Sunday, November 27, 2011

...advent-ure awaits

Advent. A walk in the wilderness. A time to wait. To acknowledge darkness. To hear the words of Aidan Matthews: God comes to us disguised as weekdays. To adapt them, as my friend, Carolynn, did: God comes to us disguised as weak days.
In this “I don’t have time for the pain” world, Advent calls for patience.  Trust me. I do not go willingly into this good state. Age and experience foist it upon me. Thank you, Father Time. Even if you do have to clobber me with your sickle to get my attention. 
I cannot consider Advent without thinking of Joe Elmore. The Reverend Joe Elmore, that is. Methodist. Wonderful. Wise. Humble. The “whole” kind of holy, not pious. Given to laughter and tears. Fallible (he would insist on this at the beginning of the list so I must insert it somewhere). Purveyor of Grace. I love the story of his first appointment as an ordained minister. Sent to a small country church in Alabama, he found himself in foreign territory. The congregation had ideas about everything, and this season was no exception: Go straight to Christmas. Joe said that he had never felt so alone as he did that first Sunday of what-would-have-otherwise-been Advent as the members stood and sang “Joy to the World.” He longed to hear “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” A proper gestation before birth. The whole journey, not just the fairy-tale that has sadly become an end to itself.
Admittedly, I like to DVR, to move at a rapid pace through commercials to the bits I want to watch. But my life works better when I don’t choose pieces of it and fast-forward through the rest. Like that wise sage, Garth Brooks, wrote, I am glad I didn’t miss the dance. Otherwise, I would’ve missed the rest. Advent is a good time to look at the steps I’ve taken that led me to today. If I have greater peace, thank you very much for all that has gone before and I will keep going. If I do not have greater peace, thank you very much for all that has gone before and I will keep going. 

Today, dear Joe,  I am thinking of you. And want to thank you for taking me to those places I would not have otherwise visited:

My insides. What a relief to unstuff the hidey-holes. To let go and not hoard...just do my part each day and go to sleep in peace. To awaken to the lightness of being that spiritual de-cluttering brings. To let this move into my environment. To KNOW that mercy and grace are the way.

The AIDS house for infants born infected with the HIV virus. This place was filled with precious little ones rocked by all and any who would come. And the location had to be anonymous. Because of the fearful...unaware of a more insidious infection that threatened their very souls. When I rocked those children, the god of what other people think lost his hold on me.

Grace. Your calling, Joe. To go beyond legalism to the land of the truly alive.  To live in Grace. Unearned. Undeserved. To pass Grace on to others. Unearned. Underserved. And, in this, to discover abiding joy.

The Bible. Not “just the facts, ma’am” but the essential Truth found in the wisdom of the ages. To look not for a checklist - “tick these off and avoid Hell” - but for guardrails that protect and enhance this journey. Both mine and the journey of others I encounter. To tell our own stories ...honest, real, unflinching...and rest in the truth of them.

Joe, you have been steadfast. You have known abiding joy and deep pain. You are a master wordsmith who lives the message. Though often frustrated by technology, you have embraced - while bemoaning - this tool of your outreach.  And you have, at every turn, revealed the dichotomy of truth: how we are at once imperfect, yet perfectly made. Because it is the “just as I am” in each of us that allows intersections.

My friend, you are willing to walk in darkness with others. And we all love you for this. I met you in my wilderness. You listened and persevered. What would have remained scars and stumbling blocks are now gift. Indeed, all is gift, as our mutual friend, Dr. John Claypool, wrote.

You will chafe at these words. Will not want the spotlight. But this is not praise. Just gratitude. You managed to be my pastor and "a regular Joe." Because you dropped your mask, I was able to shed mine. So, on this first Sunday of Advent, I wish for you "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"...and send you love.


Oh, the comfort —
the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person —
having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words,
but pouring them all right out,
just as they are,
chaff and grain together;
certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them,
keep what is worth keeping,
and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.
Dinah Craik


GretchenJoanna said...

Thank you for telling about Joe. Thank God for people like him who show us the face of Christ. I need the frequent reminder to pass grace on to others. A blessed Advent, Celeste!

Celeste said...

A blessed season to you and your family...since moving here, I've found "community" - and grace- through blogging.