The First and the Last

Readings: Psalm 90; 2 Samuel 7:18-29; Revelation 22:12-16

“See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay everyone according to everyone’s work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolators, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star.” Revelation 22:12-16, NRSV

[Revelation is an example of apocalyptic literature – a graphic and larger-than-life depiction of the end of everything. It is a genre written for those in dire situations, who are already living in calamity. It is gospel, good news, for the oppressed because it offers this truth: there is nothing that prevents us from returning to the God who created us and loves us.]

All that is comes from God, from the first moment of creation through this very moment. That includes you, me, and everyone else. There is no one who didn’t come from God’s loving, creative act; there’s no one who won’t return to God’s loving embrace. It’s the here and now that seems to be a place of separation – from God, each other, and the earth itself.

Most of us, not all, are not living in a living hell that cannot be changed no matter what actions we take. For us, Revelation’s stark images and larger-than-life metaphors don’t give comfort because they aren’t written for us. But they can spur us to act for those living in those dark places. They also remind us that God is the last word as well as the first – our end as well as our beginning.

Jesus, show me how to trust in you in this space between the first and the last. Amen.

Divine Time

Readings: Psalm 90; Numbers 17:1-11; 2 Peter 3:1-8

This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you; in them, I am trying to arouse your sincere intention by reminding you that you should remember the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets, and the commandment of your Lord and Savior spoken through your apostles. First of all you must understand this, that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and indulging their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since our ancestors died, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation!” They deliberately ignore this fact, that by the word of God heavens existed long ago and an earth was formed out of water and by means of water, through which the world of that time was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the present heavens and earth have been reserved for fire, being kept until the day of judgement and destruction of the godless.

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 2 Peter 3:1-8,NRSV

Time is tricky. She speeds by unnoticed when I am joyful, and drags her feet when I’m bored. At times, I’m acutely aware of her passing – birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, funerals, Christmas Eve services, and Easter Vigils. These mark her path through my life as the wrinkles on my face and grey in my hair reveal her mark on my physical body.

But time is slippery and doesn’t mark her path the same way in all cases. To a butterfly, my life span is unimaginably vast; to a redwood tree, my years are a leaf that skitters past in the wind – here and gone in little more than an instant.

Given God’s eternal nature, it’s no wonder that a thousand years is like a single day. But I’d be silly to ignore the first part of Peter’s verse: that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years. I may be blind to things that come and go in a heartbeat, but God has all the time in the world to see and love every single nuance and every single detail. There’s always time enough for God because time herself belongs to God.

Guide us, O God, on the way to Bethlehem. Amen.

Insects and the Apocalypse

Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-35

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth, distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heaven will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Luke 21:25-28, NRSV

If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state

of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish,

the environment would collapse into chaos.*

This prophecy from the eminent scientist E.O. Wilson presents the real apocalypse of our time. Here’s our Advent version, the “Little Apocalypse” of Luke: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. . . . Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

It is frankly spiritual malpractice to read gospels like the one appointed for today, and not challenge the sense of redemption-from-above, which made sense in the Ptolemaic universe of the Bible, but which today is deadly. Asking people to “raise their heads” and look up into the clouds for their redemption—while the earth burns up beneath them—has led us to disaster. 

This is not new. Ecotheologians have been warning for decades about the deleterious effects of a “left behind” eschatology, one that sees the earth as dispensable since we are on our way to the New Jerusalem in the sky. But now the distant drumbeat has become a deafening percussion. Now the evidence of our misuse of the earth is incontrovertible, and we must ask one another to look not up, but around us and beneath us.

This week I read an article on the disappearance of insect species. The threats to bugs, it turns out, are mostly the same as those that afflict other animals. Loss of habitat, fertilizers that leach out of fields and destabilize the plant life insects depend on, millions of pounds of pesticides laid down each year, climate change, light pollution. A friend who runs a pest control business told me that if you call an exterminator to kill all the backyard mosquitos for your daughter’s birthday party, most will simply blitz the yard with chemicals powerful enough to kill not just the mosquitos in the grass—but every living thing. 

But our life depends on insects. They are key to most every food chain, the earth’s principal pollinators, and critical decomposers. If humans were to disappear from the face of the earth, as E.O. Wilson reminds us, the planet would undergo a renaissance. If insects go, the ecosystem collapses. 

