A Little Bit Can’t Hurt (can it?)

Deborah Beach Giordano
February 18, 2017

Matthew 5:21-26 ~ retold by Deborah

Jesus said, “You have been told, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders another shall face judgment.’

“But I’m telling you that if you are angry with another you will face judgment; and if you insult another you will be hauled before the tribunal; and if you are contemptuous and demeaning to another, hell itself yawns before you.

“What God wants is for you to be in right relations with one another. Don’t think that offerings or prayers can change that. Going to church won’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger.

“Above all else, be on good terms with one another — then you can commune with the Beloved with a free and open heart.”

Inhuman?

In this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord makes a series of alarming statements which seem to insist that we should stop behaving like human beings. Common, everyday emotions, words spoken in haste and anger, are described as dangerous in the extreme — even life-threatening.

Did Jesus really think that anyone is capable of never being angry or envious or at odds with another person? If that’s the case, then the nearly the entirety of humankind is damned, outright.

But I wonder.

Damage Control

Perhaps it isn’t about anger (or envy or lust or greed) — to which we are all susceptible — but about holding on to the emotion; about becoming entranced by it, enthralled by it, wallowing in it. Perhaps the greatest danger isn’t from what it might cause us to do, but from what it can do to us as it boils away inside our souls.

We’ve all heard someone say: “I’m so angry I could kill that person!” perhaps even said it ourselves on occasion (and most certainly thought it). If pressed, we would claim that it was an exaggeration; no harm was seriously intended. And yet … for that one moment, that if-words-could-become-deeds instant, how gratifying it would be to eliminate the evildoers, and bring peace and prosperity to all the earthbound angels who share our views, our faith, our politics! Where would we stop in our efforts to set things right? Where would we draw the line? When is enough, enough?

Perhaps Jesus is right, perhaps anger is deadly.

But it feels so good.

Seduction

Anger is seductive: it is an attractive, gratifying emotion — in the beginning. It appeals to our pride: our hatred of the evildoers proves we’re the good guys. It makes us feel important: we shall be the heroes, the saviors! It sharpens our minds, as we become alert to every hint of wickedness in others (which keeps us conveniently blind to our own sins and shortcomings). These in turn inspire more anger and outrage. Anger keeps us awash in a sea of adrenalin: we float along feeling energized, enlightened, and superior.

Then, gradually, perhaps, or suddenly, we begin to notice that something is amiss. The sparkling sea of adrenalin turns a bilious green; we don’t feel so good.

The Fall

As anger is allowed to dwell within us, as we feed and nurture it, it increases, welling up inside our souls, submerging all other impulses and intentions. It entices us to accept and even approve (almost) anything. Our thoughts turn, not toward what is good and hopeful, but violent images of harm and suffering against “our enemies.” We dream of vengeance and destruction, humiliation and hurt; we hope for persecutions, imprisonment, and death. Our hearts turn to stone, our souls wither and contract, steadily poisoned by anger’s venom. Love and compassion are forgotten, ignored, and scorned as weakness or outright character flaws: anger is all that matters, anger is all in all!

An exaggeration? Sadly, I do not think so. I believe the Lord Christ was unerringly correct in warning us that anger is deadly. This very week I have watched in grief and horror as people have responded with delight at reports that rural poor (understood to be Trump supporters) would lose their livelihoods, read the gleeful malice of others at the evacuation and potential displacement of thousands of residents of Northern California because they are assumed to be “liberals.” The poison spills across the political divide. I am sickened by it; physically ill and spiritually weary — and I know I am not alone in this.

It is not “only” relations between one group and another that is being eroded. People are getting literally sick, actually physically ill, from the venom that is flowing through our society and our souls; aware and wary individuals are withdrawing from communities, avoiding contact with others, pulling away from relationships. We are being deprived of the grace and goodness of the very people whose gentleness and compassion are needed so desperately.

Our infatuation with anger is poisoning ourselves and our world. It is destroying the charity and generosity that all Christians — indeed, all people — are called to show to one another. And it is causing us to betray the Lord.

