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Advent 3 2014 Who are you?

Jn 1:6-8, 19-28

John’s gospel calls attention to John the Baptist as a witness sent by God to testify to Jesus as the light of the world. John the Baptist’s integrity rests in knowing himself, what/who he is and what/who he is not.

In Richard Rohr’s book, Everything Belongs: the gift of contemplative prayer, he has a chapter on “cleansing the lens”.  I found this particularly helpful as I thought about John the Baptist for a second week.  Rohr reminds us all that prayer is not one thing among many other things that we do or leave undone, but is like our glasses or contact lenses, in that prayer shapes our perception and how we see things.

Rather than concentrate on religious doctrine, creed or ideology, that risks trying to either domesticate God to our ability to describe. Even worse is the temptation to manipulate facts to show that God is on our side in disputes small and large.  God-centered perspective is what faithful people seek and prayer is the way to clear our vision. 

Did you ever wish to be Mother Teresa, or St. Francis? Well, John the Baptist would tell you not to worry about not being Mother Teresa because Mother Theresa was Mother Theresa…and St Francis was St Francis, so we don’t need to be someone else, even one we greatly admire. We all need to just be who we are. We admire Mother Teresa because of her compassion and courage in the face of great deprivation and sickness: the underside so to speak of human life. Many of us may admit we admire that she could do what we either would not or could not do. That is ok because none of us are her.

St Francis as he lay dying said, “I have done what was mine to do; now you must do what is yours to do.” Someone said, when we get to heaven, St Peter will not ask why we were not x, y, or z but whether we were ___________(fill in your name). What does it mean to be Ann? What does it mean to be you?

Ultimately all I can offer back to God is what God has given me – nothing more or less.

The most courageous thing we can ever do is bear humbly the mystery of our own reality.

I wear reading glasses. Sometimes I can’t find them because they are on top of my head, and sometimes I put them on and can’t see through them because they are smudged. There are a variety of things in life that smudge our lenses, and here I am talking about our perspective, how we see the hand of God working in our lives and our community. I will offer three: fear, anger, and judgment.

Fear can be very helpful when it protects us from a predator. It is ok to avoid a big rattlesnake and stay out of range. It is another thing to fear people we encounter in life because they are different. Being different does not make them dangerous. Fear of being known as I am and not as I wish I were or others want me to be is a greater smudge because it causes us to be deceitful with ourselves and usually with God as well. If other people don’t like or appreciate us, we fear that neither does God.  Fear of making mistakes can paralyze us from acting.  We fear being wrong, being rejected, not being “in”, fear of not being promoted, fear of a God who has not been experienced.  Fear is service to the false self and that smudges the image of our being who we really are and being loved as we are. 

There is an antidote for fear. 1 John 4:18 says, “perfect love casts out all fear”.  In contemplative prayer, we are silent, just being who we are before God, and inviting our spiritual antennae to detect the vibrations of God’s love flowing over us, into us, through us. Being in the presence of God is being in the presence of perfect love, and in that place there is nothing to fear.

Have you been loved well by someone? Well enough that you are certain that if you were wrong you would be forgiven, not matter how serious the fault? That is the security our soul can have with God. When this happens, we release the haunting questions lurking in the shadows of our minds: am I pure, am I good, is my technique right, etc etc etc….because we fall into the hands of the living God who is love and are so caught up in the presence that we forget to question ourselves. Simply the focus shifts from me to thee.

In the shift comes a quality of freedom that allows us to drop our cynicism, illusion, self-interest and move toward a positive position, the one Jesus called the reign of God or kingdom of God, which is not fear based or against any individual, group, sin or problem.   Without the guiding power of God’s freeing spirit, we all stay inside our comfort zones and miss the great mystery that is ours if we are open to encountering God.

John admitted he was not Messiah or Elijah, just John, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.” 

Richard Rohr tells the story of being on retreat and going for a walk. As he walked along the path, another man came toward him, but it being a silent hermitage, Richard thought he should not speak. As they came side by side the man spoke: “Richard, you get the chance to preach and I don’t. When you are out there and preaching, just tell the people one thing: God is not out there. God bless you.” And the man walked on.

That is why the coming of Jesus is so profoundly important. It says, human life in this physical, material world is the hiding place of God and the revelation of God. Spiritual awakening and growth is hidden. It is accomplished by releasing our fears, hidden defense postures, and attachment to the ego-self.  It is authenticity, born of a relationship.

 That is what advent calls us to do: to remember and own in honest and humble ways, this bodily self, frail, vulnerable, limited as it is. It is this body, singular and plural, that participates in whatever God is doing.

Who are you? You are the beloved bearer of the Christ today in this place.


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