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Preparing the Way : Advent II Peace

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I had the benefit of taking a break from my usual writing and studies. I took the time to spend with family and friends, and tend to tasks around the home giving gratitude for the blessings in my life; reflecting upon the discovery of my sisters, new friends and precious time with my wife and sons.

Since graduating from seminary I have found myself engaging in “busy” projects, catching up from my three years mostly away from home. I’ve tackled closets, rooms, cluttered spaces and a dark and dingy basement. I’ve loaded garbage bag after garbage bag empting all that I could. Slowly our house has become, home again. Fresh paint, a new dining room, updated floors, created a whole new space in the basement for study, prayer and gathering. I hung pictures of the boys back up on the walls which were once removed for updating. It’s warm, it’s peaceful, it’s home again! All this in preparation for what is to come. Whatever is to come. Wherever the spirit leads. It reminds me of the time before Connor (my oldest son) was born. As a young wife in a new home I nested. I cleaned every corner, folded and stacked baby items, painted, and organized everything I could all with the anticipation of my little one’s arrival.

Now Advent is here and with that same anticipation, we are busy preparing for Christmas day. Making room for the tree, hanging stockings and lights, playing carols and shopping. I remember as a child, gleefully circling items in the big Sears Christmas catalog. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning, literally. There came an age, a right of passage, where my brother and I would hunt for hidden Christmas presents. Waiting is hard, even with hope and great anticipation, but the season of Advent is more than waiting, it ‘s a time of preparation and transformation.

Our Gospel this Sunday (Matthew 3:1-12) addresses how we are to prepare for the coming of our Lord. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” Preparing our homes with festive lights and decorations is fun, but it is merely an external symbol of what John is asking us to do. John is telling us that we in preparation for Christ must clean our internal homes, our heart, mind and soul. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”

The thought of confession or the Rite of confession in the Episcopal Church is frightening to some. Generally speaking, traumatized former Roman Catholics have voiced to me the depth of their uncomfortableness. It is with deep humility that I recognize and honor their fears. The gifts of the Rite of Reconciliation however is far too great to ignore or to set aside. When we open ourselves to reconciliation we begin to truly transform, emptying ourselves of preconceived predjudice and ideas, allows us the space to receive the gifts of God’s mercy, grace and peace.

I heard a story once told about a zen teacher who receives a university professor. They sit for tea and the teacher begins to pour the tea into the cup. He pours continuously allowing the tea to flow over the top. The professor urges him to stop as there is no more room and then the teacher says, “You see, you are like this cup, full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty the cup.”

In a world full of unrest and a longing for deep peace, reconciliation provides us a vehicle to emptying our cup, our heart, mind and soul, opening ourselves to God and to the Holy Spirit leading to our transformation. Through this opening of selves and transforming spirit may we be ready to receive Christ, the King of Peace.

“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Blessings,

Mo. Allison+

Archive, Thoughts, Uncategorized

Trusting God to Provide

Trusting God to provide sounds almost cliche, but it’s just about where I am as I reflect on our Gospel for this weekend. As I was writing, my wife called in a panic and upset. Her car died in the fast lane somewhere in Connecticut, about two and a half hours from home. In unfamiliar surroundings, she didn’t know what to do. I gently calmed her down, made sure she was in a safe place, and instructed her to call 911. Thank heaven for technology, and thank you Jesus, she was unharmed. The car was towed, and she called from the shop, “I got bad news and more bad news.” “OK” I said. “The timing belt went and ceased the engine, it will cost $2300.00 at least to repair,” she said, “or I can sign the title over to the shop.” The car is more than 11 years old. “Go ahead and sign the title over. We’ll figure it out.” I said. “God will provide.”

How this all ties in:

I find it hard to extract this week’s Lectionary Gospel reading Luke 21:5-19 from the rest of the chapter without being led astray into an apocolyptic wonderland. It’s easy to insert ourselves and think of all the doom and gloom destruction happening in our world around. Famine, earthquakes, floods, war; we have become all too accustomed to seeing violence and death. The images from our news of rubbled buildings and crushed stone from missile and rocket launches easily come to mind as we read the warning from Jesus in our Gospel. Even today, as I write from the comfort of my own home, nations, and people are being bombed, and another senseless school shooting grasps our attention.

Do not be dismayed. Do not be led astray. There is more than this impending destruction. There is more, much more to the story. There is more to this chapter, and what Christ has to offer, what Christ is promising. It is ever so important to understand this passage in its proper context to the whole of the chapter and not isolated from the entirety of the story. It is more than a warning of impending doom. It is wisdom and promise.

