A Joyful Celebration

Deborah Beach Giordano
© January 21, 2019

John 2:1-11 ~told by Deborah

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus’ mother was there, along with Jesus and his disciples.

When the wine ran out, his mother said to Jesus, “They have no wine!”

But Jesus said to her, “Woman, what has that got to do with you — and with me? Now isn’t the time.…”

His mother said to the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.”

There were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding about thirty gallons.

Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they did.

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, not knowing where it had come from (but the waiters who had drawn the water knew), he said to the groom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then puts out the cheap stuff after all the guests have had a snootful. But you saved the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

On the third day …

The author of John’s Gospel begins the introduction to Jesus’ public ministry by telling us that what happens next took place on “the third day.” 

Oh ho! We hear those words and are immediately on the alert: What was that?

The phrase leaps out at us like a gazelle that suddenly appeared — then vanished amid the mundane details of Galilean social life. A wedding reception, empty wine jugs, tipsy guests, idle conversation; an average day with minor problems …. Why are future echoes of that distant “third day” sounding now?

We weren’t expecting anything like that, not so soon, no hints of the Resurrection — nor the suffering preceding; no betrayals or trials or crucifixions — not here amid the noise and distractions and general celebration; not in this place or time. In fact, we’re not quite sure what it is that we saw.

With those words the author has very deftly situated us right alongside those who were there. We are as surprised, confused, and uncertain as the rest of the wedding guests. 

The Setting

Jesus is sitting at one of the tables, fiddling with an empty cup, laughing and joking with his friends. If there were a photograph, he’d be in the background, half-hidden behind the bridal couple; not in the spotlight, of no special interest, just another face in the crowd. Most people wouldn’t even remember that he was there.

But he was. The Lord Christ was in our midst, unnoticed. Miracles occurred right under our noses, and we were blind as moles. We didn’t see divine blessings — didn’t even know what had happened.

That is often still the case, today.

Now, some people did know what Jesus had done that day: the waitstaff knew, the disciples knew. And, of course, Mary, his mother, knew: she was the one who initiated the remarkable transformation. (As an aside: Speaking as a mom, I find it infinitely charming that the Lord agreed to do what he could to make his mother happy.)

The First Miracle?

But that’s a curious thing. Although the author tells us this that was the first of Jesus’ divine signs, Mary seemed quite confident that he could resolve the problem. How did she know?

We might say that she had faith; that’s the traditional reading. But her comment is made so casually, a gentle nudging, rather matter-of-fact: Come on, I know there’s something you can do. It’s as if she’s had experience; as if the miraculous is, with Him, routine.

In the early days of the Christian tradition, stories of the childhood of Jesus were in circulation — none of which were received into the canon. Many are charming, some are alarming: not all of them end happily. These “apocryphal” tales describe how the little boy — fully human as well as fully divine — learns what he is capable of doing. Some of his childish miracles bring abundance and new life, others bring grief and pain. 

Though they are not chronicles of “what really happened,” for me these stories confirm that the adult Jesus was aware of his abilities and was mindful of how to use them. He did not act thoughtlessly or in ignorance, but with wisdom and understanding. Through lived experience the Lord had learned that words can cut and wound, or comfort and heal; that anger is destructive, but compassion gives life. He understood the enormous potential of holy power that, once released, cannot be recalled.

Initiation Sequence

This explains the author’s emphasis on “the third day.” In turning the water into wine, publicly revealing Who he was, the Lord set off a series of events that would lead, inexorably, to the Cross and, in turn, to Easter morning. Once the Power was released into the world, there was no opting-out, no turning back, nothing could stop it; the launch sequence had begun: Christ’s mission would proceed according to the divine plan. 

This initial “third day” was a catalyst for that holy Third Day — and every day in between (as well as all of the days that follow). In a seemingly insignificant, though impressive, miracle, discretely arranged and apparently unclaimed, the transformation of the world began.

But hardly anybody noticed.

We, sitting among the other guests, weren’t really sure what we saw — or if we saw anything; like glimpsing a gazelle dashing through the garden. It all happened in a flash, quite suddenly. Maybe a spark of sunlight reflected oddly in the wine newly poured by the waiter. Perhaps a taste, a swallow, a surprised glance into the cup, a comment: “Where did this wine come from? It’s leagues better than the one they served before.” Perhaps there was something, but who could be certain? And, as many of those present had dulled their palates with much mediocre wine, they had no taste for the fine new one.

It is Done

From Cana, Jesus’ Way now formally begins; it will take him to Jerusalem, to Gethsemane, to Calvary, and to the Resurrection. It would seem that, after the wedding miracle, the Lord might well have declared, “It is done,” — for in this Act all His other works were set in motion; the rest of His mission would follow. 

