Journey Through the Liturgical Year

I’ve decided (albeit belatedly) to follow the liturgical year over the next year and blog about it from time to time.  Since the first Sunday of Advent was this past Sunday, I’d better get a move on.

Advent is a period of preparation for Christmas but, unlike Lent, it is not a period of penance.  It is a period that focuses us on joy.  We prepare ourselves to understand the full adult meaning of the feast.  We come to realize more each year how great are our blessings, how beautiful is a life lived in concert with the Jesus who came to show us the way.  We learn the joy of anticipation, the joy of delighting in a sense of the presence of God all around us, the joy of looking for the second coming of Christ, the joy of living in the surety of even more life in the future. – Joan Chittister

I started reading The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister (read a review by my friend Wess Daniels) along with Eternal Seasons, which is a collection of excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s writing, edited by Michael Ford.  Here’s something Nouwen said that struck me in his discussion of Mary’s response in Luke 1:38 to the news that she was pregnant with God’s child: “She was saying, ‘I don’t know what this all means, but I trust that good things will happen.’ She trusted so deeply that her waiting was open to all possibilities.” In reading these books, I am reminded that Advent is a season of waiting–unlike the waiting of the lenten season–that is full of hope, expectation, and joy.

I have spent the last three years learning to find meaning in the painful, barren waiting the lenten season teaches us. I have cried, rebelled, and begged God for answers when the only answer I ever received was wait, wait.  Today in my readings, I realized that my last three years of waiting have been all wrong.  I wasn’t meant to wait in a prolonged state of repentance, despair, and emptiness.  I was meant to wait in hopeful and joyful expectation of the next season in my spiritual journey.  I realized today as I read about the Advent season that I consistently used as my breath prayer the line Mary used to express surrender to the season God had brought her into when the angel Gabriel brought her the news. For three years, I have prayed with Mary: Let it be to me as you have said.

This realization has given me new eyes to look back on my experience of graduating from seminary and trying to figure out what to do next.  I see now that what I perceived as barren wasn’t barren at all. In fact, it was pregnant!  Now I can’t speak from experience, but any mother will tell you that pregnancy isn’t exactly the most pleasant experience.  In fact, it can be quite unpleasant and even painful to endure nine months of ever increasing weight, movement, and discomfort.  Nevertheless, there is also hope, expectation, and joy.  I’m not sure what my season of waiting is going to bring into being, or when that expectation will be realized.  What I do know for sure is that all those times I felt forsaken, I wasn’t.  All those times I felt empty, I wasn’t.  Instead, I am filled with the very fullness of God–living and moving inside of me.  I want to be like Mary.  I want to be open to all possibilities, as Nouwen said, and I want to trust that it is all going to be for good.  Something is going to change, and I can’t wait to find out what is coming…or becoming!

The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, expecting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance in a world preoccupied with control. – Henri Nouwen

 

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Church or Bust

So our church visit tonight was a total bust.  To all church leaders everywhere, please update your websites!

Matt and I had planned all day that we would visit a church down in Ventura tonight for their 6pm service, allowing Matt his first chance in a while to really sleep in.  We drove down to Ventura this afternoon at about 4:30 after a leisurely morning and early afternoon sleeping and puttering around the apartment.  We caught a quick bite at Jack in the Box, went by Bed Bath and Beyond to return some household items that weren’t working out, and made our way to the church building.  Pulling into the darkened strip mall, we knew immediately that something was wrong, but we thought we had just entered the church’s business office address by mistake.  After some quick investigation via smartphone, it became clear that we were indeed in the right location.  We pulled up to the door and saw the church logo screened on the window along with the service times below: 9am and 11am.  Boo.  Evidently the 6pm service no longer exists, and no one bothered to update the website accordingly.  If you’re going to have a web presence, people, it needs to be useful!

We were really disappointed since we could have gone to a morning service if we had known the evening service wasn’t an option, and now it was too late to find another church option this week.  We were doubly disappointed since Matt is working the next two Sundays, so we won’t have another chance to check out a new church for a while.  Our whole day had been geared toward going to church tonight, and now we were so deflated we just turned around and went home.  Driving back toward Santa Barbara, we hit major traffic and spent most of the journey back at an unsteady 6mph pace.

