Category Archives: Take nothing for the journey

Carrying Christ

by the Rev. Mary Earle

“All went to their own towns to be registered.”  Luke 2:3

We are getting so close to Bethlehem.  It’s just up ahead, around the corner.  We can see the crowd on the road, trekking in for the census.  So many people shuffle along the way together.  Children cry, wondering when they will get to the destination.  Parents fret over lodging and food.

And taxes.  Those taxes that have led us to this point in the journey.

Our journey toward Bethlehem, toward the vulnerable life of God, always takes place within a social, cultural and political context.  We might want to think that the spiritual life will insulate us.  Far from it.  Sooner or later, this baby who is the Word made flesh points us back to the world brought into being through him.  His parents make their way to Bethlehem in the midst of others who are in need.

In this moment of the scriptural narrative, Mary and Joseph are moving in the midst of many others.  Portrayed in every Christmas pageant in the church, their journey unfolds in the midst of their first century realities.  They live under Roman occupation.  They are ruled by a singularly merciless dictator.  Poverty is a reality.  Ethnic and racial animosity abounds.

Yet both Mary and Joseph have said “yes” to a journey that will shelter God’s own vulnerable life in the baby Jesus.  Mary has assented to conceive this child, her “yes” offered in the quiet habitation of her own body.  Joseph has received a sacred dream, and he has acted on it.   They have chosen to step forth without fully knowing where that will lead.  The fact of Mary’s and Joseph’s willingness to take this journey offers us wisdom on the way.  They take it together, following through on what they have seen and heard within their own hearts, souls, and dreams.

In our own lives, singular and ordinary as they are, each of us will receive those annunciations.  Sometimes they will come in a dream, sometimes in the voice of a trusted friend.  Sometimes the words of scripture will take flesh in us the moment that we hear them.  Sometimes a hymn will be the Spirit’s way of singing us into our own journeys.

Mary and Joseph were faithful to their own calls, their own invitations from the living God.  Each responded with all that they have and all that they are.  Their lives will unfold in joy and in sorrow, in awakenings and in confusion, in joy at the manger and the dangerous flight into Egypt.  They chose to honor the vulnerable life of God in this baby.  They invite us to do the same as we join them on the road, mindful of our own calls to tend the vulnerable life of Christ all around us.

The Rev. Mary Earle is a writer, retreat leader, and writer-in-residence at The Work+Shop in San Antonio TX. Find all of Mary’s books by searching Amazon.com. Reach her at mcearle48@gmail.com.

Waiting Expectantly

by Marjorie George 

It was a strange and probably unexpected visit. After being told she would bear the son of God, Mary immediately – scripture has it “with haste” — set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth. (See Luke 1:39-56) Did Mary know that Elizabeth was pregnant in her old-age? Don’t know. Was Elizabeth aware of the strange news coming out of Nazareth – that her cousin Mary was pregnant though her betrothal to Joseph had not been consummated? Don’t know.  We do know that each woman, in her own pregnancy, was aware that something important was happening.

Even in normal, hoped-for pregnancies, at some point lots of women say to themselves, “Oh, good Lord, what was I thinking?” The pregnancies of both Mary and Elizabeth were not normal.  Elizabeth was well beyond child-bearing years; Mary was a virgin. These pregnancies were, frankly, quite astonishing. The kind of stuff that is fodder for juicy gossip around the village water-well.  No wonder Mary sought the comfort and counsel of her older cousin.

The visit did not disappoint; each woman affirmed the other. At Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s baby “leaped for joy within her.” Elizabeth’s response caused Mary’s spirit to “rejoice in God my savior.”  Writer Henri Nouwin considers the meeting of the two women, “One of the most beautiful passages of scripture.” Nouwen is struck that “Elizabeth and Mary came together and enabled each other to wait . . . they affirmed for each other that something was happening that was worth waiting for.”

This, says Nouwen, is “open-ended” waiting – not waiting for something specific, for our wishes to come true, our dreams to be fulfilled, our needs to be met according to our timetable. It is waiting knowing that God will act in our lives, as Nouwen has it, “In the belief that something hidden will manifest itself to us.”