His time had come. The holy power was unleashed.

Pouring Forth

It is from this point forward, in John’s telling, that Jesus’ ministry really takes off; growing greater, expanding outward from the local region, reaching Samaria and the farther provinces of Judea. Through His word a child’s life is restored, the hungry are fed, the crippled walk, and — at His touch, a blind man is given sight. Alight with holy passion, He challenges religious profiteers, debates priests and theologians, persuades the doubtful, rescues the fallen, inspires and encourages ever-increasing multitudes. 

Wherever he goes, those who encounter Jesus are transformed by his presence: some, in glorious, soul-renewing ways — like water into wine. Others find their teeth set on edge: the mean-spirited, the hard-hearted, the smugly self-certain become angry, suspicious, and antagonistic. Meeting the Lord changes lives. 

Typical

John’s Gospel is the only one that tells of the wedding in Cana, and describes it as “the first” of Jesus’ divine signs. Perhaps we might say it was of the primary sort: typical of the Lord’s miracles, exemplifying the character of the deed and the Doer. There was no spotlight or grandstand, no shouting or self-aggrandizement, only a Gift, freely given. A blink and you would have missed it, perhaps felt only a subtle change — a sudden smile, a spark of joy, a flicker of warm remembrance — and never recognized its Source. But you would be blessed, just the same. That’s how Jesus worked. 

The Wedding Feast

Perhaps there is another meaning to be drawn from Jesus’ first miracle having taken place at a wedding celebration. It signifies an occasion of joy and delight — and even mystery; festivities founded in love, sustained by hope and promise. 

Love unleashes holy Power, infusing us with greater wisdom and profound understanding. Worldly cynicism describes the experience as somehow defective or distorted: “looking through rose-colored glasses,” but do we not, in fact, see more clearly when we are deeply in love? The sky is bluer, the grass greener, the people kinder, the wine sweeter. Beauty shines forth where ever we look; we are filled with compassion and tenderness, enlivened with creative imagination: all things are possible.

Love is a kind of holy intoxication — not drunkenness or incapacity, but a gentle merriment. It is as if we’ve supped from a chalice of sacred wine and been transformed into a divine energy source: blessings stream forth from us to everyone we meet. That’s how Jesus worked.

The First Supper

Another difference between John’s Gospel and the synoptics is the absence of what we know as “the Last Supper;” the meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before his arrest and crucifixion. Instead, there is the wedding feast — which, I suggest, defines Christ’s message; revealing, in a single act, the style and significance of Jesus’ ministry. It is a celebration of love: a joy-filled community of friends and neighbors and people we’ve only just met. 

The reality of what is called Jesus’ sacrifice was in His giving of His life to us: living with us, walking with us, celebrating with us, even to sorrowing and dying with us. From the initial divine sign on that first “third day” to the glorious third day of Easter morning, Christ’s Gospel was the same: a celebration of love; of God’s enduring, passionate love for us.

All who have partaken of Christ’s message go forth as if from a sacred party — with merry hearts, intoxicated with love, tipsy with divine delight, infused with holy power. We follow His Way of compassionate wisdom, empowered, inspired, fearless and free.

May your spirit always drink from the Cup of holy joy,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Allow yourself to fall in love with God.

Advertisements
Posted in Christianity, Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Scriptures | Tagged , , , , ,

A New Beginning

Deborah Beach Giordano
© January 14, 2019

Revelation 21:1-6a

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, descending from heaven from God, as lovely as a bride on her wedding day. 

And I heard a shout from the Throne, “Look! God’s home is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; all people will be His people — God Himself will live with them! He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”

And the One who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” And he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Then he said to me, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega: the beginning and the end.”

New Beginnings

This well-known passage from Revelation envisions a world in which death is eliminated. There is no more suffering or pain, no sorrow nor grieving. Wrong-doing and injustice cannot exist — for God will rule over all people, everywhere.

It sounds … well, divine. 

However, in order to reach this ideal, everything that has gone before has vanished without a trace, destroyed in a terrifying fire and brimstone-laden version of the Flood (without a Noah to rescue the animal species) which John of Patmos recounts at length, relishing every gory detail. To attain his version of A Perfect World requires that this earth and all of its inhabitants must go through hell — literally.

And I wonder. As easy as it is to scoff at poor John the Exile’s angry screed, perhaps we should offer him both sympathy and thanks — for his (bad) example. 

