And die gloriously,
attaching our story to the good story that God is telling…”

~ via Jacob’s Well (Isaac Anderson – “Birth”)

Believe in the beginning – in the new thing I am doing – in the fresh hope, life, and possibility I have placed in front of you…

Believe, and act, and be free…

—–

Praying that this new year is full of beginnings, hope, life, and freedom in ways that surprise and delight you…

with much love,

Ben

Thanks Chicago

So I’m sitting in O’Hare – at a cool picnic table in this atrium, listening to a band play some fairly sweet jazz…  And it just makes me happy to sit and hear them.  Most people are in a hurry and just walk on by.  Every now and then someone will stop and stand to listen to their banter for a moment – the slick, smoky sound…  Even rarer, someone will stop and take a seat and listen for a few – smile a bit…  heads bobbing, feet tapping, smiles breaking out…  little grins and eye contact made between the band members and the few of us who are sitting in the “audience”…

They’re playing “Signed Sealed Delivered…”  and doing a prety good job of it too.  There’s a little blond boy down the way who’s running around, dancing circles aroudn his stroller…  A young girl in her 20’s sitting at a table looks like she wants to get up and dance.  She’s practically floating in her chair, loose and smooth.  The round TSA guard with a bleached mohawk stops and breaks into dance while his partner shakes her head and grins.  An older woman with a Rudolph the reindeer headbanc is sashsaying up and down the terminal while she talks on her phone, just feeling the music.

And me, who’s sitting here in the middle of the concourse, at a picnic table painted blue that kind of reminds me of “Starry Night,” listening to talent and joy and beauty in the midst of the busy-ness of O’Hare…  my head’s bobbing, grin’s cheesily and sits at the back, observing, and taking it all in.  And in this moment, they’re giving of themselves, and we who sit and listen are recieving it.  There’s a unity there that I love.  And now, in the contentment of this moment, before I walk down the terminal with its flickering, flourescent lighting, I’m going to put the computer away and just listen for a few more minutes of peace…

Thanks Chicago…