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Jan 5 20

Desert gifts

by davesandel

Today’s is the last of this year’s Advent, Christmas and Epiphany devotions.  Thank you for sharing them with me.  God bless the coming weeks of what the Catholic Church calls “ordinary time.”

I think, too, this may be the last of the devotions I will be writing. After twenty years perhaps the time has come for me to make a change. I keep praying about that.

Just in case I don’t write during this coming Lent and Easter, I want to thank you again for your silent companionship on this journey. Blessings to you!




Desert gifts

Epiphany Sunday, January 5, 2020

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem. Behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They laid flat on the ground and honored him. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

– From Matthew 2

In monasteries around the world postulants, like doctors, spend years preparing for their solemn profession. And then (unlike doctors) they lie flat upon the floor, prostrate to receive the blessing of their brothers or sisters.

Can’t you see the magi lying flat on the floor in front of Jesus? They have followed the star, they have brought gifts, but what they seek must come from the child’s lifted hand, from God’s blessing.

What are they listening for, as they lie there, eyes closed, praying? Not for Jesus to speak, exactly. But they are listening. All their senses are acutely tuned to whatever happens in the presence of this baby Jesus.

Mary watches them, her child with these colorfully clothed Asian kings, and listens too. The silence is sudden and sweet, deafening and delightful. The air gleams with gold and is filled with frankincense.

These wise men long ago chose to give up their certainties to make this quest. Perhaps they sought answers at first, but now they see their questions are unimportant. G. K. Chesterton knew that, and wrote:

Their gold is brought to a stable; the kings go seeking a carpenter. The wise men are on the march, not to find wisdom, but rather a strong and sacred ignorance.

What they found might be called, and was called by the angels, “goodwill to all men.” Chesterton knew that too:

The idea of embodying goodwill – that is, of putting it into a body – is the huge and primal idea of the Incarnation. A gift of God that can be seen and touched is the whole point of the epigram of the creed. Christ Himself was a Christmas present.

 The wise men’s methods were measured by Eastern rules, not western. They came in glorious, colored robes, purple and pink and crimson and green.  Chesterton detects another gift:

The Church took all the labyrinthine gold and crawling colours which in the Orient had adorned so many erotic poems and cruel romances, and she lit those motley flames to illuminate gigantic humility and the greater intensities of innocence.

 Watch the Vatican Christmas Eve service. Notice the sculpture, the architecture, the gold and silver. Notice the robes of priests and cardinals and pope, in all the colors of the rainbow. Magi brought the beginnings of all of this, the dust of Judea replaced in an instant by the silver and gold of kings.

Such a long trip they made to see the Child, but they couldn’t stay long. Warned in a dream, the magi “left for their own country by another way.” Herod’s rage rocked Judea anyway, and on a dark night as the holy family escaped to Egypt, soldiers slaughtered countless innocents in their cribs.

Jesus did not come to bring peace, as he said, “but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). But surely he was not approving rampage and murder driven by self-righteousness and religious fear. Chesterton sees another side to the gunpowder foretold by Jesus:

Now Christianity, whatever else it is, is an explosion. Whether or not it consists of the Fall, the Incarnation, The Resurrection, it does certainly consist of thunder, of prodigy, and of fire. Unless it is sensational there is simply no sense in it.

Unless the Gospel sounds like a gun going off it has not been uttered at all. And if the new theologies sound like steam slowly escaping from a leaky kettle, then even the untrained ear of the ordinary layman (who knows neither chemistry nor theology) can detect the difference between that sound and an explosion.

 *           *           *

O Lord, I lift my eyes up to the mountains and lift my ears to the heavens, I raise my hands and open my mouth in praise. All our senses seek the presence of God’s baby king. Jesus is Lord. The magi praise him, the rocks cry out, we are all your children now.

G. K. Chesterton, “The Theology of Christmas Presents,” in The Contemporary Review, January 1910

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Jan 4 20

Desert drama

by davesandel

Desert drama

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” John’s disciples turned and followed Jesus. “What are you looking for?” Jesus asked. They asked him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” And he said to them, “Come and you will see.”

