Fruit of repentance

         Bear the fruit that comes from repentance.
                  —Matthew 3.8

         The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth,
         being patient with it
         until it receives the early and the late rains.

                  —James 5.7

At the word of the prophet
we seize our cutting tools
as if repentance is all slashing and lopping,
and, yes there is pruning,
but the real energy that gives light in this darkness
is not shame at what is wrong or dead,
but delight and hope for the fruit that is alive,
that is hidden deep in soil, deep in winter’s buds.
Repentance is not the “No” of self-disappointment
but the “Yes” of seeking, protecting, nourishing
what might otherwise be choked off.
It’s not mere impatience with what is,
but patience for what is coming to be.
Don’t start with the dead branches.
Start with the fruit. It’s in you.
That’s what kind of tree you are.
 

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Prepare

         Prepare a way for the Holy One.
         Clear a path of God to come by.

                  —Matthew 3.3

The prophet cries to prepare a way
for the Promised One,
and we panic.
We write shopping lists,
and head to the store for the treasures
we must surely present.
We survey with dread the mess of a heart
we must clean up for the holy visitor.

But after all the cleansing the house is still
just our little place.
The Gift is not to be found in any market.
We fear our unpreparedness,
our failure to adequately repent,
still rushing, still dusting this
and hiding that.

In the din the Spirit speaks softy.
We are not asked to clean the house
for the weekend
to impress the Unexpected Guest.
We are asked to prepare a room
and set a place at the table
for the rest of our lives
for the Beloved,
the child who already dwells within.
 

 

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The ax at the root

         Prepare the way of the Lord, make a straight path for God.
         Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
         Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees;
         every tree that does not bear good fruit
         is cut down and thrown into the fire.

                  —Matthew 3. 3, 8, 10

I go out into our thick blackberry patch in the fall with clippers and cut down every spent cane that won’t bear next year, every broken stalk, every dead stem. That’s how we get more fruit next year. John’s imagery isn’t about the fires of hell; it’s about new growth, and the little deaths that are a part of repentance.

Besides what you want to get for Christmas, what do you need to let go of? What needs to be pruned? What needs to die? Pray for the courage to let go, and hope in the new life that awaits beneath what you can see.
 

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Day is near

         If the owners of the house had known
         at what time of night the thief was coming,
         they would have kept watch
         and would not have let the house be broken into.

                  —Matthew 24.43

         It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.
         For salvation is nearer to us now
         than when we became believers;
         the night is far gone, the day is near.

                  —Romans 13.11-12

Every year Advent begins with talk of the “end times” but recent events make it seem unsettlingly apt this year. Not exactly encouraging, is it? But maybe this isn’t about seeing farther into the future, but deeper into the present. “The moment to wake” is always now. The night is not about us but within us. Our eyes are full of sleep. God comes among us like a thief in the night but we don’t see it coming.

The day is not drawing nearer in the future; it’s rising right inside the present. God is breaking into our lives right now. Can you see? The night of not seeing is far gone. When you first began to care it seemed a long way off. But now you’re more mindful of it. Life is a continual awakening to the dawning of God within us. By this light we become light, and transform the night around us.

God, awaken me to your coming.
Even in the night around me
open the eyes of my heart
to the rising light of your presence.
 

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Grateful

I breathe.
I wake.
         I am grateful.

I see, I feel.
There are things to see and feel.
         I am grateful.

There are these that I love.
Some easy to, some hard.
         I am grateful.

There you are, hidden,
reading this, listening.
         I am grateful.

We are held in a great light,
larger, more gracious than us.
         I am grateful.

We are borne in a river of grace
that leaves nothing untouched by blessing.
         I am grateful.

Not minding the outcome, for this moment,
for its many generous pockets,
         I am grateful.

To You, Giving One,
who only give and only bless,
         I am grateful.
         I am grateful.
         I am grateful.
 

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Armor of light

         Lay aside the works of darkness
                  and put on the armor of light.

                           —Romans 13.12

You need no stout defense,
no armor to shield you,
no iron bars to separate you,
neither silence nor harsh words
with which to push others away.
They are only a prison.
You need no weapons
that grow like thorns
from dark places in you.
You need only the light
that is in you,
the light of your belovedness
that holds you, unfailing,
the light with which you love
even those who can’t see.
Put on the light
and you become pure light.
Nothing can harm you.
The light of grace alone
will guard your heart and mind
even from the harsh stones
of bitterness and fear.
Put on the radiant armor
of the light of God
and walk fearless into the breach.

 

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Plowshares

         They shall beat their swords into plowshares,
                  and their spears into pruning hooks.

                           —Isaiah 5.4

I bear them into conversations, my swords.
I hide them in my dark.
I launch them at the news, these spears.

Find them among me, God of Peace. Take them:
my bitterness, my defensiveness, my need to win.
Find the hidden swords, the secret spears I cling to.

Make them red hot in the furnace of your forgiveness.
Hold them in the tongs of your truth.
Beat them with the hammer of your love.

Take the hurt I mean to project, the defeat I wish others.
Free me of the swagger of hurtfulness.
Bend my righteous little swords into tools of life.

Let me stand before enemies with pure love,
prepared to break soil, to prune branches,
to do the hard work of growing peace.

For I will need stout tools to work this rough land well,
to bring fruits of justice out of this rocky earth,
to tend the muscular trees of mercy.

 

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Offering

Holy One,
I lay upon your altar a stone,
      a feather, a cup,
      some rain, some words, some earth.
I set on your table a bowl,
      an unlit candle, a window,
      a fish still swimming in the sea.

These are my struggles, my joys,
      my gifts, my weaknesses, my sins.
They are my gratitude, my sorrow,
      my shame, my wonderings, my light.

Receive them with love,
      bless them with grace,
      and use them according to your delight.

The sun shines in upon the table.
I hear something in the silence.
      I hold it in myself,
      like the sun on the table.
 

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Paradise now

         “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
          “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

                  —Luke 23.42,43

Not another time and place, beloved,
but here and now, today
you are with me in paradise.
In darkest times I give you my presence.
In deepest suffering I join you.
Paradise is not the world out there,
but our love shared
even through pain and terror, even death,
my love for you, my love in you, our oneness.

Jesus, remember me.
Make me again a member of your realm.
Make me part of your healing of the world.
Take me in.
I surrender to your absolute love.
Take me in.
In your hope for the world take me in.
Even in your suffering, take me in.
In your entering the pain of the world, take me in.
In your love, take me in.

 

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Prophet of forgiveness

         You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
                  for you will go before our God
                  to prepare the ways of the Promised One,
          to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people
                  by the forgiveness of their sins.
         By the tender mercy of our God,
                  the dawn from on high will break upon us,
         to give light to those who sit in darkness
                  and in the shadow of death,
                  to guide our feet into the way of peace.

                           —Luke 1.76-79
 

You’ve been given a gem to give away,
a lantern in your chest that lights the path for others.
It’s not the dark stone of what’s wrong with them
but the bright key to their prison door,
the key that is light, the light that is the truth
that the door is not locked, that there is no door,
that they have nothing to fear from God,
that they are forgiven.
Only free from that cage can they live
without fear, in holiness before God.
Only that light will lead them through their darkness.
Only when they have received mercy
can they love mercy and do justice
and walk humbly with God.
It will not be easy to be such a prophet.
But you are free, and have nothing to fear.
The light is in you. Go.

 

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