Tag Archives: John the Baptist

Advent Manna 2: On Mute

Advent Manna – Short Takes on the Themes of Advent

Being Silent

The most beautiful thing a person can say about God would be for that person to remain silent from the wisdom of an inner wealth. So, be silent and quit flapping your gums about God.  – Meister Eckhart (1260-1329) translation by Matthew Fox.

 

You have to get past the miraculous son of Zechariah to get inside. The tall, gaunt figure looks down on you from his hollow eyes as you enter  St. John’s Abbey Church in Collegeville, Mn. Lean, muscular, and Spirit-haunted, the Baptizer brandishes a cross and is scary as all get out. He gestures with a gnarled hand toward the Baptismal Font.

John Baptist 4

If you think you are coming in here, wash up first. Repent!
Go under the flood. Die before you die.

The old priest, John’s father, did not believe the angel who showed up when Zechariah entered the Holy of Holies to burn the incense. The lot had fallen to him to step into the place so sacred that one might easily be consumed by the Furnace of Love. Gabriel’s wings fanned the smoke. His voice penetrated the old man’s mind, that rickety cupboard, where he kept jars of truth, possibility, impossibility,  reason, and a near empty cruse of hope.

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

His barren, wizened, Elizabeth have a child? The priest quibbled, doubted, split hairs, as those trained as religious professionals often do.

So Gabriel tied his tongue to the floor of his mouth and sewed his lips shut. This fellow could not be trusted with the truth of God. Hard to say how he might mess up the whole plan of salvation.

Messengers from God often do this to the people they visit. They press the mute button and enforce silence for a while.

Six months after Elizabeth conceives, Gabriel makes an announcement even more incredible to Mary. She asks one question, then tells Gabriel okay, whatever you say. I am God’s servant. Pondering the angel’s words, she holds her tongue, and departs to speak with her old cousin, Elizabeth. Joseph is left to get the news on his own through a dream. Mary remains with her cousin for three months in the hill country of Judah.

Advent invites us to withdraw and close the door on distractions and doubts. Will you allow yourself to be bound by silence? This ability to tie up all the strife, hunger, gossip, and turbulence, and keep one’s mouth shut is required of servants of God. One needs to allow ideas, projects, and seeds of new growth incubate and ripen. Talk may dissipate the necessary accumulation of energy and unconscious incubation to bring actions to maturity and achieve God’s fullest purpose and intent for our lives and work.

One must be discerning about to whom and when to speak of the visions we see, the words we hear, and what grows within us in order to protect both ourselves and the promise within us from exposure to threats to its development.

Do you have a bright idea or a promise developing within you?
Don’t prematurely tweet your transformation.

There will be plenty of time to raise a ruckus after the truth gets out, as old Zechariah soon found, when the Holy Spirit opened his mouth and he burst into song for his son:

… and you, child, will be called the prophet
of the Most High;
for you go before the Lord to prepare his way
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God,
when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet in the way of peace. Luke 1: 67-7

John Baptist 5

 

 

 

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Advent Manna are short pieces taken from my writing over the years on the themes of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. This essay about Zechariah and John the Baptist was previously posted in 2015.

It has been a while since I have written here. I have been busy moving from Kansas, where I have lived for 37 years to Iowa City, Iowa. It has been a time of challenge and transformation for me. I will continue to  do the Sanctuary ministry from my new location. I  am offering spiritual guidance, teaching, leading retreats, and will continue to publish Holy Ground – Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life. See the summer issue below.

Summer 2018 Holy Ground x

Subscribe to Holy Ground here. And it it makes a great Christmas gift for a friend!

 

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Sighs Too Deep – On mute

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
                                                                               Romans 8:26

You have to get past the miraculous son of Zechariah to get inside. The tall, gaunt figure looks down on you from his hollow eyes as you enter  St. John’s Abbey Church. Lean, muscular, and Spirit-haunted, the Baptizer brandishes a cross and is scary as all get out. He gestures with a gnarled hand toward the Baptismal Font.

John Baptist 4

If you think you are coming in here, wash up first. Repent!
Go under the flood. Die before die.

The old priest, John’s father, did not believe the angel who showed up when Zechariah entered the Holy of Holies to burn the incense. The lot had fallen to him to step into the place so sacred that one might easily be consumed by the Furnace of Love. Gabriel’s wings fanned the smoke. His voice penetrated the old man’s mind, that rickety cupboard, where he kept jars of truth, possibility, impossibility,  reason, and a near empty cruse of hope.

“How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

His barren, wizened, Elizabeth have a child? The priest quibbled, doubted, split hairs, as those trained  as religious professionals often do.

So Gabriel tied his tongue to the floor of his mouth and sewed his lips shut. This fellow could not be trusted with the truth of God. Hard to say how he might mess up the whole plan of salvation.

Messengers from God often do this to the people they visit. They press the mute button and enforce silence for a while.

Six months after Elizabeth conceives, Gabriel makes an announcement even more incredible to Mary. She asks one question, then tells Gabriel okay, whatever you say. I am God’s servant. Pondering the angel’s words, she holds her tongue, and departs to speak with her old cousin, Elizabeth. Joseph is left to get the news on his own through a dream.  Mary remains with her cousin for three months in the hill country of Judah.