The Wisdom:

At the end of Chapter 20, Jesus warns against the scribes, the teachers who are well dressed, and speak lofty prayers but devour the widow, the poor and those who are most in need. It’s a warning against being led astray by those who live false lives.

In the beginning of Chapter 21, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and the story continues with Jesus in a part of the temple known as the court of women. This is where the treasury boxes for donation sat out for worshippers to donate. Seven in total, one was dedicated for temple tax and the others were freewill offerings. These freewill offerings were used to expand and adorn the temple over a 46 year period under Herod the Great.

He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

Jesus shares with the diciples the story of the poor widow and explains that this woman, giving her two coins gave more than any other. He exclaims that the wealthy gave out of excess, but she havng no excess willingly gave all that she had and was. She did not live on money and riches; she lived with strength and faith trusting that God will provide, putting God first above all things.

The disciples see the external adornment of the temple, its grandiosity takes them and they fail to see the spiritual bankruptcy. I heard a priest from a wealthy congregation once say, “People think my congregation is just fine because they are sitting in six million dollar homes, but they fail to realize that they are sitting alone with their stuff. They are sitting worried over their heroin addicted child. They are coping with their terminal diagnosis, or the loss of their spouse.” He wanted to state a point. He wanted to let us know, his people were hurting too, they weren’t their adornment.

Jesus makes the disciples aware of their failure to see past the facade, to see the hypocricy, and the oppression of the institution. He prepares them for rejection, and the impending death of the Son of God, which will happen at the hands of the well-adorned religious authority. Jesus brings them awareness, then prepares the disciples for the difficult times ahead. He warns them again against false prophets, political chaos, natural disasters, and persecutions. He then gives the disciples assurance, that they will not be alone, that the Holy Spirit will be with them, comfort them and give them the words they need when the time comes. God will provide.

The Promise:

19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

I don’t ascribe to the saying, “You will be tested.” I don’t believe God “tests” us. I do believe however, that life our lives on earth will experience with human heartache and pain. That there are disasters and wounds beyond our control and that God calls us to remain steadfast in faith with trust and prayer. The poor widow stood in the temple. She had the gift of strength, the gift of resiliency and endurance, and gave it back to God, trusting and believing, putting God first.

Thoughts for this week: Where are we? How far have we come? What are the gifts God has given us? Do we use these gifts to put God first. Perhaps you are in a time of life that is in the midst of destruction, that is tearing down the old and all that you knew. Have faith and know that a resurrected life in Christ is coming. It’s hard in the middle of pain, in the middle of illness, in the middle of trauma, in the middle of whatever it is that distracts us from God to recognize the promised life to come. Hold still, endure, keep faith. Give what has been given to you and know, God will provide!

And if you happen to be in a place of grace, whole and uplifted, having come through adversity or pain, give thanks and reach for another.

Blessings and Love,

Mo. Allison+

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Love Inscribed

Job 19:23-27a

Job said,
"O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another."

Last fall I offered a meditative session to our youth gathering called “Give and Take.” The object was to engage our senses through tactile learning. We collectively wrote our Thanksgivings on a pumpkin that sat on the center of a table. Then we picked up a rock that was inscribed with something we wished to take with us, whether it was something we needed to hold and pray for ourselves, or to pass on to another. The tactile engagement with our thoughts and prayers made them real and relavent. They became tangible and alive. Last night I met a friend who attended that gathering and she said, ” I still carry that rock with me, you know.” I didn’t know, and my heart smiled.

Inscribed in each and every one of us, like the hope inscribed on those Thanksgiving stones, is the love of our living God never wavering, solid and true. Here for us now, for all whom we touch, and for generations to come. Like Job, however, in our human angst and uncertain world, knowledge of God’s love and presence alone sometimes fails to provide us the needed comfort we long for. It is heart-wrenching to watch someone you love suffer, or to bear witness to injustice, trauma, illness or grief. These are the times we reach for a mediator, a friend, a loved one to ease our cries; searching for that hug, touch, or simple nod of understanding. Like the inscribed stone, they draw us closer to our living God, awakening in us the sense of God’s presence. Yes, I know there are those who suffer in darkness, alone yearning for a like soul. They too may be touched by the inscripted surrender to God.

Job’s inscription placed for generations to plead his case before God and to make known his strong faith even in the midst of his own confusion and pain gives us an awareness of the smallness of our own humanity. How often do we wrestle for the reasoning of God? How often do we beg for God’s intervention in an unjust world and wonder why so much sufferring is abound? Starvation and homelessness, war, violence, abuse, neglect, greed, power and destruction leave us with heavy hearts and open wounds, begging, yearning for God’s intervention. Is God lying dormant, silent and still or have we simply become so overwhelmed by the darkness and uncertainty of the world that we fail to see the living God among us? Like Job our pain in a sufferring world is valid and true, but also like Job we must hold steadfast in Faith, trusting that our Redeemer lives and opening our hearts to receiving God’s blessing.