– From John 1

So much story between two days. John’s public words of welcome to Jesus, Jesus’ baptism and blessing from heaven, the congregation held in awe as the two embrace, the crowd disperses and then … what? Jesus goes his way and John goes his? John’s disciples follow him and Jesus is alone?

There was evening and there was morning – first day of the whole new world.

And the next day, as if standing on a street corner as Jesus passes by alone, John says to his friends, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Will John stop preaching now that he has baptized Jesus? Does he encourage his disciples to leave and follow Jesus? Will John himself follow Jesus? If not, why not?

Sun Myung Moon, my former teacher, thought that John and Jesus failed to work together, and that this was the crucial breakdown in what Rev. Moon saw as God’s plan to bring physical salvation to humanity through Jesus. That’s interesting, to say the least. But it’s not how most of us read the New Testament.

I have questions, not answers. When I read the Bible, when I read this story, I prefer to spend my time imagining myself into the story. I could have been one of those two disciples of John. One of them was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The other …


I scuffled my feet for a moment in the dust when John looked at Jesus. Then John looked at me. “Well, Davey, go and see what you can see. Jesus is right here. Get going.” And I did. Andrew and I walked right up to Jesus, the man whom John as much as said was our Messiah. We looked each other in the eye and I had no idea what to say, so I just asked him, “Where are you staying?” I felt foolish. Who cares where he was staying?

But he said something wonderful. “Come and see.” You can decide what you think about all this for yourself. When he spoke I felt more free than I had since childhood. Just being here with Jesus, breathing the same air and sweating the same sweat gave me a new sense of my own goodness. God made everything glorious, and he made me.

I began to realize how unnecessary it was for me to understand these things. And when I let God break down the “cubicles of reasoning” in the office of my mind, I found myself following Jesus into light and into darkness, into joy and into sorrow, far beyond my understanding into peace.

In his New Testament called The Remedy, Timothy Jennings paraphrases 1 Peter 1:23: “You have been recreated in mind, heart and character: not from a defective self-centered template but from the perfect, eternal, immortal original – the living and everlasting character of God himself!”

He is jealous for me, loves like a hurricane, I am a tree

Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.

When all of a sudden, I am unaware

Of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,

And I realize just how beautiful You are,

And how great Your affections are for me.

 This re-creation was happening to me right now, as I watched Jesus and followed him. I no longer scuffled my feet. My back straightened up. Everything I saw and everything I heard lent themselves to the certainty that I had been re-made from a new (as old as creation itself, but new to me) model, from “the perfect, eternal, immortal original.”

And we are His portion and He is our prize,

Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,

If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.

And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,

And my heart turns violently inside of my chest

I don’t have time to maintain these regrets

When I think about the way that he loves us

Right there with Jesus, standing in the sand, I knew how much I had always been God’s child.

Lord, in your mercy, in your love for me, doves erupt from the field and surround me, flying. No fear, Father, only awe as I too am lifted up and sing with your white birds of heaven. All new, all made new. In your mercy, hear our prayers.

“cubicles of reasoning,” from “The Unanswered Question in Thomas Merton’s ‘Fire Watch,’” by Ross Labrie in Christianity and Literature, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Summer 2003), p. 562

David Crowder Band, “How He Loves”, from Church Music album, 2009




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Jan 3 20

Revelation in the desert

by davesandel

Revelation in the desert

Friday, January 3, 2020

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.”

– From John 1

What white dove is that flying above his head? In his fasting and visions John might have seen the dove, now he is certain of its significance. This cousin of his, Jesus, his occasional companion in the desert, is the Lamb of God. He is the Messiah. In Greek, they will say he is the Christ.

In John’s struck silence the crowd’s murmering grows almost to applause, almost to praise as Jesus walks through the people. John still does not speak. He climbs down from the rock. Jesus comes to him, touches his cheek, and smiles.

The spell is broken, and John cries out, “Behold the Lamb of God!”

And now forevermore we sing his praise, the “Agnus Dei,” Lamb of God. “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, grant us thy peace.”

