Pain

Photo on 2017-05-25 at 5.20 PM

The pain is so different this time. I’ve lived through the pain of receiving news of the deaths of my mother and my father. But the pain on hearing my brother has died is different in an intensely horrific way. The force of anger in me upon hearing the news while driving surprised me. I can’t even estimate the number of times I hit the steering wheel in anger and frustration and feeling somehow satisfied by the pain in my palms felt from their violent contact with the wheel. Screaming at no one and feeling frustrated there was no one nearby to receive my screams. “WHY, GOD, WHY?” I’ve never asked that question more for anything than I have asked that question on behalf of or in regards to my brother Dale. For 40 years, Dale struggled with binge alcoholism. Severe substance abuse was the most recent formal diagnosis. He seemed to experience no relief at all from the abuse or effects of the abuse. He was in prison a number of times – once he even chose prison over trying to make it in a halfway house and program offered by a judge.

Dale was addicted to alcohol from a very young age – my guess would be somewhere between 13 and 15 years of age. He had trouble through high school. Then, directionless upon graduation, he enlisted in the Marine Corps. His addiction grew. He was honorably discharged with disabilities three years after enlisting. He had contracted mono-nucleosis, which led to encephalitis and a Gran Mal seizure. He nearly died. My parents were called to fly out to California from Michigan as they did not expect him to live. But he lived. He moved back home and his addiction continued. I remember helping him get a couple of jobs with friends – one who he helped build decks, and another hired him at a lumber company. Everyone liked Dale. But the jobs never lasted. Alcohol had its corrosive way of destroying whatever good had managed to occur in Dale’s life.

I can’t be sure, sadly enough, but I believe he was married twice and divorced twice. No relationship could withstand Dale’s massive consumption of alcohol. Oh, things would go along well for a short period of time, but then the monster’s ugly head would rear again, and relationships were destroyed. At least one of his marriages produced a child, a girl named Alex, but I have no idea where she is now. Relationships with family members were all strained. I remember dreading holidays, wondering what disastrous drinking events or consequences of those events we would be dealing with each year I traveled home to visit. One year it was picking him up from prison. Another year, he shot a gun in the house late one night when he thought he was protecting one of his sisters. Luckily, I had taken my sisters out of the house that night as I went to pick up my mother from her job. There was always something to worry about with Dale.

He spent most of the last 10 to 15 years as a homeless veteran. He received disability pay from the military that mostly got used to purchase alcohol or purchase protection from others by buying them alcohol. The homeless liked my brother, too, as he often bought others their drinks. But he was also very vulnerable as the alcohol had taken a toll on his body and he became immobile as he drank. So, Dale was beaten up more than once. My parents had to face unbelievable emotional pain as they attempted to deal with Dale over the years. I remember when they sent him to rehab in Rochester, New York, which didn’t work. I remember when they dropped him off at a shelter in Pontiac, Michigan. I remember when they kicked him out of the house and he decided to live in the field by our house, and because he was threatening to do himself and others harm, they called the police who came and arrested him on an old warrant.

In all the years, I was never able to see Dale’s pain. I saw only the pain he brought to us and others. But a few years ago, I began working with sexually exploited and addicted individuals and reading current material around addictions like the work of Gabor Mate, author of In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction. And I have come to a new understanding of addiction. Knowing what I know now, I believe Dale experienced significant trauma as a child. And that trauma planted a seed inside of Dale that was watered by the alcohol that most of us try when we are teens. He had further traumas while in the Marine Corps, and further alleviated the pain of those traumas with more alcohol. And as he began to experience the pain of rejection all around him, in his family, friends, workplaces, etc., he tried to drown out the pain of rejection and isolation with more and more alcohol. It is not a thought-out process, but rather an instinctive pull.

