Humble Preparations

I see this image as a visual reminder for us to make our humble preparations for Christmas. Too often are we caught up in the big, the bright, and the busy, forgetting that God came among us in the quiet bareness of a stable. We need to be likewise silent and open, with our hands empty so that we may be able to receive His Presence, His love and mercy, into our hearts and into our lives.

Like the placing of straw in a worn feeding trough, let us make our humble preparations: small acts of selflessness and sacrifice in kindness to strangers; forgiveness, forbearance, and even appreciation for runny noses, noisy neighbors, and the trials of everyday life; whispered, wordless prayers from the heart, taking just a moment to lift up our eyes in gratitude, hope, faith, and praise.

In the busyness of this season, let us be mindful of the Infant Messiah, helplessly wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in his humble manger-crib. May our hearts be as lowly and lovely as this place – fit for the King of Kings…

Christmas king-size bed

© 2015 Christina Chase

The Humility of God and Holy Communion

Do you pray silently before receiving Communion or afterward?  What do you pray?  After receiving Christ in the Eucharist, my prayer is intimately personal.  Not always grand or uplifting, that’s for sure, but I do try to listen even though, when it comes to me and God, that’s difficult for me to do.  Before receiving, however, I always pray the same prayer as I have been doing for several years.  Technically, it might not be called a prayer as it isn’t communication directed to God, or even to a Saint.  But it is a prayerful meditation upon the Mysteries of God and a shared exhortation with a Saint to receive the blessings of these Mysteries – it’s a mindful, soulful attempt to connect with God.  It’s a prayer.

Before entering the profound Mystery of consuming the Body and Blood of Christ, I want to wake up, I want to be alert.  I want to truly and profoundly receive.  So I say in my mind and my heart, I pray, these remembered words of St. Francis of Assisi.  He wrote them to the fellow brothers of his Order concerning the Eucharist.  I know I don’t remember them exactly, but the meaning is here… the wonder, the joy, and the love are here…

Let everyone be struck with fear.  Let the whole world tremble and the heavens exalt when Christ, Son of the Living God, is made present on the altar in the hands of a priest.  Oh, wonderful heights of stupendous dignity!  Oh, sublime humility and humble sublimity!  That the Lord of the Universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that, for our salvation, He hides Himself under the little form of bread.  Oh brothers, look at the humility of God and pour your hearts out before Him!  Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves so that He, who gives Himself totally to you, may receive you totally.

©2015 Christina Chase

Words to Live By

Christian humility and charity are neither timid nor sappy – they are a radical recognition, a bold transformation of life: Metanoia.

Yesterday was the Feast Day of the patron saint of my home parish, St. John the Baptist. In his honor, I’m reflecting upon three phrases attributed to him in the Bible. This voice crying out in the wilderness gave us words to live by…

“… there is one among you whom you do not recognize…” (John 1:26)

We never know when we will have an encounter with the Divine. The truth is that wherever we go, in every moment of our lives, we are in the presence of God… God, who is always watching us… who is always loving us where we are…. If I truly become conscious of this truth in my every waking moment – how will my life change?

For the people of 1st century Israel, to whom John spoke these words, the meaning was of particular and immediate import. There was literally a person among them whom they did not recognize as being any different than anyone else. And, yet, although he was a human being just like them – he was profoundly different, because he was also God.

Christ Jesus walked among many unremarkably. The power of the Creator of the Universe was within him – but, to most, if their eyes even fell upon him, he was just some guy. Like so many strangers that we pass on the sidewalk, on the road, in the office, in the park, or in the mall, Christ seemed ordinary… dismissible. We think to ourselves now that it’s a shame, an utterly wasted opportunity, that some of the people back then went right by Christ without even knowing who he was. Yet… those strangers that we pass by every day… do we not know that they are images of God? And we pass them by without a single thought or care for them. Do we not know that Christ is within each and every one of us? Whenever we skirt around a homeless person, we are skirting around Christ. Whenever we say, Good Riddance, about a criminal who is put in prison, we are saying good riddance to Christ. Whenever we ignore the plight of the jobless or the hungry, of the lonely or the diseased, we are ignoring Christ in his sorrow. Whenever I am cruel to the person next to me, it is like I am piercing that person with a thorn… I am piercing that thorn into Christ.