Upon my return from a short trip to Aruba last month I found myself depressed. I am not where I expected to be when I first planned the trip. I await a call and bills are mounting. I find myself occasionally wondering if what God has planned for me I’ve all ready completed. I’m cranky and weep with a trusted few. I pray, I paint, I make art and keep busy in the house. My happiest days are Sundays. presiding over the Eucharist, breaking bread and being in communion and fellowship with all who seek Christ. I am energized and alive at least on Sunday. I have to admit, I have occasionally overlooked the presence of Christ Monday through Saturday, wallowing in my own sadness as a way of control. Yes, I can acknowledge those moments when Christ was present or arrived through the encouraging words of my sister, the love and support of my wife and son, the guidance of my mentor and friend, the gripe sessions with another wrestler of God, or even the cashier at the Home Depot who was so nervous about my collar she felt the need to reveal her son was in the musical, “Nunsense”. It was a good chuckle.

Just because we don’t acknowledge or ignore God from time to time, doesn’t mean God is ignoring us. God is very much here among us. God’s loving inscription is within us. This I know, and yes even trust. It’s control and expectation that leaves us unsettled; our plans, our vision verse the vision and plans God has for us. Truth be told, I know when I surrender, God’s plans are far better than my own. I know when I surrender, I recognize Christ among us. I recognize the beauty of Christ’s existance in the helpers as Mr. Rogers would say, and in the lovers, the friends, and in creatures great and small, even in the spirit of the wind. So, like the old twelve step saying goes, “Let Go and Let God.”

May we, like Job, inscribe upon the stones our unending faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in his love for us even as we wrestle with him. May we come to know God’s loving inscription upon our hearts growing in the way and likeness of Christ.

Blessings, 
Mo. Allison+

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Saints and Mosaics, the shaping of our Lives

One of the magical pieces to visiting the Holy Land are the remnants of many lasting mosaics left by those who came before us. Floors of synagogues, homes, public spaces and temples that withstood the test of time, speak stories. Speak stories of those who cultivated the tile, those who colored and designed it, those who carefully cut and laid it, those who commissioned it, those who walked upon it, kneeled and prayed on it, shared in liabations, created families and built relationships. Deep, in the grit, they tell the stories of the footsteps of war, and peace, and education, knowledge, hope, faith and history. They echo ancient voices in song of wonder and lament, absorb tears from heaven and invite us to touch our ancestors today. Though weathered, through the dust of ages they remain. They take to the shape of the ever shifting ground on which they were laid. Uneven swells and decline, like the softness of clay, pressed upon by the potter’s hand, perfectly imperfect. We are witness to their display, and formed by their existence.

Our lives, like that of the mosaic, are similiarly formed. Bit by bit, piece by piece, reflecting both darkness and light. We are formed by the people we encounter, ever changing , ever growing, ever shifting, even if so slightly amending to the swell and decline of life’s waves, rippling ups and downs over the course of time.

There are those who have touched our lives with soft and gentle hands, with the sweetness of oil whose memories remain dear and wholesome, leaving that piece, that section, that time of our life with buffed and soft edges adding to the brightness of our mortal soul and the gladness in our hearts. These are our teachers, mentors, loved ones and friends, sometimes even strangers who left their tender mark with kind words, an assist, a smile, a nod or lent a hand when we were in most need. Oh, how we remember these our Saints.

There are also those long dark pieces, the ones with the sharp and ridgid edges. The ones that have been shattered, put back together and repositioned. The ones that were left and marked by the people who disappointed us, let us down, betrayed or hurt us deeply. These special pieces mended and re-afixed, they too are the beautiful pieces that create and form us into becoming who we are as one body in Christ. Though sometimes we wish to forget, these too, we are compelled to remember.

This weekend, we celebrate the Saints, we celebrate all who have come before us and have left an indelible mark on our lives and the life of our Christian Body. We recognize and give thanks for the struggle, the strife and the ultimate victory of each who followed in the footsteps of Christ, creating the mosaic of our lives. Perfectly, imperfect.

As we remember, may we also hear the charge. Christ calls us to strive and to live as the Saints, picking up our cross, marching to Calvery and proclaiming Christ’s victory over death. Here we have a responsibility to each other and to the body of Christ; to Love one another, to Love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who abuse us, to offer forgiveness and mercy and to selflessly give to everyone, no barrier, no exception, everyone! Diligently working in good faith, may we act toward each other as we would have others act toward us, for we are the crafters of the mosaics in each others lives. Be the person who buffs, shines and smoothes the edges of another. Leave no ridgidness in scar. Heal and mend the broken pieces.

