Monthly Archives: December 2011

And to all a good year!

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I don’t know about you, but when I think about the fact that by Sunday we’re in 2012 already, I feel a little overwhelmed. I mean, it feels like yesterday that we were beginning with 2011, and it feels like light-years ago. Sheesh, time flies (and faster and faster too)!

“Unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is about us.”

Now, I know that not all of us are as emotional or pensive/meditative as others, but at this time of year – even if only for an hour or two – it’s almost impossible to not spend a little while thinking about the year that has passed. And maybe, when looking back, you could be feeling proud, satisfied, surprised, inspired…maybe lonely or sad…or even just tired. This is important because the year that has now gone by has an influence on the year we are entering into: if it’s been a smashing year then you’re probably already jumping for joy at the new year; but if it’s not been your best year, you might be wishing that you could stay in a limbo between the two – a place where you don’t have to deal with the old year, or move into the next.

It would be very easy to over-simplify this and say it’s only about the way you view/understand life – the whole “glass half-empty or glass half-full” shtick – and though there is truth to the saying, we all know it is not as simple as that. We do not live in isolation; people and situations that affect our lives surround us. Whatever the case may be, here we are at the beginning of a new year. Is there something that could be said to inspire us all in our different situations and states of mind?

“You, Lord, are the light that keeps me safe. I am not afraid of anyone. You protect me, and I have no fears. Brutal people may attack and try to kill me, but they will stumble. Fierce enemies may attack, but they will fall. Armies may surround me, but I won’t be afraid; war may break out, but I will trust you. I ask only one thing, lord: Let me live in your house every day of my life to see how wonderful you are and to pray in your temple.” – Psalm 27:1-4

Maybe a text where David is going through the same kind of thought process as we are now with the turning of the year. Looking at Psalm 27 I am struck by the realism of the poem – it was not written by someone wearing rose-coloured glasses; it was written by someone who had experienced both sides of life, someone who understands that life is made up of paradoxes, sweet and sour moments, good and bad. Something that is good for all of us to remember at the beginning of this New Year, especially when New Year’s eve itself can be so euphoric. We joke and we laugh and we celebrate, thinking only about the very best things for ourselves and for those around us. But that is not how life works, so maybe that is a good place to start – admitting, together with David, that this new year will have its good and bad parts. There will be times when our faith and our trust will be tested to the utmost.

Sounds a bit too depressing for New Year? Precisely NOT! For in the midst of the realities of life David is writing a testimony of note! He describes God as his Light and his Redeemer, his Refuge, the Rock on which he builds his life. He is looking back at his life, at the year that has passed, and can still describe God as the One that protected him in every difficult situation, the One that never allowed him to go under in any of the storms in his life. This is a man who knows the realities of life and takes them into account – sickness, disappointment, and loss – but does not let these realities bring him down. Why? Because God is the One who lifts up his head, allowing him to look life straight in the eye.

Psalm 27…life as we know it…is ambivalent…filled with things we will never be able to fully understand or explain. We will never have all the answers. There will always be things that leave us in the dark. But in all pain, in every bitter moment, every bad thing that might happen to us need not steal our joy, because our joy’s foundation is not our circumstances but rather the God who is our Light and our Redeemer, our Refuge and our Rock. And He will never ever forsake us.

“What can we say about all this? If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us. Can anything separate us from the love of Christ? Can trouble, suffering, and hard times, or hunger and nakedness, or danger and death? It is exactly as the Scriptures say: ‘For you we face death all day long. We are like sheep on their way to be butchered’. In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love – not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!” – Romans 8:31-39

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What Christmas should boil down to

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My best friend shared this with me, and it is SO beautiful and SO precisely the essence that I wanted to share it with all of you as well 🙂

When the song of the angels is stilled
when the star in the sky is gone
when the kings and princes are home
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
then the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal those broken in spirit,
to feed the hungry,
to release the oppressed,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among all people,
to make a little music with the heart…
and to radiate the Light of Christ,
every day, in every way, in all that we do and in all that we say.
Then the work of Christmas begins.

(Author unknown)

When the star fades, does our light shine one?

May this Christmas inspire us all to start the real work (of Christmas)! Talk to you again later in the week…