I am only one person, limited, as every human is, and I cannot be everything to everybody. God knows. Being human like us, there were countless many who Christ Jesus could not help in person during his earthly life, countless many to whom he could not speak face-to-face while he walked upon the roads and through the fields, villages, and towns. His earthly mission was to open.

It’s like, by the Mystery of the Incarnation, a divine portal was created to the kingdom of God – and by his death and resurrection that portal was opened to all. Not all will pass through, because we must choose to do so – we must choose to follow Christ. In order to fully and truly encounter the Divine and enter, eternally, the kingdom of God, we must recognize God’s love for us and choose to follow Christ. My mission (say it with me) limited as I am, is to love Christ… and I do that by loving others as Christ loves me. I do that by recognizing my cruelty to another as cruelty to Christ my beloved… and I repent and ask forgiveness.

I carry out my mission of love (which is your mission, too) limited as I am, by recognizing the gifts that God has given to me, in His infinite love for me, and then giving those gifts in the service of those in need of healing, nourishment, guidance, compassion, and light, wherever I can. There will be times when I falter, times when I fail. But, I will recognize my failures as human weakness – and I will not deplore my human weakness but, rather, unite my struggles with the struggles of Christ as he carried the Cross of Salvation to Calvary. Divine and human, it was only with pain that he could place that key into the lock and grant our freedom. He dreaded, he suffered, he was tormented and ridiculed, he fell flat on his face along the way – but he persevered because of love. Christ loves divinely – infinitely and intimately. Profess my love for him as I might, I cannot recognize him in others – and therefore love him in others – unless I recognize him in me.

“He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Do I recognize and love Christ within me? Do I recognize and give forth the particular gifts that God has given me? This is what true Christian charity is all about – this is the heart of true Christian humility. It is not overly sentimental, it is not hanging my head down himself abasing shame. God chooses to make a home inside of me… Christ dwells in me in a personally particular way, lovingly unique – as Christ dwells in everybody. Christ is everyone… Christ is you and me and them. Christ IS. That is what we, as Christians, need to be able to see. I open my heart to God’s loving presence and let Christ live in me… through me… through the gifts that are particularly unique to me, which he knows so intimately.

This recognition of Christ is the encounter with the Divine that pulls us through the sacred portal to the fullness of truth, the fullness of life… into the kingdom of God. For, as Christ is ever present, so is the kingdom, so is the loving and saving presence of God. We encounter the Divine, not only in the life to come, but also here and now.

And that’s pretty radical.

“Metanoia, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

Pregnant

Joy is a thing with wings that flies ever to its source;

and if that source is love, how beautiful its course.

 Like a bird cupped gently in the hands, she holds the joy of her good news close to her heart, eager to set free the fluttering wings and let it fly. Such an intimate gift has been given to Mary by the Mighty One – to her, a simple, humble girl, with nothing to give in return. Having opened herself completely to God and surrendering her whole self to His Word, her heart now beats solely for love of Him and the Divine child that she is secretly bearing within her. Mary, enraptured with love, needs to share that love with a kindred soul, as the joy of it fills her near to bursting. So, with alacrity, and with no worry for the distance of the journey, the young woman sets off for the hills of Judah to be with her kinswoman, Elizabeth – who, Mary has been told, has also been blessed with a miraculous pregnancy.

Some 90 miles as the dove flies, on rocky paths, over swells and dales, through the gold and green land of Palestine in springtime, Mary travels swiftly and tirelessly, her joy undaunted, her desire undimmed. Along the way, she accepts night’s shelter and a few serendipitous cart rides from the kindness of strangers. The flutterings and singings of the good news that is nestled deeply in Mary’s heart shine forth on her face to the people, the animals, even the trees and the very stones, that she passes by. All is lightness and goodwill with her, wherever she is in her journey. When, finally, after several days sojourning, she comes to the hillside atop which Elizabeth’s home is perched, Mary can contain her excitement no longer and breaks into a run up the long, terraced path. She calls out as she flies, “Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” Her exultation expressed in her cries.

