There’s no wrong way to be a lizard in the sun

 

 

I love November. It’s the summer month par excellence for me. Early mornings, days stretching to their apogee, their afternoons often swallowed up by thunderstorms and rain that beats the smell of ozone from the earth. November is full of the dance of some old thing we’ve mostly lost to the advent of 24-hour living. Novembers are simply magical.

November isn’t hugely productive as a rule. Combined with the mischievous wink of summer and sun and the approach of Christmas (tacky, seasonally inappropriate decorations seemed to go up at the stroke of midnight on the 31st of October) and the beckon of the schools closing for the year, November is about as circumspect as a toddler presented with a bowl of candy. It’s an odd time to be thinking about the Advent season and the new year, when so many things seem to be telling you to stop thinking, to turn your face to the sun and the season and to just breathe it all in.

I wonder whether God isn’t asking the same thing with prayer. Glancing through my prayer list, much of it is busywork: me trying to press my case or impose my will (masquerading as God’s will of course) or otherwise labouring at my idea of what a faithful life looks like. Sometimes that labour is necessary – if I didn’t go against my natural urges, how often would I get up early on a Sunday morning to go to church, for instance – but maybe like the month of November, sometimes prayer isn’t a job to do or an item to tick off or a solemn request to make, but a turning to the “sun” of God in our lives.

For the last few weeks, whenever I go outside it’s to a scatter of small lizards streaking in all directions, startled by my appearance. If basking in the sun were a religious practice, lizards out-holy us all. They go to the sun with nothing but the need to be warmed, and nothing but the expectation that they will be warmed. There’s no wrong way to be a lizard in the sun, other than not seeking the sun, of course. There’s no wrong way to seek God, other than not seeking him.

Work and necessity will play tug-o’-war with November for our heart. Even Advent will push its own agenda. But I think the month of November is itself a kind of prayer. All the while, whatever the season, God is there, trying to lure us from the shadows of tradition and busywork and our own limitations into the warm sun of his light, love, grace and mercy; back into relationship with him, friendship with him, communion with him.

Sometimes that communion is bread and wine in a church building. Sometimes it’s the rustle of Bible pages at the end of a long day. Sometimes it’s a hurried, muttered prayer in the mornings. But sometimes, other times, it’s a shady, grassy spot under a big tree with the wind whispering through the leaves.

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Seasons with God

 

 

An interesting lesson I took away from a missions course I did late last year was that the natural realm is a general revelation, a way for God to accentuate unreached peoples to the possibility of his presence – a possibility realised in the specific revelation of Jesus Christ. I’ve been thinking about general revelation a lot lately as autumn has sped past, winter fast on her heels and kicking away the last of her leaves with cold, gusty winds. If God uses the natural world to speak to unreached peoples, then it must have something to teach us reached souls too.

So many of Jesus’ parables were rooted in everyday activities that had to do with the natural world. Harvests are a popular example Jesus uses, as is wine, water, desert, livestock, fig trees, grapevines, mustard seeds, grain, fishing, and fertile ground. Jesus was hardly a city boy. He used the cycles of the natural world to explain the cycles of God, the seen to explain the unseen.

This is echoed in our church calendar. For Northern Hemispherians, the church calendar syncs up with the natural world: Jesus born in mid-winter, a very real light in a dark and cold world, and resurrected come Easter and spring: new beginnings. But perhaps the natural world should speak to us even beyond this: nature’s cycles reinvigorating and energising, pausing and resting our spiritual lives; spring, summer and autumn our work week, winter our sabbath; or spring and summer our exodus, and autumn and winter our Canaan. We cannot always remain in the desert, spiritually speaking; at some point, we must enter our rest.

Winter isn’t an easy season for me. Some years ago I was treated for cancer, and my treatment coincided with autumn and winter. More than a decade later, the start of winter still makes me sad. For me, it’s associated with loss in a very real way, as I lost the innocence of my own mortality. Every winter makes me face that afresh. While it also means that I look joyfully to the summer because each one is one more than I had before, winter is a generally a stunted time for me, and I often spend it struggling to seek God.

But God’s general revelation reminds me of the mercy of his specific revelation. I look at the world around me: the dry and withered grass, often burned black; the cold, cutting wind herding people indoors; the bright, clear sky peeking curiously through the spread fingers of bare tree branches; choked plants in dry, infertile-looking soil. And I remember summer: how green and lush everything is, trees twice their size clothed in foliage, earth wet with rain and sweet with petrichor, white clouds rolling across a hazy sky, flower heads drooping and stirring in hot breezes. And then I remember a cross and an empty tomb…

Rather than feel guilty about my perceived lapse of faith during this time, I might more productively spend my time being enriched by Jesus in order that I may grow better and stronger come the spring and summer months. This isn’t death, sweet soul, it’s the moment before resurrection…

It’s a good moment.

Monday #CoffeeTimePrayer

ctp4Past

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

John 1:5 ESV

Yesterday my various social newsfeeds were filled with “spring forward” posts – a reminder for parts of the United States to set their clocks an hour forward as Daylight Savings Time kicks in again. It reminded me that here in the southern hemisphere we’ve been sliding back to winter from the middle of December. By accident I was up before six am yesterday and to my usually-only-up-at-seven-am-surprise, I found the world decidedly darker. Outside lights were still burning in the cool blue gloom.

Easter is two weeks away. At my old church the formal, by-the-book liturgy for Easter was all wrong because it had been written with the northern hemisphere in mind. So a lot of it was about connecting the resurrection of Jesus Christ with spring’s blossoming; completely inappropriate for a place where the leaves were dying and drying, the nights lengthening, the heat parsed to the middle of the day. It was up to us as individuals to line up the earthly seasons and the ecclesial ones. Instead of stepping from the darkness into longer days and sunshine like our northern hemisphere sisters and brothers, the world is spinning us slowly into the frigid arms of winter. But it starts slowly. Autumn is all warm hues: greens giving way to browns and oranges and yellows; trees’ bare limbs becoming slowly exposed. The air will smudge with the smoke of grass fires. Birds will trek across the skies, looking for warmer places and friendlier climates. Space heaters will be unearthed and fans reluctantly stowed away; musty blankets shaken out before being layered over beds or wrapped around cold ankles.

Perhaps in this season of Lent and Easter we are too eager to “spring forward”. We want to skip past the heart-rending darkness of the crucifixion to the glorious hope and joy of the empty tomb. Past winter, to spring again. But it doesn’t work that way. First we must linger here. The Passion is a mourning process. In our Christian walk we need to work  through all the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression. Only then can we accept what has been done for us. It is only in understanding the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice, of his pain and humiliation and suffering, that we are able to comprehend the depth of his love. We need to grieve the death of Jesus or we will never be able to properly understand the significance of his resurrection. 

Instead of fearing Good Friday this Easter, let us rest here in its darkness. Let’s leave behind every dead thing weighing down our hearts in the shadow of the Cross. Let us mourn those things, knowing that even though it’s dark now, the Light has come. As surely as winter will follow autumn, and spring on winter, so we can be sure that the empty tomb follows the bloody cross, and light, darkness.

Let’s pray:

O God, who brought us to birth,
and in whose arms we die,
in our grief and shock
contain and comfort us;
embrace us with your love,
give us hope in our confusion
and grace to let go into new life;
through Jesus Christ.

Amen.

(Source.)

Rain clouds gathering at dusk

Two clouds meet. It’s a
slow introduction, and the
acquaintance so brief.