Thursday, December 20, 2018


“One is loved because one is loved. No reason is needed for loving.”
 Paulo CoelhoThe Alchemist

            Paulo Coehlo is a contemporary lyricist and novelist.  He is best known for his novel The Alchemist released in 2014.  That novel is a fable centered in following one’s dream. 

            At this holy time of year we are following the star – following the dream – that will lead us to the manger in Bethlehem.  There we meet Love Incarnate – Love Embodied.  There we are enfolded in that love – not because of anything we have done.  We are loved because we are loved.  That is the nature of the Good News.

            George Herbert (1593-1632) penned the poem “Love”.  The words speak to  us on our Advent journey:

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.

'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat.

            We stand at the stable door, tired and weary and looking for the wonder of the promise that drew us to this place and time.  Yet dare we cross the threshold?  We know we are unworthy.  We are hesitant to enter such a sacred place.  Who are we to experience this wondrous thing?  Maybe we should wait a day or two.  Maybe we should bring something to give to the baby and the family.  Maybe we should go to the Temple to pray about this whole thing.  We come up with all kinds of excuses to avoid making that commitment to walk into the presence of Love.

            Yet LOVE bids us welcome.  LOVE brings us across the threshold.  LOVE has no need for our excuses because we are already held in HOLY LOVE.

            Simone Weil writes of the power of this particular poem in her life:

            I used to think I was reciting it as a beautiful poem, but without my becoming aware of it, reciting it had the nature of a prayer.  During one of those recitations, … Christ himself came down and took possession of me. ….
            In this sudden possession of me by Christ, neither my senses nor my imagination played any role; I only felt in the midst of my suffering the presence of a love – like that which one can read in the smile of a beloved face.

            This wondrous season unfolds before us, drawing us more closely to the Christ Child.  The story is more than a nice holiday tale.  It is a witness through the ages of Christ coming to us and taking possession of us.  We are welcomed by LOVE.  Our sufferings, our questions, our busy lives are transformed by this presence of love.  We are no longer what we were.  We are ourselves born again into God’s everlasting Love. 

Grace and Peace
Rev. Clara

Friday, December 14, 2018


“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
 Thich Nhat Hanh

            As we continue along our Advent path we have a chance to examine the paradox of this saying by the Vietnamese philosopher, Thich Nhat Hanh.  We all know that sometimes we are so filled with joy that we can’t help but smile.  There are those times though when we don’t feel like smiling, when we don’t feel happy about anything.  The very act of smiling is a door through which we can enter to tap into those moments of wonder, moments of joy, moments of grace.

            Consider Mary’s trip to see her cousin Elizabeth.  The timing was just after she was told she would become pregnant and bear God’s Son.  It must have been an overwhelming experience for her.  Here she was a young teenager expecting a baby without the niceties of a husband or a formal wedding.  She was on the verge of being shamed in her own village.  After all, who would believe the story that an angel had dropped by and told her of this miraculous birth?  She probably felt her own parents’ disapproval and skepticism.  She needed someone to talk to and her cousin Elizabeth seemed the best choice since they were close – and Elizabeth was experiencing her own amazing birth story.

            Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands.  She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry.  Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises made to her.”

            The weight of concern overshadowing daily life – the smile of greeting – the joy overwhelming two women – the wonder of the holy births.

            Thich Nhat Hanh also cautioned us:  If you are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace.

            That seems to be appropriate to us at this time of year when we long for the birth of the Prince of Peace.  We are particularly sensitive to the continuous conflicts as we wait for Jesus’ coming.  Some of those conflicts are manifested in wars and rumors of wars.  Other conflicts are those that continually erupt in our interactions with one another.  We want the security of everyone getting along with one another.  We long for peace.

            Yet we also perpetuate conflict by our uncompromising attitudes.  We are ever so sure that we are correct in all things.  We want peace by acquiescence to our way of thinking.  Sometimes we even become mean-spirited.  We become so angry we forget to smile.

            Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us of the power of the smile.  A smile can unleash joy.  A smile is the beginning of peace.  And a smile is something we can manage.

            The Dali Lama tells us:   A simple smile, that’s the start of opening your heart and being compassionate to one another.

