Maundy Thursday

We have turned toward Easter. We have been amid this week of holy things, whether we’ve noticed or not. (And it has been strange for me this Holy Week, good because we’ve done about the holiest thing I know – the Collier clan has been laughing and eating and reading and digging in the sand and soaking in the sun, together. Strange, however, because we have not been with our Christian community during this most sacred of times.) In this final stretch, the stretch between Maundy Thursday and Resurrection Sunday, we experience an intense collision.

Darkness breaks against Light.

Quiet shatters with Laughter.

Fasting goes drunk with Feasting.

Death destroyed by Life.

Everything that needs redeeming (we could have just said everything) erupts with Easter.

In these remaining hours until Easter bursts upon us, may you experience all the collisions and the paradoxes and the hope and humility of having Jesus take you by surprise.

On Into Lent

We awakened to 3 or 4 inches of fresh powder this morning; and Wyatt and Seth got first tracks in the neighborhood with their sleds. Seth won the prize for best wipe-out (with a nice strawberry on the chin to serve as witness), but both of them had some pretty mammoth runs down the (very steep) hill. A superb morning.

Last Wednesday, we walked into Lent via a humble Ash Wednesday liturgy with All Souls. It was quiet and beautiful and rich. And yesterday, we entered the second week of Lent, as we move further into the rhythm, further into this time for stripping bare and re-centering, a time for awaiting the hope of Easter. Miska and I, as usual, picked what each other would surrender for Lent. Miska has forfeited chocolate, and I am to give up … fear.

Steering clear of chocolate will be difficult for Miska, given her penchant for Starbucks no-fat, decaf mochas (her narcotic of choice) and the Maya truffles from our local chocalatier, Gearhart’s. However, willpower and emptying the cupboards of offending items will see her through. That’s her story, though, not mine. I’ll leave it there.

Fear, however – now that’s a tricky one. I can’t exactly leave off fear by resisting to turn into Bucks’ drive-thru. I haven’t yet discovered a way to empty fear out of the pantry (though I’d love to try if you have any suggestions). I can’t turn fear off at 8 p.m., like last year’s discipline – no computer after 8. Miska picked exactly the right discipline for me, one that gets at the heart of my brokeness, one that touches my place of deepest need for Resurrection. But this I know: willpower alone will not get me through. I need Jesus.

So, as Lent began last week, I paid more attention to praying the hours. And, lo and behold, look what prayer greeted me as the prayer appointed for the week, the prayer I would find waiting for me each time I opened my prayer book:

Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who cares for us: Preserve me from faithless fears and worldy anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from me the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Every time I prayed, the words were thrust in front of me: fear nothing but the loss of you … cast all our cares … Preserve me from faithless fears

I get this sense that someone is talking to me, that Someone is coaxing me toward the light, toward Resurrection. We have miles to go, but we keep walking toward the light.

Lenten mercy to you…

p.s. Miska has posted one of my favorite Lent-appropriate observations from Kathleen Norris

Fourth Week of Advent

Our time of waiting nears its end*. Hopes now acute, we lean forward with expectant joy toward the day of Jesus’ nativity. Are you embracing those around you? Are you listening for signs of redemption? Are you prayerful and repentant? Are you making good use of your waiting?

We can discover much in the waiting. This is one discovery we make: the incarnation reveals to us, along with much else, the truth that Jesus is with us, in the real world, amid our laughter and tears, in our dark and in our light. Jesus truly is with us.

The Christmas story is familiar to everyone. Christmas cards and other modern renditions give us glimpses of a flawless Mary in pristine wrinkle-free clothing, a steady and unperturbed Joseph in an equally immaculate robe, a cheerful stable with clean straw and friendly animals…. Luke’s version is different: Mary isn’t even officially married to Joseph yet she’s pregnant; they have to travel…a distance of forty miles throughout the Samaritan and Judean hills; she gives birth…and has to lay her firstborn infant not in a cradle, but a feeding trough…. If we put ourselves into this situation, we sense pretty quickly it is no glittering Christmas card. It is real life…. {Dallas Willard}

*of course, I refer to this season of Advent waiting. We still yearn with all of creation for our full redemption.

Third Week of Advent

This is the week of joy. Joy arrives as a gift. Joy bends our way, catching us by surprise. Joy is a kind grace we could never manufacture on our own (at least not any deeply meaningful, sustainable measure of joy).

And yet – joy is not for the faint of heart. It requires courage to be open to joy, courage to receive something so beautiful, something that stirs us so profoundly it causes our soul to tremble. Joy offers a goodness we can not control. We can not guard ourselves from the hope it stirs. We must simply receive.

