Explore and sign up for our series of weekly emailed reflections, which follow the Revised Common Lectionary liturgical calendar of readings from the Old and New Testaments. These reflections have been drawn from, and lend themselves to, sermons for preachers as well as private devotionals. All are rooted in perspectives “from below” that embrace abundance and peacemaking.

Voice from the Bones

As I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.<
Ezekiel 37:7-10

The dead still speak – at least they do in Guatemala. In our Street Psalms network we are learning to listen intently to the breath and voice of God even among the dead.

One of the most powerful listening places for us has been with the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG). The FAFG uses forensic science to investigate human rights violations that occurred during Guatemala’s 30-year internal armed conflict. Forensic anthropologists exhume mass graves, identify the bodies through interviews from witnesses and DNA samplings, and then determine the cause of death to create the possibility for criminal prosecutions. FAFG has exhumed more than 5,000 of the more than 200,000 skeletal remains of victims of the war, 20% of which are children.

As the bones of each “case” are carefully laid out on tables and the skeletons reassembled, they slowly take the shape of a person. The bones begin to speak and tell the story of what happened until they eventually are reconnected to their names, faces, and histories. Their stories are honored, and they are then ultimately returned to their families for burial.

Once the bones have said all that they can say, Rob, the FAFG photographer, comes to document the findings with photographs, which are archived for evidence in case of a future trial. Rob is meticulous about his work. He needs to be. He shared that one of his greatest joys of his work is when the Foundation finally returns the bones to the family members – most of whom are Maya campesinos (peasants) who live in the hill country.

When they return the skeletal remains to the families, the FAFG staff engages in a process called “dressing the bones.” The image is as intense as it is intimate. The family insists on re-dressing the skeleton with clothing – a painstaking process, as you might imagine. What used to be just a pile of unidentified bones in a mass grave, denied the dignity of name and story, let alone their very lives, are now not only reassembled and named, but they are carefully clothed. It is a process exploding with theological significance.

The significance of this work takes on further importance when considered in light of elements of Mayan culture so poignantly described to us by the FAFG staff. The Mayan peoples, we are told, believe that the elderly, children, and female victims are still crying because they weren’t buried with dignity. Mayans believe that as long as their dead relatives are not at peace, the living cannot be at peace either. In Mayan culture, the dead are brought to the church to be before God, not to be prayed for as in other cultures, but to face God in person, to tell God of their angers, tears, and indignation, and to make their cry for justice in hope that God will adopt their cause. While lying dismembered in mass graves like forgotten animal carcasses, this healing process was not possible for the victims or their families.

Furthermore, when a body is taken out of the church after such a “God encounter,” the open casket is taken out into the daylight to publicly honor the deceased. To the Mayan families, the re-burial of the remains is more important than the exhumation. The re-burial is a public proclamation by the deceased of their ordeal, pointing to the need to make amends.

It is impossible to forget the deplorable loss of so many innocent lives, but the memory and dignity of a wounded people is being restored to a life-giving voice. The FAFG has its work cut out for them as they continue to find Guatemala’s missing sons and daughters so they can be named, their stories told, proper burials given, and justice served – all necessary steps to forgiveness and healing of a wounded nation.

Peace,
Joel Van Dyke
Street Psalms Latin America

Adapted from Geography of Grace, chapter 14

Say Anything

I don’t know about you, but I certainly have put my Lord God to the test. I haven’t been smote yet, and some days I’m not sure if that’s because God loves and forgives me, God’s busy washing his hair, or there is no God. I suppose functionally there’s no difference between the last two, so I choose to believe the first.

Some people might (rightly) call “blasphemy!” As a human and therefore imperfect, I pretty much see myself as a blaspheme on legs – and also, I choose to believe – exactly what God had in mind.

The first time I heard someone say that he had once prayed for death, I was shocked. My spirits might have gotten down at times, sometimes very far down. But I’d never directly asked God, “Take me. I dare you. Please.”

I can’t say now that I’ve never done that. And for whatever reason, I’m still here.

Maybe I needed freedom to say everything in order to really say anything to God. Throughout my life, there were always things I knew I shouldn’t say. What if there’s nothing I can’t say to God?

