The Wandering Desert Monk

The Wandering Desert Monk

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Hope in the Darkness

Advent I – Reflections for the First Sunday of Advent 2015

The season prior to the celebration of the birth of Jesus is called Advent in the church’s calendar of worship. The next four Sundays I will off some of my own reflections in the style of a reflection of a chosen text of Scripture.

This Sunday I will reflect on a text often used on the first Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 6:1-7.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he (God) humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

What a message of hope! When people are caught up in a distressing time, they do not believe they will find any hope. Ever been searching for that lost precious item? We know the feeling of hopelessness. Into the despair of our world the Gospel comes with hope. Around us are people who are filled with the fears of terrorists. More terrifying than terrorists are the demons of depression and despair.

As a sign of the fulfillment of the prophesized hope, this passage is quoted by the author of Matthew’s Gospel (4:12-16) as he introduces the mission of Jesus.

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

Ever walked through a dark tunnel? You know the delight of seeing the light. The darkness in our world is called hatred, fear, pain, rejection, and depression. Into this darkness, God speaks hope. There is more to the darkness that we are seeing. The darkness does not contain the full story of our lives or our community.

You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.

For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.

Darkness does not give up its prey easily or quickly. As I have worked with people trapped in the darkness of depression, many have used metaphors such as dark tunnels, dark clouds, prisons, closets to describe their darkness. Some have told me they actually have crawled into a closet in their darkest hours. The battle for light is intense and severe. As the bondage is broken the tools of imprisonment even become fuel for light out of the darkness.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Where does this come from? Into this darkness a mere child is born who brings hope. He comes bearing titles representing healing to those who welcome him. For those broken-hearted he is the Wonderful Counselor; for the weak, he is the Mighty God; for the insecure, he is the Everlasting Father; and to the battle-weary he is the Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.

A life lost in the darkness of hopelessness is often a life marked by insecurity and confusion. Into this insecurity and confusion, God brings the experience of security and confidence. We can let hopelessness reign or we can allow God to reign. Many of my clients tell me that their faith in God is their rock in the midst of their bouts of darkness.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

Who will bring about the Good News of hope? All around are those who would terrorize us. They would want us to collapse in fear. God is greater than your fears!

Ronald Friesen © 2015

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanks-getting or Thanks-living?

Yesterday Americans celebrated their day of Thanksgiving. The day was filled with a lot of cooking and eating.

Traditionally, the day following this day of feasting is called Black Friday. It is called Black Friday because historically merchants made enough money on the day following Thanksgiving to put their accounts in the black. This means that the battle to get the money out of American consumers’ pockets into the till has caused retail outlets to open their doors on day of Thanksgiving. One advertiser has played on this hunger to acquire more stuff as Thanks-getting. In recent years, there has been an increasing negative reaction by the citizenry on this retail assault on a day set aside for family traditions. Apparently, many people are recognizing that there is more to life than the accumulation of more items for their closets and knick knack shelves.

I propose that we move from Thanks-getting to Thanks-living. What would it mean to practice Thanks-living?

I heard it best expressed in this sentiment I read several times in the last week: “What if you woke up on Friday with only the things you were thankful for on Thanksgiving Day?’

Thanks-living is about a daily attitude of humble gratitude. Gratitude is the place of humble acknowledgement that life is more than one’s small existence. There is a larger universe and larger meaning to our lives than our small existence. Gratitude is the first step toward the Divine; ingratitude is the first step away from the Divine.

Thanks-living focuses on what is important in life: a relationship with the Divine Lover and relationships with people around us.

Thanks-living knows that there are no givens in life so it prizes each day and each relationship.

Thanks-living knows that the sum of life is totaled up in the acquisition of goods.

Thanks-living realizes that generosity expresses the largeness of the heart while miserliness shrinks the heart.

Thanks-living acknowledges that care of the environment is a significant part of thanks-living because our environment is the womb in which we move and have our being.

Thanks-living bears testimony that we know being thankful is a lifestyle not just a one day a year celebration.

Ronald Friesen © 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

This Thanksgiving week has not turned out as planned. 

The plans were quite simple: take a week off work and spend the time in northern Virginia with our son, his wife and the grandchildren.

Instead, we are sitting in Phoenix.

I am recuperating from a medical intervention that the doctor tells me saved my life. Apparently some of my arteries were severely blocked and were about to shut down completely.

It has been observed by many saints that sometimes God puts in a place to get our attention. 

I am not sure all I am supposed to be learning in this spot beside the road. 

Here are a few gleanings to date:

Do not take life for granted. Each minute is a gift. Use it wisely.

Health is a measure not a static number or experience. Each of us has a measure of health; it is what we live with every day. While there might be some definition of optimum health in a medical text book; we all live within a measure of that optimum. It is okay to live within the measure we are given. I am grateful for the measure of health I have today.

Work will be there. This is difficult for a teutonic workaholic. When life's meaning is defined by productivity, it is a challenge to appreciate that the English poet, John Milton, who upon going blind wrote, "They also serve who only stand and wait." I confess I am still on page one of this lesson.

Relationships are all that matter. In the end it is who we love and who loves us that is the sum of life. I realized this during this past Sunday as our fellowship of Jesus’ followers gathered to celebrate new life in Christ as symbolized in baptism. What love flowed as we worshipped, participated in the rite of baptism and ate together. I am loved!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Ronald Friesen © 2015