In his frustration and impatience, John expressed the sort of all-or-nothing thinking that all flesh is heir to. In short: when first efforts fail — knock everything down and start over.

A New Day, New Beginnings

It’s only been a short while ago; I’m sure you remember how, throughout the holiday season, we were inundated with advertising enticing us to “celebrate in style” with extravagant feasts, liquor-laced fruitcakes, sugar cookies, chocolate candies, and high-calorie beverages. For the less-ambitious among us there were offers of 2-for-1 pizzas, free bread sticks, and discount coupons for drive-through restaurants. Gloria in Excesses, Deo!

And now…. 

It’s the New Year. Now is the time for new beginnings, a fresh start, a “new me:” a new diet, more exercise, civic involvement, enrolling in night classes, learning Italian, engaging in daily bible study, praying more and swearing less. Our minds are filled with ideals as glorious and transformative as John of Patmos’ heavenly-new-world dreams. 

A new year, a new beginning, and we’re ready to rock and roll. At least for a few days. Or a couple of weeks. Then the enthusiasm fades, the hoped-for successes are slow in coming, we slip back into old patterns and habits, get bored, and pretty soon we’ve given up. Maybe next year. Another time. Maybe it’s just not meant to be.

It would be ever so much easier if we could erase the flab and the failings, change our work schedule, our energy level, our body type, our culture, our community, our family history and our chromosomes — and then, then all would be well. You know: if only we could have a shiny new, unblemished, utterly different beginning to work from.

You know: one sent down from heaven.

Just like John of Patmos wanted.

Familiarity

Change is not easy. Let me say that again: Change. is. not. easy. Human beings are creatures of habit and convenience. We are inclined to repeat what has worked for us before — with the understanding that what has “worked” is not necessarily what is the best for us (or for others), only that it has caused us the least discomfort. This may translate into what is quick, or easy, or familiar — even when it “works” to our disadvantage.

Battered spouses, abused children, the intimidated and victimized very often remain in situations that are harmful — even deadly, simply because it is familiar. There can be a sense of security in the knowledge of “this is how things work” — even if the workings result in bruises and broken bones, broken hearts, and broken lives. Even a sense of fear (“Don’t say anything to upset her,”) can be part of a familiar — recognized, expected, and thus, comforting — pattern. Terrible things can be “normalized” as a current expression gives it.

The same is true for substance abuse. Hangovers are a misery, the DTs are horrifying, the craving for drugs is agonizing, the risk of death from overdose or tainted product is ever-present. But the addict can rationalize these as “just how things are” in his life.

Most of us have not “normalized” behaviors as dangerous as these examples, yet we’re all inclined to make excuses for the things we do: “That’s just how it is.” But that isn’t how it has to be.

Change is not easy; it doesn’t “come down from heaven,” all at once as a clean and shiny new beginning. Change takes place one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time — and always one decision at a time. It is a process, a series of choices. One mess up or mistake doesn’t negate all that went before, nor spoil any chance for the future. It is a warning; a signpost: Here be dragons — so watch your step.

Changing behavior takes practice. It also takes patience.

And so, to succeed, we slouch onward, toward our new ideal — not leaping tall buildings like Superman or Wonder Woman, but as ordinary mortals. With patience and self-acceptance (and self-forgiveness), we can face the challenges and setbacks of establishing new behaviors, rejecting old patterns, learning new ways to be.

But Wait! There’s More!

Meanwhile…. Our consumerist culture entices us to believe in instant success, immediate (“Amazing!”) results: weight loss, clear skin, pain relief, great credit, sound sleep, a new language — many of which require almost no effort (“Easy!”) and all readily available… for a price. And we are often tempted by their claims. Because we wish they were true.

Seriously, who wouldn’t want to learn a new language while you sleep — without bothering with any of those pesky verb conjugations or memorizing a new vocabulary? And it sure would be great to eat whatever we want and still lose weight! 

But the world doesn’t work that way. Miracles are few and far between.

He Who Came Down from Heaven

Which brings us to One who figured largely in the Exile’s imagination, and Who is central to our own faith and belief. As His followers, we proclaim that new life has indeed “come down from heaven” for us — in the form of Jesus Christ. In His life we have life.

The holy Lord showed us the Way we are to follow. He is our Guide and Teacher in how we are to live; what we are to hope for, work for, pray for, and believe in. 

And He lived as we live. 

Yes, there were powerful works of healing, nourishment, and restoration. No one was outside the grace and mercy of Christ’s ministry: the young, the old, women, men, Gentiles, Jews, Samaritans, the deaf, the lame, lepers, and even Roman legionnaires — all were precious in His sight. These miracles were part of the Lord Jesus’ revelations of God’s compassion and expansive, unlimited love. 