I will follow you into the dark

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I once read a short story entitled “My Dad and I”. In the story the boy tells us about an experience he had one Sunday afternoon while out walking with his dad in the forest. It was beautiful late afternoon when they started out, but they had misjudged the time and soon darkness overcame them. In order to find their way home, they walked along a familiar railway line. It being dark, the boy became afraid, slowly inching closer and closer to his dad; who then took a firm hold of his hand and assured him that there was nothing to be frightened of or worried about. And yet the author tells us that, even as a young boy with his hand in his father’s, he still felt a little afraid and alone – his father’s words could not completely soothe him. And so they walked on in silence, the boy feeling darkness envelop his heart. As they were rounding a turn, they suddenly heard a thunderous noise. The father snatched up his boy and jumped from the train tracks, landing in a hole in the wall on which the tracks ran. From their hole they could see and feel the express train fly by. The young boy could only stare at the receding train as his father picked him up and put him back on the tracks saying: “Strange, I wonder what train that was. There isn’t supposed to be a train coming by here at this hour”. They walked further in silence, eager to get home. When mulling over this event later on, the writer states that: “My whole body was shivering, for I understood what it meant. It was a preview for all of the unknown that lay ahead in my life – there were things that not even my father could protect me from, things that not even he knew about, things that lay ahead of me in the dark…”

Advent - looking towards Christmas

Why this seemingly depressing and ill-suited tale for Christmas? Because it illustrates so succinctly a child’s realization that we are all exposed to the reality of the dark in our lives. But Christmas is not the time to be talking about darkness and fear and the unknown, I hear you say. No, Christmas is, after all, the “season to be jolly” – that time of year where we get to forget everything that is unpleasant about life and focus on the beautiful and the peaceful (even if only in shop window displays and TV ads). But can the good news of Christmas really be any good if it does not take into account the reality of the darkness in our lives and in our world? Christmas has to be more than a tranquillizer that helps us to forget (or at least suppress) the pain of our reality for a few hours. We cannot talk about peace and light if we sidestep issues like darkness and discord, because people still experience suffering and darkness – ESPECIALLY at Christmas time.

“And there were shepherds in the same country abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. And an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people: for there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this is the sign unto you: Ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.” – Luke 2:8-14

Even the good old nativity story – the one we dress up in festive wrapping paper every year – begins with darkness and suffering. It begins with a census – for us a very innocent and convenient thing (because even though the people do ask a lot of questions they at least come to your door). But the story behind the census mentioned in the Gospels is a horse of a totally different colour! See, it was all about money…about making sure the Roman government got what it thought it deserved (with a little extra on the side). Just listen to the way a Roman author from the same era – Lactantius – describes the process of the census: “Each spot of ground was measured, vines and fruit-trees numbered, lists taken of animals of every kind, and a capitation-roll made up. In cities, the common people, whether residing within or without the walls, were assembled, the market-places filled with crowds of families, all attended with their children and slaves, the noise of torture and scourges resounded, sons were hung on the rack to force discovery of the effects of their fathers, the most trusty slaves compelled by pain to bear witness against their masters, and wives to bear witness against their husbands, In default of all other evidence, men were tortured to speak against themselves; and no sooner did agony oblige them to acknowledge what they had not, but those imaginary effects were noted down in the lists. Neither youth, nor old age, nor sickness, afforded any exemption. The diseased and the infirm were carried in; the age of each was estimated; and, that the capitation-tax might be enlarged, years were added to the young and struck off from the old. General lamentation and sorrow prevailed”. THIS is the way that “silent night, holy night” began.

“And they shall pass through it, sore distressed and hungry; and it shall come to pass that, when they shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves, and curse by their king and by their God, and turn their faces upward: and they shall look unto the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and into thick darkness they shall be driven away. But there shall be no gloom to her that was in anguish…The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined…For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 8:21 to 9:6

The people to whom the author of Isaiah was writing were clearly also experiencing very bad times, times of oppression and hopelessness – probably during the Assyrian invasions. People were either tortured in the cruelest ways thinkable, or taken as slaves; every city through which the Assyrian’s moved burnt down to the ground. It was a time of famine and intense anguish, a time of spiritual, economic and political crisis. It should be obvious why darkness became such a fitting metaphor for their situation. And so it becomes clear that the meaning of the darkness of the night the prophet Isaiah describes, the meaning of that first Christmas night was not at all the silent and holy night we have imagined it into and remember it to be: a night with Christmas lights, a table overflowing with food, a tree overflowing with gifts and seeming happiness everywhere. The irony here being that both the nation and Mariah and Joseph had to continue on in their circumstances. It almost makes you want to say: it was evening and it was morning, but it stays dark. And that is a truth that we cannot cover up with fairy lights and presents. “Night” here is humanity’s darkness: rage, despair, disillusionment and doubt; the exact opposite of what God’s intention for creation was when He said: “Let there be light“. And that experience of darkness and despair is something that we ourselves experience daily in one form or another – the world and the context that we live in doesn’t guarantee our safety, belonging or peace…not even within the confines of our family. We often feel surrounded by darkness, darkness with many faces – economic pressure, relationship crises, loneliness, despondency, sickness and death.