Advent invites us to withdraw and close the door on distractions and doubts. Will you allow yourself to be bound by silence? This ability to tie up all the strife, hunger, gossip, and turbulence, and keep one’s mouth shut is required of servants of God. One needs to allow ideas, projects, and seeds of new growth incubate and ripen. Talk may dissipate the necessary accumulation of energy and unconscious incubation to bring actions to maturity and achieve God’s fullest purpose and intent for our lives and work.

One must be discerning about to whom and when to speak of the visions we see, the words we hear, and what grows within us in order to protect both ourselves and the promise within us from exposure to threats to its development.

Do you have a bright idea or a promise developing with you?
Don’t  prematurely tweet your transformation.

There will be plenty of time to raise a ruckus after the truth gets out, as old Zechariah soon found, when the Holy Spirit opened his mouth and he burst into song for his son:

… and you, child, will be called the prophet
of the Most High;
for you go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
through the tender mercy of our God,
when the day shall dawn upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet in the way of peace. Luke 1: 67-79

John Baptist 5

 

 

 

The most beautiful thing a person can say about God would be for that person to remain silent from the wisdom of an inner wealth. So, be silent and quit flapping your gums about God.

– Meister Eckhart (1260-1329) translation by Matthew Fox.

 

The Star Stopped – Part Two

Joy: Our Chief and Highest End

When they had heard the king, they set out;
and there, ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising in the east, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. Matthew 2:9-10

Once there was a man who played with Jesus a kind of peek-a-boo and hide and seek, asking to see him while he walked.  I go now where the man prayed and Jesus is everywhere, sitting in the trees, hanging upside down from the hawk’s nest, swinging his arms up ahead along the cow path, turning in wide circles in the heavens, glinting under the silver wings of geese.

“Jesus, get out of here,” I say.  “I have work to do, prayers to pray, fears to nurture, pain to bear, miles to go before I sleep.”

He just grins, riding down the back of the willow leaf. You bet,” he says, “who do you think is in charge here anyway? I came that you might have life abundant.”

“Yes, but there is so much suffering and sorrow in the world. I have survivor’s guilt.”

“Deal with it, sweetheart, joy is your burden to bear.”  Then quoting scripture, “‘Do not be like a horse or a mule without understanding, who must be curbed with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.’  (Psalm 32:9)  Daughter, you are forgiven for being happier than some of the others.  In your joy is my joy made complete.”

____________

What is the chief and highest end of humankind?” asks the Larger Catechism.
Humankind’s chief and highest end is to glorify God and to fully enjoy God.

A friend of mine died after a long debilitating illness. Before he died he told me, “Life is funny. You know, I used to say life is messy. Now I say life is funny. God must be laughing his head off at us, saying, ‘Don’t they get it?’ I have no complaints. Life has been very good to me. I just try to enjoy.”

To enjoy:  to put into a state of or to be in joy – to indwell rejoicing. Joy is the emotion provoked by well-being, success, or possessing what one desires.

How strange that little teaching in the church has to do with helping us to be faithful to our highest end. We know how to read and interpret scripture. We understand the dynamics of church growth. We can conduct things decently and in order. We can do mission. We are even beginning to understand our spiritual life and prayer. But how many of us can state precisely how it is that we glorify and enjoy God as individuals and as a community of faith? When many of us start to enjoy we feel guilty. To claim that anything I might do actually glorifies God may sound arrogant. To seek enjoyment of God seems hedonistic and wrong.


It takes courage to risk joy. The older we get, the more we know of the ravages of life and sin, and the woeful limitations of the flesh. My dying friend, weak and suffering, says, “I just try to enjoy.” Perhaps that is when joy is born the truest, when we are firmly fixed in the limits of humanity, held by the teeth of our extremity with no illusions. Maybe you won’t get better. Maybe your friend will die. Maybe your heart will be broken. Maybe the divorce will be final. Maybe the worse that can happen will happen.

Now here, just when you thought it was all over

here

stop

where the star has stopped and let joy in.

It will take a mile if you give it an inch. Watch how it eases a hand and foot through the crack – pushing in a shoulder and hip, and flinging the door wide open on bliss.

What did you think would make the star stop, if not the sad song of mortal need?

A lot depends on the way the yellow willow leaf swims like a slim minnow downstream to rest in the musty shallows of earth.

Now it turns, spins in circles, now it dips and glides, now stops, still in the air, then drops like a sigh.

A lot depends on such surrender, but even more depends on someone noticing.

Jesus, help us to love you
more than the search for you.
Give us hearts of merriment and gratitude.
Teach us to tolerate goodness, to stable delight.

And Merciful Savior of loss and defeat,
bestow upon us the wit to trust
and to consent to contentment
that your joy and our joy be made complete.

Mirable Dictu (Wonderful to Behold) Harvey Bonner


Excerpted and adapted from Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Loretta Ross (Gotta), Sheed & Ward, 2000, chapter 23.