But beyond these holy demonstrations were the far greater — and far more numerous — examples of His wild-ranging, fearless and faithful presence among us. As Christians have declared since the beginning: the Lord Jesus walked with us; born of a woman, living as we live, loving as we love, grieving as we grieve, suffering as we suffer, dying as we die. He did not engage in divine shortcuts; not even when hanging upon the cross.

A New Beginning

Jesus brought forth upon this earth a new beginning: an affirmation of God’s care and compassion — and of the holy commitment to our world, and all who live within it. It is not to be destroyed, but redeemed. We are called to be part of A Work in Progress: a Kingdom built on Christlike lovingkindness. Simply put: God hasn’t given up on us. Each new day is a renewal of the promise (and the opportunity): there is still time.

If God has faith in us, who are we to argue?

Christ’s peace and joy be with you,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

What change do you want to make in your life?

Posted in Christianity, Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Scriptures | Tagged , , , , ,

Praise for the Gift of the Earth

Deborah Beach Giordano
© January 1, 2019

Inspired by Psalm 148

A cloud-swirled marble
swathed in aquas,
grays, and indigos,
held tenderly
in place
within a universe
of endless possibility.

God spoke: Glorious.

The skylights of the heavens
clad in every color,
hue, and vibrancy,
tremble in awe above us,
gazing raptly
at our planet’s majesty.

God spoke: Magnificent.

Whale and walrus,
lobster, lamprey, and starfish,
seaweed, seal, and stingray,
shark, sardine, and octopus,
sea monsters
abiding in the waters.

God spoke: Astonishing.

Oceans, seas, and rivers,
streams, creeks, and arroyos,
wadis, wells, and water holes;
refresh, cleanse, and sustain.

God spoke: Life-Giving.

Wind, rain, and sleet,
snow, hail, and heat,
storms, fog, foul and fair weather;
wild ranging,
endlessly changing.

God spoke: Variety.

Mountains, hills, and valleys,
deserts, forests, and grasslands,
ice-crowned peaks, and night-dark caverns!
Goats and gulls, giraffes and grasshoppers,
butterflies and buttercups,
lizards and lilacs, lions and ladybugs,
penguins and panthers, camels and crows,
owls, ocelots, and ostriches,
apes and ants — and anteaters, too.

God spoke: Exaltation.

Earthly rulers, CEOs,
the rich, the powerful and the prideful,
presidents, politicians, and prime minsters,
bureaucrats, bankers, and board members,
your strength will one day fade,
your names forgotten,
your bodies turned to dust.

God spoke: I AM.

All people, join together:
the young, the old,
the weak, the strong,
the grieving and the joyful;
all people of every town and tribe,
of every age and station,
join together
and give thanks to the Lord.

Join me in praising the Lord our God;
join in, shouting Hallelujah!

God says, “Bring all who claim me as their God,
for I have made them for My glory.
It was I who created them.” ~ Isaiah 43:7

May joy and thanksgiving fill your heart!

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Look up and down and around you — and give thanks.

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Poetry, Scriptures | Tagged , , , ,

For those who find this Season difficult

You who delight in Christmas festivities, who look forward to joining with others in celebration, who will be spending time with people they love and enjoy — need read no further. Abundant blessings upon you and yours, and may this holy Season always be as bright in your homes and your hearts as it is today.

For those who find this Season difficult

An inescapable,
invasive
anxiety;
incessant
exhaustion
that no sleep
can alleviate.

Grim dread
stretching forth:
a noxious,
oozing Styx,
gray wraiths
cry out
from the swirling
stinking depths;
a cackling, smirking
boatman
who must be paid
in sugar-coated smiles.

The suffocating circle
pressing close,
insistent, inexorable,
gasping,
grasping,
wielding words
as sharp as knives.

Clenched fists
conceal wounds
of ages past;
death-mask grins
disguise miseries
long endured;
lies are repeated,
pain is perpetuated,
ancient secrets
remain unspoken.

Within the glinting,
glaring,
garland-bedecked
Season
darkness abides;
a sacrilegious parody,
an unholy pretense:
all is merry
and bright —
for the sake
of appearances.

You are understood. Your pain is unique, the causes personal and particular, yet the sense of abandonment and grief, of artifice and emptiness is shared: a widely-kept secret in a vast community of the silent. 

This Season of gathering darkness (bringing us our longest night), is also a shout of defiance, a refusal to accept the bleak and barren as the final word on life. Candles are lighted to spite the darkness; yule logs burn, their warmth outlasting the persistence of the cold winter night. And so, in us, may we find the light of hope and the courage to persist.