About 12 weeks ago, my brother was transported once again to the VA Hospital after being found drunk and living in his own filth in an apartment provided by the VA’s HUD/VASH program – its mandate is to put vets in homes. He told one of my sisters to lock him up for two years because “I can’t do this anymore.” HUD/VASH proceeded to discharge him from their program as their clients must be able to take care of themselves in an independent home in order to qualify for their program. After he sobered up, the VA Hospital wanted to discharge him as well – into homelessness. As his sisters, we began advocating for him with the hospital, but we seemed under constant pressure or threat of discharge. Dale had been suicidal, so they put him in their psych ward. They claimed, however, that he really didn’t belong there. How they could know that without a comprehensive mental health assessment, I have no idea. We managed to get him kept in there for nearly eight weeks as we frantically searched for both long-term and short-term solutions for Dale. During that time, three VA rehab facilities rejected his application to enter their program. We have asked why that occurred, but have not yet received a satisfactory answer. And no long-term solutions (i.e., long-term veteran’s housing) or even discussions about solutions ever came our way.

We worked to get him accepted at a private rehab facility, and he indeed showed up there to enter their program. However, they refused to let him smoke and asked him to cut his beard, so he was rejected once again and left. He went to live under a bridge according to my sister who is the last one to have contact with him. In his last conversation with her, he tearfully told her he appreciated everything we had done for him. Within a week, he was found dead behind some trees near a trail with many homeless encampments on it in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Dale was 53 years old.

I am sharing my pain with you today because I believe that, as Johann Hari suggests in his book Chasing The Scream, the opposite of addiction is not sobriety…the opposite of addiction is connection. My brother was a U.S. Veteran. Though he did not serve overseas, he experienced trauma where he was stationed in California. He was proud of his service in the Marine Corps, for which he received at least one award, and proud to be a part of the community of veterans. The community that seemed to deem him unworthy of connection in the end.

Easter 2017 Musings

What an interesting week this has been leading up to Easter tomorrow.  I am attending First Baptist Church in Edmonton, a church that has a “liturgical” format: we follow the church calendar, we stand up and sit down periodically during the service, we have a choir and sing hymns, we have prayers of confession and assurance written by congregation members and lay leaders, and we recite the Lord’s prayer together as well. There is a lot of concerted effort that goes into our services.

Now, having been “reborn” into the Pentecostal realm of faith over a decade ago, I would not claim that I naturally gravitate toward a liturgical style of worship.  But I feel drawn to First Baptist in this season for a number of reasons which I will not recant here, save for one: there is an appreciation for the reflection, contemplation and other practices associated with spiritual formation.

This is my reflection having read and heard the Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday scriptures this year.  This bit of writing is not based on a heavily studied reading of the text, but simply a reflection of the thoughts that have come my way.

Matthew 26:17- 29

The Last Supper

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve.21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”

23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You have said so.”

26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant,which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Okay, I really tried to place myself in the scene as one of Jesus’s followers.  I’d been travelling around with Jesus for years, hearing his teachings, trying to understand the stories.  Jesus had given little hints about what was coming up, but nothing too dramatic had happened in that regard at this point.  But now, Jesus starts talking about someone betraying him.  And to top it all off, he gives me a piece of bread, telling me it is his body, along with a cup of wine that is his blood.  Hmmm.

I wonder if they were shooting each other glances with eyebrows raised?  I could imagine that. Were they thinking, “What is he up to now?”

Matthew 26:36-45

Gethsemane

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.

On this reading, I immediately thought, “I bet this wasn’t the first time Jesus found his disciples sleeping as he was “working”!  I’ve always had this sense that to his disciples, Jesus was kind of like a rock star, a charismatic leader.  Like a driven rock star and his groupies travelling around on a bus, the star might stay up all night practicing riffs or writing songs, while the rest of the gang sleeps.

If you read the account in Luke, verse 22:39 reads, “Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives…”  As usual.  Maybe the disciples who went with him thought, “Here we go again.”  In light of what we know, we read it very dramatically.  But I think for the disciples, who didn’t understand most of the teachings of Jesus at the time, ever confused by various parables (some of which we do not know the meaning of even today), and coming from an interesting Last Supper experience, it could have been more of a “here we go again” moment.

These guys travelled with Jesus for years, but their faith wavered throughout that time. (This gives me comfort as my faith wavers as well.)  One minute could find one walking on water, and the next minute nearly drowning in it.  It seems to me that every single disciple had disbelief and/or doubt.  After all, in between the accounts of The Last Supper and Gethsemane, Jesus predicts they all will fall away (Matthew 26:31).

