Bishop Mariann and Dean Hollerith support of LGBTQIA+ Humility & Competency Series

Bishop Mariann and Dean Hollerith support of LGBTQIA+ Humility & Competency Series

Friends,

As many of you know, The Episcopal Diocese of Washington has been responding to the important call to grow our capacity, language and practices to better live into our value of inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community.

We are happy to share that we will be offering a LGBTQIA+ Humility & Competency Series through the School for Christian Faith & Leadership.

The series will take place on 6 consecutive Wednesdays from 6:30-8pm EST starting on January 12, 2022 and ending on February 16, 2022.

As your bishop, I am pleased to participate in this course, as we all grow in awareness and solidarity. I encourage all EDOW congregations to take advantage of this opportunity, so that we might truly be a diocese that loves as Jesus loves and welcomes all into the communities that bear His name.

As the cathedral dean, I am so grateful to EDOW and the School for Christian Faith and Leadership for creating this series. As allies of the LGBTQIA+ community, we need to make sure we are doing all we can to deepen our understanding of the experience of LGBTQIA+ persons in order to increase our support and help create communities of welcome and full inclusion. I hope as many people as possible will register for this important series of six classes.

Please register here and share in your community.

Faithfully,

The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of Washington
The Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, Dean of Washington National Cathedral

El regalo más grande

El regalo más grande

La fe, la esperanza y el amor. Pero el más importante de todos es el amor.
1 Corintios 13:13

Hay una canción navideña estilo country que cuenta la historia del nacimiento de Jesús desde la perspectiva de los ángeles. El corazón de la canción está en su estribillo de una línea: Y los ángeles lloraron.

Si alguna vez has tenido a un recién nacido en tus brazos, sabes por qué: lloraron por amor.

A lo largo del Adviento he estado reflexionando sobre lo que es esencial para la fe cristiana. Por esencial, no me refiero a lo que es indispensable, sino a lo que es su esencia, el fundamento sobre el que descansa todo lo demás y lo que quedará cuando todo lo demás se vaya. En las publicaciones anteriores, escribí de la fe como nuestra respuesta a los misteriosos movimientos de gracia en nuestras vidas y describí cómo la esperanza puede venir a nosotros en medio de las cosas más difíciles.

Ahora, a medida que se acerca la Navidad, escribo de lo que el Apóstol Pablo consideró el regalo más grande de todos.

Usamos la palabra amor para describir todo, desde nuestras preferencias personales hasta nuestras relaciones más queridas. La palabra de Pablo para el amor aquí es ágape, que se refiere al amor de Dios. Es más profundo que cualquier cosa que podamos entender o expresar por nuestra cuenta. El amor de Dios es inmerecido, incondicional y eterno. No podemos ganar ni perder el amor de Dios, porque es la esencia de Dios.

Cuando experimentamos el amor de Dios, no podemos evitar ser cambiados para mejor. Cuando presenciamos tal amor manifestado en otra persona, somos inspirados más allá de las palabras. Y cuando se nos da la gracia de ofrecer una expresión del amor de Dios a alguien más, nos sentimos bendecidos, incluso cuando se nos pide que vayamos mucho más allá de nuestras capacidades humanas y sacrifiquemos nuestros propios deseos.

A menudo se dice que este tipo de amor es más una elección que un sentimiento, lo cual es cierto en el sentido de que recibir el amor de Dios y compartirlo con otros no depende de cuán amorosos nos sentimos. Pero las emociones poderosas acompañan a menudo la experiencia del amor de Dios. Como los ángeles, podemos ser conmovidos al punto de las lágrimas.

Piense en aquellos tiempos en los que, por ejemplo, fue como si nos fueran dados ojos para ver como Dios ve y un corazón para amar como Dios ama, aunque sólo por un momento. A menudo ocurre al nacer un niño. Sosteniendo a un recién nacido, miramos a los ojos de un milagro y nuestro amor es puro y completo. También puede suceder cuando algo precioso en nuestra vida está llegando a su fin, o al final de la vida misma. De repente vemos claramente lo que habíamos dado por sentado anteriormente, y nuestros corazones estallan con amor por lo que ahora debemos rendirnos. Como los ángeles, lloramos.