The Gospel

The Lord warned his followers that there is never a point at which “a little bit of harm” is acceptable. The distance from name-calling to demeaning to discounting to dehumanizing to destroying is a short and slippery one. Human beings are incredibly, endlessly, adept at rationalizing our misconduct: in our conviction that we are doing what is right, we will often justify terrible wrongs.

Jesus said that his followers would be known “by your love for one another.” He didn’t make any exceptions, didn’t limit its compass or extent. Love without conditions. We know the Way; it is up to us to follow it.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercises:
Consider the extent of anger in your everyday life:
How does anger make you feel? (Take note of its influence on your body, your mind, your spirit, your hopes, your imagination.)
How much anger do you experience each day?
Where does it come from and how do you respond?
How do you banish anger?

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Life and Light

Deborah Beach Giordano
February 8, 2017

Matthew 5:14-16 ~ retold by Deborah

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill can be seen from miles away. Nobody lights a lamp and then shuts it in a closet, but sets it up on a table where it can illuminate the whole room. That’s how you’ve got to be: let your light shine so that others can see your good works and give praise to your Father in heaven.”

Rejoicing

As many of you know, this past week my husband had a follow-up exam with his oncologist. Blessedly, the results of his recent CT Scan and associated blood work were all clear. With a sigh of relief I passed along the good news to my “angel team” of friends — who responded with thanksgiving and delight.

Yet Wondering

And yet — happy as I am for us, it pains me to see among my angel team the names of some who didn’t receive such good news when they were walking this road with those they love. Any thinking, compassionate being must ask: Why? Why does one survive and another perish? John is a good man — but others were good people, too; loved and needed and, now, deeply missed. It seems so sad and wrong and unfair.

The question goes farther: why is there suffering and pain and disease? Why does God allow this *(^%# to go on? If the Divine Source is good and all-powerful, how can God permit bad things to happen? Is it heartlessness or helplessness? And, if it is one of those — or worse, intentional design! — is that the kind of god anyone wants to worship or believe in?

No one has a suitable one-size-fits-all answer. Each of us makes our peace with Life As It Is in our own way.

Insight

When I was in high school a boy in our neighborhood was killed in an auto accident. The death of a child is always traumatic; the height of incomprehensibility: so much possibility lay head, so many years, so much life! We were all in a state of shock; how could it be? He was just here, running and playing. And then… Why??

Mr. Francis, our across-the-street neighbor who had left the priesthood in order to marry, said, “Andy must have accomplished all that he needed to do.” It was a statement unlike anything I had heard in Sunday School, and it changed my thinking about why we’re here.

Meaning

If we have come to life in this time and place for a specific purpose, then our days and hours have meaning beyond just “getting and spending.” We can look at life — and at loss, not as a series of random, meaningless events, but as a program of learning, and of opportunities to grow in grace and truth.

This does not deny the reality of suffering and pain, nor does it glorify it — but honors its power. In the face of hurt and harm something is evoked in us demanding a response: we are called to comfort, to heal, to change what is hurtful; to bless. Our lives, in whatever form they take, can serve to transform this world for the better.

This does not mean that we understand the reason for all of what happens, only that we take it on faith as being meaningful. We believe that our lives are filled with possibilities, and that we can do good — whoever we are, wherever we are.

Value

God doesn’t make garbage, and God doesn’t make mistakes. Each and every life is of ultimate value, and has the capacity to bring forth beauty and grace. Each life contains is a spark of divine power which can contribute to the “building up of the kingdom.” The choice is ours: it is up to us what we will do, say, hope for, and believe.

That we have a truly meaning-filled existence means that every day, every hour, every minute counts. There is never a time when we are unimportant, nothing we do is trivial. Like the proverbial Amazonian butterfly, our souls influence the environment; our very thoughts can change the world.

Our lives; each and every one, is important.

Experience

How do I know these things? What makes it possible for me to believe in the power and grace of human life?

I know because I have heard, and seen, and experienced Holiness made manifest: in love, compassion, friendship, encouragement, the welcoming of a stranger. These things shine forth in radiant testimony of a Spirit of Grace that overshadows the world.

I have met the Lord Christ in a young widow, in an elderly World War II veteran, a teenaged grocery clerk, an emergency room nurse, a tow truck driver, and in a stranger who helped me load a wheelchair into my car. Time after time, in the midst of daily life, in large ways and small, often when darkness seemed to press all around, compassion shined forth.

