Monday, December 10, 2018


Every valley shall be exalted
         and every hill and mountain made low.
One of the best-loved verses 
         from Handel’s Messiah is about 
         exalting the valleys and leveling the hills 
         so God can get to us and we can get to God.
Handel got these words from John the Baptist
         who got them from 2ndIsaiah who got them 
                  from the prophet Baruch.

Baruch was the first to say,
God has ordered that . . . 
          the everlasting hills be made low
         and the valleys filled up,
         to make level the ground, 
         so Israel may walk safely 
         in the glory of God.
Of course, he isn’t talking about 
         literal earth moving.
He doesn’t want to turn White Pine County 
           into Nebraska.
He doesn’t mean the hills and valleys 
             outside us on the ground.
Baruch is talking about the hills and valleys 
of our spiritual in-scape, 
the topography of our hearts. 

Hills are obviously challenges, 
        obstacles in our path.
But the valleys aren’t so obvious.
So Baruch explains the valleys.
They are the low points in our lives,
         the failures, the shame, the depression, 
          the loneliness.
Baruch promises God will lift us up 
         from those valleys if we let him.

Then to explain how we let God lift us up,
         how we give God permission to heal us,
         Baruch shifts to a different metaphor.
                  – a metaphor of changing clothes.

Take off the garment of sorrow and affliction,
          he writes, and put on forever 
          the glory of God.
He says to take off the black veil of mourning
         and put on your best red party dress.
We prepare the Lord’s way in our hearts
         by taking off the garment of sorrow 
         and affliction.

Usually, we think of preparing for Christ 
         by giving up our sins.
But these prophets all say something 
        a bit different from what we expect.
They say we get ready for Christ,
         by giving up our habits of misery.

Baruch doesn’t mean we give up 
           negative experiences.
Unfortunately, we can’t avoid some hardships.
So, Baruch doesn’t say to give up 
           sorrow and affliction.
He says to give up the garmentof sorrow 
           and affliction.
That means our identification
          with sorrow and affliction
         – our definition of ourselves 
         in terms of our suffering,
                  our failings, and our shame.
People have a perverse tendency to get attached
         to feeling an old familiar way, 
         even if it’s bad.
We get into a comfortable habit 
       of thinking of ourselves 
in an old familiar way even if it’s shaming.

We may think of ourselves 
          as someone people don’t like.
We may think of ourselves as the loser, 
         the lonely one, 
         the responsible one, the martyr, 
                  or the one people take for granted.
The role of victim is especially 
         in vogue these days.
So ask yourself, this Advent, what tragic roles
         you habitually play,
         because these roles are your
         garment of sorrow.

If we dress for sorrow and affliction, 
         then sorrow and affliction 
          is what the world will serve us.
The habit of suffering clouds our perception,
                  until all our new experiences look
                           just like the old ones.
We see the world through sad-colored glasses.
A wise friend once said to me,
         I was marred at 13 and a mother at 14. 
         My son was a drug addict, 
                  and my first husband beat me.
         If I choose to live in that I can.  
         But I’d rather get on to something else.
So, she did. 
She went back to college at 40, 
          graduated, then joined 
         Volunteers In Service To America
          helping prevent kids from dropping out 
                           of school as she had done.
Instead of living in her victimhood and failure,
         she got on with life.

Advent, is the time, as the hymn says,
to leave the gloomy haunts of sadness,
Advent is the time because 
           this isn’t just pop psychology.
It isn’t advice for positive thinking.
There’s far, far more at stake here 
          than a better mood.
This about is the birth of Christ.
That’s what we are here on this earth to do,
         to give birth to Christ, to incarnate Christ,
         to be the light for this darkened world.
If we aren’t doing that, 
         we’re wasting our time here.

In Advent, we make a space 
           in our hearts for Christ.
We empty out, make room, push things aside.
We let go of old ways, 
             and clear out a place 
              to let Christ be Christ in us.
We shape our soul like the womb 
          of the Blessed Virgin  Mary, 
         so we too can each be a Theotokos,  
                     a God-bearer.

In her poem “The Pool of God,” 
         Sr. Jessica Powers wrote:

         There was nothing in the Virgin’s soul
         that belonged to the Virgin –
         no word, no thought, no image, no intent. 
         She was a pure, transparent pool reflecting
         God, only God. . .

I pray to hollow out my earth and be
         filled with these waters of transparency.  . .
         Oh, to become a pure pool like the Virgin,
         water that lost (even) the semblance of water
         and was a sky like God.

 We hollow out our earth, become transparent,
         by letting go of our habitual gloominess.
We clear out the pain and it makes 
           a space inside us.

Spaciousness, brothers and sisters 
           – spaciousness -- 
         we cultivate spaciousness,
         that Christ may enter us 
         and fill our spaciousness.
Then we will become Christ 
         for a world that desperately needs Christ.
Then we will shine forth the holy light 
         that the darkness cannot overcome.