Well, though they may have slept through all the praying, I’m sure they woke up pretty quickly as Jesus was arrested and brought before the religious and legal leaders.  The scene was getting ugly quickly.

Sure enough, the disciples all fall away…but I am sure still observe the beatings, the mockery, the crucifixion.  “Is he God? Or is he not?”  The women observed it all as well (Matthew 267: 55-56).

How awful it must have been to see their friend crucified – killed in such a horrific fashion.  “I know he was a little strange, but he was innocent.  How could they humiliate and kill him like that??”  But though he had told various people he would rise in three days, no one but his enemies seemed to take note of that or treat it with any seriousness. In fact, only one of the criminals and perhaps a centurion and/or some guards really seemed to believe that Jesus was who he said he was.  Everyone went back to their business of living.  Even the women went and prepared the spices for his burial, but not on the Sabbath – this really indicates they believed there would be a body to deal with, not an empty tomb.

Virtually everyone simply went forward with their lives.

Until he rose and appeared to them.  And they still (understandably) had doubts and disbelief (Luke 24:37-40).

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:45)

Will we recognize Jesus as he appears in our midst?  Will we invite and allow Jesus to open our minds to understand the Scriptures?  Or will we simply go forward with our daily lives?  The disciples got very busy and birthed the church when they realized Jesus rose after three days as he said he would.  How will the resurrection impact the church and his disciples today?

Ash Wednesday

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Ash Wednesday.  I wish I had gone to the service at my church over the noon hour, as I have never been to an Ash Wednesday service.  But it was not to be.  And so I find myself tonight longing to enter into the season of Lent in such a way as to know that I am walking alongside Jesus.  What does it all mean?  How can little ole me in my comfy, busy (perhaps manic), self-absorbed life understand and relate to Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, where he fasted and faced the temptations Satan was only too eager to throw his way.

I should have prepared more.  Looking up things about Lent tonight, I realized that in some scenarios, the feast from Panda Hut Express we had at our employee lunch today would have been a big no-no on this Ash Wednesday.  It would have been totally appropriate yesterday, on Shrove Tuesday.  Feasting on the day before the fast is to begin is the way to go.  But as per usual, I am behind the 8-ball!

Looking into the scriptures from the Revised Common Lectionary for this week, I dug into Joel 2:12-13 and found redemption:

Yet even now,” declares the Lord,
    “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
     and rend your hearts and not your garments.” 

Yes, fasting is important.  But on a simple reading of this scripture, it would seem the Lord’s top priority for me is to rend my heart, allow my heart to be torn open for his purposes, rather than for me to rend my garments, which would be more symbolic of rituals that represent brokenness to others.  For sure there are holy rituals and holy ceremonies and these are precious and valuable and honourable.

But what I hear the Lord saying to me is:

“How’s your heart?  Are you going to focus on a failure to rend your clothes?  Or are you going to focus on following me?  Return to me with all your heart.  Fast with me.  Weep with me.  Mourn with me.  We are going to go through something special together.  Don’t beat yourself up about the rituals you miss.  Follow me.”

N.T. Wright’s book The Day The Revolution Began is a great read for Lent as he reminds us of the true purposes of the cross.

Holy Ghost Tones

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Today’s message at First Baptist focused on Luke 5:1-11.  A beautiful message of encouragement to the church about being the net.  Each of us and our gifts are woven into the net that is cast out for others.  As if the Spirit intertwines us all together to create a unified safety net for Jesus’ use in reaching out to others.  Maybe that is fanciful…?

Anyway, the passage starts with Jesus on the shore of Lake Gennesaret with people starting to surround him and ask him for the word of God.  Eventually he gets in a boat and asks to be pushed a little bit out from shore.  Today we learned that he did that because the hills around the inlet where he was created an amphitheater.  So, he must have sought out the spot where his voice would be projected to the hundreds of people that were already there that morning.  I would say that amphitheater is a natural phenomenon created by God, the Creator of all.  Conditions have to be “just so” to create an amphitheater in the outdoors, and God wanted the Good News to be heard.