Perhaps you’ve sung that chant, perhaps not. I sang it every Sunday in Zion Lutheran Church. Sometime too we sang Martin Luther’s Easter song, “Christ Jesus Lays in Death’s Strong Hands:”

See, His blood now marks our door

Faith points to it, death passes o’er

And Satan cannot harm us, Alleluia!

Lamb’s blood painted above their doors protected the Hebrews from God’s wrath when Ramses reneged on his word to Moses. The pharaoh couldn’t spare those workmen. His pride stood high and stopped him listening to his kid brother Moses.

“Let my people go,” God cried!

Soon, in the dead of night, Ramses’ weeping rang out beside his wife’s. Their son was gone, struck down by God’s angel of death with every firstborn son in Egypt. All but those in houses with lamb’s blood above the door.

Behold the Lamb of God.

Jesus’ blood now too? Will it be shed to save the children, save us all, in all our houses, all our tents, in all our shelters and our caves?

From these stories rise the promises of God to all of us. We are free to be free from sin and death forever.

Christ Jesus, God’s own son came down

His people to deliver

Destroy sin, he took the crown

From death’s pale brow forever

*           *           *

You have made us to be free, Lord, and we are free indeed. What are we waiting for? We already have the gift. Turn my eyes away from myself, from what I think I need, so I can see all that you have given me. Freely I have received, and I can freely give.

 Martin Luther, “Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands,” Lutheran Service Book #458. Listen on Youtube:

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Jan 2 20

Desert preacher

by davesandel

Desert preacher

Thursday, January 2, 2020

There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.

– From John 1

John is preaching? But John was just born! Our lectionary can confuse things, when I forget that lots of time passes in between the words. Year by year, John like Jesus becomes a man. Like many deep thinkers, they both begin to spend more and more time alone in the desert.

John was born under the call of his father’s words: “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him.”

Was this Lord the baby Jesus, about to be born? Elizabeth certainly thought so. Whether or not Zechariah had the same idea, he knew what the Lord would do: “He will give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”

So that is what John preached from atop a rock – first to the few, then to more and finally to multitudes of men and women and children, families who sometimes walked for days to hear John’s voice, fall down in tears and repentance, and experience John’s water baptism.

John had no idealistic thoughts about the leaders of those to whom he preached. Later Jesus called them “blind guides” and now John’s words were no less biting. “You brood of vipers!” he cried out at them. He left no doubt who he was talking about when he foretold God “burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

These angry righteous words kindled fires of revival, through which Jesus strode quietly.  He listened with the others, but did not go back like them into the towns and cities. He spent his time alone, like John, away in the desert, praying.

What were Jesus’ prayers before his baptism? Did his Father shape his thoughts? Margaret is grateful for her silent retreat time, when thoughts that come to her can germinate and mature. When she is living fully in each moment like this, she has all the time in the world. Is that how it was for Jesus?

Did Jesus know he was the one that John talked about? He found no difficulty in tying his own sandals, and never expected help from John or anyone else. But of course John just sought word pictures to describe the gulf between Messiah and the rest.

In his own silence Zechariah came to know God’s joy in what he was about to do: “Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and the shadow of death, he will guide our feet into the path of peace” (all from Luke 1).

Now in my own darkness, Lord, in the desert you offer me, I glimpse the quiet flames of tender mercy that are always there. You are never far away, and in every time of trouble I know I’m welcome to sit with you beside the fire.

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Jan 1 20

Wonder in Waynesville

by davesandel

Wonder in Waynesville

New Year’s Day, Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they proclaimed the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed. And Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. ­

– From Luke 2

A week after Christmas, memories fly like snowflakes in my mind.

This is a story of wonder.

Once upon a time, living in a small central Illinois town not on the way to anywhere, we found ourselves included in a tightly knit fellowship of friends. We didn’t grow up here, and so we didn’t expect this. But in this town our friend who had us for dinner also drove our kids to school the next day. If Margaret didn’t make it home in time after school, the kids walked two blocks down the street to hang out at the village grocery run by the bus driver’s husband.

Sometimes Chris or Marc did something they shouldn’t. Within twenty minutes someone always seemed to call, and then we could correct them.