El ex arzobispo de Canterbury Rowan Williams dijo una vez que si quieres saber cómo es Dios, no busques más que el pesebre y la cruz: “Dios actúa regalando toda fuerza y éxito a medida que los entendemos. El universo vive por un amor que se niega a intimidarnos o forzarnos, el amor del pesebre y la cruz.”

La verdad es que podemos desear una clase diferente de amor de Dios. Porque el amor de Dios, cuando lo experimentamos, no nos fija mágicamente al mundo en el que vivimos. Por razones que nunca entenderemos completamente, cuando Dios viene a nosotros en Jesús, él prefiere hacer su hogar en nuestros seres vulnerables. Dios no rechaza nuestra vulnerabilidad. Dios también es paciente, y espera que abramos la puerta. Siempre somos libres de decir que no. Como escribe Richard Rohr: “El Amor Divino es tan puro que nunca manipula, avergüenza o se impone a sí mismo sobre nadie. El amor espera ser invitado y deseado, y sólo entonces se apresura a entrar”.

Si te preguntas dónde aparecerá el amor de Dios a continuación para ti, podrías tratar de pensar en lo que está comenzando o terminando en tu vida. Entonces pide la gracia para ver como Dios ve y amar como el amor de Dios. Otro lugar para mirar es donde uno se siente más indigno del amor de Dios y pasa tiempo allí, invitando de nuevo a Jesús a revelarte su presencia allí. Otro lugar para mirar son los ojos de aquellos para quienes el amor llega fácilmente a ustedes, y a los ojos de aquellos que luchan por amar. Mira en el espejo; escucha el sonido de tu propia voz; considera el latido de tu propio corazón y el milagro que es. Luego, recorre con la mirada todo el mundo e imagine la posibilidad de que el amor de Dios se manifieste en lugares marcados por el dolor y el sufrimiento, la maravilla y la alegría.

Al igual que los ángeles, no hay que tener miedo de derramar algunas lágrimas por el dolor y la alegría de todo, la maravilla de la vida y el misterio del amor. Cristo viene a nuestro lugar de lágrimas con los dones más grandes, dados a nosotros desde el corazón de Dios.

El regalo más grande

The Greatest Gift

Faith, hope, and love remain, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

There’s a country western Christmas song that tells the story of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of the angels. The heart of the song is in its one-line refrain: And the angels cried.

If you’ve ever held a newborn in your arms, you know why: they cried for love.

Throughout Advent I’ve been pondering what is essential to the Christian faith. By essential, I don’t mean what is indispensable, but rather what is its essence, the foundation upon which all else rests, and what will remain when all else is gone. In previous posts, I wrote of faith as our response to the mysterious stirrings of grace in our lives and described how hope can come to us amid the hardest things.

Now, as Christmas draws near, I write of what the Apostle Paul considered the greatest gift of all.

We use the word love to describe everything from our personal preferences to our most cherished relationships. Paul’s word for love here is agape, which refers to the love of God. It runs deeper than anything we can fathom or express on our own. God’s love is unmerited, unconditional, and eternal. We cannot earn or lose God’s love, for it is God’s essence.

When we experience God’s love, we can’t help but be changed for the better. When we witness such love manifest in another person, we are inspired beyond words. And when we’re given the grace to offer an expression of God’s love for someone else, we feel blessed even as we’re being asked to stretch far beyond our human capacities and sacrifice our own desires.

It’s often said that this kind of love is more a choice than a feeling, which is true in the sense that receiving God’s love and sharing it with others isn’t dependent on how loving we feel. But powerful emotions often accompany the experience of God’s love. Like the angels, we can be moved to the point of tears.