Natural phenomena are amazing.  But so are some man-made phenomena.

I don’t know if you have ever taken the free lunch tour of the Winspear – if you haven’t you should.  If they are still telling the story of the building of the Winspear as they used to, you would hear all the planning that went into the building.  It is fascinating, for instance, that the Winspear is actually three distinct buildings.  As well, it is fascinating to hear about how they chose the fabric on the seats, the texture of the walls, and other details to achieve the effect of a hall full of people even when it is empty, so that when they rehearse, it sounds the same as when they perform.  (There are plenty more interesting facts to learn, so go take the tour!)

Now, there was only one other hall in North America at the time (if I remember correctly) that had a similar design to the Winspear.  But the Winspear for the most part was a state-of-the-art endeavour.  And the interesting thing is that they could not and would not know the results of their planning and efforts until it was all built.  In other words, it doesn’t always turn out great. Varying results were possible.  However, if you have been to a concert at the Winspear, you know that it turned out phenomenally well.  Honestly, it is the best acoustic experience of symphony that I have ever known.  Carnegie may have history, but the Winspear has the acoustics!  At least in my view.

But the notion that they had to plan and build the entire building(s) (even such a high-profile and expensive building) before they could know if it “worked” because it is state-of-the-art and there are no exact prototypes is very interesting, isn’t it?

That came to mind today.  It seemed like everything came together in just such a way today at First Baptist.  I thoroughly enjoy the services there, but it seemed like today’s transcended the norm.  The prayers, the hymns, the children’s send-off, the musicians, the hymns, and the choir and their version of Fairest Lord Jesus created such a beautiful sanctuary in which my heart – my inner eye – could crack open and tune in to what  God would say to me through his Word today.

Back to Luke.  You’ll have to read the story for yourself, but the upshot is that though the fishermen had not been able to catch any fish all night, when Jesus had them lower the nets, they were filled to overflowing with fish, to the point where Simon, John and James fell to their knees in fear.  And Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”  It is a strong call and they follow Jesus.

“Don’t be afraid…”  I needed to hear that today.

The choir and congregation sang the last hymn together – wish I could remember which hymn it was – and the soprano voices created an ethereal tone above the rest that made it seem as if angels were singing with us.  I know that sounds ridiculous, but that is what it seemed like!

And that reminded me of another musical phenomenon often referred to as “ghost tones”.  A ghost tone is heard when two instruments, such as flutes, play two particular notes at the same time, and a third note is created seemingly out of nowhere.  Two notes are played, but three are heard.

Today, we heard Holy Ghost tones at First Baptist – what a great beginning to the week.

Lavender Mornings and Periwinkle Nights

Mom

“So I tell you, don’t worry about everyday life – whether you have enough food, drink, and clothes. Doesn’t life consist of more than food and clothing?”
Matthew 6:25 (New Living Translation)

Lavender Mornings and Periwinkle Nights

I hate the snow. I really hate the snow. Let me qualify that a little. I hate driving in the snow. When I get up on a workday and look out the window and there is snow for me to contend with, tears come to my eyes as I anticipate the stress of getting to work that day. Stress caused by the multitude of drivers on the roads that don’t appear to recognize that snow creates a condition requiring a slower and more cautious pace of travel. Stress caused by knowledge that I am going to be honked at for quite some miles as I make my way to work. Stress caused by the feeling that it just doesn’t seem right to risk my life to get to work, but that is the reality and the way of life today. Everything may be sacrificed for work. Work is top priority in this 24/7 world.

I was lucky this past Thursday. It had snowed enough Wednesday that school was closed the following day. Since it had taken me an hour and a half to get home from my job at the school district the night before (and generally, it would take 25 – 30 minutes), I breathed a great sigh of relief when the call came that school was cancelled on Thursday. Then I proceeded to catch up on e-mails, read, clean and make some calls. I met a friend for lunch, and as I drove out of my complex, realized 8 Mile Road was still not cleared. It was treacherous, in fact, and I was thankful again that I did not have to face it in all the traffic earlier that morning. All in all, Thursday was a great day – a snow day.

