christmas wars

For a holiday season that promotes peace and goodwill for all, Christmas has become a magnet for religious and cultural battles. And the fighting seems to intensify each year. Here’s a story that is causing quite a discussion in a nearby town. A woman was paying for her purchases at a grocery till, when the […]

enlarging the tents vs. circling the wagons

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Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;

do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. Isaiah 54:2

 Several years ago, I was asked to be part of a visioning team with my dear Benedictine friends. The Sisters were discerning the future of the monastery in a time of diminishing and aging members. One Sister proposed this line from Isaiah as a mantra and guide.

What a courageous and inspiring image! These women refused to allow their hearts to mirror their shrinking numbers. Instead, they began looking at new ways to share their cherished charism. Not ready to roll up their tents, they dreamed of expansion by embracing new ways of thinking and of being. Today, part of the monastery has been refurbished into St. Benedict’s Place; independent living suites for seniors who “seek to age meaningfully and gracefully with others in a peace-filled environment.”

The image of enlarging tent sites is a useful metaphor in today’s world of ever-narrowing ideologies. The Tea Party in the U.S draws those who want to circle the wagons and hunker down into a security seeking conservatism. Many religions, including Roman Catholics, have groups that would happily wave farewell to all members who do not follow their own fundamentalist or traditionalist ideals.

For these groups, a smaller, “purer” community of the faithful is preferred to the messiness of diversity or dialogue. Clinging to a perceived golden age of the past is preferred to facing the challenges of new methods and new times.

In this dreaming time of Advent, it’s worth taking a moment to vision what our world and our church would look like if we all worked at enlarging the tent site. What if we stretched those stakes and cords further than we thought possible – welcoming others more freely rather than turning more away? What if we learned to expand our boundaries and embrace the risk of newness?

life`s highways

Every valley shall be lifted up,

and every mountain and hill be made low;

the uneven ground shall become level,

and the rough places a plain. (Isaiah 40:4) 

I am a prairie woman. I like my land flat. I like my horizons endless. I like my skies expansive. I grumble mightily when my easy, smooth path hits an incline. I huff and I puff when faced with a hill. I don`t understand why anyone would pay good money for a torture exercise machine that replicates the experience.

I am also a novice runner. I began a running program at the end of this summer; a perfect time of year. The weather was gorgeous. The paths turned from summer splendor to autumn glory. I began to feel fit, and almost reached that stage of getting a mini-high. By October I had reached the goal of running non-stop for 30 minutes. Wahoo!

But now, winter has arrived. Determined not to buy the torture tread-mill machine, I have vowed to continue running outdoors. But, I wasn`t prepared for the physiological changes of cold-weather running. When the temperatures dip, so does your energy level. Your legs feel like lead. The harsh winds bite at your face, and your lungs don`t know what hit them. And then there`s the path.

Gone are the smooth roads of summer; replaced by a sloppy mess of heavy snow and sand. Today, stretches of frozen humps point accusatory fingers at the lack of proper snow removal during last week`s warm spell. I tried on a new pair of ice and snow grips on my runners. They were brilliant; until they fell off during my first circuit around the park. Hmmm…it`s December 6th. How many more sleeps until spring?

Advent is a time of wishful thinking and dreaming with the prophet Isaiah. It is a time of waiting and yearning for a time of overflowing banquets, peace-filled lands, and rough places turning to plains. A lumpy jogging path is merely an annoyance. What about the real barriers and obstacles in my life, and in the lives of those around me? What can I, what can we do to help remove them? What good can we do to fill the valleys of need? What actions can we take to tear down the mountains of hatred, poverty, and injustice?

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

and all people shall see it together

for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.(Isaiah 40:5)