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The Star Stopped – Part One

Joy: Our Chief and Highest End

The Magi Journeying

When they had heard the king, they set out;
and there, ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising in the east, until it stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. Matthew 2:9-10

The star stopped.

Did they slam into one another like dominoes – camels, gifts, magi all in a scrambled pile before the manger?

They had been seeking joy for so long; and they knew more about traveling than arriving, more about need, than about fulfillment.

The star stopped.

The momentum of the journey, the habit of search, sent us lurching forward even as we beheld the prize. Like ones on a long auto trip riding over the flat stretch of prairie, we lie still at night in our beds feeling ourselves hurtling along phantom highways, our flesh imprinted to motion.

So we arrive at our destination, yet act as if we are still on the way. We shuffle on unsteady legs to the doorway where the light glows, the breath of cattle steams, and something makes a low choking coo. We are overwhelmed with joy, a sublime apprehension of the beauty and perfection of what lies before us under the stars and that we need travel no longer.

It doesn’t get any better than this:

the glad dog bounding gleefully after the yellow cat in the sun

the clutter in the child’s room – a still swirl of hair brushes, dirty socks, ribbons, Tootsie Rolls, and crayons

you and your friend laughing over lunch in the cozy diner

your own wrinkled hand and all it has grasped and caressed, pushed, smoothed and manipulated


You think you need to get busy. Accomplish something today. Wild-eyed John in his camel’s hair is out in the pasture yelling to get with it. “Bear fruit worthy of repentance, you brood of vipers,” he shouts. There is so much to do, so far to go. You think this or that thing has to be done. You think joy is up ahead, when you have reached some goal, satisfied that hunger.

We ought not to pray for things, as to pray to live as though we had the things we pray for. We ought to discover just what it is we think these things will give us, to consider carefully what is the sub text of our desire.

The star stopped.


Did they pile into each other like keystone cops? Was a screeching cosmic brake applied? Or was it so silent as was hardly noticed in the din of rising galaxies and earth teeming with the shrill frenzy of life and death? Perhaps it was a gentle slowing pressure in the heart, an impulse to do something unfamiliar, maybe a sudden press upon the shoulders to bend the knees and halt midway down the stairs absorbed in Joy.


The star stopped and cast its radiance like a neon arrow:

Exit now. Food. Gas. Lodging.

Here this is it. You need go no further.

The star stopped and they were overwhelmed with joy, writes Matthew.Well, how long did that last? How long before they began to fret, to glance anxiously at their watches and their bank balances, and worry about the future, recalling Herod and their disturbing dreams. There would be the trip back home by another road, and how they would explain the dishes still undone, the laundry piled upon the floor, the unpaid bills.How long before they would begin to doubt their own eyes – that they had seen what they had seen? “Perhaps I was mistaken, it all seems so unreal. It was long ago. I was ill, or grieving, young and foolish. We’d better keep on looking, just in case.”


O immaculate tenderness, O sweet hay in the wind, ground of our beseeching, joy of our desiring, we meet and greet you, kneel to adore and leave our gifts, then what? You are too much for us – you in your completeness, sufficiency. We, overwhelmed with joy, cannot bear the light and back out of the radiant stable to return to the familiar world of anxious fear and endless seeking.


The tension of incompletion fuels our lives and impels our action. Consummation is hard for us to take. People shouldn’t be so happy. “I’m sorry mom, but I just can’t keep my smiles down,” confides the eight year old apologetically on her eagerly awaited trip to the ice skating rink.


If we get too satisfied, won’t there be no striving, no invention, no creativity, no urge to improve, discover, move on? Won’t it be boring? Won’t it be dull?


Our capacity for satisfaction is much less than our capacity for hunger.

Who dares to take a vow of stability?
Who dares declare that this is it
this broken down stable of a life
this very life in shambles shelters Joy?

What most characterizes American culture, poet Richard Wilbur has said, “…is not unity, but rather a disjunction and incoherence aggravated by an intolerable rate of change.”

I gaze in bewildered nostalgia at old photographs of myself and loved ones. Motion is an essential property of things. Everything at one level of its being or another is in motion and change.

Is there anything in the universe that is absolutely still? The earth heaves, crumbles, splits, powders. The flesh pulses, sighs, and dies in the slow dance of decay. Electrons careen around nuclei. Five-flavored quarks flash in kinetic quick-step.

A lot depends on the way the willow leaf turns in the wind and curls to a dry crisp under the bird feeder, but even more depends on someone stopping to notice.


Our awareness gives birth to Christ. Seeing that the star has stopped and climbing down from the camel to kneel before the holy child dwelling in the heart of matter with innocence and salvation is what opens the door for God’s entry into our world.

The child yearns to be noticed. The child waits in the crib of creation for us to stop and pick it up and deliver it to the world by virtue of our own seeing.

Christ is born by our consent.
It all depends on someone saying, “Let it be to me according to thy word.”

Then a still small soul magnifies the holy one, and, like a mirrored prism, bends light into multicolored beams of joy.

~ to be continued in next post

Excerpted and adapted from Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Loretta Ross (Gotta), Sheed & Ward, 2000, chapter 23.