To make up for missing work Thursday, my department had to work Saturday. Saturday morning, I got up early, showered, dressed for work, packed a lunch, and with some trepidation, exited my apartment. It was a lavender morning. You know, where you walk outside in the twilight just before dawn and with the snow and the cloud cover and perhaps just a hint of light from an early sunrise behind the clouds, everything was twinkling and lavender. Flashbacks to childhood moments when we lived in a small town in rural Vermont came into my head. A moment when I was alone in the backyard building a snowman; alone until my mom came out to help with a big smile on her face. A moment when I had walked home from school between huge walls of snow and the tears rolled down my face because I was so cold. And when I reached our house, I knocked on the door. Mom opened it and I cried “I think I have frostbite!” I remember she laughed and pulled me in and fed me some warm soup or hot cocoa to get me warmed up. But I remember most being warmed by the warmth in her eyes and in her laugh. Those were lavender moments.

It snowed all day Saturday while we were at work and I felt some stress build up through the day – what would the drive home be like? Another hour and a half obstacle course filled with loud horns and obscene gestures?

I left just as the sun was setting. The roads were not bad at all and there was very little traffic out there that evening. As I got closer to home, the scenery changed from industrial to suburban, the sun disappeared, and nighttime descended. It was a periwinkle night. You know, the kind of night where it seems almost as light as day because the moon illuminates the clouds and the snow with its ethereal bluish light. Another flashback to Vermont. Mom asking me if I would like to do something very special one night – go ice-skating on a pond with a few other girls and their mothers. And I remember being so very excited as we left, bundled up in snowsuits, hats, mittens and scarves. In my young mind, I was sure it was midnight at least, but it was very light out. And here I was getting to ice-skate at midnight with “the girls”. That was a periwinkle moment.

Thank you, Lord, for a mom that provided lavender mornings and periwinkle nights to those around her throughout her entire lifetime. Thank you for her beautiful smile, her lilting laugh, her unfailing grace that allowed her to be joyful in all circumstances. I marvel at the beauty you create in this world, which my mom captured both in her spirit and in her artwork. Beauty that inspires treasured moments like these with my mom that I can call to mind when I begin to feel stressed during everyday life today.

In loving memory of:

Ann Marie Brown (pictured above)
1937 – 2007

Peace

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Joseph. Around this time of year, Joseph is often the focus of conversation in churches as he married Mary, though she had become pregnant without his participation. There are many amazing things to ponder in that story, but that wasn’t what struck me recently on reading scripture about Joseph.

What struck me was in Luke 2. Caesar Augustus, leader of the Roman Empire, had called for a census, and everyone in the Roman Empire went to their own town to be counted. Luke 2:4 says, So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.” He took Mary, who was pregnant, with him. It has to be a pretty serious business because the distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is 111 kilometers. And there were no taxis in those days. I’m not thinking the trip would have been very appealing to Mary for sure.

Anyway, I started thinking about Joseph belonging to the house of David and that driving him to go to Bethlehem. What would it be like if we had a worldwide census today and were required to go to our own town – where we belonged? I would have to go to the U.S., Ireland, England, Scotland, and Germany….just for starters. Modern technology and transportation has afforded many of the world’s citizens to relocate much more easily that in the time of Mary and Joseph. And so, the world now looks very different than it did then. Joseph’s heritage was directly linked or related to his belonging.

I’ve been intrigued for many years by the belonging that Jewish people experience in their communities. In fact, there seems to be a very strong sense of identity woven into the fabric of their lives in community. My father was very intrigued as well, and he somehow managed to convince the local Jewish Community Centre in West Bloomfield, Michigan, that there could possibly be a little bit of Jewish blood in his line, so that he and his family could join the centre and benefit from its many affordable activities. He also attended (and had us attend) talks given by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, the founding rabbi of the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and I remember dad approach Rabbi Wine and asking if it would be possible for him to become a humanistic Jew. The Rabbi delivered the unfortunate news to my dad that there was no way for dad to become a Jew.