For awhile before moving we began driving here to be part of a trying-to-be-resurrected church. Our boys were in school, but Andrea, our last child, our first girl, had just been born, so great for Margaret, who at last could replace matchbox cars and sports teams with dolls, pink dresses and little bits of lace.

Andi was born in April, we moved in August, and now it was coming on to Christmas. We walked around town in the snow singing carols and drank hot chocolate afterward. Our church had a live nativity with real animals and real shepherds (like me). Marc and Chris practiced their songs for the Christmas Eve service.

Jesus and his mother would be the focal point for everything, for all the words and music celebrating Jesus’ sweet nativity. But several mothers with younger babies declined to be Mary and Jesus on our church stage. Margaret remembers:

Now at the last minute WE were invited, and I was so excited! Like Mary and Joseph at Bethlehem’s last inn, we felt adopted and accepted into the family. And we had an important job to do.

I got there early, while my daughter was sleeping. I wanted to take off her full, pink snowsuit before the show started, but right away I got hustled backstage to don my Mary robe. The men tied on their beards. All of us were in full, period costume. All but Andi.

Andi was a total pink, sleeping marshmallow. Pink gloves on her hands, hood wrapped around her head and tied close below her chin – no, she would not get cold! The director put her in the straw. She slept on.

Very sedately the rest of us made our pilgrimage onstage for our representation of that secret, silent night. The congregation knew the baby this year would have to be an inferior, plastic child, but really they couldn’t see inside the creche. As his mother Mary, with no beard to hide behind, I did some Holy Spirit method acting to represent the Madonna, wearing my most beatific, sacred mother smile. I looked down with pride at my “new baby boy Jesus.”

Moments into the program I heard audible gasps in the audience. A tiny arm and wrist, completely clothed in pink swaddling fabric, slowly moved skyward. One arm, one hand. Mother Mary, thrown just for a moment, took her gently and guided the pink arm back into the crib.

A moment later Andrea, still sleeping but now having taken over the show, lifted her lovely pink arm toward the sky again. My mind flashed with the scripture, “Even the rocks will cry out!” Should I push her arm down again?

Mothers, even Mary, do what they have to do.

Andrea slept through the rest of the Christmas Eve service. She did her job, she gave God the glory on this night of nights. She blessed our adopted community, as she was herself adopted and blessed by them.

 Andi’s home again this week after Christmas and on this New Year’s Day. She’s visiting us all with her husband and three year old son Miles, and of course, her five-month old son Jasper.

Jasper gets bundled up to go outside, just like she was so many years ago.

Can you see him sleeping, quiet in the crib onstage, lifting that hand of his up toward the sky, once and then again? Do the rocks cry out again this Christmas? Do we parents and grandparents and friends lose our jaded edge for just a moment?

So that now, like then, we too can call out singing, right to Jesus, “Welcome! We love you!”

Babies take some time to grow, don’t they, Lord? You took time too. There’s never any hurry. We have a few stories from your life, and we have our own experiences. We can walk beside you while you learn to walk, and then ask you to walk beside US, while we learn how to ourselves be born, and live, and die, and live again.


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Dec 31 19

Into winter woods and out again

by davesandel

Into winter woods and out again

New Year’s Eve, Tuesday, December 31, 2019

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him. 

To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.

– From John 1

The classic words of John draw me into their spell, win me over with their rhythms. The poet in me responds to the poet in John. 

What was missing for so long, however, was anything more. “He gave us power to become children of God.” I think I wanted to find my way to be an adult in God, skip the milk and go straight to the meat. Before, during and after college I chased down several spiritual paths too much of my own choosing.

Nothing satisfied. I hitchhiked around the country, and in California I joined the Creative Community Project, a fancy name for Rev. Moon’s Unification Church. After two years and an agonizing decision I left to return to our farm in Illinois.

I thought it better not to tell anyone except my parents. The forecast was for rain the night I left. My alarm rang at 2, I picked up my bag in the woods where I’d stashed it, and walked to the main road. 

The rain fell gently, and I felt newly baptized. It took awhile to get a ride, and I imagined how I could “save the world” from the ground up, rather from the rarified theological realms of the Unification Church. I’d be a boy scout leader and a Little League coach instead of a preacher.