Just within the open doorway of the stone house, Elizabeth drops the spinning from her hands. Something has caught her attention. The ball of wool rolls across the floor as she turns her eyes, puzzled, to look outward. She wonders what it was. Something very far off, yet very near, something like the sound of a song or a prayer or a whispered breeze… or like the deepest silence. Elizabeth pushes herself up from her seat and looks out through the door, listening, but hears nothing distinctive. And then, suddenly, she hears, as clear as day, the sounding of her own name. The baby within her womb leaps in response, like a lamb in the sunshine, with joy all through, and Elizabeth is overcome with awe. Young Mary now appears in the courtyard, panting and beaming, trembling with gladness, her ready greeting flowing out from her lips.

The girl is radiant with the morning sun and Elizabeth, shielding her sight from the glow, moves closer. As the older woman looks into Mary’s dark, sparkling eyes, she feels herself gazing into the depths of the starry cosmos, into paradisiacal beauty, a glimpse of pure genesis. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth’s testimony pours out of her soul and the entirety of her being with the rush of Spirit within her. She herself begins to tremble with joyful humility and wonder, saying, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.” The aging eyes light up with the brightness of realized faith and hope. “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord,” Elizabeth says, as she looks with true veneration and affection upon the woman before her, and then is silent.

Mary’s deep eyes widen with the wonder of the words that she has been hearing from her kinswoman. She unconsciously presses her small hands upon her own abdomen as she looks upon Elizabeth’s pregnancy and she smiles with deep sympathy. Like Mary, Elizabeth is in humble awe to be blessed by the Lord. Mary knows that it is the presence of the divine child within her that has pulled such praise from Elizabeth’s soul. In a new, deeper fullness of understanding of the gift that she herself has been given, Mary’s heart rises with the glory of the Lord. The joy of the good news, which she has been holding close for so long, Mary now releases in glorious flight as she proclaims,

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.   For behold, from now on all generations  will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.  And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.  He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,  as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.

The two women of expectancy join hands. Mary’s song of praise has filled them with delight and deeply satisfying peace – with blessedness. The young woman laughs as she twines her arm through her elder’s.  Together they enter the stone house, trusting in the goodness of God to feed all who hunger for holiness, to lift up all who are poor in spirit, and to keep the divine promise of Salvation and Newness of Life made for all who believe in God’s word.

Christina Chase

This has been Part 3 of the Mary Series (continued from In the Cloud of Glory… )

A Stranger Appears in the Making of the Bread

Mary Series: Part 1

Picture it. Nazareth. 1 BC (or maybe a few years earlier.) Alone in the simple home where she lives with her parents, a young peasant woman kneels upon the earthen floor making bread dough in a wooden bowl, completely unaware of the extraordinary conversation that she’s about to have.[i] As the ingredients come together and form in her hands, she hums a song of thanksgiving and praise. Briefly, never losing focus on her task, she thinks of the day in the future when she will be making bread in Joseph’s home. For she is betrothed to a kind and hard-working carpenter, a widower with several children of whom the young virgin looks forward to taking care.

Yes, this woman is Mary, who will be the mother of Jesus – but she isn’t yet. Right now, she is a prayerful and thoughtful girl, a good daughter and neighbor and practitioner of Judaism. She speaks Aramaic and understands Hebrew, has been taught the Sacred Scriptures and the fine skills of nurturing and caring for a family and a community. She is intelligent and considerate, never overthinking with needless worry, nor deeming any detail or any person as insignificant.

Mary begins to knead the dough, firmly but gently, when, suddenly, she is interrupted in the making of bread by the appearance of a strange visitor standing before her. Bearing peculiar salutations of mysterious portent, the stranger is illuminated all through as though by secret sunlight. Mary, bathed in the radiant glow, remains kneeling on the ground, transfixed.

Now, this stranger isn’t entirely strange to Mary. She has an unadulterated communion with the spiritual that was divinely given to her, and safeguarded in her, since her conception. She recognizes this being before her as an angel, a supernatural creature charged with bearing divine message. She knows, then, that the words spoken by this angel express the very mind of God. And this angel is hailing her, telling her that the Lord is with her, and calling her “Most Favored One” or “Full of Grace”.

