Tag Archives: prayer

Christmas Choices

It often seems when our family gathers at Christmas that the many activities, the many foods, the many gifts, the many reunions of cousins and brothers and sisters, fill the rooms to bursting, leaving no room for the story of the Incarnation. So, unhappily, on the birthday of Our Lord we are pulled away from him, away from the story of the Word made flesh, and God’s still small voice is muffled by the loud chatter of Christmas.  So I tried something new this year at our family gathering.  The grandchildren (age 12 through 20) read the nativity story aloud as we sat before the twinkling tree and the crèche figures arranged to the side.

The tree was bright and shimmering against a window of foggy sky, but the crèche – the fired clay figures of Mary, Joseph, the Christ Child, the shepherds, the wise men, the sheep and cows – was dim and gray-blue, almost shadowy, set upon the river-rock hearth. The rough clay figures seemed more real than the fir tree, as though they were earthen, solid, but somehow eternal.

Our readers began with the words of St. Luke, “The angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary…” These words tell of the great event we call “The Annunciation,” when Gabriel announces to Mary that God has chosen her to be the mother of his son. It is a precious and fabulous moment in history, for while Mary was chosen, she still had to choose.

Sr. Mary Gabriel Whitney OP of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, relates this pivotal moment in a charming ballad included on the CD, Mater Eucharistiae: 

And so on that day
The whole human race
Held its breath to hear the answer
Of the Queen of Grace.
 

The whole human race. Indeed, we all held our breath.

My grandchildren continued St. Luke’s account. We heard how Mary visited Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, and how Mary sang the song we call The Magnificat, magnifying and rejoicing in God her savior. We learn of the historical census decreed by Caesar Augustus, how Mary and Joseph went up from Galilee to Bethlehem, the City of David, how she brought forth her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. We then see the bright angels appearing to the shepherds and bringing the good tidings of great joy… that a savior has been born, who is Christ the Lord, and they would find him wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. We learn of the wise men from the East who follow a star to the manger where the young child was. Finally, we hear how all fell down on their knees and worshiped the Child.

It was a short reading, but the story of the Incarnation settled upon our souls, warming us. For a few minutes we recalled why we were celebrating on this 25th of December, 2013. For a few minutes we re-called the Lord of Hosts and his awe-full act of love, coming among us as he did.

I often think how God chose to come to his people, in this moment in time. I think of Mary and her choice, her answer. I wonder at the choices we make minute to minute, day to day, the power each of us has to shape our world by what we do or do not do. In a way, the whole human race holds its breath to see what choices each of us will make this day, this hour, this minute. For every choice creates our future as the People of God and as the people of the earth.

This morning I worshiped at First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley with my son, his wife, his son (11), and his daughter (8). My father, my son’s grandfather, Carl Thomas, was youth pastor there in the early fifties (I was five), and today my son attends a Presbyterian church in Boulder. So I sat on the long cushioned pew with my son and his son, and thought of my father and his charismatic, loving ministry. The pastors today no longer wear the long black academic robes my father wore. The building from the fifties had been replaced by a modern one in the eighties. But the cross stood strong and present before us, and the simple service echoed my childhood memories.

Thick candles burned and large tables of sand stood to the side. Long white tapers were laid out nearby. The pastor asked us to consider the old year, the ways in which God had answered our prayers and the ways in which we thought he had not. He asked us to pray for the new year, one in which God would be present in our choices. Earlier, a speaker had said he had gone on a mission with open hands and had returned filled and transformed. So we prayed into the silence, reaching deep into God’s heart, and then, one by one we rose, lit a taper and gently shoved it into the sand. Soon hundreds of candles burned before us, each one reflecting a prayer to choose with open hands and hearts. I lit my candle off my grandson’s and shoved it into the sand alongside my son’s. 

As the Twelve Days of Christmas bridge the Feasts of Incarnation and Epiphany, they arc New Year’s Day. It seems a fitting cluster of events: the Word made Flesh, dwelling among us; the old year turning into the new, and our consideration of past and future, our choice-resolutions; and finally, the manifestation of the Word to the world, the light banishing all darkness.