I wish it were so easy for me.Mary shows great faith when the angel Gabriel comes to her with some unbelievable news. That’s why this past Wednesday we celebrated her and the miracle of Christ’s conception with the Feast of the Annunciation. Mary does question Gabriel, just once in the text – “How can this be?” – and then eloquently proclaims her obedience to God’s will.

That’s why something about the mid-week reading from the Old Testament – the story of King Ahaz and the prophet Isaiah – really caught my attention:

7:10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying,

7:11 Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.

7:12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.

7:13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?

7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

It’s interesting that even when God directly offers to give Ahaz a sign of his request, Ahaz refuses. He directly refuses God! If this isn’t an invitation to a smiting, I don’t know what is. But Ahaz still stands, and God finds a work-around by going through Isaiah, who (after a fit of pique) offers Ahaz a sign anyway.

Ahaz’s reason for refusing caught me, too. He refuses to put the Lord God to the test. Of course, Jesus was famously tempted by Satan during the desert journey we currently mark with Lent, and Jesus responded the same way.

My first take is that I’m not nearly as strong as Jesus. (That’s a given, really. No shocker there.) And my second take is: maybe I don’t have to be. A loving God doesn’t expect me to be. Ahaz looks directly at God and refuses to let God out of the box Ahaz has made for God – refuses God’s current offer because of his prior understanding of God’s law. So God finds a workaround through Ahaz’s friend Isaiah.

To me that means that when I’m in a dark and silent place, or acting hard of hearing, or plain-out refusing God’s obvious offer, maybe God is finding a workaround for me through my friends and community.

That’s one reason among many I’m so grateful to have found this Street Psalms community.

Peace,
Stephanie
Street Psalms

Formed Among Thorns

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”
Exodus 17:1-7

We are now in the third week of Lent, a season that commemorates Jesus’ forty days in the desert wilderness. It was a hinge event in the timeline of his life, a liminal transition space, a solitary gateway of passage that immediately preceded his years of public ministry.

The geography of “desert” and the duration of “forty” bears unmistakable spiritual connection to the forty years the Hebrew people spent in the wilderness after their liberation from Egypt. The ancient location name “Sin” in this week’s lectionary text refers either to “clay” or “thorny” (rather than English meaning of “transgressions”). It evokes images of parched soil where only the toughest, prickery, stickery brambles manage to eke out life – and by their own stubborn force of nastiness, ward off any critter seeking nourishment.

We also recognize Jesus’ desert sojourn as foreshadowing his journey to the cross – which culminated in another sort of desolation. Amid the Jerusalem crowds, all would abandon him. As he cried out in his last lament of forsakenness, his head was crowned with thorny desert vines.

This week’s scripture yanks us out of idyllic notions that wilderness space always provides delight for the soul. We hear that Jesus sometimes withdrew to solitary places. We figure if we do the same, we will be rejuvenated! A little breather and we’ll perk up. Yes it works that way sometimes, like it should. Like the freed slaves of Egypt should have been perky, now with a breather after 400 years.

Instead, open space often exposes all that is thorny, fearful, and troublesome. It surfaces ugly shadows of desire. For the people of the Exodus, quarrels and panicky demands quickly erupted out of their hunger, thirst, and fears for the future. Trust in God’s abundance and guidance evaporated in the desert glare.

So maybe we have finally taken a personal retreat. Or experienced new freedom from a stressful grind; for instance, a transition from school to work. Or on a social level, an organization or community may find itself in “in-between” space. Here in the open, where we expected to be led to green pastures beside still waters, there seems to be nothing but clay and thorns. Even taking ten minutes of quiet prayer and reflection, we may find our thoughts clamoring and demanding rather than at peace.

In these spaces we may undergo what the medieval mystics called spiritual purgation. Like physical purgation, which ain’t pretty and clogs the toilet, spiritual purgation is a messy process of disgorging false urges and identities. It is a cleansing and clarifying of the true identity into which we are being called and into which we are being formed. The Exodus wanderers were exposed, and so are we.

Our Lord and brother Jesus has gone before us even into this geography. Here in a place of clay, among thorns, Jesus underwent strenuous formation for his mission. Exposed to the natural elements and deprived of basic needs, he was especially vulnerable to the haunting and taunting voices that preyed on his deepest sources of desire.

