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Making It Real

 

Written by: Bro. Brian Poulin

 

January 8, 2022 – Saturday after Epiphany

 

 

We’ve been here before. In so many ways.

 

Here we are once more at the beginning of a new year that brings new fears to accompany our new hopes. Calendars are thinning out again, COVID precautions have taken on renewed urgency… but this time the threat feels more familiar. I know that all of our lives have been dramatically changed and that many of us have suffered catastrophic loss. At the same time, life carries on in so many of the mundane activities and circumstances that were nonetheless dramatically snatched from us in the height of lockdown almost two years ago.

 

I know that some people still consider me young. Nonetheless, I am old enough that I can’t help but see patterns when I look at the events swirling around our world. Does life start to look cyclical to us all at one point or another?

 

This Advent I spent some time thinking about the ancient Jews living under foreign rule as they waited for a messiah. They languished under the Egyptians and then the Babylonians and the Greeks and the Romans, among others. In the same breath, one might mention Jewish suffering under so-called Christendom. And there were period of liberation and times of desolation. Spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring.

 

For those of us drawn to the narrative of progress, the idea of a definitive Messiah is irresistibly compelling—a disrupting and benevolent force that ushers in a new age.

 

At the beginning of each of the last three years, I have taken on a scriptural figure to serve as a spiritual touchstone throughout the following twelve months. Each one tends to be a mixture of inspiration and cautionary tale, as I suppose we all are. Jacob, David, and then Job. Sometimes these figures loomed large in my prayer life and at other times they faded from my thought. This year, I wasn’t really feeling it, and thought it was time to retire this practice. But then, unbidden, it came to me.

 

The Magi have taken on a new importance in my spiritual reflection over the last several weeks. The key question they seek to answer in their story is where to look for salvation, where to find God. Like so many of us, they turn first to the place of power, privilege, and prestige. If they are wise though, it is because they recognized that Herod’s palace was empty of the promises they longed to see fulfilled. Instead, they found God among the humble and neglected. I have often heard reflections emphasize the fact that the Magi returned home by another way than they had come. How could they not? Their lives had been transformed by an encounter with the Divine.

 

I am rarely too impressed by the Herodian palaces around me. At times my jaded cynicism may be serving me well. At other times, I simply see more impressive treasure in the hidden elsewheres. Whenever I become too attached to success or recognition for their own sake however, don’t I build Herod’s palace in my heart? And don’t we see so much of our religious and political history wrapped up in the same dynamic? Time and again, we fall in worship at Herod’s feet when we should instead be looking to the poor and helpless. Even those of us who should know better fall repeatedly back into this folly. Maybe one reason Dorothy Day didn’t want to be recognized as a saint was because she saw the toxicity of celebrity culture before anybody else had coined the concept.

 

What would it look like if our Church, our government, or our society could break Herod’s thrall? But the spirit of liberation always seems so short-lived before we fasten on our chains once more. We needed God to break into our history in order to escape this cycle. We still do. That’s what Christmas is about.

 

So yes, we’ve been here before, and the next stop on our crazy train may look pretty familiar as well. Maybe though, we can choose to live as if God really has made a difference in our lives and in this world. I’m lucky to have many people in my life who model this very possibility for me. They make it real.

 

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This month’s ‘ear candy’ and ‘brain food’ are both rather Christmassy… which again is fitting, for those of us who celebrate the Christmas season from the end of Advent until the Baptism of the Lord (December 9 this year). Enjoy what may be your last gasp of the holidays!

 

Ear Candy: “Child of the Poor” performed by Brad Whittle

Brain Food: “Christmas is Weird” by Esau McCaulley

 

Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!

 

Previous Posts:

2021

Dec 4 – Reason for Hope

Nov 6 – Unspeakable Love

Oct 2 – God of the Always

Sep 4 – Time Unchained

Aug 7 – Pray for Us

Jul 3 – Real Presence

Jun 5 – Bag of Squirrels

May 1 – Brothers 

Apr 3 – Plan B

Mar 6 – Times 40

Feb 6 – Testimony 

Jan 2 – Unconditional 

2020

Dec 5 – Gestation

Nov 7 – Where Hope Lives

Oct 3 – Enough 

Sep 5 – Assembly Required

Aug 1 – Stumped 

July 4 – Bitter and Sweet

June 6 – Fire

May 30 – Brother’s Keeper

May 23 – Remote

May 16 – Getting By

Apr. 25 – Thank God It’s Saturday

Apr. 18 – Joseph’s Fiat

Apr. 11 – Bells & Sirens

Apr. 4 – Adaptation

Mar. 28 – Guest Column

Mar. 21 – Moving Forward

Mar. 14 – Reality Check

Mar. 7 – Soar 

Feb. 29 – Hiking Lessons

Feb. 22 – Love in the Desert

Feb. 15 – Beautiful Life

Feb. 8 – Bad Science

Feb. 1 – All Shall Be Well

Jan. 25 – Let Somebody Love You

Jan. 18 – Extraordinary Time

Jan. 11 – L’Chaim!

Jan. 4 – Decisive

2019

Dec. 28 – Can’t Alone

Dec. 21 – Unexpected Gifts 

Dec. 14 – No Room

Dec. 7 – End of the World

Nov. 30 – Elective Unpleasantness

Nov. 23 – Always Greater

Nov. 16 – Coloring Book

Nov. 9 – Justice and Mercy

Nov. 2 – Together in Loneliness

Oct. 26 – Gently

Oct. 19 – Flow

Oct. 12 – In This Place

Oct. 5 – Why Understanding

Sep. 28 – Stone to Flesh

Sep. 21 – Let God

Sep. 14 – Passion

Sep. 7 – Hermanos

Aug. 31 – 525,600

Aug. 24 – Pathway

Aug. 17 – Crazy Together

Aug. 10 – To Bridge

Aug. 3 – Stripes

July 27 – Ghost Town

July 20 – Adrift

July 13 – Borders without Borders

July 6 – Little Bit at a Time

June 29 – Holy Dissent

June 22 – Old Kentucky Home

June 15 – Steamer Trunk

June 8 – Squad

June 1 – Legacy

May 25 – Live like You’re Loved

May 18 – Purity of Heart

May 11 – Builders and Creator

May 4 – Value Proposition

Apr. 27 – Vital Signs

Apr. 20 – Let It Be Real

Apr. 13 – Meet Self

Apr. 6 – Let Go of the Best

Mar. 30 – Thirst

Mar. 23 – Back Home

Mar. 16 – Say Goodbye

Mar. 9 – Garden and Desert

Mar. 2 – In Transit

Feb. 23 – Wealth

Feb. 16 – In Place

Feb. 9 – Each and All

Feb. 2 – Not Disneyland

Jan. 26 – Pilgrim People

Jan. 19 – Waking Dream

Jan. 12 – Called and Sent

Jan. 5 – Divine Encounter

2018

Dec. 29 -- Resolution

Dec. 22 – Room for Love?

Dec. 15 – Humbug!

Dec. 8 – Let It Begin with Me

Dec. 1 – Driven by Love

Nov. 24 – What Manner of King

Nov. 17 – Stranger

Nov. 10 – I Need Help to Be Holy

Nov. 3 – Fully Alive

Oct. 27 – Behind the Curtain

Oct. 20 – Questions. Answers?

Oct. 13 – Stumble & Fall

Oct. 6 – Young World

Sep. 29 – Defend Us in Battle

Sep. 22 – The Taste of Water

Sep. 15 – God’s Plan

Sep. 8 – Life Finds a Way