Sunday, November 27, 2011


Baxter is not very patient. I have had talks with him about this trait of his, but to no avail. When he wants something, he wants it NOW. There is no persuading him to defer his desire for a while, no matter what the reason might be. I’m hungry, so feed me NOW. I’m thirsty, so turn the spigot on NOW. I want into the garage, so open the door NOW. He signals his impatience with an insistent meow that is non-stop and cannot be ignored. It is in your face with a nagging sound that is relentless and annoying. Baxter can’t wait for even a few seconds when he has set his mind on what he wants.

He is like the world selling Christmas to all of us. After Halloween, it is all Christmas — lights, music, decorations and gifts, many, many gifts in all categories and price ranges. The message is: “Don’t wait. They might sell out. You need to have this year’s trend setters in fashion, electronics, toys or a novelty fad. Without it, Christmas will be a major disappointment. After all, you won’t get what you want, and how can you be happy without it?”

Advent is about waiting. This is the “in-between time.” We live in anticipation of what will come, and we don’t try to short circuit the time for its arrival. We learn to appreciate the “in-between” character of this time, so that we can grasp the “in-between” nature of most of life.

We live between birth and death, between yesterday and tomorrow, between past successes and future accomplishments, between past failures and future mistakes. Life is lived between the markers like the boundaries on a playing field or the time clock in a game, and while we might desire a larger field or more time on the clock, we only learn to play the game well if we accept the boundaries and try to play within them. These limits make the game exciting. There has to be a goal line if you want to cross it for a score. There has to be a time limit to know how to play differently as the clock runs down. A marker tells us when we have reached the goal or when time has run out, and then we know whether or not we won.

Advent sets the boundaries for Christmas. The season shrinks as Christmas Day approaches, but it sets a direction as it grows shorter. From the general sense of God’s intervention into history to save Israel, to the specific focus on the announcement of Jesus’ birth, the time winds down to one moment in history when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the turning point we were all hoping for when the momentum shifts and God’s rule prevails. From now on, the game is played differently. God’s presence and power is in-between the events of our lives, and we learn to look for Him there.

But we will never learn this lesson in salvation history unless we wait to see it unfold in the liturgical drama of our faith. Advent is this waiting period. Don’t let the world take it away from us with its promises of instant gratification of all our latest desires. Wait to know what you really want and to find it in the incarnate God shown in Jesus. This is the only way to foster genuine excitement about Christmas coming, and to know we won at life when the Risen Lord appears in His glory at the end of time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Purrfect" Communion

Like most cats, Baxter purrs. In my opinion, he purrs when he is happy and content. I read somewhere that veterinarians are really not sure why and how cats purr. They seem to do so automatically. It can be clear and loud, or gentle and soft. It is provoked by a scratch behind the ear, a bowl of food or a deep sleep full of pleasant cat dreams. Whatever its source and however it happens, purring is contagious. The smoothing sound calms others. The relaxing rhythmic ripple mesmerizes companions into the same restful state. The effects of purring are shared. If Baxter purrs when I give him a friendly hello scratch on the head on my arrival home, the unsolved problems of the day or the stress of too many demands in too little time seem to dissolve in the feline serenade signaling simple pleasures. Purring is Baxter’s mood music to quiet the soul. It says that despite all the difficulties and struggles, all’s right with the world.

Holy Communion at the Eucharist says something very similar. Not from some physiologically generated sound, but from a deep peace originating in our hearts, the Eucharist creates a communion between God and humanity that is profoundly intimate and contains a clarity of truth that, while perhaps inexplicable, cannot be denied. God has become one with us in this worship, and so we become like God through our worship. The creative energy of God’s Spirit binds us to Him, by reminding us that God has conquered the destructive energies of our world and our egos through the death and resurrection of Christ. We eat the Bread of Life. We drink the Chalice of Salvation. This food passes through the body into the soul, and we are once again made whole. Without communion, the eucharist is spoiled like food left uneaten on the stove top. The Eucharist is meant to be shared, taken in, and consumed so that our souls can be nourished and healed by this special health food.

But this Holy Communion is not just a private affair between Jesus and me. Communion with God cannot be contained in a single relationship. It creates a network of relationships that grows and grows as we mature in the faith until it takes in the whole of life. We receive communion at the Eucharist so that we might become what we eat, other Christs. In turn, our shared identity in Christ binds everyone of us to each other as the Body of Christ in the world. We do this by sharing our communion with the world. We open doors to the holy for others by our witness to who God is in the way we are with each other.

Remember, our God purrs when we are around Him. He loves to have us close, sharing His life in its many signs of grace — forgiveness, generosity, justice, courage, humility, right judgment, hope, the truth of love and the love of truth. This is the source of the genuine peace we all desire, the contentment of a life well lived, and the happiness that nothing can take away. Holy Communion is not just a ritual act. It is how we came to be, why we continue in life, and the destiny to which we are called. It begins anew each week at the Sunday Eucharist, and is carried through the week in how we relate in our families, our work places, our recreation, and our civic responsibilities. Listen for God’s purr in the midst of all these other life sounds. It is the communion hymn sung in the streets, the living rooms, the offices, job sites and committee meetings where we live. It brings calming peace and soothing joy when we hear it in each other’s voices, preparing us for next week’s Eucharist.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Living Memory

Baxter has a memory. He remembers sights and sounds that bring him pleasure, like the cues for treats or to be brushed. He also recalls certain frightening cues. All I have to do is to take the vacuum sweeper out of the storage closet, and he runs under the bed not to reappear until the beast is put back to sleep behind the closet door. (He hates that noise!) Baxter’s memory is associated with past experiences repeating themselves. It’s Pavlov’s conditioning. What brought pleasure in the past for him sets up the expectation for a repeat performance now, and vice versa. What was annoying or unpleasant in the past is expected to bring the same discomfort when it appears again. His memory traps him in the past. He expects the past to repeat itself whenever similar cues are given off anew in the present.