Exposure to the extremes of the desert was an essential part of Jesus’ journey, as it was in the epic history of God’s people in the scrolls from which he read. Sooner or later, the desert will be an essential part of our journey, too.

Peace,
Scott Dewey
Street Psalms

Lenten Blessings

“I will bless you… so that you will be a blessing.”
Genesis 12:1-4a

In the second week of Lent we turn to Abraham’s blessing in Genesis 12.

As we consider Abraham’s blessing, let’s remember that the Lenten journey is not only about our journey with Jesus to the cross. It is also an annual dress rehearsal for our own death. In this sense, Lent is about the practice of “letting go,” dying little deaths so that we are ready for the big one.

These dress rehearsals help us relax into the final “letting go” with the same deep trust that Jesus demonstrated on the cross. Jesus models for us that there is goodness at the base of it all and that God is in no way ruled or run by death, which is why we can pass through death unafraid.

Unfortunately, for many in our network every day of the year is a relentless dress rehearsal. This is why the primal blessing given to Abraham is so essential. Without it we are lost in a sea of anxiety and crippling fear that disfigures and distorts our own mortality. It is in this context that we consider our Lenten blessing.

First, in Hebrew the word “blessing” is berakhah. It means to bow on bended knee and adore something. In the first two chapters of Genesis, God kneels in adoration of three things: the sea creatures (vs.1:22), humanity (vs. 1:28), and the Seventh Day (vs. 2:3). Yes, three primal blessings: creation, humanity and the Sabbath, which is the restful realization that all is good – nay, VERY GOOD. God kneels before all of creation that we might one day do the same.

In this week’s lectionary, God blesses Abraham in the context of a call. God says, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Gen. 12:1). Notice how God’s blessing invites Abraham to let go in two directions – the past (country, kindred, and home) and the uncertain, un-seeable future (“a land that I will show you”).

God’s blessing is a bridge for Abraham. It holds the space between what was and what will be. God’s blessing is the sacrament of the present moment that redeems both past and future. During Lent we are especially attentive to this sacrament.

Several years ago in Guatemala I was a guest at a Bible study on the outskirts of the city. The Bible study leader leaned over and whispered into my ear, “The young lady in the corner wants you to bless her eight-year-old daughter.” He also whispered that the little girl’s father was recently killed and they both were grieving (a horrific past and uncertain future). Her father had been a notorious gang assassin who had murdered more than 200 rival gang members.

We gathered around the young mother, bent our knees, and laid hands on her daughter. Completely untethered from all except the sacrament of that present moment, we blessed the little girl. We blessed her with the same blessing I give my kids at night as I sit on their bed, tuck them in, and trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads, saying,

Christ be with you. Christ within you. 
Christ behind you. Christ before you. 
Christ beside you. Christ to win you. 
Christ to comfort and restore you. 
Christ beneath you. Christ above you. 
Christ in quiet and in danger. 
Christ in hearts of those who love you. 
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger. 

~ St. Patrick

Peace,
Kris Rocke
Street Psalms

Photo: Phil Whitehouse

You’re Invited to Desire

“Do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to…be seen by others…. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Christians world-wide will enter into a heightened time (40 days) of prayer, reflection, and spiritual companionship with Jesus to the cross. At Street Psalms we are grateful for this annual pilgrimage that awakens our heart to its own true desire.

In today’s lectionary text Jesus tells us not to give, fast, or pray like the “hypocrites” who put on a public show. This may sound harsh to our ears, but if we suspend the tone of judgment, Jesus is making a profoundly liberating observation.

The word hypocrite does not refer to a morally deceptive, hard-hearted person. Hypocrite means “actor.” In other words, don’t play to the crowd in your heart. If you do, the crowd will reward you as only crowds can. Crowds by their very nature are fickle and unstable. They shout “Hosanna” one day and “crucify him” the next. The capricious energy of the crowd is an intoxicating reward, which is why Jesus looked on crowds with compassion. But knowing and desiring far more nourishing rewards, he withdrew from crowds often – and invites us to do the same.