Think of those times, for example, when it’s as if we’re given eyes to see as God sees and a heart to love as God loves, if only for a moment. It often happens at the birth of a child. Holding a newborn, we look into the eyes of a miracle and our love is pure and complete. It can also happen when something precious in our life is coming to an end, or at the end of life itself. Suddenly we see clearly what we had previously taken for granted, and our hearts burst with love for what we must now surrender. Like the angels, we cry.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams once said that if you want to know what God is really like, look no further than the manger and the cross. “God acts by giving away all strength and success as we understand them. The universe lives by a love that refuses to bully us or force us, the love of the manger and the cross.”1

The truth is we may wish for a different kind of love from God. For God’s love, when we experience it, doesn’t magically fix us or the world in which we live. For reasons we will never fully understand, when God comes to us in Jesus, he prefers to make his home inside our vulnerabilities rather than remove them. God is also patient, and waits for us to open the door. We’re always free to say no. As Richard Rohr writes, “Divine Loving is so pure that it never manipulates, shames, or forces itself on anyone. Love waits to be invited and desired, and only then rushes in.”2

If you wonder where God’s love will next show up for you, you might try looking in the places where some part of your life is either beginning or ending. Go there in your mind’s eye and ask for the grace to see as God sees and to love as God’s love. Another place to look is where you feel most unworthy of God’s love and spend time there, again inviting Jesus to reveal his presence to you there. Another place to look is the eyes of those for whom love comes easily to you, and in the eyes of those whom you struggle to love. Look in the mirror; listen to the sound of your own voice; consider the beating of your own heart for the miracle that it is. Then cast your gaze across the globe and imagine the possibility of God’s love manifesting itself in places marked by sorrow and suffering, wonder and joy.

Like the angels, you needn’t be afraid to shed a few tears at the sorrow and the joy of it all, the wonder of life and the mystery of love. Christ comes to your place of tears with the greatest of gifts, given to you from the heart of God.

1 From a Christmas sermon Rowan Williams preached in 2004.
2 Richard, Rohr, The Importance of Practice

Joy: The Unexpected Gift

Joy: The Unexpected Gift

Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you together; yea, I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says the Lord.
Zephaniah 3: 19-20

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philipians 4:4-7

John the Baptist said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the multitudes asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to him to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than is appointed you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” As the people were full of expectation, and all questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ, John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie: he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…”
Luke 3:7-16

I’d like to speak to you about a word that is often associated with this season, and that word is joy, as in Joy to the World, the Lord has come. And, as an angel said to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born: Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy for all people. And as we just heard what St. Paul wrote from a prison cell to the Christians of the Greek city of Phillipe, Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice.

Given all that life asks of us and the many challenges we’ve had to face of late, I’d like to explore with you the difference between happiness and joy. They have a lot in common, but they are not the same. Let me illustrate that point with a story.

In late December 1979, the Iranian Foreign Ministry invited three American religious leaders to celebrate Christmas with the 53 hostages being held captive in the American Embassy of Tehran. The hostage crisis had begun on November 4th of that year, and no one had any idea how long it would last. For the hostages and their families, each day was an eternity, and Christmas Day was fast approaching.

The religious leaders were only allowed to meet with the hostages in groups of three or four. The first four that they met with were Marines. The minister who later told this story, William Sloane Coffin, went up and hugged them each one, and they hugged back, which he took as a good sign. He invited the men to take turns picking carols to sing. He opened a Bible to the Gospel of Luke and passed the book around, so that each could read a portion of the Christmas story.

Then Coffin spoke to them of the first Christmas. “It was cold,” he said, “dark, dank, and lonely. Joseph must have been tired, Mary exhausted. We read, ‘There was no room for them in the inn,’ but of course there was. There was room in the inn, but no one would move over for a poor pregnant woman. So Mary and Joseph ended up in a stable and he who was to be the bread of life for all humankind was laid in the feedbox of animals.”

“It was a terrible Christmas,” Coffin said again. “But do you see what I’m getting at? God’s love can change no place into some place, just as the love of God changes a person who feels like a nobody into a somebody.” As he said goodbye, he said, “I know this is not a happy Christmas for you. But it might well be the most meaningful.”

When I consider the distinction between happiness and joy, I’m struck by what Coffin said to the Marines about meaning. Happiness and joy are both emotional states of well being. The difference, I think, is found in what brings meaning to life, and in particular, meaning in the hardest of situations. It’s impossible to imagine the hostages in Iran, or anywhere else in the world, being happy at Christmas. But it isn’t out of the question to think of them being graced by moments of profound meaning and joy, even as their hearts were breaking.