A heart shivering with fear has been warmed by kind words and deeds, a soul weighed down with worries has been raised up, again and again. With Mary Magdalene I can say, “I have seen the Lord.”

Our lives, each and every one — in everything we do and say, everything we hope for, pray for, and believe — is important. For however long we are here, we can be blessing-bearers, hope restorers: children of the living, radiant, loving God.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise: Be radiant, as your heavenly Creator is radiant. (Matthew 5:48, interpreted by Deborah)

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.
It’s the life in your years. – Abraham Lincoln

About the “Butterfly Effect” at Wikipedia: http//en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

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Psalm 27 ~ Faith in Challenging Times

Psalm 27 ~ as interpreted by Deborah

The Lord is my light and my life, what do I have to fear?
The Lord is my sanctuary, who can harm me?

When evildoers attack me they will stutter and stumble and fail.
A whole army of the wicked won’t turn me away;
no matter how ferocious their assault, I will stand my ground.

All I want —
and I yearn for it with all my soul —
is to know God’s grace:
to see beauty
and feel love
and live with compassion.

Then I will be safe and secure.
Then all will be well.

Then I will hold my head up, regardless of my enemies,
they will hold no power over me, whatever they may do;
I will celebrate the Almighty with joyful offerings
of love and praise.

I’m really going to need some help here, Lord!

My heart cries out, “Seek your Beloved!
Be on the lookout for divine grace and goodness!”
And I do, O Lord — at least I try to.

Show Yourself, O Radiance,
make such a big display that I cannot miss it.
Don’t leave me to my own devices,
O Source of infinite mercy and compassion!

You are my light and my life, what do I have to fear?
You are my sanctuary, who can harm me?

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Us and Others

Us and Others

Deborah Beach Giordano
© January 19, 2017

Jesus said, “But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” ~ Luke 6:27-28

High Drama

“Hell no, I’m not going to pray for that #+%&*!” my friend exclaimed. Frank (not his real name) went on to list all of the sins and shortcomings attributed to the newly-elected President of the United States. As he continued, he leaned forward, his face grew red, and he clenched his fists — becoming angrier and angrier, fueled by his own words.

“Whoa, dude,” I said at length, “You need to chill.”

Frank looked surprised, and seemed to suddenly see me: his eyes focused on my face and his body relaxed. It was as if he had been somewhere else: out of his body and in another world far from this one.

A moment passed, my friend took a couple of deep breaths and began to resemble the man I know.

“That was.…” I paused to consider my words, “scary. You were like some Old Testament prophet, shouting and cursing.”

I went on, as if composing for the press: “The ordinarily mild-mannered young man was suddenly seized by the spirit, and marched into town, proclaiming his message for all to hear.”

Frank looked embarrassed, “Well, it is something I care about a lot. Those Trumpsters have to be stopped…”

“Elijah,” I said, “ordered the people to murder 450 people he didn’t like. And had the queen thrown from the palace window into the street below.”

Frank smiled, “Out you go, Melania.”

This from a devout vegan.

Do No Harm — Except…..

Frank is a good person and I don’t think he really meant that he would relish a bloody, violent death for Mrs. Trump, but his immediate response to the idea was glee. It was a reflex, an expression of an attitude that has become alarmingly common: Destroy “the enemy.”

This applies equally across the political spectrum (as well as, sadly, religious, racial, ethnic, and national divisions).

As you well know, I’ve repeatedly spoken out against this us-versus-them, victim-villain worldview. It harms our nation as well as us as individuals. It makes it impossible for people to come together on behalf of important issues such as health care, justice, and jobs because we have allowed ourselves to be convinced that “there is no common ground,” and thus no dialogue between us; no conversations, only suspicion. We have become small, ineffectual, special interest groups, easily controlled with a few well-chosen trigger phrases.

As destructive as it is to the process of democracy, that is not the worst of it. The true tragedy was exemplified by Frank’s honest response to a story of vengeance and violence: when we start to believe that it is OK for terrible things to be done to other people. What is happening is damaging to our souls.

Whose Side are You On?