Who of us is not living our lives (to some degree) as if we were on stage, playing a part, locked inside a role we can’t seem to get out of? Some of us play the role of victor, others play the role of villain. Both are stuck and bound to the other in mutually destructive ways. This is why C.S. Lewis said the most fundamental prayer in life is, “May the real I meet the real Thou.” This is exactly what Jesus is getting at in this passage.

So, how does the real I meet the real Thou? How do we get off Broadway and into reality?

Mercifully, Jesus tells his disciples to go to their rooms and shut the door. What insight! What kindness! The inner room in the ancient Middle East was the equivalent of a pantry or larder where food was stored and preserved. It was located in the inner part of the house with no windows, only a door to seal it off.

In the inner room, we are free of the crowds who so easily rule and run us like puppets. In the inner room, we stop feeding on the unstable and fickle desires of the crowd and learn to borrow our desires from the One who desires us. The inner room is like a detox center that sobers the heart and awakens it to its deepest desires. It awakens us to the truth that our deepest desires are hidden in God, like a treasure. Yes, desire IS prayer! This is why Jesus wants us to follow it. He says, “Where your treasure is (think desire), there is your heart also.” So trust your desire and follow it come hell or high water to its origin. You will not only find God, but your own heart as well.

Lent is the invitation to the larder – to meet with God in the inner room of life and locate our heart’s desire inside the heart of the One who desires us. And our reward? The answer is already at work in us – all of us.

“trust your heart  
if the seas catch fire
(and live by love
though the stars walk backward.)”
~ e.e. cummings, from the poem “Dive For Dreams

Peace,
Street Psalms

The Greatest Loser

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Matthew 17:1-9

How strange. After the brightly-lit meeting on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, Jesus orders the disciples not to say a word about this until after he is raised from the dead. What an odd command. Why are they free to tell the story after the resurrection, but not before?

Jesus is revealing something truly revolutionary here. Only when we see life through the eyes of the Crucified One can we see reality clearly. Until then we’re stuck inside a broken narrative that needs a new interpreter. Only the Crucified One can reveal what Moses (The Law) and Elijah (The Prophets) have been trying to tell us. It is the Crucified One who reveals that which has been “hidden since the foundation of the world” (Matt. 13:35).

Of course, the problem with crucified ones throughout history is that they don’t get to tell their side of the story. History is told by winners, not the losers – until, that is, Jesus is resurrected. In the resurrection Jesus comes to us as the greatest loser in history. The Crucified One re-narrates all of life – from below. In doing so, He tells for us a story that we can’t quite tell for ourselves. He re-tells the ancient tales of Israel and our hearts burn within us to hear them as liberating rather than damning. In the retelling – in the new light of resurrection – the Law and the Prophets reveal God’s desire for “mercy, not sacrifice.” The hard-to-see truth is revealed; God is not mad. All is forgiven. We are God’s beloved with whom God is well pleased (Matt. 17:5). We are free to shout it from the mountain top.

At Street Psalms we are learning to see life through the eyes of the Crucified One. We are learning to read Scripture with the damned. We are learning to see Church through the eyes of the vulnerable. The crucified ones of this world are helping us re-narrate the Law and the words of the Prophets to reclaim a Gospel of grace, mercy, and peace in a violent world.

Next week we enter Lent. It is the annual journey into the resurrection by way of the cross. It is the sober reminder to the world-wide church that we do well to remain silent until spoken to by the Crucified One. This is the authority we so desperately desire today.

Peace,
Street Psalms

Photo: Michele Clemo, Jesus the Homeless statue

The Enemy of Perfection

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:48

Argh! I knew it. Underneath Jesus’ expansive, merciful heart lay a trigger-happy moral cop itching for us to straighten up and fly right – to be as morally perfect as God… or else!

The word “perfect” used in this week’s lectionary text (Matt 5:38-48) is perhaps the most toxic of all religious words for those who live fractured and imperfect lives – especially for those who have been beaten down so long that they can’t seem to do even the most basic things of life without messing up, over and over and over.

In a flourish of prophetic insight, Alcoholics Anonymous wisely came out from the Oxford Group because one of the tenets of the Oxford Group was a zero-tolerance policy for failure. They demanded “perfection” of those in recovery. This proved to be debilitating to recovering alcoholics who need a huge safety net of grace and countless second chances, not a “one-and-done” policy.