Prior to his trip, William Sloane Coffin met with family members of several hostages. A young girl asked him to deliver a kiss to her father. The kiss, Coffin said, was enough to melt him on the spot. When he met the girl’s father and said, “I’m going to give you a big kiss from your daughter.” Coffin said it was as if the Christmas tree outside the White House turned on in that man’s head. “Never,” he said, “had I seen such illumination.”

Happiness is something we strive for; the pursuit of happiness is the fulfillment of desire. It is also subjective, for each person has a different definition of happiness and therefore a unique path of pursuit. Thomas Jefferson rightly identified the pursuit of happiness as one of the unalienable rights of humankind. Yet there is a limitation to happiness, dependent as it is upon external circumstances and subjective experience.

Joy, on the other hand, goes deeper in us than happiness can reach, into the realm of meaning. Joy doesn’t depend on external circumstances or good fortune, nor is it something that we can pursue. Joy comes to us, often in unlikely times and places. “Happiness,” writes the spiritual author Frederick Buechner, “turns up more or less where you’d expect it to–a good marriage, a rewarding job, a pleasant vacation. Joy, on the other hand, is as notoriously unpredictable as the One who bequeaths it.” One would expect joy at a wedding; but it can be equally palpable at a funeral. One would hope for joy on the perfect Christmas morning, yet it can also come to us in the loneliness of imperfection, when nothing turns out the way we hoped it would. Joy is a gift that comes to us, and with it a deep sense of being at home in an all too imperfect world.

The Scriptures often speak of being filled with joy, or of joy breaking forth, descending upon those who live in darkness or fear. Not only does joy come to the unexpecting, but also to the undeserving. The book of the prophet Zephaniah, from which we read this morning, is a good example, for it contains in its succinct three chapters some of the most compelling prophetic judgment against God’s people, a catalog of reasons why God is fully justified in ridding himself of the burden of them once and for all. Yet in these final six verses of Zephaniah, God does one of those great cosmic turn-arounds. Instead of punishment, God offers a promise of healing and reconciliation. “The Lord is not interested in your shame or sorrow,” the prophet tells the people of Israel. “God will lift you up even from the despair of your own creation. God will take you from your desolate places and bring you home.”

This is about joy, in part because the promises are beyond anyone’s capacity to pursue or accomplish. Moreover, they are promises not yet fulfilled; they are more of a hope than reality. Yet what happens when we hold onto words like these is that the seeds of joy take root in us long before there is anything to be happy about. Happiness needs immediate gratification, while the promise of joy is often joy enough.

We hear from John the Baptist this morning, as we do every Advent, and truth be told, I wish we didn’t. I don’t know how you picture John, but he doesn’t strike me as a particularly happy or joyful person. He is on a mission, and for John, life is too short to enjoy. He has a fierce truth to proclaim and a people to prepare for the coming Messiah. I have a hard time imagining anyone being happy with what John said to them when they asked him what they should do. But I can see how what he said could serve as a precursor to joy–not the kind of joy that lives alongside happiness, but the kind that comes with having your soul purged of what it doesn’t need.

To allow space for God in your heart, he said, make peace with what is yours, and share with those who have less than you do. Strive for the kind of freedom that comes from needing less. When the One who is coming after me arrives, all that you imagine you need to be happy will be revealed for the superficial things that they are and burned away like chaff from wheat.

I doubt that John was thinking about joy when he said these things—his interest was righteousness. But long after John died, and after Jesus died for that matter, when those trying to explain the mystery of God’s presence in Christ looked back, they saw in John the kind of truth-telling and fearless living that leads to deep meaning and joy.

