entertaining angels unawares…

I’ve been thinking about what it might have been like for those shepherds that night, watching their flocks, cradled in darkness, the air pulsing with silence, the stars brilliant filling the sky.

The angel spoke to them in this way: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

The night skies were filled with praise. At first they were afraid, but the angel said, “Fear not, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be for all people.”

First inspiration, illumination, a message, then assurance, peace, and finally direction, a course of action. The shepherds listened and they followed.

How are the angels speaking to us? How many times have we been given a quiet message of clarity, truth, certainty, an impulse for action that felt so right–that to think of it brought immediate peace–something we know we couldn’t have come up with on our own? And yet sometimes we overlook, dismiss the radical simplicity and immediacy of it, and later recognize it for what it is–recognize the guidance, the tender presence, the shepherding..and perhaps groan within ourselves because we haven’t heeded it.

I had an experience like that a few years ago. I was driving on the highway and impulsively began to switch lanes. The thought came to wait, but I didn’t. As I moved into the next lane, a large rock hit my windshield. Though it didn’t shatter, and I was fine, I wept over the warning that I didn’t heed. But as I did so a quiet, quiet message came: “you cannot escape My grace.” I felt flooded with peace and relief.

At first we thought we’d have to replace that window. A small circle about 3 inches across had formed in the center of the windshield. We expected it to splinter all the way across with a change of weather. It never did, and somehow I couldn’t bring myself to change the windshield: it became a constant reminder to listen for God’s angels, and the promise that none of us can escape the infinite circle of His grace.

Mary Baker Eddy speaks of the significance of angels in her book Science and Health: “The footsteps of thought, rising above material standpoints, are slow, and portend a long night to the traveller; but the angels of His presence — the spiritual intuitions that tell us when “the night is far spent, the day is at hand” — are our guardians in the gloom.

These upward-soaring beings never lead towards self, sin, or materiality, but guide to the divine Principle of all good, whither every real individuality, image, or likeness of God, gathers. By giving earnest heed to these spiritual guides they tarry with us, and we entertain “angels unawares.”

Poet Lucille Clifton puts it this way:

friends

the ones who talk to me

their words thin as wire

their chorus fine as crystal

their truth direct as stone,

they are present as air.

they are there.

And my friend Shelley says it so beautifully like this:

Angels

Angels thrive

Between the lines

of our living…   

Understood

Through the subtitles

of coincidence

and longing.

Shelley Nickerson    

whispering yes.

One of my favorite Christmas albums is the The Rankins “Do you Hear What I hear.” They sing a gorgeous version of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. There’s something so sweet, joyful, hopeful about it.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit, and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared to Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile;
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of Jesus’ life, his birth, and the people surrounding it–thinking about how many things in life happen in quiet and unexpected ways and yet come with the power, vision, and divine impetus to bring great change to our lives. And how often they come in such understated, silent impulses that we second guess or dismiss them. Whether in hindsight or right in that moment, ultimately we realize their significance–that intuition, insight, the deep knowing within us comes from a pure and holy place, the sanctuary of Truth, the still small voice of God right in the midst, reaching out, propelling, revealing, embracing, awakening.

This is what is so significant about the story of Jesus and all the individuals involved: they got a message, and though initially scared, stunned, uncertain, bemused; they listened, paid attention, responded, followed. And as a result, their lives took on a meaning and purpose they, and perhaps no one, could never have imagined or expected.

Mary Baker Eddy speaks of about Mary’s experience in this way: “The Holy Ghost, or divine Spirit, overshadowed the pure sense of the Virgin-mother with the full recognition that being is Spirit. The Christ dwelt forever an idea in the bosom of God, the divine Principle of the man Jesus, and woman perceived this spiritual idea, though at first faintly developed.”