Mom and Dad picked me up in Rhode Island at my cousin’s wedding. We drove home in autumn rain. Back in Lincoln I lost myself in hard work setting concrete forms for our cattle lot. My friends called and asked me to come back. I thought about it all the time.

Soon I met Margaret at a Sunday School weiner roast. She agreed to attend a Bible study focused on Hebrews with my parents and I. Every time the author of Hebrews referred to the divinity of Jesus, I argued with him and with them. Jesus did not need to be divine to be the son of God.

After Christmas Dad invited me to a retreat called Kogudus. This weekend of renewal changed him; Dad had fallen in love with Jesus. I drove into the woods to a park cabin. When I left the Unification seminary it rained. Now the forecast was for a blizzard. We had plenty of food, and the cabin was warm. 

The retreat speakers worked their way through the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered … died, rose again and ascended into heaven.” I had been talking quite a bit in our small group, but now I went silent.

We were completely snowed in by the next morning. We had an afternoon break for couple of hours, and I went for a walk into the woods. In the woods something quiet happened inside me. I walked into the trees certain that Jesus was not divine, and I walked out of them certain that he was.

Paul said it so well. This sounds like foolishness to others but “to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1). I felt lighter than air. A feather could have knocked me over. My eyes have seen the glory. 

That was forty years ago. Nothing about that experience has faded away. Intellectual doubts, and there are always many, gain little traction in the presence of my remembrance. I was “given power to become a child of God.” How thankful can I be?

With your touch I can believe in you, Holy Spirit. I believe in the holy catholic Church and the communion of saints. I believe in your forgiveness of our sin, the resurrection of our bodies, and life everlasting with you. Amen.

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Dec 30 19

More family stories

by davesandel

More family stories

Monday, December 30, 2019

Joseph and Mary came to the temple to present Jesus to the Lord. In the temple there lived a prophetess called Anna who was advanced in years, and now as a widow she never left the temple. She worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer. She saw Jesus and gave thanks to God. Anna spoke about the child to all.

And the child Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.

– From Luke 2

From the rising to the setting of the sun the kids around us rocked and rolled.  Aly practiced new judo moves with Aki, and Miles jumped on top of both of them. Jasper smiled, eyes wide, at everybody holding him. And he cried with everybody holding him. Jack watched football and basketball. Bravo Bears! The Illini got a win. The Forty-niners pulled it out.

It got pretty noisy sometimes. And sometimes the living room felt completely full of peace.

Aly and Miles went to his Sunday School class together. She was his “helper.” Jack came with us to the adult service, where we listened to Albert Tate rock his church, and ours, with a Lazarus sermon. We opened gifts, lots of candy and Legos and books, ate pizza and fried chicken and most of us took long naps.

Our kids left on a double date, while Margaret and I spent a couple hours with four grandkids. Simple, right? There were various reasons why, but in the midst of two kids crying Aly said, “Wow, I have such a headache. My head just burns!” We prayed for her. Jack and Aly prayed for the crying boys. They kept crying, but everybody felt better. At least I did.

Miles and I spent a while together in his bedroom, reading about a mouse who wants a cookie. I told him a story about spending a day on the garbage truck with Bert and Ed, complete with lunch his mom made for them. We sang songs. “Let’s go riding in a car, car. Away in a manger. Go tell it on a mountain.

Aly kept doing all she could. She played, and cuddled, she changed a diaper and tried to explain two games to Miles. She kept her cool, and she didn’t give up. Eventually her headache went away. We figured out the new bottle Jasper was using, so finally he could get some milk while his mom was away. We never did understand the swaddling clothes. But after the milk he laid there happy until his mommy and daddy got home.

Watching Aly, I thought of Anna in the temple, who lost her husband before they had any kids. She dedicated her life to serving God, caring for the priests, maintaining the candles, sweeping the floor of the temple, whatever there was to be done. And on this day of Jesus’ dedication she held the baby.

Anna must have been surprised when her heart leaped. Like that unborn baby John, she too knew Jesus in a heartbeat. And like Simeon a moment before, she could sing with certainty, “Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace. For mine eyes have seen.”

