Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Chapman University’

BA2019E1-0407-49D0-80FF-C49381F7EFF3

Advent:  Not Just for Winter

“It is the hour now for you to wake from sleep.”  (Romans 13: 11)

Every now and again it hits me that the liturgical calendar was made to order for people living in the Northern Hemisphere.  Easter and the resurrection of Jesus align rather nicely with the flourish of new life in springtime.  Advent by contrast gets its oomph from the approach of winter and the longest nights of the year.

Now disconnect those experiences for people living in the Southern Hemisphere and you appreciate the challenge.  How do Australians digest Advent readings that evoke dark days and deep sleep as they’re driving off to the beach for a day in the sun?  I honestly don’t know how they do that, and were it not so far away I’d be willing to go and find out for myself.  But then I’d miss out on the idyllic Advent weather that we have in Minnesota.

3A22527F-F91D-47D4-814E-FA2615F7E295It’s nice that the climate can reinforce the readings of Advent for those of us living in the northern half of the planet.  However, the word of God was meant for people of all ages, living in all sorts of climates, and spread across an array of geographies.  So it is that we cannot relegate to the summertime Isaiah’s invitation to “walk in the light of the Lord” (Is 2:5).  And when Jesus urges his disciples to “stay awake” in Matthew 24: 42 he’s not talking about the urge to nap on a long winter’s day.  No, in both cases the passages encourage readers to get a grip on their lives and make the most of each and every opportunity to live in the light of the Lord — all the year round.

Without pushing it too far, Advent is much more than a segment in the march of the liturgical calendar.  Advent is a not-so-subtle reminder that we can drift away from the Lord in virtually any season or on any day of the week.  It can happen over the course of half a lifetime or in the space of a few minutes on a summer afternoon.  When that does occur we’ve given up on an anchor that can give stability and meaning.  Absent that meaning we wonder about the direction of our lives.  In the process we shut our eyes to those unique chance encounters with Christ.

So what are we to do in response to the call to be alert — always?  Well, first of all it involves a leap of faith.  It also includes an awareness of the principles by which we choose to live.  Are there ideals for which we strive?  Are there boundaries over which we will not step?  These are the qualities that make us noble in the master plan of God, and this is the fruit of the self-awareness to which Jesus invites us.

Of equal importance is the need to be opportunistic.  By that I don’t mean that we take advantage of others every chance we get.  No, this opportunism looks for the encounter with God at every turn.  It requires we be alert not just for a few minutes or for a day, but for all of Advent if necessary.  The good news of the gospel is that the Lord won’t keep us waiting for very long.  Quite possibly around every corner and on the other side of every door we’ll see the face of Christ.

49DF0273-3432-4830-A43E-ED663312B5D9NOTES

+In my first year at Saint John’s the first snow of the winter arrived on Thanksgiving Day.  Ever since then I’ve thought of Thanksgiving as the official start of winter, though I also accept that winter reserves the right to show up whenever it wants.  This year’s first big snow came a few days earlier, and the snows are here for the long haul.  Now every trip by car requires extra time to brush and scrape off the snow.

+While we enjoyed the winter landscape over Thanksgiving in the monastery, the University’s football team flew off to Orange County, CA, where I presume there was no snow.  There it won its playoff game against Chapman University.  By coincidence I spoke at Chapman last year, and it happens to own a copy of the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible.

+Over Thanksgiving I finished a book that took me a while to get through, and which I found fascinating.  William Dalrymple is a prolific author, with an interest in India.  Several years ago we read in the monastery refectory his book From the Holy Mountain: A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium, and we enjoyed it.  I read a review of his newest book in the Wall Street Journal, got it, and then spent weeks of spare time getting through it.  The Anarchy:  The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire, details the history of the East India Company.  It’s the story of a corporation that conquered a rich empire, systematically looted it, and left it impoverished.  Appalled by the atrocities, the British government nationalized the company in the 19th century, and so began the British Raj in India.  Dalrymple’s work is a good read, though the flood of unfamiliar Mughal and Indian names left me dizzy now and again.

+At the top of today’s post is a photo of the Advent wreath in the abbey church, and below that is the view we monks see as we process from the cloister into the church for prayer.  The Annunciation (ca. 1490) is by the French artist Jean Hey, and is housed at the Art Institute in Chicago.  Like so much of religious art of the time, the artist made no attempt to portray the scene as it may have looked in the 1st century, and as a result such renditions are often replete with wonderful historical anachronisms.  In this case, Mary prays from a book, even though the artist knew good and well that Jewish sacred texts were scrolls.  Even more curious is the painting of her son Jesus that Mary has hanging over her bed.  Artistically it makes the important statement that Mary’s life points to Jesus.  Please click on the photo for a closer look.  Finally, at bottom is a view into the courtyard of the east cloister walk of the abbey church.  Winter is here to stay.