I took a class in seminary where we watched a film about how the Jewish people celebrate Sabbath – the rituals, the words spoken, the symbolism, etc. And I found myself experiencing a little bit of envy. These practices and celebrations go back thousands of years and are common to a whole people group. What practices do I have that go back thousands of years in my family? I had this sense of wistfully desiring to belong in such a way that I would make a trek to my homeland to be counted, even at a very inconvenient time, just as Joseph did.

I think of how much displacement there is in the world. Refugees far away from their homeland, children stolen from their homes, people moving far from home for work, children of divorce being shared by multiple homes, peoples’ lands being taken from them, people being lured and then trafficked in faraway lands, along with those like me who simply choose to move to another country. Broken homes, broken families, broken cultures, broken hearts.  I wonder if many of us, especially here in the more developed Western world, have struggled with losing a sense of belonging? Along with transience being easily achieved, are our lifestyles – which have become much more in tune with social media as opposed to in-person social interaction, and which are far more geared towards independence rather than interdependence – contributing to disconnection from others instead of connection with others?

Jesus offers us belonging. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians at a time when there was a deep divide between Jews and Gentiles, “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross…” (Eph 2:15-16). And then in Eph 2:19, “ Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household…” There are many edicts of how we are to treat each other in the family of God, the most common being “Love one another,” as written in John and 1 John.

It seems to me that we are in another time of polarizations. We see this in the form of the election in the U.S., the standoff in North Dakota, shootings of policemen and policewomen, and various other indications of deep divides. Perhaps today we can say that Jesus’ purpose is to create in himself one new humanity out of the many, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile all of them to God through the cross… Oneness, peace, reconciliation.

The theme of Advent’s second week is Peace. Let there be peace on earth… Jesus set the stage, offering the way of peace and reconciliation. Those of us who would have a hard time knowing where to go or who’s house we belong to in a time of census, can know that we belong in God’s house and in his family. Will we believe?

Hope

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Ahhhh…quiet time. Just me, my Bible, and a scripture guide, in a chapel with some candles and a couple of other people quietly sitting and pondering as well. Just one objective: to let the scripture speak to me and guide me at this beginning of the Advent season. A season in which followers of The Way expect and prepare for the coming of Christ. What would God, the Creator of all, say to me or show me today?

The first reading we were guided to was Luke 1:28-38. In this beautiful section of the Book of Luke, an angel has come to Mary to tell her she will bear the Son of God. Verse 30 struck an immediate chord with me. “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” I found myself thinking about this past year and how tough it has been, with opportunities to be afraid many times throughout the year. A year of challenges, disillusionment and departures. I felt more challenged by God that favored – by a long shot! I wondered what it must have been like to actually hear the words, “you have found favor with God.” I felt a longing to physically hear those words as well. Yet in my heart, I knew that I also have found favor with God. After all, it seems like any of the people written about in the Bible who were favored by God . . . well, they did not have simple-dimple, easy-peasy lives. They often had tough challenges. I think of the prophets, the apostles, the kings, etc., etc. Suck it up, Princess Kathy! God’s favor might look a lot different that the favor of mankind.

Mary asked the angel how she could possibly conceive and give birth to the Son of the Most High since she was a virgin, and the angel replies . . . “…the Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” All I could think was that seems like a technically deficient answer. In my head, I would probably be thinking, “Okey dokey, so, you say the Holy Spirit will come on me and God will overshadow me, and I will be pregnant. Hmmmm. . . this was not covered in any discussions I’ve had with mom, aunties, or my sex ed teacher.” I think I might have had just a few more questions; but Mary simply obeys.

I read that part over and over again, and began to realize that just as God and the Holy Spirit preceded Christ in Mary, so they precede Christ in us. And though Christ physically grew inside Mary, he grows inside us in a different way, as we get to know him, and tend our relationship with him, and allow ourselves to be discipled by him. How I long, in a sense, to be pregnant with Jesus – bursting at the seams with his love. I could only imagine how difficult, yet rewarding, that would be, and I longed for that. I thought of many times when it was clear that Christ was hidden deep inside; the very opposite of bursting at the seams.

The first week of Advent is the week of “Hope”. My hope is that my love and desire for Jesus grows and that he becomes so evident in me that I appear “pregnant” with him and that to identify me as anything other than his disciple would be impossible.