But it is EXACTLY against the backdrop of this darkness that LIGHT appears. In-between all the nights and dark times of all the ages one special night crept in – that first Christmas night. Yes, God came in the “night”, in the darkness; and then not only so that we can get together once a year, become a bit sentimental and forget the darkness of our reality for a while. No, God came in the night/darkness – God came for the night/darkness. God came for people whose lives had become dark, for people afraid of what the future might hold. So Christmas does not say that there is no darkness in our lives or in the world. Christmas does not say that that darkness does not have influence. Christmas does not say: “all is well”. Christmas DOES say that in that darkness we are not alone, for in the darkness is the Child – Immanuel: God with us. Christmas says that God committed Himself to us and to our night by becoming one of us. In the midst of our doubt and fear, a wonderful Counsellor; in the midst of our inability, a mighty God; in the midst of our violence, a Prince of peace; and, in the midst of our isolation, an everlasting Father. Somewhere in our story of suffering and pain and darkness, a word was spoken – the Word that became flesh – and it is THIS Word that comes to us in the darkness, that speaks into our night, that holds us in our darkness. In every night and any darkness.

Immanuel: I will follow you into the dark

Value added

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Transforming (rediscovering?) value

How do you define the value of a life? Of your life?

Society has given us many ways to define value…or is that success as value…? All of us are almost programmed with lists of things we have to want to be, do and achieve in order to be estimated as valuable. But, when all is said and done, when there is nobody left but you and nothing other than your thoughts and memories – your heart – what are the things that make you feel valuable? What are the things you think about and treasure?

Tonight, as I was sitting on the Gautrain coming home with my youngest godson sleeping on my lap, I realised once again that those are the moments that matter. That those are the things we should be striving toward. When I think back on my life those are the moments I remember, the moments that make my heart feel like bursting with a sense of purpose and wellbeing. Another life trusting me enough to be completely vulnerable with me. I once thought that what you put out into the world, those things that the world around us measures as being successful, would make me feel valuable. But I have come to realise that it is not the academic article I write for three people to read and one to like; the qualifications that I have; the amount of things on society’s checklist that I have been able to tick off, or even living up to what others see as my potential that makes my being present, my living here, meaningful.
The moments that life, my life, has made the most sense were those moments spent with others. It is only in seeing/recognising one another (which implies being and respecting yourself and allowing others the same courtesy), in journeying together and discussing everything from farting to world peace that we can ever start to know what true value is – in the best of times and in the worst of times.

Valueing others

“Love is the expression of one’s values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another.” – Ayn Rand

“Different things delight different people. But it is my delight to keep the ruling faculty sound without turning away either from any man or from any things which happen to men, but looking at and receiving all with welcome eyes and using everything according to its value.” – Marcus Aurelius

“He who does not feel his friends to be the world to him, does not deserve that the world should hear of him.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


					

Allo! Allo!

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“Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well” – Jim Rohn

It is right at the start of our journey together that I have to confess to always having had trouble with the above sentiment, as I have always had this inner obsession with the idea that only the very biggest and best will do, for “ordinary” is just a polite way of saying “plain”/”inconsequential”. See, I wanted to be the new Oprah – changing the world one conversation at a time, world domination and influence no mere fantasy but an everyday reality. For I thought that was the only way that I could mean something; that my life could contribute to the betterment of the world.

And then reality hit…hard…as only reality can. And I was forced – by quite a few years of having the option of “ordinary” with a side of “ordinary” – to face the fact that life is made up of ordinary moments. And that it is exactly in each and every “ordinary” moment that extraordinary and meaningful things happen.

 “Nothing is poetical if plain daylight is not poetical; and no monster should amaze us if the normal man does not amaze.” – GK Chesterton

Most of our lives are “small” – we move in small circles and do small things. But, I have learnt, “small” is not the same as “ordinary” or “unimportant”. What our life’s meaning is and will be depends on the viewpoint we choose. And in choosing to do those small things that are put on our path to do with enthusiasm and joy, interacting (really interacting) with those few people God gifts our journey with in love – therein lies true beauty and extraordinariness.

the joy of the small things

“We can learn to rejoice in even the smallest blessings our life holds. It is easy to miss our own good fortune; often happiness comes in ways we don’t even notice. It’s like a cartoon I saw of an astonished-looking man saying, ‘What was that?’ The caption below read, ‘Bob experiences a moment of well-being.’ The ordinariness of our good fortune can make it hard to catch. The key is to be here, fully connected with the moment, paying attention to the details of ordinary life. By taking care of ordinary things – our pots and pans, our clothing, our teeth – we rejoice in them. When we scrub a vegetable or brush our hair, we are expressing appreciation: friendships toward ourselves and toward the living quality that is found in everything. This combination of mindfulness and appreciation connects us fully with reality and brings us joy.” – Pema Chodron

So join me in a new way of rejoicing – rejoicing in the ordinary, the small and the everyday – giving each one of us SO much more to be joyful about! Precisely those small and ordinary things, all bundled together, become your extraordinary legacy. “Whoever is faithful in what is least, is also faithful in what is greater” (Luke 16:10a).