Dying for our sins, Christ has given us new life, eternal life in him. Give thanks for the gift of witness, the gift of all who have come before us and for those who continue to touch our lives and buff our edges and color our soul with the brightness of Christ, the Love of God. Soon we too will be called and welcomed home; until then may we continue to form, grow and add lovingly to the mosaic of our lives.

Blessings, 
Mo. Allison+
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Rejoice and Pray!

Lectionary for the third Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019
John 21:1-19

Rejoice!

Once a month I meet with a Spiritual director in a Retreat House in New Jersey. I have been meeting regularly with Sister since 2015. Today as I was walking down the stairs from her office, I noticed a picture hanging in the stairway. It was a pretty rose-coloured, tiled word that said, REJOICE.

“That’s really pretty,” I said, “Is that new or have I just missed it?” Sister chuckled and said, “It’s been hanging there for three years.” REJOICE!        

            Sure, sometimes life gets really busy, and sometimes we are so focused on a means to an end or the task at hand that we miss the details, the messages, the very essence of the Holy Spirit that surround us. For three years I walked by a picture hanging on the wall focused on what I needed to accomplish, what I believed I needed to be present to. Seminary and papers, family, commuting, life’s obstacles and hurdles, challenges and transitions, indeed this was an exercise of human will caught in the cycle of busy.

Yes, busyness has its place in the birthing of beautiful creative expression, ideas, growth and expansion, but before this great birthing of abundance can occur; there is the breath, the breath that embodies the spirit of all life, all good things, the word. When we fail to listen to that breath, we take on our own will. We become distracted by our own fears, desires and tasks at hand. We get overwhelmed in a cycle of survival and we keep ourselves busy, numbing our way through the emotional fatigue of keeping up. Simply put, we miss God’s beautiful details. Like the lines in a face that tell a life’s story, or journeyed callouses of the hands that come beautifully outstretched with the desire to receive Christ. The details matter, for in the details there is the presence of God, but no less, we are human and living in the 21st century with all techno thing-ma-gigs that were supposed to ease our lives, but somehow only made them more busy, distracting from God, from God’s breath, from the very spirit of our Holy Trinity and our relationship within.

This is the third appearance that our Lord, Christ makes after the resurrection, and it is the third time that the disciples do not at first recognize him. Mary Magdalene mistook him for a gardener (John 20:11-18), then he appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus as a fellow traveler (Luke 24:13-21), and now here he is, a stranger on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:1-13). In each of these cases, the disciples who saw the resurrected Jesus did not recognize him by his physical features, but by what he said and did. First came breath. “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  After the catch, Peter knew instantly it was Jesus and hurried back to shore as the others followed with the abundance of nourishing fish.

In this case, the disciples tried of their own will to cast out nets and make a catch but came up empty. The following day, though unsure, they listened to the word, the breath of God and were rewarded with great abundance.

Imagine if we were better listeners. How often are we so caught up in our own busyness that we fail to listen for the word, the spirit, the breath of our creator and redeemer, Christ? How often do our own minds chatter away with tasks, lists, ideas, and desires? I understand this in terms of survival, and football, and parenting, schoolwork and playgroups, deadlines and hockey games. I’ve raised two boys and kept real busy. It’s easy to miss the voice and direction of our God. Prayer is necessary for us to be obedient to God’s will.

The disciples did not recognize Jesus, but they knew it was him. They knew it was he because they had a relationship with Jesus. They loved him. We too are invited into relationship with Christ. The breath, the word, the will of our God awaits us, longs for us to lift up our hearts and give thanks and praise, to seek God in all things. When we release ourselves of distraction, bring our mind, body, and spirit into the presence of prayer, with no alternative motive, just LOVE, then we build and strengthen our relationship with Jesus. By reading scripture, having a rule of life and receiving the sacraments of our Holy Church we share in the celebration of grace bestowed upon us. Worshipping together we strengthen the fellowship of Love shared, uniting us as one body through the breaking of the bread and drinking from the cup.

As we come to the rail may we always remember the sacrifice Christ has made for us, knowing that we are tasked as Peter to Love onward without condition.

Feed, Tend, Feed and Rejoice!

Try not to let your heart be so distracted that you do not recognize the little things that lead you, guide you, direct you to the voice of God. Rejoice!

Prayer+

Lord Jesus Christ, help us to release ourselves and become the shepherds you seek for us to become among your creation; so your breath, your word, and your love, may be known to all people and that we in seeking to fulfil your will may rejoice in the resurrection through you, Christ our Lord. Amen

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