The Third Sunday of Advent: Love & Light

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Among the efforts I have been making this Advent has been reading through Suzanne M. Lewis’ Living In Joyful Hope Advent and Christmas Meditations. I was familiar with her writing, and even participated in an online advent retreat of sorts with her last year, that used readings from this book. Then I got to meet Suzanne, spending the weekend with her at Convivium’s Terra Incognita literary conference last month. Immediately, I found myself drawn to her. She is a beautiful, deeply kind soul who seems comfortable in the dark, because she is sure of the light of the spirit that illuminates her way.

I want that surety.

I have spent too much of my life cursing the dark. I have exhausted myself trying to open more windows, light more candles, illuminate every corner. I wanted my life lit up. I had never even considered that maybe being in the dark could be okay.

I want what Suzanne has. I want to be able to stand in the dark, confident that even a tiny flicker of light is sufficient to guide me along.

Now that I have met her, I find that when I am reading Suzanne’s meditations, I hear them in her soft, but passionate voice. What a difference that has made for me! The traditional Advent scriptures that I have read dozens, if not hundreds, of times have taken on a new shine. I find that I am seeking a lens angle shift, so that I can see the prophecies, the experiences of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary’s story through the eyes of wonder and love.

This weekend, I realized that something in me is beginning to shift.

Inspired by Suzanne’s meditations, and my own spiritual needs, all Advent I have been musing on the precept “God is love.” I have long thought of myself as a loving person. I am sure of the love I have for my children, and for my husband.  I know I love my other family members, and that they love me, but it’s complicated. A big part of my spiritual trouble is that I  wrestle with whether or not I can honestly say I love Jesus. I have most definitely struggled lately with believing that God is a loving god.

It just occurred to me that I think of these different relationships as different kinds of love. That I carry different definitions and different expectations from these relationships. What if I have it wrong?

This is not yet a fully formed thought, but I have a post deadline, so you are getting what I have so far, which is this: Presume that “God is Love” is true. Then all love is holy. All love is of God. All love IS God.

My love for my three children is the manifestation of God on earth. My love for my husband is the manifestation of God on earth.  My love for my students, my love for my co-teachers, my love for my friends, my love for their children, my love for my parents, aunts, uncles, brother, in-laws… all God on earth.

I already told you that I do not have this all thought through yet. I am falling down a rabbit hole of contemplation here. I have so many more questions to think and pray about.

What I have always thought of as my love for animals, and flowers, and mountains, and trees, and oceans, rivers, and lakes–that’s God, too? My love for music and dance and painting and poetry and film? God?

If God is eternal and God is love, then love, as the scripture says, is everlasting, yes? What about the romantic relationships I had that ended? The friendships that were betrayed and broken? The people I came to love through my work in social services, but haven’t stayed in my life? The people who loved me, but I didn’t stay in their lives?

What about my LGBTQ+ friends? Isn’t God there, too?

What about the really messy bits? What about the complicated relationships with folks I love, and love me, but can’t express it well, so that it doesn’t always look like or feel like love? What about the abuses in our families, in our communities, in our churches, in our government? How can a perfect God manifest love so imperfectly?

So. Many. Questions.

I’m fumbling around in the dark here. It’s not completely dark, though, and I find that I am not afraid.

In the wondrous, mysterious way these things work, I kept finding myself in situations this weekend where I was confronted with challenges to my understanding of love and of God, pointing me towards viewing God as love.  There were several things I did this weekend out of a sense of duty. I was dreading them. To my great surprise, they ended up being wonderful, and it was entirely because I was able to love and be loved, however imperfectly, by the people involved. The engagements I had that I expected to be good, like a long overdue dinner with old friends, baking cookies with my cousins’ sons, and filling a stocking with gifts for a child I never met, were joy-filled, divine encounters. I wasn’t even surprised that my best friend was home when I dropped by unannounced. Of course she was, arms open to wrap me in a bear hug. By the time I crossed paths with a former colleague this afternoon, my heart was full to overflowing.  I feel like I am aglow from the inside out with love.