7FF8956E-21F8-4982-BC9E-97A5DE98D644

Read Full Post »

88C8BCC0-82B6-49F4-83CE-4E7DB897BCC2

We All Have Too Much Stuff

Recently a friend of mine shared a photo of a sign announcing a yard sale.  The wording was brief, unsentimental and to the point:  “Our stuff can be your stuff.”

Actually the composer of the message economized by resorting to a nice four-letter word rather than the five letter stuff, but all the same the message came through loud and clear.  The owners seemed determined to get rid of a truckload of junk, and if pressed they might even pay browsers to cart it off.

Those homeowners are not alone in having too much stuff, because it’s true for the vast majority of us.  Most of us accumulate and hoard, even if done unconsciously.  Left unchecked, however, the gradual accumulation of stuff can enslave us and even squeeze us out of our homes.

E85EE367-F9A8-4638-B9A9-A73CCF01215AMy own need for stuff hit home on the eve of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  In the days leading up to departure I agonized over what I should take along.  After all, I had no idea of what I might need to survive two weeks in the Holy Land.  Only later did it dawn on me how silly my fears were.  Why would the part of the world that invented international trade no longer have stores?  How absurd to think that I needed to assemble a miniature caravan to drag all my possessions along!  Needless to say, I convinced myself that there were no stores in the Middle East and that I needed clothes and a personal pharmacy worthy of long-term residence abroad.

Not for the first time did I return from a trip with half the stuff in my bag unused and untouched, save from what comes from packing and repacking a half a dozen times.  Once again, I realized, I had been the person who accompanied my baggage on a trip, rather than the other way around.  Nonetheless, I thought, the trip would have been impossible without all that stuff in tow.

Last Wednesday we began the season of Lent.  Like my sojourn in the Holy Land Lent is every bit a pilgrimage.  It’s a time when Jesus invites us to take an inventory of our lives and dispense with some of the self-imposed burdens that can make life so difficult.  During Lent we can rediscover that it really is possible to get by with a lot less than we had imagined, and we can appreciate the benefits that come from traveling through life with less.  When we travel unencumbered we actually get where we’re going more quickly.  Even better, we travel less distracted by the burden of all that material and emotional stuff that we tote around with us.  That’s when we begin to realize the reality of what Jesus meant when he said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  It really is when compared with the burdens we like to impose on ourselves.

C1D426D9-DAD9-4A7D-9CF9-1C951A7DFF13If we begin Lent with the depressing thought that we are carrying around just too much emotional and material baggage, then it’s time for housecleaning.  After all, life doesn’t require that we travel like beasts of burden.  We should never assume that all that stuff is absolutely indispensable and that our lives would be impossible without it.  Jesus in fact suggests otherwise.

On our recent pilgrimage we made a stop at Mount Nebo, where Moses gazed across the Jordan River to the promised land which he was never to enter.  Moses was the quintessential pilgrim, and as a nomad he had little choice but to travel lightly.  So it’s a real stretch to imagine him dragging a U-Haul with a ton of possessions necessary for life in the desert.  It just didn’t happen like that, and it would have been impractical anyway.  He was too busy serving others.  He simply had no time to be a beast of burden in service to his own stuff.

So what’s the take-home from all of this?  If our lives may be too cluttered with stuff, and if we’re dragging around way too much personal baggage, then it may be time to have a mental or even physical yard sale of our own.  And there’s no better time to do so than on our pilgrimage through Lent.

F1457012-E211-453D-9E4B-C0DB60CF75A4

NOTES

+In last week’s post I mentioned several unexpected encounters with friends during a short stay in Boston.  The trend continued once I arrived in the Middle East.  You can imagine our mutual surprise when I and a fellow board member from Saint John’s came face to face at a hotel restaurant in Jerusalem.  That evening the world became smaller than we ever imagined.  On the plane back to the US I got to meet the president of Sierra Leone, and I even invited him to visit Minnesota.  That in turn led to a pleasant conversation with the shuttle driver at the Minneapolis airport.  He too had been born in Sierra Leone; and while he had not met the president, he had a few choice adjectives to offer about him.

+On 9 March I gave a talk on The Saint John’s Bible at Chapman University in Orange, CA. I was honored to be the main speaker at their annual Founders Day celebration.

+One of the most pleasant surprises of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land was an introduction to the Roman city of Jerash, located in Jordan.  It’s one of ten cities built by the Romans in the region, and for that reason they were collectively called the Decapolis.  There are references to them in the New Testament, and Jerash is the best-preserved.  It is worthy of a visit because it shows the outlines of a Roman cityscape better than Rome itself.  I was mesmerized.

91581743-FF0B-4633-B6E1-1A2960D74134

Read Full Post »