This emphasis on taking sides — as if any human being can be categorized! — deludes us into believing that we are better than we are: “those people” are horrible and, therefore, by comparison, we are just this close [] to walking on water. It is a comforting, extraordinarily dangerous lie. As unlike “them” as night is to day, we can hate, demean, judge, and condemn — and even wish them harm — because “we” are on the side of the angels.

I seem to recall a story about hubris-filled angels slipping and sliding into Serious Trouble.

Further, at a little less than the half-way point of the last century, an entire populace was convinced that several million “others” were disposable, that the world would be better off without “those people.”

Be wary, now, that you don’t start pointing your finger at anyone. Remember who the finger-pointers were, in 1937. Has there not been an occasion of late when you have been told that “those others” are utterly without merit, morals, or value? After all, their minds are closed, their hearts are hard, they bring only suffering and pain; the world would be better off without them. Right? Have you not heard that view propounded anywhere? Can you honestly say you didn’t nod your head in agreement? Not once?

In our desperate desire to prove that we are “the good guys,” we’ve forgotten who we are — and Whose we are. We have allowed ourselves to be convinced that “those other people” “aren’t like us”; they are evil, demonic, and don’t deserve a seat at the table. “They” can be excluded, ignored, shunned, abused, and ….

And what? Just how far into the abyss have we “angels” allowed ourselves to slide?

Soul Work

But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” ~ Luke 6:27-28

Talk about a “difficult teaching”! Christ’s Path is an especially changing one to follow now, when we are bombarded with messages that we should hate our enemies, gloat over their misfortunes, and wish them ill (“Just wait and see what happens to them!”). The worldly “powers” would divide us and debase us, encouraging our contempt rather than our compassion. Yet we say that we are all — all of us — children of the One God. We say that we are Christians; people of mercy, forgiveness, and lovingkindness. We’ve been called to preach the good news to all the world: even those who have fallen short of the glory of God. (Which can mean that we, ourselves, are in need of hearing that Message again. And again. And again.)

To pray for those who hate us — and for those whom we hate — is our pledge to the Lord to be merciful and compassionate. We’re going to try to be understanding, we’re going to try with all that is in us not to seek vengeance or wish others harm. We’re going to try to behave like Christians.

Beyond that, to pray for those we consider damaged and damaging is a statement of faith: we are affirming our belief that it is within God’s ability to revise and reform people and situations. Hardened hearts can grow tender, friendships can be renewed, communities can be healed. People can change, with God’s help.

(Can I get an “Amen”?)

Free and Clear

To pray for those “others” is to begin opening the door of our own prison; when we start to accept them as fallible (and redeemable) human beings, we free ourselves from the necessity of having to remain constantly on the alert, ever-ready to jump into any discussion with anger and outrage, prepared to attack their character, belittle their concerns, and condemn their choices — which we ascribe to the lowest and meanest of reasons. Just letting go of that can bring great peace to our lives. Hatred draws a lot of energy from us; it is exhausting physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

When we pray for one another it doesn’t mean we agree on policies or plans, but that we recognize our common humanity (and shared divine origins). When we accept others as people, as other souls trying to make their way in this complicated world — rather than as demons or monsters — we will stop attacking one another, and start speaking to one another. And we will actually listen to what each other has to say.

We will show compassion.

Yes, Everybody

It is not easy to swim against the tide of snark and cynicism and separatism. It takes prayer and practice to speak about what is right, rather than constantly focus on what is wrong. It requires strength, faith, and stamina to pray for our enemies — to believe that God can change lives, and to genuinely desire their transformation, to want it to be possible — even though it will eliminate those “others” who make us feel so holy and good by comparison.

Our task is to insist upon, inspire, and show forth what we know to be of Ultimate Importance: charity, compassion, mercy, justice, and generosity — and not just for the chosen few. Our graciousness is not to be conditional: we are to extend it to our enemies as readily and abundantly as to our friends.

Jesus said, “If you only love those who love you, what’s that prove? Even tax collectors do that much.” ~ Matthew 5:46

Jesus didn’t limit the Message; he didn’t exclude sinners or Samaritans, centurions or slaves, lepers or lapsed Jews, but blessed and healed and prayed for everybody. The Gospel is meant to be spread across the whole world, to shine like the sun on all people — the good and the bad. Living our faith is a supremely counter-cultural act.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Pray for your enemies.

