BOOK OF THE MONTH: PREPARING FOR JESUS BY WALTER WANGERIN, JR.

Wangering cover 2Week 2: Let it be a “Yes!”

This month we’re reading Preparing for Jesus by Walter Wangerin, Jr., a wonderful Advent devotional that will help you get ready for the coming of Christ.

In his reflection for December 11, Wangerin leads us to meditate on Mary, mother of Jesus. Mary joins four women named by Matthew as ancestors of Christ. Mary enters a sisterhood that we are called to enter, too.

In the passage below, Wangerin asks us to emulate Mary’s “Yes!” to the angel that announced Christ’s coming:

Mary, mother of our Lord, I wish I could be as pure a disciple as you were even from the beginning!

 

For you were invited to join a sisterhood–with Tamar and Bath-sheba–of sorrow and human suffering, since the child of your womb would draw the hatreds and the outrages of a scoundrel world.

 

And you said, “Yes.”

 

For you were asked to serve faithfully on behalf of others, like Rahab to protect a few for the sake of the many, like Ruth to turn disappointment into joy.

 

And you said, “Yes.”

 

. . .

 

For heaven itself was swelling within you, and you were the door. Not in terrible glory would he come, this Son of the Most High God. Not in the primal blinding light, not as the shout by which God uttered the universe, nor yet with the trumpet that shall conclude it, but through your human womb, as an infant bawling and hungry. By your labor, Mary, by the fierce contractions of your uterus, eternity would enter time. The angel said, Will you be the door of the Lord into this place?

 

And you said, “Yes.”

 

. . .

 

You, the first of all the disciples of Jesus, said, “Yes.”

What would you say?

Read more here.

BOOK OF THE MONTH: PREPARING FOR JESUS BY WALTER WANGERIN, JR.

Week One: What would you say?

Wangering cover 2One of my favorite Advent devotionals is Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the Coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas, and the Kingdom by Walter Wangerin, Jr. I thought I’d share it with you this year. In this book, Wangerin offers thirty-seven reflections for the Advent and Christmas seasons.

In his meditation for December 5, Wangerin leads us to reflect on how Zecharaiah, the father of John the Baptist, reacted when God announced that Zechariah’s wife would soon bear a son. He reacted in disbelief. He did not trust God.

In Zechariah’s doubt is a question for us. For we are expecting a son, too. The Son of Man is coming to us, not just at Christmas, but at the end of time. How do we react to the Lord’s promise that he is coming soon? Wangerin writes:

Friend, unto you the Lord says, “Surely I am coming soon” (Rev. 22:20).

 

And what do you say to that promise? Do you by your unconscious behavior utter doubt? Does an earthbound vision deny the possibility? Are you scared to consider an end to the world?

 

“Can’t be.”

 

“Prove it.”

 

Sadly, the sign of our mistrust shall be the doubt itself, together with all the anxieties and suspicions and loneliness which doubt engenders. And these will last until we come to trust, or else until his coming comes to pass.

 

Jesus says, “I am coming soon!”

 

And how do you respond? Oh, let it be as a bride responds to the promise of the bridegroom, adorning yourself for his return, joyfully shouting with the Spirit, “Come!” (Rev. 21:2, 9; 22:17). Then your joy, your present beauty, your complete sense of assurance and belonging–these shall be signs of the Lord’s trustworthiness and of our trust, signs of his love until he comes in glory.

 

“Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

Read Preparing for Jesus here.

BOOK OF THE MONTH: HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: A SPIRITUAL READER

Week 4: Get Your Sparkle On

41XzfkDXhhL._SY346_

In reading Hildegard of Bingen’s work, it becomes clear that she highly valued creation and creativity. In our final week exploring Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader, we’ll see what she says about this theme.

Two songs that Hildegard wrote tell of God as designer and animator (the titles to these songs were added by Carmen Butcher, who compiled the selections in the spiritual reader):

The First Daylight

 

You’re the Word of our Father,
the light of the first sunrise,
God’s omnipotent thought.
Before anything was made,
You saw it,
You designed it, and
You tucked Your all-seeing nature in the middle of Your sinew,
like a spinning wheel
with no beginning and no end,
still encircling everything.

