Friday, November 18, 2011

Advent & Straw

All that I have written appears to me
as much straw after the things
that have been revealed to me

- St. Thomas Aquinas

Baby Jesus is coming.

I have built a manger
for him in my soul.

He will have to
snuggle up
against the sharp, cool rocks
of fear, 
         and resentment.

I wish I could 
remove the rocks,
one by one,
and replace them
with the straw of 

Thomas Aquinas said 
that, in the end,
all of his brilliance
was straw.

Maybe that is better 
than the hard
edges of books 
and sharp, 
engraved awards 
for Theologian of the Year

Why can't we understand?
Instead of accomplishments,
dazzling arguments, 
sparkling success -

All Baby Jesus wants 
is soft, simple straw -
somewhere to lay his head
so his gentle cooing
and loving baby talk
- which we consider too simple
and unsophisticated for us -
can reach through our hearts 
to others.

Come, let us lovingly 
arrange the rocks of our soul
in preparation for Jesus this Advent

Only He can turn our rocks into straw.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Stock Up on Toilet Paper, Armageddon is Coming

My worst nightmare.
A couple years ago, when I lived in Oakland, my brother came to visit. As I gave him a short tour of my studio apartment, I opened the closet and he immediately exclaimed, “What?! Look how much toilet paper you have stashed away – are you preparing for Armageddon?!”

I am the kind of person who buys a backup for the backup. If I run out of toothpaste, I already have another tube in the house. When I start using my backup tube of toothpaste I go out and buy another backup tube.  But after seeing my brother's reaction I realized, not only that other people do not stock up on bathroom supplies in the same way I do, but that I have a deep need to be prepared - to never be caught off guard.

A few days ago in the Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of ten virgins. He tells us that the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins waiting for the bridegroom with their oil lamps (Mt 25:1-13). Five make sure they have backup oil and five run out of oil. The five unprepared virgins run out of oil so they have to go out to get some more. But when they come back, they find that the bridegroom returned while they were out and the door is locked. They knock on the door and say, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us.” But the Lord responds with one of the most chilling phrases in the New Testament, “I do not know you.”

As I meditated on this Gospel I found myself thinking of my stash of toilet paper in Oakland and reflecting that I could definitely relate to the virgins who brought enough oil. This made me feel happy because it is rare that I can relate to the people Jesus is praising in the Gospels: usually I relate to the Pharisee, the runaway son or the disgruntled worker. But as I went further in the meditation I could feel Jesus smiling at me in wonder like my brother did that day in Oakland.

As I considered Jesus’ amused smile, I realized that I may relate to the “prepared” virgins but what exactly am I preparing for – opening a Walgreens?

I began to ask myself - What is the oil in my life?

Jesus is asking us to assess our lives honestly –what are we saving up? Is it money? Possessions? Power? Status? Anger? Resentment? Feelings of superiority?

If we imagine that we are the lamps in the story, we can ask ourselves - What am I filling myself up with and is it something that is fleeting or something that will last?

In yesterday's Gospel, Jesus tells us that he is going to return to the earth “just as lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other” (Lk 17:24). In other words, Jesus is just going to suddenly appear – and we need to be ready!

But instead we are distracted, stocking up on things that we cannot take to heaven – money, anger, possessions, worries, hurts and many more things that are extra baggage weighing us down. Our hearts are not ready for the Lord.

Lord, help prepare our hearts for your coming.

Help us to fill our hearts with the oil of your love.

God - Help us to spend time in silence with you so that when we knock on the door to heaven you may know us and we may know you.