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Mazel’s Christmas Tail

(This is one of my favorite Christmas stories.) 

Every Dog ….

They say that every dog has his day, and that one was mine. I was there, you see, when Jesus was born. Me, a scruffy mutt of undetermined parentage and unremarkable appearance.

I’m just a regular guy who works in the field, but I was there to see it all first-hand — or first-paw, to be precise!

You’re probably surprised to hear that a dog was anywhere near Bethlehem that night — none of the stories mention us, I know. None of the stories mention chickens or donkeys or goats or mice, either — but you can bet your granny’s slippers that they were all there, too.

Walk through any town, visit any farm, cross any pasture, stroll along any seashore and you’ll find us; herding the sheep, guarding the hearth, entertaining the children, comforting the lonely, cleaning up the scraps that fall from the table … Wherever people are, there are dogs. We are so much a part of everyday life that our presence is taken for granted.

Anyhow, suffice it to say that dogs were well-represented in and around the land of Israel when Joseph traveled to Bethlehem. We were there — whether the gospel writers remembered to include us in their census or not.

Silent Night

It was the tail end of a typical day. I was resting beside the small campfire that Gavriel had built. Earlier he and I and Rachel and Lavana had shared a simple meal of bread and cheese and ale (I had water; I never drink when I’m on duty). Our stomachs were full, the fire was pleasant, the night was peaceful ….

All around us were the sounds of a dozing flock; grunts and burps and the soft thurump of wooly sides bumping against one another. There was the occasional bleat of alarm when a lamb was startled into wakefulness by the shifting waves of sheep. A moment later you’d hear the snuffling of the ewe as she comforted her infant, and soon all was quiet again.

Gavriel patted my side and commented that they might soon have “roast dog” for dinner if I didn’t move farther away from the fire. It is a joke he never seems to tire of — no matter how often he repeats it. I looked over at him and sighed, you can’t help but love a guy like that. I know I sure do.

The moon had departed on her monthly Sabbatical, leaving the sky black as soot, and the lights over in the little town of Bethlehem glowed golden in the darkness. The stars were so bright it was as if they’d moved closer — as though you could reach out and snap one up, like I sometimes do to the silken moths who flutter near our campfire.

Something Unusual

I don’t know what first caught my attention, but suddenly my ears were twitching and my whole body was on alert. There was a sound, soft and low at first, like distant thunder — and a strange light appeared directly overhead, larger than any star.

“Hey! Hey! Hey! What’s that? What’s that? What is that?” I shouted.

Gav was on his feet instantly, ready to help me protect our sheep, “What is it, boy? Is it a wolf? What do you see? Where is it?”

I don’t envy humans much, but sometimes it would be awfully handy to have fingers to point. Instead, I had to show him where to look with my body.

“There! There! Look! Look up!” I aimed my nose toward the sky. By now the light was as luminous as the fullest winter moon and so close I could almost touch it. It was so beautiful, so perfect, so radiant …. I let out a howl of purest joy.

“What a sound! Was that you?” Gavriel and I exchanged looks of surprise. That sort of noise is not my style. At all.

There was no further discussion of my peculiar conduct, as the light above us commanded everyone’s undivided attention. It illuminated the hillsides all around us with the soft glow of early dawn, turning the rivulets into strings of sparkling jewels, and encircling each upturned face with a halo of gold.

No one spoke. It was as if the whole world was holding its breath. We were awestruck. Even the sheep — who have a lot of trouble staying focused, let me tell you — gazed raptly up at the heavens.

Music to My Ears

Throughout this time the sound, which had been soft and muffled, was steadily growing louder. I turned my head to let it pour directly into my ear, to better understand what I was hearing. Gradually it began to transform itself into human speech.

I’m not a big one for words. Dog communication is built on tone and emotion and behavior; that means we understand what people mean when they talk, and aren’t fooled by the things they say. We usually sleep through long speeches, because we know that streams of words are often used to deceive or confuse. Keep your conversation short and clear and honest, and we will be all ears.