T.S. Eliot mused that the world would end, “not with a bang, but a whimper.” For centuries, Christian apocalyptic has been all about bang. The irony is, we could end it all by neglecting the ant and the bee and the beetle and their ten quintillion brothers and sisters (that’s 10 with 18 zeroes after it). 

Advent, squinting in opposite directions, envisions both the coming of the infant Christ at the beginning of sacred time, and his coming again at the End. We are to live our lives in view of that End, making wise choices, resisting short-term thinking that leads to long-term calamity. Christians in centuries past can be forgiven for looking to the clouds, for taking the health and vitality of the earth, and therefore the vitality of the human species, for granted. We cannot.

*“Bugs in the System,” The New Yorker, November 1, 2021. 

Offered by David Anderson, to light the path to Bethlehem.

A Pause Before Advent

In less than two weeks, Advent begins. Once again, daily posts from many different people will grace this space, lighting our path as we seek the Christ Child once more. This is the beginning of a new church year, and a time to reflect on all that this past year brought in its days. I’m taking a break from writing – a deep breath before immersing myself in Advent. Until then, I’ll ponder this:

Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105, NRSV

An Artful Blessing

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

They come a bit early to Sunday school, and help me set up the day’s activities while their mother leads the choir. They keep me informed about all the latest happenings in their lives, and on the new toys and books that I’m too old to know about. And they draw. This Sunday, they drew me.

(By Henry Tyler)
(By Addy Tyler)

The artistry, and the effort that it took, are wonderful answers to what was good?

The artists, Addy and Henry, are wonderful answers to another of the questions: where did you see God?

Before, During, and Aftermath

Last week, a storm blew in, stayed long enough to down trees and power lines, then headed out. Already high water levels went even higher. A few inches of water and two and a half days without power were the results. The lights and heat returning were among the answers to “what was good” in the storm’s aftermath.

My answer before the storm centered on appreciation for the time to get things buttoned up before the 70+ mile an hour winds arrived – putting away things that might be damaged/do damage if left out, getting the cars off the road, and getting ahead on laundry and baking (just in case.).

The before and after aren’t much of a surprise, are they? But the “what was good” during might be. I was so grateful for the time without power. Life took on a rhythm based on sun and light; appliances and electronics were no longer vying for attention. I woke up well rested, refreshed.

I wouldn’t want to live without electricity as a permanent thing, but for a couple of days in warm enough weather it was blessing more than burden.

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

Add your answers…

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Original Source

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

These three questions for me are the gist of the Daily Examen of Saint Ignatius, but that’s not where I first heard them all strung together. They guided the evening wrap-up for the teens and chaperones of Saint John’s church, Duxbury, on their yearly mission trip.

It’s been twelve or so years since I heard the questions, and they’ve stayed with me. I’d guess they’ve stayed with everyone who went on those mission trips, in one form or another. In their depth and simplicity, they offer a holy pattern of remembering, of recognizing God’s presence in the people and events that daily life offers. They offer us a glimpse of the holiness of our own lives.

Saint Ignatius came first, but it was Heidi Marcotte who gave me the questions. I am profoundly changed by and grateful for them.

What Was Good?

Heidi Marcotte’s presence in my work at Saint John’s back then, and the blessing of her friendship today.

The Examened Life

It’s November. The days are getting shorter, and the separation between Halloween and Christmas seems to shrink a little bit more every year. I don’t want to lose this month of harvest and giving thanks.

Last year, I wrote a pandemic curriculum for Thanksgiving based on the Daily Examen of Saint Ignatius. In a time when many activities were out of the question, and many people were questioning their life patterns, it seemed like a good idea. I put it in the form of three questions:

What was good? What was hard? Where did you see God?

Families were encouraged to take some time each day to answer them together, and were given paper of various shapes to write their answers down. It was my way of offering a specific spiritual practice for God’s beloved children of all ages.

This year, even with the restoration of some of our pre-pandemic patterns, I’m returning to the three questions of the Examen for the Thanksgiving curriculum. What was good this day/week/month/season? What was hard? Where did you see God? I hope you will join me, adding your own answers and spending time with the creator who loves you beyond measure.

Click here to add your thoughts on these three questions;

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