Hope

Grace Stories

Malachite from Congo. Image courtesy Albert Russ/shutterstock.com

Malachite from Congo. Image courtesy Albert Russ/shutterstock.com

Advent is a time for stories. In my childhood, these weeks were filled with Sunday school pageants, beautifully illustrated children's books, and swapping out Legos for the figurines in my mom’s Nativity collection. My favorite part of the Advent story was always the gathering of unlikely companions — magi, shepherds, angels, and a menagerie of farm animals. This year, I find the Advent story accompanied by another, and it starts like this:

Gold, frankincense, myrrh: precious gifts carried by three magi for the King of kings and Lord of lords. Gold, coltan, diamonds: precious gifts of Creation held in the earth of Congo, taken by the "kings" of powerful nations for the commodities of their people. Coltan alone can be found in the cell phones, hearing aids, and prosthetic devices we use in the West every day. These gifts have become a curse with the massacre of over 5.5 million Congolese, numbers nearly equal to the Holocaust. Yet Congo’s conflict remains mostly silent.

Hope — The Most Important Gift

Snowdrops peek through the snow. Image courtesy ArtOfLightPro/shutterstock.com

Snowdrops peek through the snow. Image courtesy ArtOfLightPro/shutterstock.com

I currently serve as Pastoral Associate at a Catholic parish in Buffalo, NY, where our pastor decided to hold monthly Prayer Hours for Peace in response to the violent outbreaks in Syria, the uprising in Ferguson over Michael Brown’s death, ISIS, gang violence — to name a few.

Our November Prayer Hour for Peace offered four rounds of Scripture passages and ten-minute reflection and prayer time, followed with an excerpt from a Pax Christi USA prayer called “Just for Today.”

I read this excerpt aloud:

“Just for today, I will believe that world peace is possible. I will remember that hope is the most important gift I can give my world.”  

The next Scripture verse was from Psalm 122:6-8.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, Peace be within you.”

For the next ten minutes, I inhaled “belief….possible” and exhaled “hope most important gift.” Physically, my body relaxed, and I watched my hope flow out into my immediate surroundings.

Rhythms

Advent illustration, Zurbagan / Shutterstock.com

Advent illustration, Zurbagan / Shutterstock.com

Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking,

“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?

For we have observed his star at its rising,

and have come to pay him homage.”

They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea;

for so it has been written by the prophet.” (Matthew 2:1b, 5 NRSV)

Waiting, preparing, journeying, hoping.

Advent.

Unless you’re newborn yourself, you may have experienced it before, many times over. Christianity’s rhythm is cyclic, repetitive. Still, in the same way that we can continually find new gusts of loveliness and truth in old Scriptures our eyes have taken in before, each Advent is a fresh encounter. Not because the story is new, but because the cosmos has changed – we have changed. The Word is new because the world is new.

Hope in the Christ’s Resurrection

esign36 / Shutterstock.com

esign36 / Shutterstock.com

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
—Colossians 1:15-20

As we spend this season of Advent waiting for the appearance of Christ, this passage in Colossians tells us who we are waiting for. Paul describes a ‘cosmic Christ’ who is so fantastic that our language can’t be exalted enough to praise him. In him everything will be recreated as everything was created in him. Since Jesus is the “firstborn from the dead” then there will be many born from the dead after him.

A Season of Hope

Yeko Photo Studio / Shutterstock.com

Yeko Photo Studio / Shutterstock.com

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” —Romans 8:24-25

We’ve had a tough year. The media has been full of stories about the raging Ebola epidemic, gridlock and partisanship in Congress, racial injustice in countless communities across our country, immigrant children stranded at the U.S./Mexico border, unrest in the Gaza Strip, and so much more. The Sojourners staff experienced our own personal heartbreak this year with the passing of Elizabeth “Zab” Palmberg, a beloved member of our editorial staff.

With all of this pain and heartache in the world, I often find myself asking, “Where is the hope?”

I realize I am not alone in asking this question. It’s one that many people seem to be asking themselves this year, in light of all that has happened and that continues to happen.

In the midst of my search for hope, I find comfort in these words from Romans, quoted above. As a Christian, I hope in the resurrection and for the full redemption of our broken world. This vision of a redeemed world keeps me going in the midst of my questioning, my doubt, my impatience and frustration with the current brokenness of the world. I hope for this unseen reality and eagerly await its arrival.

November Sings the Blues

Bare branches in the rain. Image courtesy PunctRo/shutterstock.com

Bare branches in the rain. Image courtesy PunctRo/shutterstock.com

Late November is Vitamin D season. The dregs of the year threaten to swamp the spirit, clinging to each rough edge of the soul, and frequent shots of sunshine and warm coziness are needed just to keep the deep at bay. Each shadow left in the wake of autumn’s receding glory whispers, “Not yet.” And, “Not anymore.”

Next week the liturgical church celebrates Advent — the crown jewel of liminal spirituality. Advent is the thinnest place of Christian ritual, where material Today touches fingertips with spiritual Tomorrow. It looks forward while standing still, gently holding the embers of our souls, watching with hope for divine light and grace to set them aflame. Advent is gospel, singing, “The real story is yet to come.” Advent is the Now and the Not Yet.

But this week is for the Not Anymore. Today is for the blues. 

And That Is Grace ...

Image by Jomayra Soto / via Creationswap.com

Image by Jomayra Soto / via Creationswap.com

It’s interesting how the word “grace” gets used a lot, even by those who don’t necessarily consider themselves religious. It’s a favorite name for a character that represents someone who is a gift to us — I’m thinking about Bruce’s girlfriend Grace in Bruce Almighty, or Eli’s reassuring encounter with a woman named Grace in the second season of the TV series Eli Stone.

You can probably cite many more examples of characters named Grace in different movies, television shows, and books.

We like to put flesh-and-blood on the notion that we are recipients of some great gift that arrives unexpectedly and is given freely. Someone or something that comes into our life and significantly changes it for the better in some ways.

But what is grace? Who is grace to us?

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