And I was all ears that night. The voice was strong and sweet and insistent; the sound of it made my tail wag. Although the words were new and unfamiliar, I could tell that the message was about something good, and it also had to do with going someplace — which might be good or bad for a dog, depending: we don’t always get to come along.

The light, which had touched down on the earth, began to rise back up into the sky. Suddenly a huge flock of other brilliant lights appeared and they lifted up their voices together; it sounded as if all heaven and nature were singing.

Then it was over. The lights were gone, the music stopped, and the night returned to a deep and peaceful silence.

Can It Be?

“Wow!” said Rachel, looking around at us, “Do you think that’s true? Could the Messiah have been born — right over there in Bethlehem?”

“Who would do a thing like that?” Lavana asked, “Why would any mother put her baby in a manger instead of a bed?”

“Well, let’s find out.” Gav looked at me and I held my breath: would the dog get to go, or have to stay behind? I put on my most sincere, humble, and pathetic expression.

“All right, all right, Maz,” he said with a laugh, “You can come along.” Have I mentioned what a great guy my master is? I’m telling you, there’s nobody quite like him. He’s terrific.

The Treasure Hunt

And so, as soon as the morning star glimmered on the horizon we set off.

I haven’t had so much fun since I was a pup; everyone was excited about finding this marvelous sign; it was like a treasure hunt. We ran down hillsides and jumped over creeks, laughing and barking (I did the barking). Of course I was always in the lead — people are so slow! — so I had to run back and give them yips of encouragement over and over again. It was tiring work and my tongue was hanging out a mile by the time we reached the town.

Gav and Rachel and Lavana clustered together like a tiny flock, peering timidly down the still-dark streets. The town was strange and confusing; there were none of the comforting trees or shrubs or soft grasses of the open pastureland — instead it was a maze of walls, gates, and fences.

I lead the way, as usual, first to the right, then left at the next street and another left, then right again, and …. had no idea where I was. I turned to look at Gav — but he wasn’t behind me! My boy was lost in the city! This was terrible; what to do? I shook off my fear and sat down beside a darkened house. Nothing helps a fellow think so well as a good scratch. So I scratched.

On the Scent

Whew! No question but that I had parked myself near a stable. I sniffed the air, identifying all the odors: hay, barley seeds, yew wood, cedar, cow, sheep, chicken…. was that a horse? No, a donkey, some doves, I think, and … people!

What an odd and unlikely assortment! This I had to see. I followed my nose down the street and around the corner and then stopped in my tracks.

It was the Light! The same light that had appeared to us on the hillside was here; right here in the middle of town. It was shining directly on a small stable. I was so pleased at seeing it again that I gave a little shout of joy: “Yahoooo!”

From a window above a man rasped, “Shut up you stupid dog! Nobody can sleep with that racket!” But from the shelter below — where the Light was shining — another man spoke softly, “Shhhh! Hush, pooch; the baby’s sleeping.”

I wagged my tail at the kindness I heard in his voice and crept closer toward the Light.

The door of the stable swung open and a young man looked out. I backed up, out of range of any shoe or pan of water that might be thrown my way. “Oh, there you are!” he said, as if he was glad to see me, “You must be cold out here on your own. Come on in and join the family!”

Such kindness to a flea-bitten nobody was unheard of. I bowed in gratitude, stretching my front legs forward, elbows to the ground.

“Come on, fellow. We won’t hurt you. Come in and see the baby.”

Comfort and Joy

Although there was no fire, it was warm inside the stable, and a gentle glow spread itself over all the creatures, great and small. The man who spoke to me sat down beside a young woman, who smiled at me as she rested her head on his shoulder. The man patted a place on the floor next to him, “Here, sit right here.” So I did.

“What a smart dog!” he said. I looked away, embarrassed; that was nothing. Still, it was awfully nice to hear.

“He has a sweet face,” said the lady. I turned my head just a bit, so they could admire my profile, too.

“They are such wonderful companions,” the man continued, “Mary, when we get back to Nazareth we must get a dog for Jesus. It’s important for a boy to have a dog as he’s growing up.”

Mary nodded and reached over to ruffle the fur between my ears. How did she know that was one of my favorite places to be scratched?