We can fall into the same trap. Our memories can lock us into the past and prevent anything new and different happening to us. We become conditioned to respond to certain people and situations based upon our previous experience of them. Remember the old adage, “Once burnt, shame on you; twice burnt, shame on me!” If we forget the hurts, pain and betrayals of the past, we are the fools for not shaping our lives to prevent such things in the future. Our memory failed us, or we failed to heed our memory. Either way, the past sets up our future response to others and the world we live in together.

At the Eucharist, we remember every time we gather to worship. We recall the saving acts of God for His people through the millennia of our faith tradition. In fact, we celebrate the Eucharist so often to keep these memories alive for us, to refresh them and spark the energy they contain to charge the way we live now. The key memory of all those that make up our faith history is that of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This paschal event we recall at every Eucharist during the Eucharistic Prayer. We remember what He did at the supper on the night before He died, and then we further recall His death and resurrection. This memory is the anchor for our faith as it guides our daily living.

But here lies a new twist for us. The memory of Christ’s saving events is meant to set our response to whatever lies ahead for us by freeing us from the trap of other memories. The remembered hurts, pain and betrayals condemn us to repeat the past based upon how we have been conditioned to respond. We’ll never forget, so we will never forgive, so we can never begin our life anew. Remembering Jesus at the Eucharist crowds out these kind of memories with the living reality of His presence in the Eucharist. You see, the paschal memory at Eucharist literally comes alive again at the altar, not to repeat the past but to place the present and the future in the same light as led Jesus through His life, death and resurrection. This is the light of the Spirit in which we are called to live each moment of each day.

The Spirit of the Risen Lord frees us from the hurt, pain and betrayals of the past by offering us the forgiveness, healing and peace won by Christ’s death and resurrection. The memory we recall at the Eucharist can with time heal the past scars which disfigure us. The Eucharist won’t allow us to wallow in the past, but it calls us into the future with confidence, because we know what God has done and continues to do to save us. Pavlov’s conditioning is what cats do to respond to pleasure and pain based on their past experiences. We’re not cats. We are intelligent and responsible people of faith. We live out of the memory of God’s saving action in Christ’s death and resurrection, and this memory is renewed at every Eucharist. So don’t forget to keep the memory alive and discover the freedom of the children of God.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

An Appetite for the Eucharist

Baxter has no problem with his appetite. If he thinks it’s food, he wants it. He runs at the sound of the feeder opening, the treat bag crinkling or the tuna can snapping. Even transferring his kibble from the fifteen pound bag I purchase to smaller containers for storage brings him around, hoping that it’s meal time, or at least, that he can grab a few morsels from the floor when they fall there during the transfer. Baxter loves his food, and he has no hesitancy about getting it at every opportunity. His appetite never seems satisfied, so he’s always looking for more.

Each Sunday we are invited to the table of the Lord at the Eucharist. We are offered the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation freely and carefully. This is food for the soul allowing us to continue to believe in a cynical world, to hope amidst our disappointments, and to love when others think only of themselves. Through the Eucharist, we recall what God has done to save us for no other reason but that He loves us. We see this in the long history of our faith recounted in the Scriptures, and displayed most clearly and pointedly for us in the Gospels each week. Then, in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we experience God at work once again, here and now, as Christ’s Spirit, through the person of the priest presider, transforms bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, and transforms us, who receive this sacred meal, into Christ’s Body for the world. So what’s wrong? Why aren’t we hungry for the Eucharist? Why is it more of an obligation than a heart-felt desire to partake of this meal

Maybe we are just “fed up.” We gorge so many of our appetites that we can’t distinguish what we really hunger for. Our greed consumes our desire for more. Our gluttony satisfies us into complacency. Our lust absorbs our need for pleasure. Our pride keeps us apart from others. Our sloth massages our apathy about what is possible. Our envy and jealousy harden our hearts to other’s needs. Our anger fills our opinions with distortions of the truth. We kill our desire for real soul food by filling ourselves with the fast, junk food of the sinful heart.

We need to change our appetite. We need a conversion of mind, heart and spirit. How do we do this? Not with a fad diet of the latest spiritual teaching, but with a reevaluation of what truly satisfies us. What will last beyond our present situation in life? What will we take with us to the grave? These questions, taken seriously and honestly, can open our hearts to seek the deeper realities which our soul craves. Then we will begin to savor the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation offered at each Eucharist.

Baxter has a single focus when it comes to his appetite — what satisfies his stomach. We have many desires we seek to satisfy, and so we are often distracted from one to another and torn between them. The Eucharist is meant to train our taste to desire the best and the longest lasting nourishment — the God who took flesh in the Body and Blood of Christ.