For it is in the waiting that God is revealed. Mary waited. Elizabeth waited. Each of them knew the journey had begun; neither of them fully understood where the commitment would lead. Nor do we. Yet we, too, are pregnant with the life of Christ; and in our waiting it is nurtured to fullness.  Paul reminds us that the whole world groans in labor pains waiting for God to reveal himself.  “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption”  (Romans 8:23).

In a spiritual formation program of which I am a part, our gatherings end with a closing ritual in which the leaders ask the participants, “For what do you still thirst?” For what do you long? What is the deepest yearning of your heart? How will you wait for it? How will you lead others to wait with you, expectantly.

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org

The Nouwen quotes are from his essay “Waiting for God” in the book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing on My Journey

by the Rev. Jay George 

Do you remember what airports used to be like? I don’t mean pre-9/11; I mean pre-’95. Before Starbucks and shoe removal and cell phone lots. Some of you are thinking, “’95? Son, I remember when they handed you a five-pack of Luckies and a mini-bourbon as you boarded.”

I flew from San Antonio to Charleston for a youth ministry conference in 1993. It was my first real, grown-up-job conference. I had a credit card. I was going to rent a car. This was a big deal. Caught my flight out of SA, no problem. Transferred planes in Atlanta, no problem. Landed in Charleston. Problem.

I strolled off the plane, grabbed my bags (which flew free, even on a non-Southwest flight) and even managed to find the car rental counter. The guy behind the counter was nice and helpful. Gave me a free upgrade. I filled out the paperwork, declined the insurance and reached for my wallet to show him my driver’s license. Only my wallet wasn’t there.

What — no wallet?!?! Not in my left, back pocket where I carry it. Quick. Check all the others. Nothing. Backpack. Maybe in my backpack? Nope. Oh man, I bet it fell out on the plane. Is that plane still here? Can I get on and check? Leave my bag with the car rental guy. Run to gate. “Have you checked with lost and found?” Run to lost and found. “No sir, no wallets.” Run back to gate. “Sure you can check the plane.” Run onto the plane. Look in the seat. Under the seat. Behind the seat. Check the pocket, the next seat, the tray table. No wallet. No wallet? NO WALLET!!!

No ID. No credit card. No checks, no cash, no change. All I have is the phone number of some guy I’m supposed to meet at the conference. I’m in a city I’ve never been in, where I know absolutely no one, and have no idea how to get where I’m supposed to be going.

Walk, dejectedly, back to the car rental counter.

 “Wallet?”

“No wallet.”

“Sorry buddy, no wallet, no car.”

“I don’t even have change for a payphone.” (Remember payphones?)

“Well, hey, least I can do is let you use our phone.”

I call my wife. We’d been married a whole five months. My wedding ring was still shiny. “Uh, sweetie, I’m in Charleston. Yeah, made it safely. But, uh, well, I kinda’ lost my wallet. No, I’m sure I put it in my pocket. Absolutely sure. Yes, one hundred percent absolutely sure. Oh. On the kitchen counter, huh?”

Can’t get money from the bank. No card.

Can’t use Western Union. No ID.

Can’t get wallet FedEx-ed. No time.

Can’t sleep in the airport.

Call the guy from the conference.

“Hey, random-youth-minister-guy-whom-I’ve-never-met-or-even-talked-to-before, I’m stuck in Charleston. Got no wallet. No way to get to the conference. Really? You’ll come get me?”

Bill, from Greenville, left the conference (which by this time had already started), drove an hour to come pick me up. Drove another hour back to Pawley’s Island. Stopped on the way to the conference to buy me dinner. First two problems solved.

Did I need an ID to check into the conference? Nope. “Here’s your nametag and a bag of Funions. Enjoy.” Gotta’ love youth ministry. Third problem solved.

Bill introduced me to a bunch of people, including Smith. Yes, that’s his first name. Smith knew the guy whose family ran the hotel I was booked in. Smith made a few phone calls. Smith vouched for me. (Remember when people actually vouched for each other?) Smith got me checked into my room. Fourth problem solved.