John would have harsh words for us if he saw that in our pursuit of happiness we had lost sight of what matters most. He would remind us that sometimes we have to go through pain to get to joy. I wouldn’t dare argue with John. But what I take from his harsh tone in the midst of this Advent season, which always begins in judgment and ends in joy, is a reminder that joy can be experienced while facing difficult truths or living through tough times. Happiness is a fickle friend, the one who shows up, as Buechner said, where you’d expect. But joy can show up anywhere, and in fact, it will show up where we least expect it. John thought God was coming to whip us all into shape, and in that he was wrong. Jesus came, as he said once, “so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”

Like all of you, I wish happiness for those I love. But this may or not be a happy Christmas, depending on circumstances beyond our control. Whether it will be a joyful Christmas depends not on our pursuit, but rather upon our openness to receive. For what God gives can come in the loneliest hour and the darkest night. “Weeping may spend the night,” the psalmist wrote, “but joy comes in the morning.” Joy comes in happiness or sorrow, calm or chaos—it doesn’t matter. For it is God’s doing, God coming to us as we are, in the world as it is, with an assurance of deep meaning and the promise of joy.

The Gift All Can Give and Love to Receive

The Gift All Can Give and Love to Receive

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from
I John 4:7

People were bringing little children to Jesus in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Mark 10: 13-13

Good morning, St. Nicholas! Thank you for inviting me to celebrate your patron feast day. I am blessed to be among you.

As you well know, your church was named for the saint most closely associated with Christmas. Nicholas was revered for his compassion, habit of gift-giving, and love for children. After he died, an enormous body of legend grew up around his acts of generosity. Ancient stories of how he would secretly visit childrens’ homes and leave gifts is at the heart of our practice of gift-giving at Christmas.
In Nicholas’ honor I’d like to speak to you today about one of the most powerful and life-affirming gifts we can both give and receive.

The word to describe this gift has religious overtones and thus is often associated with professional religious people like your rector Beth and me. That’s unfortunate, because we can all give this gift anytime we want. It doesn’t have to cost a penny, although sometimes we gladly give sacrificially as an expression of our gift.
The gift is that of blessing–to give our blessing to another.

The mother of a friend of mine died recently. My friend told me that the last words her mother spoke to her were words of blessing: “She thanked me for all I had done for her. She told me that she was proud of me and the life I had created for myself.” “Keep going,” she told me. “It was all right to let me go.”

That blessing will stay with my friend for the rest of her life. But we don’t have to wait until we’re at the final goodbye to bless one another. Much of the kindness we naturally offer is simply blessing by another name. To recognize such gestures as a spiritual practice encourages us to be mindful that we are instruments of God’s love when we bless one another.
I’d like to describe three ways that the practice of blessing can draw us closer to God and help us grow in our capacity to love.
The first is perhaps the most obvious: we bless others whenever we choose to offer concrete expressions of kindness to someone who is in need or pain. It matters here that we act and not merely speak our blessing. One of the hallmarks of this form of blessing is kindness. In the words of the Irish poet John O’Donohue, “When someone is kind to you, you feel understood and seen. There is no judgment or harsh perception directed towards you. Kindness has gracious eyes.”

In late August, I had a bicycle accident right in front of my house. I was going up the steep hill of our street, a road so familiar to me that I was looking down at my wheels as I rode instead of up to see what was ahead. Thus I didn’t see that our neighbor’s van was parked in front of their house and I hit it and fell. It was such a foolish mistake, and as it turned out, I broke my wrist rather badly. A man driving by saw me fall. He stopped his car, and helped me get up. He asked me where I was going, and when I told him I was right in front of my own house, he walked me to the house and made sure that I got in all right. Then he apologized and said that he had young children in the car and needed to get back to them. I felt the blessing of his presence and sincere willingness to help. I never learned his name and I can’t tell you what he looked like, but I will never forget his kindness.

In a world where we hear story upon story of mean-spiritedness and cruelty, gestures of kindness like that are life balm to the soul. Once you’ve experienced kindness from another, you instinctively want to pass it along. Later that night I sat in a very crowded, depressing hospital emergency waiting room, by myself, because of COVID restrictions. There we all were–this community of wounded and sick people. One woman really needed to tell someone her story, and even though I was exhausted and in pain, I listened, in part because I wanted her to experience the kindness of a stranger the way I had earlier in the day.

Another example of concrete expressions of blessing: the other day I visited the Bishop Walker School, a tuition-free Episcopal school sponsored by our diocese whose mission is to provide a high quality education to African American boys in the most underserved areas of Washington, DC. The Bishop Walker School started out, over a decade ago, in one of our churches in Southeast DC, and then–after years of fundraising and growth–moved into this amazing new facility housed within a large complex of arts, educational, and social service organizations in that part of the city.