For Christians, this is the hinge of the year when we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus; the One we call the Light of the World, the aspect of God’s full-gracious love, the final Word — which is life in spite of death, compassion in spite of suffering, kindness in spite of antagonism, peace in spite of violence and hate. In short: a world transformed from bleak and barren midwinter to an ever-present, endlessly-repeated birth and new beginning. 

It is a Message of peace; of sustaining quietude and tender compassion. It is a gift that we offer to one another through kindness and understanding, and a gift we can give to ourselves. If the days ahead fill you with dread, if obligations feel overwhelming, stop. Take a breath. Choose well and wisely what truly matters; be kind and tender to one another as to the Christ Child himself — especially to yourself.

Peace and grace to you,

Rev. Deb  ♰

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections | Tagged

Be Prepared!

Deborah Beach Giordano
© December 17, 2018

Luke 3:7-18 ~told by Deborah

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You nest of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Don’t just talk the talk; walk in the way you’ve promised to follow.

“Don’t rely on your status as ‘children of Abraham,’” he reached down into the water and scooped up a handful of pebbles that glinted in the sunlight, “I tell you: God can turn these stones into children of Abraham.” John opened his fist and the rocks fell back into the river bottom, lost among all of the others. 

“At this very moment the harvester is on his way, his ax in his hand; every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

The crowds asked him, “What shall we do?!!” He said, “Whoever has two coats must share with one who has none; and whoever has food must do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said, “Collect no more than the prescribed amount.”

And soldiers asked him, “What about us? What should we do?” He told them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusations, and be satisfied with your wages.”

The people were anxiously hopeful and began to wonder if John might be the messiah, but he always told them, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie his shoes. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He’s wielding a pitchfork, ready to bring in the harvest and get the hay into the barn; but the weeds he’ll toss into the fire to be burned.”

John said things like this as he went about proclaiming the good news to the people.

Urgent Exhortations

Image that you are sitting in church waiting for the sermon to begin; there is the usual rustle of hymnals, a few coughs, surreptitious glances at watches, and the repositioning of feet and fannies. After a moment of silence, the pastor stands up and begins shouting, 

“You congregation of cobras! Gathered together like venomous snakes under a rock, puffed up; sanctimonious, smug and self-certain. Give up the pretense: get right with God or get ready for trouble.”

Not happening. 

Nobody is going to sit still for that kind of talk these days. When we go to church we expect encouragement and affirmation, not challenges or criticism. But the author of Luke describes John’s preaching (literally: his urgent exhortations) as “good news,” and tells us that the people were made both hopeful and anxious by his words.

A Change is Coming

Whether it heralded the arrival of a divinely-commissioned leader (a messiah) who would lead the people to victory over their oppressors, or God’s own Self coming to earth to mete out justice (“the Day of the Lord”), John’s message promised a change. A Big Change. Soon.

But change can be scary for human beings: we are notoriously creatures of habit. Change means that life will be different: unusual, out of the norm, challenging; it often requires that we modify our ways of doing things, of thinking about things, even, possibly, revising our understanding of what is right and true. Change can cause great stress; even nice changes — ones we desire and hope for — can disrupt our routines, challenge our expectations, and can actually make us sick. Most of us have experienced the heightened anticipation of exam results, recitals, reunions, romances, long-distance travel, that has set our stomach churning, or made us dizzy and lightheaded. 

Perhaps the most challenging part of John’s exhortations was the fact that he didn’t say when this change would occur. He insisted that taking action was urgent, but the deadline was soon-but-not-yet. And that’s the tricky bit. Another aspect of being human is our tendency to put off for tomorrow those things we’d rather not do.

Maybe Later

We Californians know that “the earthquake” is coming. It’s the way things are: we live on a shifting plate that trembles and vibrates hundreds of times every day; this is earthquake country. We tend to downplay that fact, joke about it, and generally ignore it, even if we’ve personally experienced some pretty “exciting” ones in the past. Geologists exhort the citizenry to be prepared, but studies have consistently shown that very few of us have assembled supplies and equipment to see us through a future event. Because, after all, it’s a terrible thing, distressing to imagine, impossible to control or prevent, and, anyway, it probably won’t happen right away (for all we know) — so, really, who wants to think about that?

Is it any wonder, then, that the Baptizer sounds annoyed and infuriated at his hearers? He’s earnestly warning them that a Big Change is coming, insisting that they must prepare themselves; and they are nodding their heads, wading into the river with the greatest sincerity, and then going back home to business as usual. “The messiah may soon be assembling an army? God will arrive to separate the weeds from the wheat? Yes, to be certain, it will happen — someday, I have no doubt; but I don’t want to think about that right now.”