The refrain (from Psalm 40;4) for today’s midday prayers was most appropriate: Happy are they who trust in the Lord! (and I do love that exclamation point: !) Let’s allow this refrain to be our refrain.

When our soul is lonely
Happy are they who trust in the Lord!

When our family appears in tatters
Happy are they who trust in the Lord!

When our heart and hope have lost their center
Happy are they who trust in the Lord!

When love seems a distant memory
Happy are they who trust in the Lord!

When we are selfish and proud and small
Happy are they who trust in the Lord!

When we see the evil surrounding us
Happy are they who trust in the Lord!

For the hungry, the abandoned, the abused, the forgotten
Happy are they who trust in the Lord!

May joys be yours today, because God has come in Jesus. And God is coming again. Discover your joy.

To encourage your celebration of joy, I suggest snagging this excellent folksy Christmas album from the band Sojourn. The album is Advent Songs. And you can download it for free (by telling 5 friends about it) at NoiseTrade.

Second Week of Advent

God is coming!
All the element we swim in, this existence,
Echoes ahead the advent.
God is coming! Can’t you feel it?

{Walter Wangerin, Jr}

Can you feel it? Can you?

Advent, waiting for redemption, is an exercise in hope. Hope can be a tricky thing though. Hope has a number of enemies. Here’s the enemy I’ve been most aware of lately: cynicism. Cynicism smirks when others smile. Cynicism holds back when others open up. Cynicism pulls you into darkness whenever your spirit craves the light.

Cynicism and Hope are mortal enemies. So, then, this makes cynicism and advent mortal enemies. Where is advent asking you to hope? I’m really asking…where?

For me advent, is asking me to hope in the that God is forming something strong and beautiful in me, even if I feel weak and pretty much a wreck. Cynicism offers the constant sly whisper that all I will ever be is what I am. Advent tells me different.

What about you?

First Week of Advent

Advent is upon us. And yet this means that what is upon us is…waiting.

We wait. We hope. We listen to quiet sounds and simple words. We see more clearly the needs of others. We see more clearly our own broken places. And we open our heart to what the gospel promises: God has come and will come again. And, on those plain words, everything hinges, absolutely everything.

In Advent Waiting, we remember that Mary marveled at the mystery of a baby come. We remember that Sara laughed at the ridiculous promise. We remember that ever-mumbling and ever-forgetful Israel simply didn’t believe that Moses would come back down from the mountain, that God would give them water and meat, that they were better off in the wilderness than in Egypt even if (especially if) all they had was God. We remember that we have doubted and struggled and laughed and wrestled … and believed. Indeed, we have believed – halting and feeble at times but, yes, we have believed. And we believe sill. This Advent, we believe. And we wait.

A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes… and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent. {Dietrich Bonhoeffer}

I hope to post at least one Advent peace each week. Join me for the journey.

Lent: Into Holy Week

I have a friend who describes himself as a “planner.” Me, not so much. We both had to create similar strategic documents mapping out future plans and projections. His was 64 pages plus a bibliography. I stretched mine to 5 (and it might not have made it past two if I hadn’t cut and pasted info I already had from other places).

If I could banish one word from the English language, it would be systematic. Too much emphasis on calendars or protocol or uniformity often makes me feel stifled, trapped, locked-in. Last time Miska was away, I let the boys wear the same clothes (maybe even underwear – I don’t really remember) multiple days. I mean, why change out clothes just because of a little stink? If Seth loves his batman t-shirt, then what’s an extra day or two or three going to hurt?

Usually, if you tell me something has to be done a certain way, I’m almost certain to immediately consider that a challenge to be swiftly contradicted. In arguments with Miska (hypothetical, of course), I at times find myself in emotionally and intellectually untenable positions simply because I’ve played the devil’s advocate to the point of absurdity. But, really, who says that Spring has to follow Winter, hmmm? Who? Often, it isn’t until I find myself alone in the room with no one to argue with because Miska simply gave me that wow-you-just-did-it-again-and- in-a-half-hour-or-so-you-are-going-to-feel-really-stupid-when-you- apologize-for-this-one look and walked out.

As I’ve said, I don’t like having much of anything laid on me. Not that this is good (in fact, it often isn’t) – it’s just the truth.

However, I have grown to appreciate the imposition of the Christian calendar. Every year, in almost monotonous cycles, we move from Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to Lent to Easter to Pentecost, all the way back to Advent again. Every year. Like clockwork, literally. We don’t make it up. We don’t push it forward. The seasons come when they come. We just wait and receive them, live them (or don’t), and then watch them pass.

We can make much of the seasons, or we can make little. We can celebrate them, or we can ignore them. No matter, they come. And they go. The question for us is simply whether or not we will allow them to waken our heart, to pull us into The Grand and Mysterious Story.