            Mother Teresa said:  Let us always meet another with a smile,  for the smile is the beginning of love.

            This Advent season let us open ourselves to wonder and grace through our practicing the art of the smile.

Grace and Peace
Rev. Clara

Friday, December 7, 2018


“You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will live as one.”
 John Lennon

          The Bible is full of dreams, visions, and revelations.  The Nativity stories are no exception.  When you want to convey a God-infused moment, send an angel and disrupt the ordinary patterns of life. 

            Zechariah had his “day dream” within the confines of the Temple.  He was alone there, performing the rituals of the day in his role as Priest.  Suddenly he is overwhelmed with the sense of the Holy as manifested by the angel Gabriel.  That by itself would be enough to make an impression.  However, it was the message that was important.  He was to be a father in his old age.  His wife, well past child-bearing years, would bear a son who would be the one to set the stage for the fulfillment of prophesies, the coming of the Messiah.  Maybe “dreams” are more difficult to accept when they happen during daytime.  Zechariah made fun of such an outlandish idea.  Morale of his story – don’t ridicule the words of an angel!  Zechariah had to live with nine months of silence as he lost his ability to speak until, lo and behold, the dream became reality.

            A young teenager had one of those daytime dreams.  Like any teenager she probably had any number of dreams, both during the day and in her sleep – dreams about how her life would unfold.  One day, Mary would experience the Holy in a way far beyond anything she had ever imagined.  According to the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel was busy again.  This time the Holy Dream/Visitation was in the town of Nazareth and with this teenager named Mary who was betrothed, “promised”, to Joseph.  Once again Gabriel had some birthing news to convey.  This Mary had been chosen to bear and give birth to Jesus, the promised Messiah, the promised successor to King David.  I can imagine the few sputtering responses to be similar to when one is trying to come out of an intense dream.  “This is a dream”.  “Go back to sleep, this isn’t happening.”  “It can’t be happening because it is a preposterous scenario.”  Only Mary’s dream or vision was real.  We know the full story.  That moment of Holy Encounter changed the world.

            Mary’s reality led to another dream.  Here she is in full charge as she dreams of a new time – a new world – new possibilities.  Her magnificent poem we call the Magnificat outlines her dream:
            My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
            for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
            Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
            for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
            and holy is his name.
            His mercy is for those who fear him
            from generation to generation.
            He has shown strength with his arm;
            he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
            He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
            and lifted up the lowly;
            he has filled the hungry with good things,
            and sent the rich away empty.
            He has helped his servant Israel,
            in remembrance of his mercy,
            according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
            Abraham and to his descendants forever.

            Joseph would also have a life-changing dream.  His would come while he was asleep, although as with the others, an angel would be featured.  Joseph was the man to whom Mary was betrothed.  According to the practice of the day, a betrothal (engagement) was just as binding as was the wedding itself.  One can only imagine his shock when he was told that the young woman with whom he had entered into a contractual arrangement leading to the formalities of marriage was expecting a child, and not by him.  That was scandal, plain and simple.  He had the right and the cultural presumption to break the contract.  He also knew that if he did, Mary would be cast out of her village and left to fend for herself with no support from her family, the residents of Nazareth, and certainly not from him.  Troubling decisions led to troubled sleep.  Into that turmoil Joseph that even though there could be some socially difficult times ahead, Mary has not betrayed him.  She is in fact bearing the child who will be the long-awaited Messiah.  Joseph’s fear turns into purpose.  He awakes from his dream,  Mary and he formalize their relationship.  Whatever the future held, they were in this together and God was with them.

            John Lennon admits to being a dreamer and asks whether there are others.  I certainly hope so.  Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph opened themselves up to the possibility of hope and promise when they allowed their dream to touch them.  There have been so many dreamers through history who have in their time and place allowed themselves to imagine outside the narrow strictures of what is known.  That sense of wonder is directly related to the power of dreams.  We begin to see the “what if’s” and the “why not’s” and the “yes, I could do that”.  Maybe, just maybe then we can find the will and the way to fulfill our calling to help bring God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in heaven.

Grace and Peace,
Rev. Clara