Each of us plays a crucial part in this pivotal time. We are part of the greatest drama on earth. We look back to Christ’s coming in Bethlehem, and we look forward to His second coming to earth, this time in judgment and glory. We make our New Year’s resolutions, choosing his light, opening our hands to be filled with good things, so that we may be transformed, so that we may magnify the Lord. 

Like the Queen of Grace, we pray, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”

The Magdalene Mystery

Thursday I received the proof copy for my novel, The Magdalene Mystery. This is often a moment of surprise, in spite of the fact that I have been watching for the manuscript file to appear in my inbox each day (okay, sometimes three times a day…).  I know when I see and open the attached file, it is time to clear my desk and cancel appointments for the next few days. It is time to do a last read, checking for typos, repetitions, and inconsistencies. I finished the reading and correcting yesterday and sent it back to OakTara. Hopefully we shall see the novel in print within the next month.

How did I arrive at this place in my life? I often wonder at times like this. Being faithful in prayer and sacrament, waiting on God, I usually reply to myself, simple stuff really. And today, I would add, accepting an invitation many years ago and many many Sundays since.

In today’s Gospel Christ tells the parable of the man who made a great supper and invited many friends. But the many friends had better things to do – one needed to check his property, one his cattle, and one just got married (an odd excuse, maybe it was his honeymoon). So the master of the house invited “the poor, the maimed, the halt, the lame, the blind…” (Luke 14:16+).

This story is traditionally seen as an invitation to the Holy Eucharist, a personal invitation from God to each of us. Like the parable of the sower and the parable of the wedding guest, God wants to plant himself in the soil of my soul, feed me at his table. Do I accept this intimate and loving invitation? Or do I have what I consider more important things to do?

In the spring of 1967, I accepted the invitation. I said yes, not fully understanding what I was doing. It wasn’t an altar call, and it wasn’t a road-to-Damascus conversion, but it was a moment of surprise-by-joy. My reason had been won over by C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and I wanted to experience Lewis’s choice of church, his own Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church in the U.S.  Having been raised in a purposely plain Presbyterian Church, the experience of the Liturgy of Holy Eucharist (incense, bells, candles, processions) with its chanting and kneeling and the receiving of the Son of God at the altar, stunned me. I fell in love. I happily, giddily, said yes to the invitation. Yes, absolutely, I’m coming, sign me up! It was by far too good, too beautiful, too glorious, to be true, I mistakenly worried at the time, but I didn’t want to miss this chance, so I boldly entered through the door, crossed the threshold, and was soon confirmed by the bishop. I was twenty.

The Church nursed me through my infancy as a Catholic Christian, taught me to speak her language, sing her psalms, confess her creeds, pray her prayers. I grew up, hopefully, up and up and up and continue to grow, to mature in this fabulous Faith. I shall never be fully grown, a true adult, I know, until I meet God face to face in heaven, but the journey in the meantime is a joyful one. I have no regrets that I accepted the invitation, accepted, as the evangelicals say, Jesus the Christ as my Lord and Savior, as my one true God.

But without crossing that threshold in 1967 to eat and drink of the Eucharistic banquet I would never have grown out of my infancy. I would not have learned to speak, to sing, to dance. I would not have been fed with and by God in this sacramental way. I would be one of those who had turned down the supper invitation, one who, Christ says at the end of this story, would not be invited again.

So over the last few days, as I read through the words on my screen, the sentences and paragraphs and chapters that form The Magdalene Mystery, I prayed for discernment, for a good eye to spot mistakes. The story is about truth, its telling and its abuse, or its not telling. It’s about media lies and Internet predators. It’s about witnessing to what is real and what is not. It’s about that moment two thousand years ago when a healed woman named Mary from the village of Magdala reached to touch the risen Christ. It’s about our search today for truth and our yearning to touch God. And, also, it’s a literal cliff-hanger…

Mary Magdalene accepted the invitation from the risen Christ to go and tell the others. She said yes and told the news of her Lord’s resurrection. Just so, we can say yes. We can cross the threshold each week and kneel before the altar table. We can tell the truth, the good news, what its like to be fed by God, to touch him.