Week 4 Advent Reflections: Taking Stock of Things

Rabbi Sussja.  

How often we tire and frustrate ourselves trying to be something we are not or someone we are not.  Rabbi Sussja got it right when he realized that at life’s end he would not be asked why he wasn’t more like Moses or why he wasn’t more like Elijah – he would need to render accounts for why he was not more like Rabbi Sussja.  My concern needs to be being the most Q and the best Q I can be.  And you need to be the best you you can be (if you follow me!).  We need to fully and deeply embrace who it is the Lord has called us to be.  Let’s not live on the surface – let’s plumb life’s depths.  Superficiality is the curse of our modern age.  The greatest need today is for deep people.  Abandon yourself to who the Lord intends for you to be.

I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. 

Psalm 139:14 KJV

Too Late!  

“Too late loved I Thee, O Thou beauty of ancient days, yet ever new!  Too late I love Thee!  And behold, Thou wert with me but I was not with Thee.  Things held me far from Thee which, unless they were in Thee, were not at all.  Thou calledst and shoutedst, and burstedst my deafness.  Thou flashedst, shonest, and scattered my blindness.  Thou breathedst odors, and I drew in breath and pant for Thee.  I tasted and hunger and thirst.  Thou touchedst me and I burned for Thy peace.  When I shall with my whole soul cleave to Thee, I shall nowhere have sorrow or labor, and my life shall live as wholly full of Thee.”  (St. Augustine)

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me continually, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.  

Palms 42:2-6 RSV

Takin’ Stock. 

 I’ve always been a fan of taking some time periodically to slow down and take stock of things.  Where do I really want to go?  Am I on a path and on a trajectory that will get me where I want to go when I want to get there?  What do I want to have more of in my life?  What do I want to have less of?  Perhaps you have heard the story of the Indian chief and his young son.  He is trying to impress upon his young son that within each of us resides good and evil, the ability to do good and the ability to do evil, and that within each of us wages an intense battle between the two.  He tells his little boy that in the boy’s heart lives a good wolf and a bad wolf.  Furthermore, he insists, the two are in a vicious fight.  More than a little concerned, the little Indian boy asks his wise father which wolf will win.  “Which one will win?” repeats the wise father, “the one you feed!”.  Take some time today to take stock – which wolf are you feeding?

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 

Colossians 3:5-6 RSV

Dangerous Opportunities.  

Romano Guardini was a theologian who among other things wrote some excellent things on what he calls “stages of life”.  Life is a set of stages (starting with childhood, and progressing towards advanced old age) with a set of transitions between stages.  Many of us of course would be familiar with what receives most press – “mid-life crisis”.  Anyway, Guardini recognizes that while mid-life is an important time in someone’s life it doesn’t need to prompt a “crisis” and so he refers to it instead as a “mid-life transition” (the Chinese recognize something similar as their character for “crisis” is comprised of two other simpler characters, one meaning “danger” and the other one meaning “opportunity”).  My conviction is that whether we are young or old or somewhere in-between, that there are lots of dangers and lots of opportunities in life.  And my further conviction is that the more frequently we prayerfully, thoughtfully and searchingly take stock of our lives, the more likely it is that we will avoid crises – both now and in the future.  I don’t know about you, but I want to embrace and live to the full all of the dangerous opportunities life presents me.

Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be kindled and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire!  

2 Peter 3:11-12 RSV

Aging Gracefully.  

I have substantial and only growing respect for those that grow old gracefully.  For many it turns out to be life’s greatest challenge.  I love these quotes from Henri Nouwen’s “Aging”:  “We hear people talking about the old country, the olden days, and old friends, as if their pains and joys had composed a melody that is growing to a silent climax.  Then we know that slowly but surely, in the broken, beaten faces of the many who belaboured the world for years and years, a new light has become visible – a light that cannot die because it is born out of growing old.  Only as we enter into solidarity with the aging and speak out of common experience, can we help others to discover the freedom of old age.”  As years come and years go, we do well to learn from those who gracefully go before us.  As has been said, “we see far only because we have stood on the shoulders of those who have gone before us”.  This is a good time of year to take a step up, and to look a bit further ahead, and to receive the gift of freedom from those who age gracefully before us.