Nothing is more toxic to those who suffer from addiction (all of us) than the standard of perfection. None of us can live under that kind of pressure. Failure and imperfection are not the evil we imagine them to be. They are built into the fabric of life itself. As singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen famously said, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

The word, “perfect” that Jesus uses is the Greek word telios. It is not a moralistic word. It means “complete” or “whole.” It has to do with the final end or goal of something. It forms the root of our word for telescope. Jesus uses this word in the context of a larger teaching (Matt. 5:38-48). Jesus is telling us that the epicenter of the law is for us to “love our enemies.” Yes, the purpose of the law is to lead us to this place… to our enemy who completes us or makes us whole. That is why we are to love our enemy. Can you see? We can’t be fully who we are without our enemies. Perfection is not about some arbitrary standard that God demands. It’s about God wanting us to be fully human, and God knows that our enemies hold the key to our humanity.

When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He is revealing perhaps the deepest secret of all: that we are mirror doubles of our enemies. We are more alike than different. Bloods and Crips, Palestinian and Israeli, black and white, men and women, gay and straight: we are mirrors of each other. We complete each other.

Imagine if we lived as if this were true? It takes all the moral superiority out of it. I love my enemy not because I am better or higher or morally superior, but because I am incomplete without my enemy.

Enemies cannot be loved from a place of moral superiority. Loving our enemies is born of humility and leads to humility. In the end, our enemies are God’s invitation to wholeness. Telios. So be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Peace,
The Street Psalms Community

Photo:

Have You Heard?

“You have heard it said… but I say”
Matthew 5:21-37

In this week’s lectionary text, Jesus is doing something truly remarkable. He is re-interpreting Scripture. He’s meddling with the Law – the sacred center of an entire people. “You have heard it said…but I say.” What a beautiful vision of Jesus at work inside the holy of holies – reinterpreting what cannot interpret itself.

If we jump too quickly into the specifics of Jesus’ interpretation (which is tempting), we lose sight of bigger truth – that Scripture, even life itself, needs an interpreter. It seems obvious, but reality does not interpret itself. It can’t. It always comes to us through someone’s eyes. The question, then, is through whose eyes do we see? Who are our interpreters?

Learning to see through the eyes of Jesus is a life-long process with at least two parts at work simultaneously.

Part 1 – “You have heard it said”

This is the part where Jesus helps us acknowledge the interpretive lenses that shape the way we see. Much of our work at Street Psalms is helping leaders recognize their own lenses. Several come to mind: culture, ethnicity, gender, denomination, a long list of European theologians and pop culture gurus… Even things like scarcity, fear, and violence are lenses that profoundly shape the way we see.

These lenses create their own blind spots, or what others call fixations, attachments, shadows, and false-selves. Exposing these to the light of day can be as frightening as it is freeing. Over the years, we’ve had leaders walk out angry and frustrated, never to return. Others bend their knees in gratitude.

Part II – “But I say”

This is the part where Jesus is our rabbi, our teacher who re-interprets all of life. Learning to see through the eyes of Jesus begins with a deep intuition that there is goodness at the base of it all and that there is alwayssomething more going on than we can see on our own. The “something more” is always better than what we imagine. This holy intuition gives way to holy doubt, which is necessary for new sight.

When we see through the eyes of Jesus, cataracts fall like scales. No longer do we see from the outside looking in, as though we are separate from reality. We begin to see from the inside looking out. We no longer look behind, but within. What we see is New Creation, at play everywhere.

Rabbi Jesus, teach us to see through your eyes.

Peace,
Street Psalms Community

A Solitary Light

“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.”
Matthew 5:13-14

In this week’s lectionary Gospel reading (Matthew 5:13-20), Jesus reminds us that we are salt and light. These are twin gifts of our deepest vocation – to be human. As salt we preserve humanity, especially among the dehumanized until they can occupy their own humanity more fully for themselves. As light we expose dehumanizing darkness by reflecting the glory of God. Isn’t this what Jesus does for us?