*****

The First Verb

 

The Holy Spirit animates
all, moves
all, roots
all, forgives
all, cleanses
all, erases
all
our past mistakes, and then
puts medicine on our wounds.
We praise this Spirit of incandescence
for awakening
and reawakening
all
creation.

*****

In her letters, Hildegard frequently reminded others of God’s creativity. To the Abbess of Bamberg, she wrote:

In the same way that the stars illuminate the sky at night, God made humanity to sparkle. We’re created for maturity. We’re made to give out light like the sun, the moon, and the stars. If a black cloud covered these, the earth and every creature in it would worry that the end had come.

*****

In a letter to Pope Anastasius IV, Hildegard makes a striking moral statement about creativity. She tells the pope that we must reject corruption, injustice, and evil because they are not creative. They are a form of anti-creativity:

Don’t forget that whatever God made, radiates. So listen. Before God made the world, He said to Himself, “There’s My dear Son!” and from this original Word, the world was formed. Then God said, “Be!” and all kinds of animals appeared. Our God creates, but evil is never creative. It’s nothing, merely the by-product of rebellion. Through His Son, God saved humanity, clearly rejecting immorality—stealing, stubbornness, murder, hypocrisy, and bullies.

 

That’s why you as pope must never collude with corruption. If you do, you confuse those who look to you as their leader, because, in effect, you’re saying to them, “Embrace what’s really nothing.”

*****

Read more.

For reflection:

Hildegard week 4.png

BOOK OF THE MONTH: HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: A SPIRITUAL READER

Week 3: Bloom Abundantly
41XzfkDXhhL._SY346_

This month, we’re dipping into Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader (compiled and translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher). The past two weeks, we looked at selections from Hildegard’s major theological work, the Scivias.

Hildegard was also a prolific correspondent. She wrote letters to rulers, other religious, and friends. These letters are full of admonition, advice, and encouragement.

In the excerpts below, Hildegard writes to Empress Irene, the wife of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Commenus. She speaks prophetic words of encouragement to the empress. Let yourself be encouraged, too:

Listen to what God’s Spirit has to say to you. In winter, God lets the tree He loves hibernate, but in Summer, He makes it bloom abundantly and protects it from every disease. This is you. Remember also that every polluted body of water is purified by the stream gushing from the rock in the East, a clean, fast-running river. Who is like this river? Those whom God grants success and honor. They’re not ruled by the poisonous North wind and its advancing evil.

*****

Turn to God. Be confident that He has touched you. Continue to give Him the burnt offerings of your heart’s openness. Sigh, and know He hears you. . . . Yes, the Living Eye watches over you. He wants you to live eternally.

*****

Read more.

For reflection:

Hildegard week 3, version 2.png

BOOK OF THE MONTH: HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: A SPIRITUAL READER

Week Two: Hope for the Church

41XzfkDXhhL._SY346_

Yesterday (Sept. 17) was the Feast Day of Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), the Benedictine nun, abbess, and writer. All this month, we’re looking at a selection of her written works  Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader (collected and translated by Carmen Acevedo Butcher).

In her theological text, the Scivias, Hildegard records a series of visions she received. I find her apocalyptic visions especially striking. They seem incredibly relevant for our time, when many people voice concerns about the future of Christianity and the Church. Listen to Hildegard’s diagnosis:

Today, the Catholic faith dithers, on a global scale. The Gospel limps its way around the world. The early Church Fathers (who wrote so well) are ignored. People are apathetic. They refuse to read and taste the nourishment in the Scriptures . . .

Does this diagnosis sound familiar? If so, take hope! Despite the dire state of affairs of the Church, its future is assured. In Hildegard’s vision, the voice of heaven says:

Everything on earth is hurrying to its end. The world’s troubles and its many disasters tell you this. But my Son’s bride, the Church, will never ever be destroyed, no matter how many times she’s assaulted. At the end of time she’ll be stronger, more beautiful, more magnificent than ever before. She’ll enjoy the sweet embraces of her Beloved. That’s what the vision you just saw means.