I felt warm and happy through and through. This place — this forlorn and shabby barn, was as glorious as a palace because of their love and kindness. I didn’t know who this other boy was that they were talking about, but I knew that I needed my boy, Gavriel, to be here with me.

I went over to the door and whined softly.

“Oh dear,” said Mary, “Joseph, do you think he’s lost?” Looking at me she asked, “Are you looking for someone?”

I sighed and looked deep into her eyes. Sometimes words would be nice.

The Discovery

It was then that I heard Gavriel’s voice nearby, calling anxiously, “Maz! Mazzie! Maz-ZIE!”

“Mazzie?” Joseph said, “Is that your name? Here!” he opened the door and called out, “Are you looking for your dog?”

I met Gav at the threshold with wriggles of delight, “You. You! You! You!” I cried.

“There you are!” my best friend knelt down and hugged me, “I thought you were gone! I don’t know what I’d have done without you!” Behind him Lavana and Rachel were chattering, “I knew he wasn’t really lost!” “Maz would never leave you, we told you that!”

My master said nothing; he just held me close while I licked his face, which tasted salty.

There was no point in looking any further. We had found all that we needed — all that anybody needed, and we’d had it all along: love. Love brought heaven onto the earth. Even here, in this forgotten, falling-down corner of a poor part of an insignificant town, life was beautiful and good, for love was here. I wagged my tail and looked at Gav; I hoped he understood.

The Baby

“Come in, come in, all of you.” Joseph said, “It must be nearly time for breakfast, and you all look like you could use a meal.”

As the three shepherds stepped into the now very-crowded room, Lavana gasped, “Look!” We all turned, and there in a quiet corner was was a tiny child sleeping in a wooden trough filled with hay.

“There He is,” she said, “the baby in the manger!”

And so it was. Jesus Christ the Lord was born in a stable behind a hotel on a side street in Bethlehem. There was no glamor, no grandeur, no military might; only love and kindness — and that was enough. The savior came to us not as a warrior king clad in armor, but as tender, helpless child wrapped in love.

Love can change everything. Love did change everything: it transformed a stable into a royal estate, brought comfort and joy to the lost and lonely, and turned a dog into a philosopher.

The perfect, holy kingdom is as near as our hearts. It is up to us to transform that love into action and then truly it will be “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
~ 1 John 4:8

Merry Christmas with love and lots of dog kisses,

Mazel

as told to Deborah Beach Giordano
December 2016
originally published in 2011

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Roadwork Ahead

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© December 5, 2016

Luke 3:1–6 ~ interpreted by Deborah

Tiberius had been emperor for fifteen years, Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod had been set up as king over Galilee, while his brother Philip and Lysanias ruled the other territories; Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests when a holy Call came to Zechariah’s son John, who was in the wilderness.

He went through all the regions along the Jordan River, preaching ritual bathing as a sign of repentance and a new beginning through God’s forgiveness. This is in keeping with what the prophet Isaiah said: “A voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord: clear the path, level the road. All low places will be raised up, every high place will be brought low, what is twisted will be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all that lives will see the salvation of God.’ ”

Setting the Scene

“It was a dark and stormy night”

Like any good writer, the author of Luke sets the scene for us as he begins the next part of the story. He doesn’t tell us about the weather, or geography, but about the political, ethical, and spiritual conditions that existed at the time.

He does this by listing a series of names. There is Tiberius the emperor; Pontius Pilate, his fierce, loyalist governor; the puppet “king of the Jews,” Herod, and his brother Philip, whose wife Herod has married, in violation of religious codes. Last mentioned are the two high priests who serve the political system, Annas and Caiaphas, rounding out a cast of characters representing the immorality, violence and oppression of Roman rule.

If this were an old-time play, the audience would boo and hiss as these villains are introduced. Luke has made his point: it was “a dark and stormy night” politically, ethically, spiritually.

Desperate Times

The situation looked bleak. The people were downhearted, desperate, stuck. Hopes were dimming, courage was failing. There was no where to go, no one to turn to.

And then!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No. No, it’s…. a homeless guy in a camel skin who wants to dunk you in the river.

That’s NOT what they were expecting.

John didn’t look or behave (or smell! Wet camel, phew!) the way we would imagine a Messenger of the Lord would do. And his message isn’t what we’d hope for, either.