Although I’ve been to the school many times, the new head of school wanted to give me a full tour. So we walked through hallways filled with inspirational passages and photographs of Black leaders, artists, and academics. We peered into classrooms where students were hard at work. Our last stop was the school library–one of the most inviting, beautiful spaces you can imagine. The library is run by a team of volunteers who each dedicate one to two days per week. All the books are donated by churches and schools within the diocese. Other volunteers come to read with the boys and help them with their schoolwork. The three women who greeted me that day showed me a small reading corner off to the side and said “Our entire library was once smaller than that space, and now we have thousands of books, all here to inspire our boys.”

Endeavors like the Bishop Walker School are only possible when individual people decide to strategically and collectively invest in blessing. For blessings to last generations, they must be embedded in institutions whose mission is to bless. We can’t possibly accomplish sustained large-scale blessing on our own, but we can whenever we collectively invest our energies and resources.

That is what you are doing today here at St. Nicholas, this church named for a man who loved children and sought out those in need of blessing. Later in the service we will ask God’s blessing upon your financial support of this faith community, so that together you may be a blessing to one another and your neighbors. I hope that you know how important and life-transforming your presence and collective blessing is; how together you are making possible what none of us can accomplish on our own.

A second way we can practice blessing is simply to take particular care with our words, refraining from easy critique and going out of our way to express encouragement and kindness.

Blessing is a wonderfully uplifting practice and a reminder of the importance of our words. It’s so easy to be critical; it takes effort to bless. “The godly are those who never talk destructively about another person,” writes the Benedictine nun Joan Chittister. “They can be counted on to bring an open heart to a closed and clawing world. . . The holy ones are those who live well with those around them. They are just, they are upright, they are kind. The ecology of humankind is safe with them.”

So here’s something to consider, a small practice of blessing for this time of year. If you are one who sends Christmas cards or other forms of greeting to friends and family, why not this year, in each card, take time to express what it is that you love or admire about each person you write? In addition to whatever wish the card expresses for their Christmas or the year ahead, or the news you share about your own family, why not include a word about how much they mean to you, or what you especially admire about them? You might think about what they most need to hear right now–a word of encouragement, affirmation, assurance of love. You will bless them by those words, and inspire them to live the blessing that they are with greater courage and confidence. And when cards begin to arrive at your door, take a moment to pray a blessing over each one, thanking God for them and surrounding them in your heart with kindness.

The third practice of blessing is the most difficult, given its context. This is when we learn how to accept the blessing that comes to us in situations we would have given anything to avoid. I have never believed that God brings hardship and suffering upon us, but I know from experience and observation of others that we can, nonetheless, feel blessed in difficult times. To name those blessings for ourselves has the power to transform our experience of suffering.

Blessings born of hardship are all around us, such as when in the midst of natural disaster, a community pulls together and people care for one another in transformative ways, forever changing the quality of life going forward for the better. Blessings in hardship also take the form of deep, inner transformation. We need never feel grateful for the heartbreaking events that provided soil for the blessing to take root in order to give thanks for its flowering in our lives.

One way to appreciate the power of blessing is to imagine a day or a life without it. It’s heartbreaking to contemplate being deprived or depriving oneself of the creative, transformative power to bless and receive blessing. Think of the Christmas character who is the antithesis of St. Nicholas–Ebenezer Scrooge of Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Scrooge was a man who could neither give nor receive blessing. Though he had riches to spare he was one to be most pitied, even by those who suffered want or by his mindless cruelty. But with the visitation of three ghosts while he slept, Scrooge was given a chance to redeem his life through the reclaiming of blessing. The story ends joyously as Scrooge lavishly extends blessing and is embraced in the warmth of the family and friends he once shunned. Through blessing, Scrooge is born again.

To be people of blessing–even the desire to be such people–puts us in greater alignment with the God of hope whose word to us every year at Christmas is one of possibility. Goodness and joy; peace and love; a world where all have enough and no one goes without are still possible, for all of us, for all God’s children everywhere. Each one of us can do our part to make it so–one gesture, one word of blessing at a time.