And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  

Luke 2:36-37 RSV

Good Grief.  

To date my life has been very easy – very free of much suffering, hardship, grief or pain.  But we must always remember – we must never forget – that life here is short and passing, and that life here will be filled with sorrow and grief.  We weren’t made for here, and we, like all our fathers, will soon pass to another, better place.  We thus best make grief our friend.  We thus best recognize that while God whispers to us in our pleasures he often shouts to us in our pains.  A dear brother and friend, Gregory Floyd, lost a son to a car accident and wrote a book that has moved me like few others that I’ve read, and has taught me and marked me in a profound way.  As we take stock this week as a year comes to an end, let’s allow Gregory and grief to teach us, “There is a difference between early grief and later grief.  Early grief is acute; later grief is more diffuse.  Early grief smacks, stings, punches; later grief is more gentle. Early grief is a stalker; later grief is a companion.  Early grief is crags and crevices; later grief is furrows softened by the passage of time.”

For the Lord will not cast off for ever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men. 

Lamentations 3:31-33 RSV

A Life Well Lived.  

One of my most memorable experiences was the death of a good brother in the SW, Rogel Plata.  He contracted cancer in his early 30’s and after a few year fight, died in March of 1996.  I had lived with him in the Philippines towards the beginning of his struggle and had the privilege of traveling to the Philippines from Michigan for his wake and funeral.  According to Filipino custom the wake transpired over a few day period and the 100’s of people present each evening were tribute to the man of God and servant of God that Rogel was.  It was moving for me to hear day after day, the countless stories and anecdotes of Rogel’s life and ministry – and to realize how very much he lived on in the lives of these indebted people.  The funeral was deeply inspiring as I pondered the impact of a life well lived.  Carrying the casket with some other SW brothers to the gravesite was deeply moving as well.  I suppose what was most powerful of everything was the finality of it all as we lowered the casket into the ground, and then began to throw dirt into the grave.  I can still feel the grit of the damp earth in my hand, and I will forever have the fragrance of musty soil in my nostrils.  I’m convinced that most of us would live better lives if we took a bit more time to reflect on our deaths.  There is a finality to life here that is unavoidable.  Death will come for every man.  Yet as Christians we also believe in a love that is stronger than death.  Let us reflect a bit today on the temporariness of life, the certainty of death, and on that love which transcends them both.

For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.  

1Thessalonians 4:16-18 RSV

A Year in Review.  

Many years ago I began what has proved to be one of the most blessed patterns in my life – taking a day towards the end of the year (normally the 31st) as a day to do a “year review”.  Given that the SW are on retreat at that time, I have the luxury of being able to take most of the day to do it – and it is now probably my favourite day of the year.  Can I suggest that you take some time today (even an hour would be a great start) to go to a quiet place and take some time to thoughtfully and prayerfully review the past year?  Take something to write with and something to write on, and after some prayer offering yourself and your time to the Lord, start making a list of the biggest blessings of the past year.  Ponder the things that you are most grateful for – and give thanks.  Consider too making a list of the year’s biggest challenges – and be grateful for them as well, as you reflect on the Lord being with you in the midst of it all. Remember, nothing takes place in our lives, nothing comes to us, without first being filtered through the Father’s loving hands.

So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But, since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.  

1Thessalonians 5:6-8 RSV

Click on links below for each week’s reflections:

The Daily Reflections for the Advent Season was first published in Daily Meds from the Q Source © 2012 by Dave Quintana.

Top photo credit: Burning candles and gold plated cross image, from Bigstock.com, (c) by  berkay, and Stock Photo ID: 15622394

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