This poem by Lucille Clifton is one of a number of poems she has written about Mary and Jesus.

mary’s dream

winged women was saying

“full of grace” and like.

was light beyond sun and words

of a name and a blessing.

winged women to only i.

i joined them, whispering

yes

So what of us in this perhaps uneventful moment of our lives? What divine impulse is whispering? What sweet purpose are we being nudged towards? What great goodness is waiting to dawn or emerge? What songs of angels are singing? What truth is calling? What deeper justice rising?

What happened in a stable so many years ago, holds its promise of truth for this hour: a promise of spiritual being, a Christly holy nature, an opportunity to discover innocence, redemption, restoration, joy and peace. This is a promise we can reach for right now, it is one with the quiet light and hope so deep within us–waiting to be cradled, nurtured, noticed, honored, trusted and lived.  Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see…and glorify…”

This is the light that radiates, warms, lightens and lifts. We can trust it. As we do so, it will change everything. It will change the world.

“no edges to my loving now…”

I was at a conference recently, and after a dinner session we had a hymn sing to round out the day. I was standing next to a good friend, one of those friends you don’t have to see or talk to often to feel close to, a friend who has always felt like a big brother. At one point, I looked up at my friend’s face. He was looking at me with such love, such big, blessing, unbounded love. For a moment I was caught off guard: wow–to be looked at with such love; to look at others with such love;  love with no strings; LOVE that radiates its presence and approval. I felt washed in it, swept away by it, seen, recognized, known–an unspeakable love that sweeps you, lifts you to a higher, grander sense of your place in life. Most clearly it is the direct and tangible love of God.

There’s a passage from the book of Jeremiah that says it this way: “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.” It’s from the King James translation, which I have to say I’m continually partial to because of its poetry.

To think about this love, an everlasting love, a very specific love, a divine Love that knows, draws, propells, cherishes, nurtures, embraces…a Love that LOVES you, that loves us all. I do believe it loves us all, and calls us, drives us to recognize our place in it, our oneness with it–right in the moments, and especially in the moments when we feel bereft of it, are yearning for it–there is Love, present, irresistible, irrepressible, not going anywhere, awaiting our recognition and identification with it, and then in this quiet, dawning, emerging place, we yield to it, surrender, feel its warmth, power, certainty, sweeping grace.

Yes, there are moments when perhaps we see it more clearly than others, but never ever a moment when the Love itself wanes…that’s why we are prompted to it…to see that it is not something that comes or goes, or that we need to seek outside ourselves, but that which pours forth from infinity, the infinite, all-loving love of Love.

There’s a Christmas poem by Christina Rosetti. Shawn Colvin does a beautiful rendition of it on her Holiday Songs and Lullabies album.

“Love came down at Christmas
Love all lovely, love divine;
Love was born at Christmas
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead
Love incarnate, love divine;
Worship we our Jesus
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token
Love shall be yours and love be mine
Love to God and to all men
Love for plea and gift and sign.”

As the poet Rumi so beautifully says it:  there are “no edges to my loving now…” No edges, no borders, no endings, no limits, no boundries, nothing that can possibly resist or destroy the impulses of pure, unadulterated love. This is what we long for at Christmas, this is what I think we instinctively know will bring peace:  peace in our hearts, peace in our homes, families, our towns, villages, cities, countries, the world. This peace is not something we impose, or even bring. It is the “peace of  that passes all understanding, ” spoken of in the book of Philippians, the spiritual peace that Mary Baker Eddy speaks of in her prose writings: a peace that is “…like the ocean, able to carry navies, yet yielding to the touch of a finger. This peace is spiritual; never selfish, stony, nor stormy, but generous, reliable, helpful, and always at hand.”

This peace, this love, this wash of certain blessing, is here, generous in its presence, urgent in its imminence, demanding to be felt, lived and given. O may we feel this peace today, truly feel it, feel known by it, and glimpse a bit more of the love that is loving us today. And may we in turn see each other through an ever growing, unconditional love.