And so it went.

For three days.

The hotel gave me free breakfast because I knew Smith. A youth minister from Columbia bought me lunch. Another youth minister bought me dinner. Someone else gave me cash to buy Cokes. And someone else offered to drive me back to Charleston to catch my flight.

I spent three-and-a-half days in a town I’d never been to before.

Where I had known absolutely no one.

Without a wallet or a dime to my name.

And I was fine. A little embarrassed, somewhat chagrined, but fine.

Years later, I was talking to a friend from Liberia. I had just read an article about miracles occurring in African churches. Real miracles. Everyday miracles. Loaves of bread being multiplied. Healing of broken limbs. Water changed into wine for communion. I told my friend I had a hard time believing these miracle stories. I had prayed for miracles, I told him, but I had never seen any. Not even a little one.

He said, “What do you need miracles for? You have grocery stores. You have doctors. You can order a hundred different kinds of wine on the computer. Why would God waste miracles on you when you can take care of yourself?”

Why, indeed. 

The Rev. Jay George is vicar of Grace Church, San Antonio TX. Reach him at revjay@gracechurchsa.org.

Empty Hands

by Cynthia Caruso

It is Advent.  The time of waiting.  A friend and I have come from the 8 a.m. Eucharist at Church of Reconciliation and are now at Jim’s, eating migas.

“How are you living now,” I ask?   

“On donations,” she tells me.  “Someone is paying for the mortgage; friends send checks.  I’m very good at living frugally.” She sighs deeply, as Jesus must have in the Garden of Gethsemane, a ragged sigh.  “I have always depended on R. to fix things.  He could fix anything, and now I’m lost.  The A/C needs to be fixed in order to sell the house, and my hands are empty.  I have nothing left,” she tells me. 

Take nothing for the journey, Jesus told the seventy as he sent them out.  We are not good at doing this, but sometimes we are emptied, like it or not.  We don’t drop easily what is in our tightly-clutched fists, but while we are tending to something like a sick child or a dying spouse, what we have is taken from us, gently but firmly.

I know.  Now my friend knows.  Whole continents of people know every day.

Is this having “nothing for the journey” a loss?  Wall Street would say so, but Wall Street is not our God, and our God knows His people.  These empty hands of my friend are only empty to viewers who do not know the Way.  Outsiders do not see that her hands grasp Jesus’ garment. 

“I have always depended on men to take care of me.  Now there is not one left.  Not my father, not R.’s father, not R.  I will not put myself in that position ever again.  I am going to learn to care for myself.”  She exaggerates.  She is an artist and very capable; but right now, bereft and grieving, she yearns to be independent of the one whose death has left her empty. 

“I have been — we have been — sustained by prayer,” she tells me. “I will continue to trust Him.”  She is doing better than I was when I was in her position.  I debated whether to stay on the Path or not. 

No one in Jim’s — and the place is jammed at 10 a.m. on the second Sunday of Advent — can see my friend’s hands; but I see that they are touching the hem of Jesus’ garment.

Take nothing for the journey.  What I give you, He says, will be enough.

Cynthia Caruso is a seminary student at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. She is a former member of St. Boniface Episcopal Church in Comfort TX. Reach her at cwcaruso@alumni.ucdavis.edu.

 

Expectations, Baggage, and God

by the Rev. Mike Marsh

Remember packing for the last trip you took? Suitcases, backpacks, bags. Sometimes packing can be the most stressful part of the journey. What did you take? What did you leave behind? Why did you take what you did?

Most of us, I suspect, pack for our trips based on our expectations of where we are going, how long we will be gone, what we will do, who we will be with, andwhat the weather and terrain will be like. This is true not only for our geographical journeys but also for our emotional and spiritual journeys. Have you ever packed some fear, anger, or resentment based upon an upcoming meeting, conversation with a particular person, or event such as the family Christmas gathering? Maybe there have been times in your life when you carried a little delusion with you so you did not have to face a painful reality or truth. I suspect we have all, at one time or another, carried a bag full of expectations on our journey of prayer.