Llamado por la Esperanza

Llamado por la Esperanza

Que los ojos de su corazón sean iluminados, para que sepan cuál es la esperanza que él los ha llamado.
Efesios 1:18

En una temporada que nos habla de esperanza, he estado reflexionando sobre la relación entre la esperanza y la aceptación. En particular, me sorprende cómo en tiempos de dificultades o aflicción, cuando la esperanza parece lejana, invariablemente alguien se sentirá llamado a ser portador de esperanza para otro.

Una amiga me escribió esta semana sobre el tratamiento del cáncer de su esposo, un largo camino de procedimientos experimentales para un tipo de cáncer que, hasta ahora, no tiene cura. “Por ahora”, escribió, “llevo la esperanza”.

La esperanza es más fácil para ella, reconoció, ya que su cuerpo no es el que lucha contra la enfermedad; se siente llamada a ser la que se atiene a la esperanza en medio de un futuro desconocido, basado en una aceptación sobria de la enfermedad de su esposo. Su esperanza es mayor que la realidad de la enfermedad, una postura hacia la vida que le permite abrazar plenamente cada día de la vida de su esposo como un regalo y animarlo a hacer lo mismo.

Como práctica espiritual, la aceptación nos enseña a reconocer las cosas como son. La esperanza, como práctica espiritual, nos invita a ampliar nuestra mirada, colocando lo que debemos aceptar dentro de un marco más amplio. Al hacerlo, estamos más abiertos a experimentar las bendiciones que vienen en tiempos difíciles; sacar fuerzas de los recuerdos de cómo nuestros antepasados mantuvieron su esperanza en situaciones aparentemente desesperadas, y permitirnos confiar en que hay un bien mayor y un mayor amor en el universo, más allá de lo que podemos ver o experimentar en nuestras vidas hoy.

Hay una cualidad valiente para la esperanza que surge de la aceptación, la voluntad de reconocer lo difícil que puede ser la vida, a veces e incluso para hundirse en el abismo de las emociones que acompañan el sufrimiento y la pérdida. Porque cuando la esperanza surge de ese oscuro lugar, tiene una resistencia que nos permite perseverar y saborear el don de otro día. En palabras de Desmond Tutu, “la esperanza es poder ver que hay luz a pesar de toda la oscuridad”. A veces todo lo que vemos es oscuridad, y otra persona lleva esperanza por nosotros. Cuando somos capaces de ver la luz, o de confiar en que está allí, llevamos esperanza para los demás.

¿Dónde estás siendo llamado a tener esperanza para otro? ¿Alguien está teniendo esperanza para ti?

La época del Adviento es rica en simbolismo –encendemos velas; reflexionamos sobre los temas de la espera y la expectativa; reconocemos, si somos honestos, que hay tan poco espacio para que Jesús nazca en nuestro mundo ahora como en la primera Navidad. Y sin embargo, como todos los bebés, Jesús no espera que nosotros estemos listos. Él tiene la capacidad infinita de aceptarnos como somos, como es el mundo, y aún así ofrece la promesa de esperanza.

Las prácticas espirituales de aceptación y esperanza son, al final, posturas de rendición y apertura para recibir la gracia que Dios busca dar. La persona con la que hablo para obtener guía espiritual a menudo me anima a pedirle a Dios la gracia particular que más quiero recibir.

Este Adviento estoy orando por la gracia de ver claramente y aceptar mi vida y el mundo, como Jesús hace, tal como son. Estoy orando por el don de la esperanza, y por el llamado a vivir por la esperanza. No la esperanza como pensamiento mágico, desconectado de la realidad, sino la esperanza que trae valor, consuelo y confianza en el mayor bien y amor que es el misterio de Emmanuel, Dios con nosotros.

¿Qué gracia podrías pedirle a Dios que te dé ahora, para que puedas ser bendecido y llamado por la esperanza?

Ésta es la segunda de tres reflexiones sobre los fundamentos de la vida cristiana: fe, esperanza y amor. Leer el primero: La fe puesta en marcha