Christmas ponderings and dawnings…

My dog Kosi and I were out walking in the crisp winter air last night. Though I’ll admit I have my struggles with winter sometimes, it was one of those nights when the sky is so clear, the air so fresh, everything speaks of the imminence, nowness, grandeur, joy of life. I found myself thinking, I love winter. I thought of my brother’s visit last year and his recent comment, “I do remember the joy of feeling the breath, and I mean the long deep breath of winter. The ponderous throw of time, huddled in.”

The breath, the life, the certainty, clarity, urgency of it all pressing in upon us, or perhaps embracing, sustaining, compelling, lifting, illumining.

This poem and carol by Phillips Brooks to me captures the pure power of Christmas–where in the deep, hidden, innermost places of our hearts we find our longings answered, hopes fulfilled, and the quiet, inevitable emergence of a spiritual peace, an undiminished innocence, a soaring exaltation of unfettered life.

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth;
Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meekness will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

In an article on Christmas MB Eddy says this, “The star that looked lovingly down on the manger of our Lord, lends its resplendent light to this hour: the light of Truth to cheer, guide, and bless man as he reaches forth for the infant idea of divine perfection dawning upon human imperfection,–that calms man’s fears, bears his burdens, beckons him on to Truth and Love and the sweet immunity these bring from sin, sickness, and death. ”

The light of that star in this very hour–the stars, the air, everything alive pulsing with the imminence of Truth–embracing, propelling, cheering, guiding, blessing, a showering of praise, a benediction of love,  a message of: you, each, each and every single one of you are beloved, My beloved.

In this intense season of hopes, yearnings, fears, and extravagant giving, may each one of us make room for the dawning of something simple, holy, shining, the light of the infinite whispering, comforting, nurturing, igniting the embers of our essential and magnificent lives.

..

no abstract fires or vague births…

We’ve had the first of many snow storms today–the snow almost too heavy to shovel. Thanks to WordPress for the added snow feature for blogs! It’s the time of year when I feel myself bearing up for the long haul of winter: time for deep and quiet underground growth, patient tending to internal gardens, and the need to draw more certainly on spiritual warmth and light. As my brother from California put it last January: “these such lovely flowers of winter.”

I’ve been thinking about the simple, holy sanctuary of the space most deep within us–the space where we begin to grasp the things unseen, the substance of things hoped for as Paul puts in his letter to the Hebrews. The space where new dawnings take hold and transform us from the inside out, and give us bearings, footholds that do not crumble or shift.

There’s a poem by Conrad Hilberry called Wise Man. Dr. Hilberry was one of those professors who had a quiet instilling impact on my life. He was one of my advisors on a senior thesis during a time of great turbulence in my life. We didn’t talk much, and being the poet he is, his words were understated, piercing, succinct, and clear. He had a way of reigning me in when I was being reckless, giving quiet encouragement when I felt the work was hopeless, helping me refocus, go deeper and find my way. I love this poem in this season, and the gritty, tangible promise that it represents.

I

No one here is old enough. The father,

if that’s what he is, stands awkward as a stork.

The mother does not know whether to smile

or cry, her face beautiful but ill-defined

as faces of the young are. Aven the ass

is a yearling and the sheep mutter like children.

To whom shall I hand this myrrh that has trailed

a bitter breath after it over the desert?

I am tired of mothers and their milky ways,

of babies sticky as figs. I have left a kingdom

of them. There must be some truth beyond

this sucking and growing and wasting away.

A star should lead an old man, you would think,

to some geometry, some right triangle

whose legs never slip or warp or aspire

to become the hypotenuse. Instead, this star

wandering our of the ecliptic has led us

a dry straw, a stable, oil burning in

a lamp, a mother nursing another mouth.

II

Creation, then is the only axiom–

and it declines to spell itself across

the sky in Roman letters. Some events

are worth a journey, but there are no

abstract fires or vague births. Each fire

gnaws its own sticks; the welter of what is

conspires in this, a creation you can hold

in your hands, a child. A definite baby

squalls into life, skids out between the legs

of a definite woman, bedded in straw, on the longest

night of the year. And a certain star burns.

