Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Night Job - An Advent Reflection

Below is an Advent Devotion that I wrote for my alma mater's Daily Devotional. To read more, go to http://www.sfts.edu/alumni/2014_LnC_signup.asp.

The Night Job      

Luke 2:8-14    
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

I'm imagining some shepherds. Their clothes are "field" clothes; sweaty, dirty, worn. 
Their spirits are "field" spirits; a little lonely, tired, worn. 
They know that they have a low-level job in their community. It is one that keeps them outside of town. In fact, their task to watch a flock of sheep sleep (instead of sleeping themselves) proves their status each night.

The shepherds settle their creaky limbs onto the cold earth. They ready themselves to keep watch for any threat. If they've been working this job for long enough, their anxiety is low-level but constant. If they're new, their eyes are wide and red, scanning the dark.

And so when someone emerges from the dark and stands in front of them, they feel terror. They feel exhausted, pulse-racing confusion -- confusion over whether they can believe what they see. They look to one another, checking to know if they're the only one having this experience. And when they see one another equally recoiled, they ask themselves questions in rapid succession.

Am I really seeing an angel of the Lord? Has this angel, emanating a breath-taking glory, really come to us? Have they really chosen to come, not to the safety and structure of the city in the distance, but to our undesirable, dark, and open field?

And yet, she came to them. She approached them. Indeed, she trusted and entrusted them with a message.

And the good news for those shepherds is this. 
It is the adrenaline pumping through their bodies. It is the glory of God causing them to look at the angel from the sides of their eyes. 
It is the word "do not be afraid," spoken to those whose muscles are tensed from watching for trouble. 
It is the gift of a message for "all people." "All people" including them.
It is this word in their flesh. 

Marissa Danney
San Francisco Theological Seminary M.Div. and DASD 2014

Thursday, March 6, 2014

My Beloved is Abundant

What is lent? What is the purpose?
 Lent can easily become the opportunity for self-righteous self-sacrifice.
 But I don’t think that we are meant to walk around with holy, downcast eyes, making clear that we have given up something wonderful because we are so much better than everyone else. That seems to be more problematic than helpful.
 Sunset over Tiburon
 What is helpful to me is the belief that the world and all that is in it is infused with the Divine Presence. We are made in the imago dei – and the light-life of the Divine is burning within us.
 Instead of self-righteous self-sacrifice, I find that the purpose of lent is to intentionally turn from anything that seems to be clouding the Divine light within us. It is to bring to justice our perception of the Divine in ourselves, in others and the world.
 This is internal work that cannot be self-righteously displayed. And it can be done through sacrifice and/or through adding new practices to our lives. But our goal is to become more aware of the abundant presence of God in our lives.
 It seems like it is really hard for us to tap into that reality.

The writer(s) of the Song of Songs seems to be fully connected to abundance and gratitude for it.
 They savor using all of their senses:
the taste of honey and milk under a tongue
the sight of the beloved, ruddy and radiant
the sound of the voice that they long for
the smell of a lush garden
the touch of stately limbs, like branches of a tree

They write of the lavish beauty that they are encountering.
They write of excess, of being drunk with love!
They write of searching and longing for that abundance.

How the world is infused with the awe-inspiring Divine! And how the writer of the Song of Songs swims in that tangible Divine Presence.
Sunrise in Tiburon
May Lent be a time of giving up the things that skew our sense of the Divine filling our lives with beauty.
May Lent be a time of taking things on that focus our attention on the abundance of God’s presence.

The presence that is delightfully at the heart of everything. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thoughts on Identity or "The Greenhouse"

I am a SWF (single white female.)
I am straight.
I am an actor.
I am a climber.
I am a seminarian.
I am a Christian.
I am a New Yorker.

He is a SWM (single white male.)
He is bisexual.
He is a 7 on the Enneagram.
He is a fireman.
He is an alcoholic.
He is agnostic.
He’s a Californian.

We love these labels, don’t we? We could choose just one from a list and use it to sum ourselves up to someone else, or sum someone else up to ourselves.

Each category contains subcategories. For example, “I am a climber,” means that I love being in the outdoors. It means that I’m physically fit and that I’m up for adventure and activity.

One local restaurant capitalizes on statements like these, and I love going there. When I order my lemon and ginger tea I get to say to the server, “I am effervescent.” And for a moment… I am filled with the identity of effervescence. But when the server walks away I giggle because I am not entirely effervescent.
I just have my moments.

 The Celtic theologian John Philip Newell discusses in his book “Echo of the Soul” that our core selves are in the image of God. Surrounding that core self is a lot of other stuff: our egos, our flesh, our labels, and sometimes our masks.

Yet, this life that burns within us at our deepest is the same life that comes from God, our Source of Life.

Our Source of Life can be called many things.
                        “Holy One”
                                    “Heavenly Father”
But primarily, God is mysterious. And therefore, we are also primarily mysterious.

As Newell says, “Our own being is rooted in the fathomless mystery of God’s being. Our truest identity is deeper than name and definition.”

It is as if the seed of God is planted deep within us and we are both gardens and gardeners. As Meister Eckhart says, “When I began to see the soul in this light, the important thing became not saving the soul but entering it, greening it, developing the divine seed that waits realization.”

I have cultivated my divine seed. She has been growing within me, and I have been so proud of her that I have built an impressive green house around her.
That way, when anyone approaches they will see that there is something truly profound inside. On the windows of the greenhouse are written pious prayers.

And yet, I am finding that my divine plant at the core of my garden is beginning to press against the roof of the greenhouse. A small crack has formed in the glass. I could make a hole through the top of the roof… but something in me says that it’s time to carefully dismantle this impressive structure and give my divine core some fresh air.

On second thought, could someone pass me that sledge hammer?