On the upshot, we decided to listen to a podcast of a sermon at Mars Hill Bible Church called Miracles and Maple Trees (you can download it here) that helped redeem the evening with the reminder that our God is a God who heals. Amen to that!  Our evening was further redeemed by an unexpected conversation with a young married couple living in our same complex.  We bonded over miraculous stories, theology, music, and snowboarding.  Further proof that God our Redeemer is God of more than just the miraculous; God also redeems the mundane, like our disappointment over not getting to attend church this week.  Our church visit may have been a bust, but our evening was a success.  Thanks, God, for caring about the little things in our lives.

Why Being an Idealist Sucks

Matt and I have been looking for a church ever since we moved to Carpinteria about 3 months ago.  While we haven’t been able to attend church every Sunday due to Matt’s work schedule, we’ve still visited 6 or 7 churches so far and have another new one laid out to visit tonight.  While we both know that no church is perfect and believe it is important to be in consistent Christian community wherever we are, we’re having a really hard time finding a church we can both feel comfortable in because we’re both recent seminary graduates and too idealistic for our own good.  (Plus, Matt is also a musician.)  Aside from the basic tenants of faith we would never bend on, here’s what we’re looking for (in no particular order). * indicates a must.

Music featuring drums and guitars (i.e., no organ/choir) *

Music is more about the Holy Spirit’s leading than the leader’s leading *

Songs written recently

Emphasis on music as part of worship

Supportive of women in ministry *

Women in pastoral/leadership positions (other than Children’s Ministry or Administration)

Multi-cultural/multi-racial (i.e. not all Caucasian people)

Multi-generational

Some young marrieds without kids (i.e. we need some friends)

Intellectual sermon *

Preferably Fuller-esque theology (i.e. likeminded)

“Community” feel, a place we can connect, comfortable atmosphere *

Open to the Holy Spirit

Artsy, artistic, celebrating worship with art

Not more than 1 hr away *

Liturgical (not necessarily in the traditional sense)

Emerging

So far it seems we can find either the music/art side of things or the theology side of things.  It’s been a very discouraging experience thus far to see the state of churches today as opposed to the vision we have for what the Church can be.  It doesn’t help that Matt has had extensive experience with church planting, so we’re more likely to start something new where we can’t find it than be satisfied with whatever we find to be the status quo.  Starting something new is great when you already have a likeminded community to start something with, but since we just moved here and have no friends yet outside of Matt’s coworkers, there’s not much we can do on our own.

Besides, we both just need somewhere we can plug in and recharge for a while, receive and rest rather than work and give.  The trouble with having a leadership skill set (especially when you’re also a phenomenal musician like Matt is), is we end up in leadership positions wherever we go.  As newlyweds, we’re both in a season of needing a break, yet that means giving the churches around here a break as well and not being so critical.  It’s awfully disappointing to have to lower our expectations in order to find a church community, but it’s a good exercise in humility as well.  We don’t have all the answers, either, and perhaps our vision for the Church is one that will only be fully realized in the Kingdom to come–the “not yet,” if you will, rather than the “already.”

Here’s hoping we have better luck tonight.

Two Years Later…

I had grand aspirations in January 2010, didn’t I?  Blogging magnificently each week, drawing inspiration and spiritual insight from my walks at the Arboretum.  But life interrupted.  My apologies to anyone who actually read my posts, although this blog never really got off the ground.  If I can excuse myself, I was busy:

falling in love,

getting engaged,

getting married,

and being a newlywed.  Here’s where we live now:

 

Now that life has settled down a bit, I hope to get back to inspiration and insight–this time from walks on the beach and around the salt marsh just outside our apartment.  I’ve also started another blog about having a holistic body theology.  Feel free to check it out.

Insight for today: just as we can’t rush progress, or greatness, or growth, or waiting–so we can’t rush resting.  Rest and restoration take as long as they take.  We’re not promised a time frame, but we are promised a finish line.

God restores my soul. – Psalm 23

The one who began this great work in you will bring it to completion.  – Philippians 1