“No abstract fires…no vague births…some events are worth a journey.”  Out of the grit and mess, the strivings and strugglings of our lives, meaning is called forth. Where else are we to find what we’re looking for if not here? Right here something is waiting to  emerge in us. The story of Jesus’ birth and life says it so clearly: don’t look out there, it’s not about where you’re staying, the trappings, what things appear to be. Sometimes the things you need come in ways you wouldn’t ask for. The stuff that truly holds in our lives proceeds from the light within, a spiritual well-spring of divine light, leading us to recognize the definite holiness, relevance, necessity of who we are.

Our lives are worth the journey to move past the rough edges, the things we want to discard, the things that don’t belong to us. It begins with a quiet awareness and acknowledgement of the sweet, pure, precious child within us. This is when we begin to glimpse the something more, a hint of tender approval, a certain sense of belonging, an unavoidable embrace. I love that in Christ Jesus’ teachings and journey his message was always one that pointed to both now and here. People didn’t jump through hoops to be healed; they got a glimpse of who they really were through the penetrating, spiritual discernment of Jesus’ Christliness. This is spiritual truth made practical: it’s not abstract or vague, but laser clear, cutting to the heart of things, uncovering what’s true.

I’ve loved the writings and teachings of  Mary Baker Eddy for this reason. She wrote of her own spiritual awakening in this way: “Into mortal mind’s material obliquity I gazed, and stood abashed. Blanched was the cheek of pride. My heart bent low before the omnipotence of Spirit, and a tint of humility, soft as the heart of a moonbeam, mantled the earth. Bethlehem and Bethany, Gethsemane and Calvary, spoke to my chastened sense as by the tearful lips of a babe. Frozen fountains were unsealed. Erudite systems of philosophy and religion melted, for Love unveiled the healing promise and potency of a present spiritual afflatus. It was the gospel of healing, on its divinely appointed human mission, bearing on its white wings, to my apprehension, “the beauty of holiness,” — even the possibilities of spiritual insight, knowledge, and being.”

Here’s to definite discoveries, simple logical dawnings, and lives made new in concrete and beautiful ways.

Come and see…

There’s a passage from Psalms 66 that’s been singing in my thoughts lately. It says, “Come and see the works of God.”

Come and see.

Come.

See.

The works of God are here to be seen.

But you have to come; show up; open your eyes; look; see; be mentally, consciously present; look and listen deeper: through that quiet, silent, inner sense.

As a student in university, I came across this poem by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, shortly after a good friend had died.

Dogwood

The dogwood hurts me as I run

beneath its load

This spring,

Those white stars cascading

Down the wood road,

Those white blossoms with the faces

Upturned to the sun.

The grace of their branches is compassionate,

In an uncompassionate world.

The whiteness of their blossoms is too pure

To be unfurled

In a world soiled by the feet of men;

And they are open–too open,

In their flat uplifted acceptance

Of the sky.

Besides,

They lie.

They say–

(And I do not believe!)

They say–

(Oh, they deceive–they deceive!)

They say–

And I shut my ears to their cry):

“Look, it is here, the answer,

It is here,

If you would only see,

If you would only listen,

If you would only open your heart.”

They say–

“Look it is here!”

Not long after discovering this poem, I found a card in a shop that made me think of my dear friend, and without thinking, I thought, “I want to get this for Sally;” and then remembered. But before I could begin the plunge towards grief again, a quiet thought came: “She already got your message.” I felt a peace about her,  a sense of hope about the bigness and grandeur of life that I hadn’t felt like that before. Never again have I felt a loss of this friend, more a presence, an assurance of her life, integrity and ongoing journey.

In a season so full of deep hope and yearning,  we can all heed that quiet invitation to come and see the works of God: to discover the peace that lies unkillably within; the joy waiting to spring forth; the kindness, goodness and purity of childlike wonder. With this deeper seeing and spiritual knowing, we’ll begin to glimpse our lives and each other in an ever clearer light, the light of holy light, and in turn find awakening, restoration, healing and peace.