Imagine being saluted by one of God’s heavenly hosts. Imagine hearing, unmistakably, imagine knowing, that you are specially gifted and favored by God. This is what is happening to Mary, but it doesn’t cause her to be puffed up with pride. Innocent as the day she was conceived, she is trying to figure out what it means and is troubled with the wonder. In full knowledge of her lowliness as a creature before the Uncreated Creator, she is humbled, disturbed in her heart by this greeting of honor.

Human beings are naturally afraid of the unknown – and Mary is human. Although she is divinely blessed by unique, supernatural grace, her intellect, imagination, and will are limited – just as with every human being. Born of working-class parents, she is the least worldly person of whom you can think, but she is rich with inherent wisdom – and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. The human mind cannot comprehend or fathom the Mysteries of God. The visiting angel knows this and sees Mary’s reaction. She is told not to be afraid. Believing that this is God’s message for her, the young woman listens and trusts. And her natural concern is quieted.

Now, the messenger of God says to Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary is innocent, but she’s not naïve, and she’s no dummy. She knows how babies get made. And she also knows that, though betrothed, she is, as yet, unmarried, still a virgin, and has absolutely no plans of sexual intercourse anytime soon. So, she naturally wonders how she is going to become pregnant. It isn’t that Mary doubts the angel’s word, nor even the possibility of her becoming pregnant. But, she doesn’t know by what process the pregnancy will occur. Did the angel come suddenly to tell her of something that will happen later, in the future? Will Joseph, then, be the father of the child? Or will her pregnancy occur in a more dramatic, or even mysteriously miraculous, way? The words which with the angel described this child that she is to conceive and bear – “called the Son of the Most High… and of his kingdom there will be no end” – sound messianic to the young woman’s ears. Such a child would, it seem, deserve a miraculous beginning. But… How? What will be involved? If Mary was troubled before by the angel’s greeting, she is now sincerely, deeply, very curious. It is because of the young woman’s faith in the Divine Word and Order that she seeks, with the wonderful sparklings of the human mind, to peer into the workings of the universe, both within and beyond.

And so, at this moment, Mary, her dark, bright eyes looking up to the figure of light, opens her mouth to speak. In speaking, she knows that she will be communicating with God Godself through this divinely appointed messenger. She knows this and doesn’t hesitate to show her humble ignorance in asking her question to the Mighty One. She, like any true scientist that ever lived or ever will live, simply wants to know how something works.

Mary says to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”

The angel, who is called Gabriel, has heard this kind of question before, just six months earlier, in fact, in human time. But that question, asked by Zechariah, concerning the angelic announcement of his wife Elizabeth’s forthcoming pregnancy, was not an honest question, was not an innocent desire for an understanding of the truth. And Gabriel had justly punished the man for his sarcastic response to God’s message, for his doubt in the power of God in the face of earthly limitations. Zechariah had been struck mute, unable to speak a further word until the prophecy delivered by Gabriel had been fulfilled. Mary, who is now asking the angel how God’s will for her pregnancy shall be accomplished, is honest and innocent and just in her asking. Her question is real, born from the virtue of her human curiosity, and Gabriel receives the question graciously. The young woman shall not be punished, but, rather, rewarded with an answer from God.

The answer that will be given will seem to only raise more questions. However, instead, from her heart, Mary will raise forth the most perfectly human response to God of all time.

*          *          *

            Prayer: Almighty and all powerful God, I am but a lowly creature before Thee. May I trust in Thee and not be afraid. I pray that I, like Mary, daughter of Anna and Joachim, may be pure and open to Thy Divine Will for me. In my lack of understanding, may I have faith. In my desire for understanding, may I earnestly seek… and find Thee. Amen.

Hail, Mary, Full of Grace, pray for all seekers of truth who seek to peer into the workings of the universe, both within and beyond.