And so we postpone, avoid, ignore, and joke about the serious and scary aspects of life in our world. We speak about our death as if it’s an option: “IF I die…” — when it most certainly isn’t. 

We’ve heard stories of faults, failings, and shortcomings, of falling into temptation, of lives damaged and souls distorted by ugly attitudes and hateful deeds…. but, really, who wants to think about that? We’re content to bow our heads, pray for those others with the greatest sincerity, and then go back home to business as usual. “Yes, my life will end one day, and I don’t know what I’ll have to show for it — but I don’t want to think about that right now.”

The Revelation and the Challenge

Unlike those who first heard the preaching of John the Baptist, we do know what the change was that he was foretelling: the arrival of Jesus our Lord. God sent a gift, a sign of divine compassion and extraordinary trust: God placed Godself in our hands as a holy (wholly) innocent; to be brought forth, nourished and nurtured, educated, and befriended. The awesome Day of the Lord brought not condemnation, but a reprieve; we have been set free — to love as we have been loved: fully, completely, compassionately. 

The Messiah came not to command, but to teach; to bless and not to curse, to heal and not to harm, to build up and not tear down. Are we His followers — or a nest of vipers? How do we show forth the fruits of our nominally restored (“Christlike”) natures: by loving some and despising others? in our compassion for poor strangers while ignoring needy neighbors? in celebrating our Lord’s birth while spitting venom at those with whom we disagree? Do we truly follow the teachings of Christ as our savior, or use Jesus as a human shield to deflect criticism from our hubris and self-certainty?

Christians do not live in a bubble; we live in a multicultural, multi-faith — and increasingly none/no-faith — world. The Way that Jesus taught is no longer readily-accepted and understood, but often viewed with suspicion, distrust, and outright hostility. The time of sailing comfortably along under the banner of Christ — our decency and integrity assumed, our failings winked at, our crimes ignored — has ended, and that is A Very Good Thing. We are now obliged to actually live our faith, as the Baptizer demanded of his hearers (in slightly different language): we must walk the Walk; demonstrate in the way we live our lives Who it is that we follow.

Soon

None of us knows “the day or hour” when our opportunities for sharing the Good News will come to an end; but whether it be measured in days or decades, time is of the essence. There are those who dwell in darkness and despair, never knowing — or even hoping for — the Light of divine compassion. How will they come to understand God’s love and faithfulness if we don’t show them?

If we say we are Christians, people will believe us. Others will look to us to show them what that means: Is that what Christians do? Is that how they speak? Is that what they believe? Is that how they behave? Is that how they treat one another, other people, other opinions, other ideas, other beliefs? Are they a community of wisdom, tenderness, and compassion — or a nest of vipers looking for another victim in which to sink their fangs? 

There is a hymn that says, “They will know we are Christians by our love;” to that, I invite you to say with me: Amen!

As we come to celebrate anew the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, may the divine Light of love shine in us, and through us into all the world. 

Radiant blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Ask yourself: Is this how Christians behave?

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Scriptures | Tagged , , , ,

A Cause for Celebration


Deborah Beach Giordano
© December 10, 2018

Luke 1:67-80 ~ told by Deborah

After the baby John was born, his father Zachariah was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied: 

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who has visited us and brought forth redemption for His people, and lifted up a shout of deliverance from the family of David His servant — as He promised through the holy prophets of old: deliverance from our enemies, and from the power of all who hate us, as a sign of His compassion for our ancestors — in remembrance of His holy covenant; the promise He gave to Abraham our father, so that we, being delivered without fear from the power of our enemies, might serve Him in holiness and justice throughout all of our days. 

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of redemption through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender compassion of our God — which shines upon us with the radiance of a sunrise; giving light to those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, guiding our feet along the path of peace.” 

And the child continued to thrive and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the wilderness until his first public appearance to Israel.

Yahoo, God!

This scripture passage is a “song of deliverance” in more ways than one. Zachariah was celebrating God’s compassion toward the people of Israel as well as the divine blessing that had just been received in his own family. It is a birth announcement, and a shout of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.

Like a midwife, the Beloved had brought forth the people from out of Egypt, and had deliveredthem from their enemies, beginning with Pharaoh. So, too, had the Lordbrought forth a surprising, late-life pregnancy, and safely delivered to Elizabeth and Zachariah a full-term, healthy baby boy — despite the many risks and dangers to both mother and child; a son whose first cry was a shout of victory, a holy promise fulfilled. John’s joyful father recognizes and affirms the parallels: the gracious Almighty is the source of life and new beginnings in large ways and in small. He proclaims the power and goodness of the One who can be trusted and relied upon, and calls on the people to rejoice, be thankful, and keep the faith.

