Showing items filed under “December 2016”

Hearing

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The Bible seems to distrust seeing. In Genesis chapter 1, the sun and moon are demoted from the divine status that others accorded them. They are mere creatures, brought into being on the fourth day (note: there were three “days” without a sun—so clearly a “day” here is not something that depends on the sun for its meaning). Moreover, the author doesn’t even deign to name them; he says, instead, “the greater light” and “the lesser light.” Seeing has led many people to paganism. We, the Bible seems to say, must learn to listen to God. The godly task is to learn to hear.

To hear what? The Word was with God in the beginning, indeed was God. “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’”

Before the Word was made manifest—before we could see his glory—the woman who is the consummation of the preparation, the Virgin Mary, has to hear correctly. The angel appears to her—and just so, there is seeing involved—but Mary must hear Gabriel’s voice, must hear and understand his words.

If you say daily Morning Prayer, you know the line from Psalm 95: “Today, if ye will hear his voice. . . .” Or, in the 1979 Psalter, “Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!” It is evidently very important for us to learn to hear.

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He was ten years old when he first heard it. “I want to follow you,” he said, “I just need to grow up first. 

When he was twenty-two it came again. “I just finished college, and now I need to do some living. But then I’ll listen; I won’t be young forever.”

And when he was thirty? “I have to work so hard; the children, the bills. I haven’t forgotten you, just I can’t right now.”

And when he was forty, he heard something that reminded him of a longing deep buried somewhere inside him. But he didn’t have time to dig for it.

He was about fifty-five when it came again. “I’m at the height of my career; things are going so well. This is a great time of life.”

At his retirement, the voice spoke again. “Sorry,” he said, “but I worked so hard for so long for the company, the family. Now it’s time for me to think about myself.”

And when he was seventy-five, the voice came again, but he was unable to hear it.

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To hear the voice of God is to respond: in the present, where we are, with all that we are. It’s very simple. When you hear the voice, just say, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” Or say, “Here I am; I’m yours.”

To put off the voice—to resist the discipline of hearing—is to risk deafness. “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Imagine Mary is in front of you. She is saying, “Repeat after me.”

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Out & about. This Sunday, December 18, I will be teaching on the Song of Songs at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas. The class is in the Memorial Chapel at 10:20. Visitors are of course welcome. Previous sessions on the Song of Songs are posted here: https://incarnation.org/class-recordings/

Popular Song Wisdom

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Andy Mead, the rector who brought me to Saint Thomas in New York City, often emphasized the importance of simple truths for Christian living. One was: Keep your “Thank you”s and “I’m sorry”s up to date. He’d tell us to remember to count our blessings.

It’s an old song, isn’t it? “Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God has done.” I used to discount simple wisdom like this, even as I discounted country music. I preferred classical music, even as I preferred the sort of insight that you had to work hard for. Why take the time to do such a simple and obvious thing as count blessings?

Because: when we do take the time to count the blessings in our life, we discover there are more of them than we knew. You start by thanking God that you are alive, that there is a new day at hand, that you can see the sun and hear the birds; then you think of other sunrises, other birdsongs heard; you may think of friends, of other places. You think of parents, and people who have loved you, people who taught you. And on and on it goes.

Of course, there are also the sad memories: the places you cannot revisit, the illnesses and injustices of life, the missed opportunities, the sins done, the good things left undone. But those sad memories themselves are wrapped around in blessings. A place you cannot revisit is, still, a place that once you visited. And even in sin and loss, if you count your blessings, you’ll find God was lurking in the shadows all along. 

Forgive me this personal reference, but I think a number of my readers may see themselves in this. I asked for healing prayers after my wife’s death. And the person with me was moved in her prayer to give God thanks that I had had the gift of marriage.

Count your blessings, and your blessings will multiply before your eyes!

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In Starbucks recently, I heard “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” a song that is relatively new and certainly popular. (You know it’s popular if even yours truly has heard of it.) There’s nothing explicitly Christian in the song—which goes for a number of other Christmas songs—just the singer asking her beloved to be at her side. And yet . . .

If it is true that the Song of Songs is a key to the interpretation of the whole Bible story, then it tells us that at the heart of things is God’s desire for his bride, Israel, and her desire for him. As we come to Christmas, we long for God to come to us. But the converse is also true: God longs to come to us.

I rather like thinking that all God wants for Christmas is us.

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Out & About. I’m visiting St. James in Texarkana on Wednesday, December 7, to homilize at their 5:30 p.m. Eucharist. Then at 6:15 p.m., around the corner from the church at Pecan Point, I will speak at “pub theology” on “What is freedom really? Or, how God causes my free actions.”

My Sunday class on the Song of Songs continues through Advent at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney, Dallas. The class is in Memorial Chapel at 10:20 a.m. Newcomers are welcome every week. The previous classes have been audio recorded: https://incarnation.org/class-recordings/

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."