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, we embarked on the journey through Holy Week. This week, we walk (if we choose to) with Jesus through his week of Passion. This week is happening, all around us. Grace and mercy and hope and repentance are happening, all around us. We may not feel it. We may barely remember amid projects or diapers or broken down cars or broken down hearts. Our sin or our confusion or our fear may gobble up every ounce of mental energy.

But all you have to do is sit down. Sit your body down. Sit your mind down. And look around you. Look with your ears. Listen with your heart.

Holy Week is happening. Jesus is marching toward his cross. The Resurrection is only days away. It is coming whether we pay attention or not. This imposition is a grace. It isn’t up to you. Or me. We have little say in the matter.

Jesus moves. Redemption comes. Whether we notice or not – that is the only piece left to us.

Hoping to notice,

Lent: Where This Time is Taking Me

We are nearing the homestretch of Lent. This has been a significant journey. Forty days – it isn’t exactly eternal, but in our instant society, forty days of anything tests our will and discipline. Really, for me, I think Lent simply tests our attention. Can I pay attention to God’s ongoing work for a stretch of days? Must I always be moving on to the next thing, the next truth, the rush, the next idea? Can I just sit and wait and hope and listen and receive?

And this is not all sour stuff. As I read this morning, one writer pointed out how the Taize Book of Common Prayer refers to Lent’s forty days as “a celebration of the joy of God’s forgiveness.” I like that.

Hear are a few things this stretch of Lent is telling me (reminds me, really):

+I am too tied to technology, particularly email. I want to shut it down more often.

+Food is intended for joy and pleasure (as well as nourishment, of course), but it can also be a way of hiding. In my youth, food (and lots of it) was one of our few acceptable vices. Now, I often run to food when I’m bored or anxious or angry or afraid. I’d rather run to God.

+God wants to heal my broken places; he really does.

+I love my wife and boys … (in the words of Dick Cheney) big time.

+Something’s up. God is stirring. God is moving. Risk and joy and life ahead.

Has Lent reminded you of any truths?

peace / Winn

Lent: Lenten Zerberts

To look at the last great self-portraits of Rembrandt or to read Pascal or hear Bach’s B-minor Mass is to know beyond the need for further evidence that if God is anywhere, he is with them, as he is also with the man behind the meat counter, the woman who scrubs floors at Roosevelt Memorial, and the high school math teacher who explains fractions to the bewildered child. Frederick Buechner

My spiritual experience goes two ways: full of mystery and complexity and utter confusion but also (and often at the same time) the most concrete, plain-as-day reality. Some days, the whole thing feels like the tangled, cuss-inducing mess of wires that hides behind the amoir housing our stereo and speakers and tv and vcr and cd player and xbox and gamecube (for the boys, of course) – just an unworkable mess that I will never make sense of. What is happening? What am I to do? What is God saying? Why is this all so dang complicated?

Other days, though, there is no mystery, no confusion. It’s simple, really. Pray a prayer. Take a walk. Kiss my wife. Call a friend. Give my son a zerbert . God is in the zerbert as much as he is in my fasting or my wrestling with a text or in my self-reflection about the state of my soul. Buechner insists we not forget: God is with the man at the meat counter too.

This week, Lent has appeared to me in simpler, plainer ways. Lent is an old word and can invoke (often, properly) a sense of introspection and mediation and somber repentance. Sometimes, though, repentance takes shape in earthier, plainer acts. Like these of the past five or six days:

+Monday morning, I got up and did Turbo Jam with my wife. If you are unfamiliar, Turbo Jam is what you would get if you took Tae Bo to a techno dance club on ladies’ night. I don’t know what the morning exercise did for my man-o-meter, but somehow, being with her that morning just felt like the thing to do.

+yesterday, I stopped working for a few minutes to play checkers with Seth. My generosity ended with my time – I did beat him. I have to get wins in now; it won’t last long.

+Miska and I went to this fabulous restaurant (O – yup, that’s the name, just O. Chic, huh?) in downtown Greenville this weekend, and I bought Miska a spring dress from Sundance. All splurges, but I just wanted to throw caution to the wind and be reckless in my love for this amazing woman.

+a time or two, when fear or shame slammed against my heart, I just shrugged my shoulders and kept strolling (perhaps channeling the spirit of Miska’s new shame-ignoring word, whatev…)

+I ordered Italian sausage pizza. I never order red meat pizza anymore (and for good reason). I won’t do this often, but this one time when the moment hit, I just looked at cholesterol and said – (that’s right) – whatev

For me, these moments were all in the spirit of Lent, surrendering to God’s reality and truth. Stepping out of my own story and into the story of the Gospel.

Lenten joy / Winn