Hildegard ends this vision in her own words:

Then I looked to the East and saw the One-who-shines-so-bright-that-I-can-never-see-Him-clearly, but I was able to see that up close to His breast, He was holding something that looked like a dirty lump, the size of a human heart, decorated around the edge with gems and pearls. This is our gentle Father hugging humanity to Himself. That’s why no one can reject anyone—because the Son of the Father is God incarnate who Himself accepted the human form.

Read more.

For reflection:

Hildegard week 2

BOOK OF THE MONTH: HILDEGARD OF BINGEN: A SPIRITUAL READER

Week One: Combating self-doubt, anger, and pride

41XzfkDXhhL._SY346_

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was a Benedictine nun, abbess, writer—and so much more. The medievalist Carmen Acevedo Butcher describes her as an:

“abbess/artist/cosmologist/composer/
counselor/dietitian/dramatist/epistoler/
healer/linguist/mystic/naturalist/
philosopher/poet/political consulstant/
preacher/prophet/visionary!”

Butcher collected a selection of this extraordinary medieval woman’s works in Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader. We’ll be taking a look at some of these selections this month.

Hildegard’s first major theological text, the Scivias, contains twenty-six visions that Hildegard had. She wrote them down, she said, to help others learn to praise and adore God.

In one part of this work, Hildegard writes passionately of something we all recognize: feelings of self-doubt, anger, and pride.

My self-doubt makes me miserable. I feel oppressed by all things . . . I doubt everything when I feel this way, including my salvation.

Hildegard knows these doubts and feelings are the work of the devil. Here is how she combats them:

But when God helps me remember that He created me, then—even in the middle of my depression—I tell the Devil, “I won’t give in to my fragile clay. I’ll fight you!” How? When my inner self decides to rebel against God, I’ll walk with wise patience over the marrow and blood of my body. I’ll be the lion defending himself from a snake, roaring and knocking it back into its hole. I won’t let myself give in to the Devil’s arrows.

*****

When anger tries to burn up the temple of my body, I’ll look to God’s goodness, which anger never touched. I’ll look to God whom anger never touched, and I’ll become sweeter than the breeze whose gentleness moistens the earth. I’ll look to the God of peace, because then I’ll have spiritual joy as the virtues begin to show themselves in me, strengthening me with their vibrant greenness. I’ll look to God whom anger never touched, and—because I look to Him—I’ll experience God’s calm goodness.

*****

And when hatred tries to diminish who I am, I’ll look to the kindness of God’s Son and to His pain. How will I get myself in hand? I’ll accept the thorns that give off the delicate fragrance of roses. They grew to honor the One who was faithful, and by controlling myself I’ll bring honor to my Lord.

*****

Read more.

For reflection

Hildegard week 1, version 2

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE ILLUMINED HEART

Week Four: The Jesus Prayer

Illumined Heart cover

This month we’ve been reading The Illumined Heart: Capture the Vibrant Faith of Ancient Christians. In this short book, Frederica Mathewes-Green explores the wisdom and practices of the early Church to guide us on our walk of faith today. Our previous posts looked at repentance and fasting. Today, we’ll examine the Jesus Prayer.

The Jesus Prayer arose in the early centuries of eastern Christianity. The prayer involves repeating a single phrase: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”

Mathewes-Green explains the rationale behind this prayer:

The Jesus Prayer arose as a way to practice unceasing prayer. It offered a short and simple form that can be repeated in an unhurried way no matter what else a person is doing. Since the prayer is silent and interior, it can be kept going in all situations.

*****

Why ask Jesus for mercy?

We keep lapsing into ideas of self-sufficiency, or get impressed with our niceness, and so we lose our humility. Asking for mercy reminds us that we are still poor and needy, and fall short of the glory of God. Those who do not ask do not receive, because they don’t know their own need.

*****

What about when we just can’t do it?

Do not cease praying when prayer comes hard, for fear of doing it imperfectly. If you cease praying when you can’t do it right, the devil gets a victory. So keep offering a broken prayer, and remember that you are only an unworthy servant, and yet Jesus wants you.