Yahoo, God, in Gratitude and Hope

Zachariah’s assertion of John’s future mission is as much a promise as a prediction; a vow that this divinely-sent child would be dedicated to the work of the Lord. The little boy will be raised with an acute awareness of the specially-blessed circumstances of his birth, and a knowledge of the God who graciously gives and forgives. He will do great things.

At this point neither we nor Zachariah know what will happen next. With confident faith and courage — inspired by the arrival of his newborn child, he imagines a wondrous future in which all people will come to know the same delight and trust in God that he is feeling on this day: “the tender compassion of our God — which shines upon us like the radiance of a sunrise.”

We who live in contemporary Western society forget how rare, and how cherished, were babies that were successfully brought to term, and who “thrived and became strong.” Infant mortality was high, perhaps thirty percent or more died within their first year of life, and new mothers were often buried alongside their children. Zachariah knew that a healthy mother and baby were a cause for rejoicing; their lives were gifts delivered by God. 

They still are.

Yahoo, God, for the Ultimate Reason

As we approach Christmas Day, our thoughts are focused on the gift of the Infant Lord Jesus: the Child of Hope and Promise, the confirmation of God’s love. He is, as the saying goes, “the reason for the Season.” And there is more to the Story.

The life of Jesus of Nazareth was a sacrament: a holy gift through which the Light of heaven shone forth “with the radiance of a sunrise” upon all the earth. His birth was a revelation of God’s continuing faithfulness and abiding concern for us. In His life we have been given life; a knowledge of the Way to follow: living with compassion and courage, loving freely, hating none. It is indeed a Reason for a Season of celebration.

But we must be wary, lest we be so dazzled by the birth of the Radiant One that we forget why He came. Christmas is a time for us — each of us, personally and particularly — to recognize the inherent holiness within ourselves. Through His incarnation — in taking on human form, Christ sanctified all humanity. Every person, every life, is sacred because of God’s unfailing love for us. We are, quite literally, holy, heaven-sent gifts.

No matter what you’ve been told, no matter how you’ve been treated, no matter what you’ve done or said or thought, you are a gift from God. You. Specifically, particularly, and personally. You. Your life is sacred, your spirit is blessed, your soul is treasured. You are loved beyond measure. That is the ultimate reason for this season: the confirmation of God’s love for us.

Yahoo, God, It’s Christmas!

This Season, as we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, I ask that you take an opportunity to cherish all of those He came to serve — especially you. It is easy to get lost amid the hustle and bustle and often-forced joviality, the crowds and the commercials; it may take a concerted effort to focus some attention on yourself. Be kind and gentle to that dear soul; realize that it has come a long way, and seen and suffered many things. 

Christmas, as we repeatedly insist — perhaps only half-heartedly believing — is not about piles of gifts and demands for selfless giving, but, astonishingly, it is a holy day to take delight in receiving. In the barren depths of cold midwinter, we celebrate that God brought forth a springtime promise of new beginnings: a Child was delivered to us, for us. Love divine, all loves excelling. 

It is never too late to nourish and encourage the divinely-sent child that you see in the mirror. Look at that face with compassion and gratitude; give thanks for all that you are, and all that you have experienced. The gift of life is precisely that: a gift — and you are the gift and the recipient. You are a glorious being, a sacrament brought forth with great love; yours is a holy life to celebrate.

May the peace and grace of of the Lord shine brightly upon you during this holy Season and throughout the days to come, 

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:

Rejoice, bless, and give thanks for the gift of life that you have received.



Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Scriptures, Spiritual exercises | Tagged , , , ,

One Question

Deborah Beach Giordano
© December 3, 2018

       Luke 21:25-36 ~ New Revised Standard Version

 Jesus told his disciples, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among cultures confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory

“Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; when their  leaves begin to sprout you can see that summer is on the way. That’s how it will be when you see these things taking place: you’ll know that the kingdom of God is near.

“I’m telling you: this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on your guard that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, or that day will catch you unawares, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

“Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

A Question

Is it well with your soul?

Seriously. Is it well with your soul?

Take a moment to consider. Take as long as you need.

☙ ❧

The Aftermath

What was your reaction to that question? Were you surprised, confused, annoyed? And what about the answer that presented itself; did it bubble slowly to the surface from hidden depths, still hazy and uncertain, or leap into view, clear and uncompromising?