An underlying assumption in all our packing is that what we will need will not be available or provided if we do not provide it for ourselves. In some way our packing is an attempt to insulate and protect us from the risks and variables of the journey. Perhaps if we pack the right things we might gain some control and predictability over the circumstances of the journey and minimize the possibility of discomfort along the way. That is the attitude of the tourist, one who wants to visit some cool places, take pretty pictures, buy souvenirs, and return to the home he or she started from.

Pilgrims, however, are looking for a new home. They leave behind more than they pack. Pilgrims journey in such a way as to make themselves open, receptive, and vulnerable. They take nothing for the journey. Instead, they trust that the journey will provide.

And the journey may not provide what they want, but it will offer what they need. Pilgrims understand that baggage, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, often closes us off to the possibilities and the gifts the journey offers. Baggage, an outward and visible sign of inward expectations, limits where we will go, how we see, and what we can do.

There is often a wide gap between our expectations of the journey and the journey itself. Sometimes we come home disappointed because the trip did not meet our expectations.

What if there had been no expectations, if we had taken nothing for the journey? I wonder what we would have seen, how we would have been changed, who we would have met, and the ways in which God would have surprised and provided for us with more than we could ask or imagine.

The season of Advent challenges us to examine the expectations that fill the baggage we carry. How do they shape and limit who you think God is and what God is about in the world? What luggage might you need to lose? What would happen if you took nothing for the journey? My hunch is that Jesus would be born in you anew and God would come again for the first time.

The Rev. Michael Marsh is rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Uvalde TX. Reach him at marshmk@stphilipsuvalde.org or leave your comment below.

It’s About the Possibilities

Second Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2011

“In the midst of the silence there was spoken in me a secret word” (Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15).

By Marjorie George

The seminary professor strode into the classroom and greeted her students with, “Happy Advent!” Then she chuckled slightly and said, “Is that the right greeting? It’s Advent; you have to say something.” She thought for a moment. “How about ‘Have a mortifying Advent’?”

Exactly. It’s Advent, and one has to say something. We know about Advent; we have been taught that it is the season of preparation for the birth of Jesus. We get ready — by inward reflection and perhaps even bodily mortification — for Christmas day, when we relive the coming of Christ.

But what does the birth mean to me and to you? St. Augustine says that the birth of the Christ is always happening. But, we might ask with Meister Eckhart, “If it does not happen in me, what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me.” (From the essay “Where God Enters” in the book Watch for the Light.)

What does it mean for me, and for you, that the Lord God Almighty broke into human history and took the form of human flesh? I sing the carols and light the candles and celebrate the joy of Christmas with my family and with my church community. And it is good, and it is right, and it is worth celebrating.

But what does it mean for me? Not, “What’s in it for me?” or “What do I get out of this?” But “What does it mean to my soul that God became incarnate in the person of Jesus the Christ?”

I think that in that birthing moment, when eternity touched humanity, the laws of matter were set aside, the veil was rent, and a window of possibility was opened. The limitations imposed by our earthly form – our lives lived in a particular body, in a particular time and a particular place – were overcome. We, each of us, individually and personally, were given a possibility.

This is not the possibility that we will all live happily ever after – that Santa Claus is real and if we will just live good enough lives and be nice instead of naughty – one fine day we will find our stockings full of candy and toys and other fine things. It is, instead, the possibility of making an individual connection with God from the center of our souls, a connection that says, “Ah, here you are and here is where I wish to dwell, in unity with You even in the midst of the chaos of my external life.”

The Eternal One becomes flesh, visits the planet for a while, demonstrates the possibilities, and announces that those possibilities are real and are here and are now  —  we have but to push open the window a little and slip through it.

During Advent, we prepare our hearts, yes, but more than that, we prepare our souls to be able to recognize the possibilities God presents every single one of us. What is it that God is saying to me, to you, this Advent? What possibilities for living your life differently does he want you to see? What word, just for you, does he want you to hear in the silence?

Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org