Blinded with tears, rolling with laughter, quiet with sleep, our eyes have seen. Right into the midst of our own holy family, God reaches down and reminds us all just how much he loves us.

These wonderful simple days, Lord, full of joy and praise, full of leaping and laughing, we are so thankful as this year ends and another beckons, that you are here.


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Dec 29 19

Family stories

by davesandel

Family stories

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Now Herod has died, and behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” So Joseph departed, not for Bethlehem but for Nazareth, in the region of Galilee.

– From Matthew 2

So Jesus will grow up in Nazareth, Joseph and Mary’s home town. Perhaps his parents would have returned to Jesus’ own birthplace, but in yet another dream God warned Joseph that Herod’s son now ruled in Judea, and he was as dangerous as his father.

Jesus does not see Bethlehem again. His infancy, his time as toddler, his early education all took place in the village of Nazareth. Not far from an important Roman road, his town would be visited by soldiers and officials. Joseph the carpenter (Greek texton, which means builder, craftsman, woodworker) would often build and repair Roman and Jewish homes, furniture and wagons. The Romans needed him when their royal carriages collapsed. And he must also have been required to build a cross now and then.

Jesus helped, of course. As time passed he and his father worked together all day, pausing for meals, pausing for an afternoon nap, pausing to pray. As he grew older and his mother taught him to read, Jesus studied the Scriptures.

Jesus became a 12-year old scholar who confounded and amazed the teachers in Jerusalem. His father knew him as both an engineer and artist, who took his responsibilities seriously most of the time. His mother watched him think, like she did, of the deep things. They were quiet while they kneaded dough for daily bread.

Today we are with our grandkids, who are ten, seven, three, and six months old, just like Jesus when he was growing up.  He was six months, he was three, he was seven and then ten. Out of the corner of my eye, I like to watch Jesus watching them …

*           *           *

I imagine that one of these days, when these four children are somehow living in a village on the Galilean road, they will hear the cry, “Jesus is coming, Jesus is coming!” In spite of the roughness of his disciples, they decide to struggle through the crowd up beside the village well where Jesus is resting from his journey.

Jack carries Jasper, and Aly grabs Miles’ hand. They push through. And then there is Jesus, sweaty, dusty Jesus. They all sink down and sit on the ground beside him in the dust, their strong young backs warmed against the bricks.

The big people around them Familyresent the space they take up, but Jesus reminds them that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such children as these” (Matthew 19). Just watch see the children’s chests swell up with pride.

Jack reaches his arm around those dusty knees. Jesus puts his hand on Jasper’s head in blessing. Aly, with Miles on her lap, reaches up and touches Jesus’ fingers. Her eyes are wide. They touch each other’s fingertips, and Miles laughs. He rubs his cheek against the robe. They are all in this together.

*           *           *

Dallas Willard reminds us that Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived. After his resurrection he told St. John, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21).

The carpenter has come a long way. But he is still a lover, still a friend, still a scholar, still an engineer and artist. Sometimes he is still a little boy who needs his mom, and Jesus’ mother Mary travels now beside him, from town to town, kneading bread and always praying for her precious son.

Touch us, Jesus, make us new. Bless us while we play. Keep us safe in the sleep you give us, and lead us in the way that lasts forever.



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Dec 28 19

Crouching in a cave

by davesandel

Crouching in a cave

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. We escaped with our lives like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare was broken, and we escaped. Always, our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.

– From Psalm 124

How many times do I remember that night, standing in the mouth of the cave with Joseph, hearing Mary and baby Jesus rustle in the dark behind us, and listening with every ear for the sound of Roman soldiers! We are on the road to Egypt. Another dream that carpenter had, that Joseph!

He’s getting to be a regular mystic, my friend Joseph. God spoke to him again. “Rise and take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you” (Matthew 2). Herod’s paranoia is getting the better of him. He’s terrified and determined to kill the baby who threatens his throne.

Joseph knocked on my door last night at midnight, and we were gone by one. The stars shone as bright as they could shine. They marked an easy path for us but also for the soldiers. We ran and tripped in fear, crushed by our imaginations, of soldiers roughly grabbing Jesus … leaving nothing left for us but stains of blood on simple swaddling clothes.