And how are you now; now that you have received an answer? Perhaps a bit sad or weepy, discomfited and edgy, or irritated, almost angry — at no one in particular, since, after all, who is there to be angry at?

Now take another look. Do not be afraid! Take a breath and consider the question again, gazing into the answer, as into the depths of a garden pond. There, just below the surface, beneath the worldly reflections, more may be revealed. As we sit in silence, we are absorbed into a calm and quiet nature, the sound and fury of the world around us fades away. Free from all pressures and demands, all pretensions discarded, all defenses dropped; there is only the still small Voice that we so rarely can hear.

Is it well with your soul? Is your spirit at peace?

Where does it hurt? What do you fear? Why do you hate? What gives your life meaning — and does it really matter? If the dusk-winged angel took you by the hand right this minute, could you leave without regrets? What would hold you back; what would you try to cling to, in an effort to remain? 

A Heavy Heart

We react with annoyance and anger to questions that trouble and confuse us; “Is it well with my soul? What do you mean by that? What business is it of yours?!” Our attitude reveals what a long and lonely time it has been since we’ve had a heart-to-heart conversation with the Lover of Our Souls. 

We weep with sorrow and frustration at the sense of emptiness: the hollow place we fill with busy-ness; with our never-ending doing and achieving; our charitable deeds, good works, and self-satisfaction. We do all of the right things; we’re good, through and though. Then why, why, why are we so desperately unhappy? Why is there no joy in what we do?

The ancient Egyptians believed that, after death, our heart was weighed against a feather; if the heart was heavier — due to evil deeds and harmful intentions — the soul would not transition into eternal life. We do not need to share their faith in order to appreciate the point: our hearts and souls can be dragged down with ugliness and hate, our spirits sunk in pits of sorrow and despair through what we say and do — or fail to do — with our lives. 

Worldly Temptations

I see many kind-hearted, well-intentioned, faithful people who are active, engaged, involved in countless good works — and exhausted, frantic, desperately unhappy; their spirits low, their hearts heavy. “But I don’t know why,” a good friend confided. It was then that I realized that was the answer: not knowing why — having no idea why we are doing all these things. Rarely is it from a sense of calling: a heartfelt, spiritual inclination; an action born of prayer, contemplation, and compassion; instead, these are goals to achieve, signs of our commitment, evidence of our holiness. But busy is not the same as meaningful; and if a work makes us prideful — disdaining others, keeping score, puffed up with self-satisfaction — then it is an evil disguised as a blessing; a millstone hanging around our necks.

Listen again to Jesus’ warning: 

“Be on your guard that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, or that day will catch you unawares, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.”

We are to be on our guard against the things that distract us from what is ultimately important: how will we stand up when we meet the Lord, face to face? Will our hearts be as light as a feather? Or will we have been so busy with our doings — intoxicated by the heady fumes of “righteousness” — that we will have had no time for God? (How much time do we spend, relatively, in prayer and reflection?) Are we driven to distraction by the worries of this world, dissipating our energy on anger and frustration, and ignoring the glories of the Kingdom that is already here? 

When our lives come to an end — as the end comes to all who live upon the face of the earth — will we greet the Lord joyfully? Or will we be weighed down with sorrows and regrets?

Hunger

Like malnourished hens, we pounce on each new crumb of “meaning” thrown our way, running between projects and programs like chickens with our heads cut off. But our souls cannot be fooled; our spiritual hunger will not be assuaged by worldly substitutions: nothing less than God’s own self can fill those empty spaces in our lives. 

Without prayer and contemplation, even the best of intentions can cause us to stumble and fall; the greatest of our doings can bring harm instead of good. And no amount of impressive accomplishments can disguise the fact that one day we will die. There is no time like the present to examine the state of our souls.

Now, As Then

“Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

As it was in Jesus’ time, sadly, tragically, it is on the earth over and over, again and again: chaos and disorder, war, distress, destruction, and violence; it can seem as if the end is near — and we’re tempted to lose heart, lose our nerve, run about, and generally freak out. But that is faithless foolishness. Instead, we must be alert to the harsh reality of these things, and wary of their ability to deceive and distract us, and entice us to forget what is ultimately matters:

Is it well with my soul?

May the peace and grace of of the Lord shine brightly upon you,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Ask yourself, “Is it well with my soul?” It is a tremendous question; a question that can empower, challenge, and transform. Embrace it, delight in it, repeat it often; recognize it as a precious opportunity to stand in the Presence of the One Who Loves Your Soul. And do not be afraid.

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Spiritual exercises | Tagged , , , ,