Christina Chase

 

[i] I am no expert on the customs of the area at this time. And my narrative does not aim for historical accuracy as its most important goal – rather, I aim to take the history written in the Bible and use my flawed imagination and intellect to bring it more fully to life in my heart. I am also aware that some of the details I am imagining are less than congruent with an early account of young Mary’s life, The Protoevangelium of James, which I have only read in fractions, but which I believe is a rich and fruitful account. Read it here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm

To Every Man That Is among You

Sharing my “Bible burst” from my other blog.  It brings to mind something that I’ve often wondered about: how special should I feel that God loves me?  God loves everybody!  And, yet, this knowledge is essential for me to be fully myself – to be the unique person that God created me to be.  Although these writing exercises aren’t exactly lectio divina, they are helping me to better appreciate Scripture, improve my relationship with God, and better understand myself.

To Every Man That Is among You.

Getting Real

It’s time for the ultimate reality check: ”Remember, Man, you are but dust, and to dust you will return.”  The priest tells me this as he marks my forehead with ashes smeared into the shape of a cross.  Thus, Ash Wednesday begins Lent, 40 days of penitence, but, also, perhaps most importantly, of preparing to be restored to the full depth and breadth of reality.  To begin Lent in ashes is to put my life into perspective.  For what is this body that takes up so much of my time, that I fuss and worry over – what is it but dust?  The little pleasures that might be given up for Lent – chocolate, coffee, computer games, daydreaming, etc. – are really only things that will one day become ashes themselves.  I get possessive about things and cling to them as my own, even though they do not constitute who I am.  I must remember that I am dust – dust animated by a soul… God created me, formed this body for me out of the earth, and gave me a spiritual soul to bring me into human being, so that I might fully live in His Creation.  The truth is that I did not create myself; I am not my own source and I am not my own ultimate end.  In truth – reality check – nothing that I have is my own, not even my existence, my life.

We human beings are dependent, as are all creatures.  We are, from the beginning, dependent upon the Will that created us and we are continually dependent upon sustenance: from the air that we breathe, which is not our own, to the lungs with which we breathe, which were given to us.  We are beggars living upon the largess of God’s Creation – with no hope of repayment.  For, we cannot give to God anything that God has not first given to us.  This is what has been referred to as our “empty-handedness”.  And though we may often not care that we are dependent upon a generous God and, instead, revel and indulge in the abundance, greedily hoarding up goods to live self-centeredly, we cannot escape the truth forever.  There will always come a moment in our lives when we wake up to reality and our eyes are opened to the truth.  A rude awakening it will seem to some, perhaps, but a necessary one for the sake of truth.  For, we humans are not only dependent – we are also transcendent beings.  Within us is the relentless desire and longing for truth, for the source of our beings, and for connection and relationship to this infinite and divine Source – for love.  It is in our nature to give and to love selflessly.  It is in our nature precisely because we are created in God’s own image and likeness.

All that God wants (and that is a huge and profound statement: “all that God wants”) is for us to truly and fully live.  We do that by being dependent – by knowing and accepting that we are dependent in true humility.  And we do that by being transcendent, by longing for God and loving selflessly in our empty-handedness.  In the great gift of life, God has given us something truly amazing: freewill.  Perhaps, we could say that this is what is truly ours – our wills.  When I choose to acknowledge the Source of my life, to humbly live upon the divine largess in true recognition and gratitude, and to hold back nothing for my own selfish intentions, then I am close to the Kingdom – I am close to True Justice, Right Order, the Fullness of Reality.  As a humble beggar with my begging bowl upturned, I give to God the only thing that God has given to me irrevocably: my will.  This is the soul of my existence, the soul of my being, the soul of truth.  Everything else is but dust, ashes, and to dust it shall return.  The only perfect offering that I can give to the Creator and Master of the Universe is myself.  My will, given freely, becomes God’s will and in this I am fulfilled, my deepest longing is satisfied, and so the greatest joy is known, perfected in eternity.

With ashes on my forehead, I remember that every living thing, all of Creation, belongs to God.  We belong to God, irrevocably.  Surrendering our will to this truth is the one and only way to receive the fullness of life.  If we seek to only serve ourselves, in self-centered will, then we serve only ashes.  It is precisely because our hands are empty that we are able to experience true love – God doesn’t love us for anything that we have.  The lowest pauper is as beloved as the highest prince, but only the beggar with empty, upturned bowl, who wills only what God wills, is rich in eternity. As St. Paul told the Philippians and tells us now:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

Christina Chase