As the opening act for the Messiah, the lead-in to God’s own chosen Man for the people, John leaves much to be desired. Messengers are heavenly angels with gossamer wings, not some stinky fellow wrapped in a dead animal. Messengers are supposed to say things like, “Be of good cheer; I bring tidings of great joy!” — not “Clean up your act and start building a Highway for the Lord.”

Phooey

Phooey to that.

When times are difficult, we don’t want to be challenged further. We want to be comforted, encouraged, eased … get a little help, maybe. No, that’s not true. We don’t want a little help, we want a lot of help; ideally, we want someone to (magically, miraculously) do it all for us. We want a Mr. Fix-It, a Fairy Godmother, a Genie in a bottle.

Here we are, dealing with all sorts of problems, and instead of telling us to relax or to say more prayers, or offering to help us out, that darned Baptizer starts demanding that we do Road repair work. What the heck is the matter with him? Doesn’t he understand?

What kind of message is this guy bringing? And what kind of Messiah is he leading up to?

The Way, the Truth, and the Light

It turns out that John is delivering an honest message. It’s not necessarily what we want to hear, but it is the absolute, unvarnished Truth. It is what we need to hear.

Jesus said, “People won’t be able to say, ‘It’s like this,’ or ‘It’s like that,’ because, you see, the kingdom of God is in your midst.
~ Luke 17:21

If we want the kingdom of God made manifest here on earth, it’s up to us to bring it about. Without our participation and cooperation, it won’t happen. The Baptizer was telling the truth, and he was rightfully preparing us for the teachings of the Lord Jesus, who came after him.

The “heavenly Jerusalem” — that fantasy city of perfect peace and joy — could appear miraculously during the night, but if we went about our lives the next morning with cynicism in our hearts and hatred in our thoughts, it would turn to ashes before midday. Love or hate, joy or despair; it is up to us. We can, as the poet wrote, “make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

The Kingdom of grace and compassion is already here — among us and within us — if we are willing to work to bring it into being. We’ve all caught glimpses of it hundreds of times: in those who have nurtured and cared for us, those who have loved us when we weren’t the least bit lovable, those who lifted us up when we were disappointed or downhearted, who wiped away our tears and bandaged our wounds (literally and figuratively). It is already here in the good Samaritans who selflessly aid strangers in need; in the lives of those who visit the sick, the lonely, and the imprisoned (literally and figuratively). We see the Kingdom in works of extraordinary generosity, and in small acts of kindness.

If we have eyes to see, we will see the Kingdom in the hearts of one another.

Road Construction

The Road that the Baptizer preached about that will bring the Messiah to our doorstep is already here. It needs patching in places, and resurfacing in others, but it is already in place; the foundation was laid a long time ago. It is up to us to help construct it, and to follow it faithfully, even — perhaps especially — when times are difficult.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Reflect on these words of our Lord:  “The kingdom of God is in your midst.”

 

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God, Alone

You Alone, O Eternal

You alone, O Eternal, are worthy of our praise;
in You alone we place our faith and trust;
on You alone do we rely.

When evil threatens to overwhelm us,
You are our rock, our fortress, our secure and solid Ground.

You are our Shelter amid the Storm;
our very-present Help;
You steady us when we slip and trip,
and raise us up when we fall.

You are the Peace-Bringer,
the Hope Restorer,
the Awakener
who summons us from deathly sleep;
the Faithful Lover
who will never turn away.

You are the Great Revealer,
the Fierce Truth-Teller;
Your fearless honesty
breaks down every lie, delusion, and deceit.

If we flee to the farthest reaches of the earth,
or hide ourselves in its coldest depths
You are there.

You are our God,
our Source of Strength and Wisdom;
the Sustainer of our souls,
the Guardian of our lives.

You are the deep and the celestial;
the radiant light and the infinite dark;
You are the hunger and the fullness;
the thirst and its quenching.

You are the tumult and the shouting,
the stillness and the quiet.
You are the song and the silence.

You are the All in All.

You alone, O Eternal,
are worthy of our praise;
in You alone we place our faith and trust;
on You alone do we rely.

Amen.

Deborah Beach Giordano
November 2016

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