O for the safety now of their simple manger! They told me the story, and I wish I’d seen those animals breathing in the cold night, shepherds surprising them and falling on their knees beside the manger, the star that stayed in place above, until the family left.

The angels heard Mary’s magnificent call for justice, but so I fear, did Satan.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. (From Luke 1)

 Satan has been whispering in Herod’s ear.

But we stop to pray four times a day. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who will not leave us or forsake us, who is our help in time of trouble, who will never grow weary, never grow faint. God keeps Joseph and his family a step ahead of trouble.

Jesus must be a pretty special baby.

Morning breeze comes cold and fresh. Dawn birds start their singing. I wrap my blanket a little closer, now I lay me down to sleep, for an hour or two. I close my eyes, but But Joseph still stands, silhouette against the start of morning, standing beside the angel.

I only know what Joseph tells me. One mystic is enough for this trip. But in the heart of me, I know that God is near.

There might be wolves too, Lord, not just soldiers. Without you, we would not last an hour, but with you we can cross the desert and live. Our help comes always in your name, Maker of heaven and earth. You are our hiding place.

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Dec 27 19

A Christmas debate

by davesandel

A Christmas debate

Friday, December 27, 2019

What we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life. And we are writing this so our joy may be complete. ­

– From 1 John 1

In his Christmas message Ron Rolheiser invoked Karl Rahner’s beautiful sentiment tying together Christmas and Easter: “Do not be afraid to be happy.”

Rolheiser resists a bit. “The meaning of Christ and Christmas is hardly the stuff of our Christmas lights, carols, cribs, and Santa. Does Calvary cast a permanent shadow on Bethlehem?”

But Rahner insists. He reminds us with imagined words of Jesus:

I am the blind alleys of all your paths, for when you no longer know how to go any further, then you have reached me. And then say only one thing, “I am here,” and that is Christmas for you. Don’t say anything more, only “I am here.” Because I am there with you, and it is Christmas. Light the candles. They have more right to exist than all the darkness.

 Rolheiser agrees at last and sternly rejoices. “The crib trumps the cross, even as the cross does not fully disappear. Christmas invites us to be happy, and this demands of us an elemental asceticism, a fasting from our adult cynicism and a discipline of joy. This will hold the cross and crib together so we can live in a joy which no one, and no tragedy, can take from us.”

Mary Magdalene walked straight into the darkness of Jesus’ tomb, and it was empty. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb!” she said. (John 20) But they took no pause to remember Jesus’ promises of resurrection. His body had been stolen, and they did not know where it was. Their tragedy, their own blind alley, left them stranded and utterly alone, bereft of even the remains of Jesus.

But you and I, and Rahner too, have heard the end of the story. Jesus will not leave us alone, not from the moment of Christmas birth to the moment of resurrection, to the moment of ascension, to our own moments of transfiguration. We are not bereft, not caught napping, not held captive down some dark alley.

I remember Warner Sallman’s famous picture of Jesus standing outside the cottage door with his right hand raised. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” The painting hung for years and years on my parents’ bedroom wall. Rahner’s Jesus, knocking, hears me say inside the house, “I am here.” He walks in and we are here together.

Savory smells waft out from the kitchen. Jesus sits down and asks for something to eat. I look sharply at him, surprised for a moment. But then I see. Jesus wants to eat with me.

I can’t wait to share. Rolheiser knows this. “Despite all the disillusion within our adult lives, Christmas still offers us depressed adults that wonderful invitation. This allows us, as John Shea poetically puts it, to jump headlong into the pudding!“

Your words, Lord, whisper in my ear. They rinse my soul and call me in to rest. “I am here, David.” Nothing more, nothing more I need. Forever and for always, Lord, you are the God of me.

 Ronald Rolheiser column,, December 21, 2015

Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year: The Best of Karl Rahner’s Homilies, Sermons, and Meditations. Quoted by Rolheiser and also by Matt Emerson, America Magazine, December 30, 2013

John Shea, Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All ¥ear Long, 2006

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