The public brief of David’ story is a 36-page litany of abuse and relentless trauma since childhood. There is no question that David is a danger to himself and perhaps sometimes to others, but solitary confinement multiplies his danger and further robs him of his humanity.Mary, a good friend and aspiring lawyer in Denver, has been working on a civil rights case with David. David is a 28-year-old mentally disabled man who is incarcerated at Colorado’s Centennial Correctional Facility, where he has been in solitary confinement since 2009. Mary and her team are challenging penal system’s inhumane treatment of David.

That declaration, which David signed just this past December, describes the mandatory physical restraints that lead him to anxiety-fueled self-harm behaviors, which in turn have kept David relegated to solitary confinement for the past five years.

“It’s hard for me to walk unrestrained already due to back pain, and ‘cuffing up’ forces me to take smaller steps and thus it’s hurting my back due to it’s an unnatural walk to me,” David says in the brief. “I wobble when I walk, i.e. nonlinear steps. This makes me feel like a dangerous animal that has no control, and that will attack anything that dares to glance at me. Which I’m not. I’m not sub human at all.” “It’s hard for me to walk unrestrained already due to back pain, and ‘cuffing up’ forces me to take smaller steps and thus it’s hurting my back due to it’s

Mary and her legal team are a beautiful example of salt and light. They are working to preserve David’s humanity, and also the humanity of individuals who detain him, while shedding light on the system of darkness that overwhelms David and others like him. In doing so, Mary and her colleagues are recovering their own humanity.

We often use the phrase that “the vulnerable are the face and grace of Jesus who return us to ourselves, clothed and in our right mind.” This is the gift of David. In preserving his humanity, he sheds light on our own.

Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Yes, Jesus is not merely concerned with shedding light, but also with how we shed light. We preserve our humanity and the humanity of others by mirroring the humanity of Jesus. Perhaps this is why the most frequently used title for Jesus in the Gospels is simply “the Son of man” – or more literally, “the human one.” To be fully human is to be salt and light, or as St. Irenaeus said, the glory of God is humanity fully alive. Yes, we reflect God’s glory (light) by being fully and completely human. Thank you David and thank you Mary for showing us the way.

Advent – Christmas Eve

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. The husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”
Matthew 1:18-19

We began this year’s Advent series by waiting in the Apocalypse (Matthew 24:36-44). In the second week we waited in the Wilderness with John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-12). Last week we waited in Prison (Matthew 11:2-11). In the final week of Advent we wait with Joseph in the spotlight of Public Disgrace regarding Mary’s condition (Matthew 1:18-25). Apocalypse, wilderness, prison, public disgrace – these are the waiting rooms of Christmas. But shame, well, that might be the hardest of all the rooms to occupy.

Each waiting room yields its own gift. Apocalypse unveils the gift of mercy. Wilderness yields the garden of grace. Prison yields the gifts of faith and freedom. And exposure to “public disgrace” calls forth the most precious gift of all – Emmanuel. Actually, it’s not a new gift, but the revelation of all the gifts combined.

“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us'” (Matthew 1:23).

That’s it! Emmanuel. God is with us. God is with us in all the waiting rooms of life, transforming the waiting room, the waiter, and even the waiting itself by God’s very presence.

This is especially true of shame. God occupies the room of shame without judgment. Or to put it another way, God’s judgment on our shame is mercy. The late Robert Farrar Capon said it beautifully: “Shamelessness is the supreme virtue of the Incarnation.” God is with us in our deepest disgrace, refusing to disgrace us.

Do you remember the great pee scene in the movie Billy Madison, whose title character was played by Adam Sandler? Billy sees Ernie, a kid at summer camp, hiding in shame because he wet his pants. Realizing that Ernie would be exposed to public disgrace, Billy quickly wets his own pants and gladly calls attention to it in front of the other kids. Billy occupies the place of shame and does so in a way that redeems it. Eventually all those watching think it’s cool to pee their pants in public, even the elderly lady who says, “If peeing your pants is cool, then consider me Miles Davis!” A new community is formed – one that is no longer ruled by shame. The analogy might be a stretch but it’s a cute and funny scene.

Christmas is upon us, and the waiting is almost over. On Christmas Eve, let us wait just a little longer with Joseph in the room of public disgrace. We know it sounds crazy, but the very shame we are so eager to dismiss might very well turn out to be like the shame of Mary, the God-bearer.

Advent Prayer
O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Merry Christmas,
Street Psalms Community