*****

Read more.

For Reflection:

Mathewes-Green week 4

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE ILLUMINED HEART

Week 3: Fasting
Illumined Heart cover

In The Illumined Heart, Frederica Mathewes-Green explores the wisdom and practices of the early Church.

Fasting is one such ancient practice. Mathewes-Green discusses details of how and when early Christians fasted. Just as important is her exploration of Christian attitudes toward the body:

Our bodies are a part of the creation God pronounced “very good,” and Jesus demonstrated God’s blessing on the human body when he became incarnate. He made the blessing more emphatic when he was resurrected, not as a mere spirit, but in a scar-marked body capable of eating fish. He sealed the blessing in the Ascension, taking that body into the very courts of heaven.

*****

So why do we need to fast?

Our bodies are blessed, but we don’t know how to live harmoniously in them. We drive them like vehicles, use them like tools to dig pleasure, and in the process damage them and distort our capacity to understand them. Fasting disciplines help us quiet these impulsive demands, so that we can better hear what they need and how they are meant to work. It is a turning toward health, a way of honoring creation and preparing for eternity.

*****

Read more.

For reflection:

Mathewes-Green week 3

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE ILLUMINED HEART

Week Two: The Joy of Repentance

Illumined Heart cover

In The Illumined Heart, Frederica Mathewes-Green explores spiritual wisdom and practices from the ancient Christians. Chapters five and six tackle the unpopular subject of repentance.

Mathewes-Green shifts the discussion of repentance from condemnationwhere it usually sitsto joy. I also like her emphasis that repentance unlocks our compassion for others:

Repentance is the doorway to the spiritual life, the only way to begin. It is also the path itself, the only way to continue. Anything else is foolishness and self-delusion. Only repentance is both brute-honest enough, and joyous enough, to bring us all the way home.

*****

For the Christian, two things seem to be ever linked: sorrow over sin, and gratitude for forgiveness. Repentance is the source of life and joy.

*****

What’s more, repentance enlarges the heart until it encompasses all earthly life, and the sorrow tendered to God is no longer for ourselves alone. Knowing our own sin, we pray in solidarity with all other sinners, even those who hurt us. With all creation we groan, crying out to God for his healing and mercy.

*****

Read more.

For reflection:

Mathewes-Green week 2

 

 

BOOK OF THE MONTH: THE ILLUMINED HEART

Week One: Tough Questions

Illumined Heart coverIn The Illumined Heat: Capture the Vibrant Faith of Ancient Christians, Frederica Mathewes-Green shares spiritual practices and wisdom from the ancient Church. I first read this book several years ago, and I thought it was time to revisit it and share some of my favorite parts with you.

As she discusses the early Christians, Mathewes-Green gives us a peek into the life of a fictional fifth-century couple, Anna and Theodore. This is one of my favorite pats of the book, especially when Anna struggles to show love and grace to her mother-in-law.

Mathewes-Green begins with a statement of what we know (intellectually) to be true: in God is life.

Here is communion. In God’s presence we discover ourselves able to love one another, to be vessels of heroic love, even toward our enemies, even unto death. We find all creation in harmony around us, as responsive and fruitful as the Garden was to Adam and Eve. The peace that passes understanding informs our every thought.

*****

If we know that God’s presence is life and love, why don’t we look like we know it? Mathewes-Green asks a whole series of tough questions I find it really good (and uncomfortable) to consider:

Why are we modern Christians so indistinguishable from the world?

*****

How come Christians who lived in times of bloody persecution were so heroic, while we who live in safety are fretful and pudgy?

*****

How could the earlier saints “pray constantly,” while our minds dawdle over trivialities?

*****

How could the martyrs forgive their torturers, but my friend’s success makes me pouty?

*****

In the rest of the book, Mathewes-Green considers how the spiritual practices of ancient Christians might help us as we struggle with our faith. For this week, I invite you to wrestle with the tough questions she asks in the first chapter. What might you answer to some of these questions?

Read more.

For Reflection:

Mathewes-Green week 1 corrected