This still isn’t a Cable Network Holiday Movie. I haven’t found The Answer. This isn’t the Happy Ending. I am still struggling to find my way through the dark of the messy bits of my relationships. I am still unable to bring myself to a church service on a Sunday morning. I am still soul sick from watching the evening news. These different experiences of love this weekend have acted like a flashlight helping me see my way along some of the rough section of dark trail.

I think I am stumbling along in the right direction.

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Today’s Sign of Hope: Santa Shows Us All

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Yes, yes, I know. Christmas for Christians is about the coming of the Savior, not about the coming of Santa.

Yes, yes, I know. Santa is a tool of Madison Avenue, forcing us to debase ourselves and our faith to purchase more things to make other people rich.

This Santa, though? He just showed us all what’s what. THIS is what I believe the love of Christ looks like.

 

 

An Open Letter to Our Children

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Dear Loves of Our Lives, Our Favorite People on the Planet, Our Precious Children:

Daughters, we are so sorry.

We are so sorry that when we saw a boy at a concert, or a ball game, or at a church service goose you or snap your bra strap or grope you or touch you anywhere at all we didn’t do more than yell, “Hey!” at him. We are sorry we didn’t chase him down. We are sorry we didn’t call security. We are sorry that nobody else stopped him or chased him down or called security. We are sorry that our generation hasn’t fixed this yet. We are sorry that there are any young men your age who are still allowed to believe that women are responsible for their inability to control themselves, that they have a right to your body or anyone’s body they want. And we are sorry that we ever suggested you should watch what you wear or only drink a little, without suggesting the same to your brothers and male friends.

Sons, we are so sorry.

We are sorry that you heard the message “boys will be boys” in relation to teasing and bullying, if not from us than from teachers, coaches, friends’ parents. We are sorry for the times you were the recipient of that bullying.

We are sorry that when you made a mistake, some kid called you a “faggot” in derision. We are sorry that you didn’t hear us tell that kid to shut up. We are sorry that we didn’t come to your defense, instead giving you the toxic idea that boys are supposed to “grow a pair”, “man up”, “not be a pussy.” We are sorry you ever got that message, along with the message that being gay was somehow so terrifying as to be acceptable as a curse to use against someone else. We are so sorry that whatever we taught you, you still hear the message from peers, from coaches, from television, from the internet, from EVERYWHERE that you are not capable of controlling yourselves, so that you are not responsible for your own actions.

Our beloved children, we are so sorry that when you were groped, or molested, or assaulted, or raped, that we didn’t believe you. We are sorry that on the occasions where we did believe you, we just let it go, when what we should have done was let you rest and heal while we fought the monsters who did this to you.

Children, we are so sorry that we understood, all too well, your urgent desire to pretend it would go away, when we knew, WE KNEW that it was going to forever change you. We are sorry that our own experiences of being groped, and molested, and assaulted, and raped made us heartbroken that you had to join this horrible club and bear this brutal secret, like us and so many others, instead of enraging us into action. We are sorry that we weren’t enraged into action BEFORE you joined the club.

We are so sorry.

We are so sorry that we had to teach you, Daughters, to walk in groups, and carry your keys in your fingers, and to be wary of men. We are so sorry that no matter how smart, how strong, how amazing you are, that you are still a woman in this world, and that means that like us, like women everywhere, to far too many people you do not matter.

We are so sorry, Sons, that though we tried to give you an example to follow of how to treat everyone with respect, we missed the mark. We tried to teach you that you don’t have a right to anyone else’s body, but failed, because we didn’t do enough to overcome far too many conflicting messages from elsewhere. We are sorry that we didn’t stand up and shout down those messages consistently, from the beginning. We are sorry that we did not teach you that you are smart, strong, and amazing without having to take anything away from your sisters, or anyone else.

We are so sorry.

You are smart and strong and amazing. You matter.

We love you.

Your Mothers