Christmas Means Love

This website is about pathways to God. Perhaps the straightest way is the way of love. And that brings me to Joan Osborne. One of my favorite Christmas songs is her singing “Christmas Means Love”.

She sings about the birth of Christ bringing us the message of love. She affirms that Christmas should be a time to share joy and love with our neighbors. The love message of Christmas can compel us to help one another.

Then in the middle of the song, she has a talking part. There she speaks of her desire for one thing–to spend Christmas with the one she loves.

I believe that in our experiences of love with one another whether it is familial love or romantic love or compassionate love we are traveling the way of God. Along this way, every experience may brush up against the glory of the God of Love.

May your Christmas be filled with deepest and sweetest love. Now let’s listen to a bluesy Joan Osborne.

 

The Mystic Path: Union with God

We have noted the experience of awakening that often is the first step along the path. This can be followed by purification or purgation in which we acknowledge our sins and attempt, with God’s grace, to overcome the dark traits of our personalities. Next can come illumination in which we experience the presence of God such that we begin to understand more and more about who God is and what God desires for us. The final stop along the mystic path is called union.

On sweet occasions

Goal of Christian devotion

Union with our God

As might be expected, this stage can only be described by metaphor and symbol. Some mystics compare it to a transformation, e.g. wood becoming flame in fire, or a drop of water becoming wine when immersed in a great sea of wine. And, St. Paul wrote about being conformed to the image of Christ–becoming like Christ. Deification is a word the Eastern Orthodox Church has used for centuries. We do not become equal with God, but they affirm that we acquire the divine nature. In 2nd Peter, we discover that we can “become participants of the divine nature” (1:4).

Another favorite image among the mystics is spiritual marriage. It is a union characterized by love. The Song of Solomon is a favorite book for these mystics. Human love becomes a metaphor for the loving union of a person and God.

However it was characterized, the mystics all have had a burning desire to experience the fullness of God. They desire this more than life itself. So, they seek after God, and by God’s grace, they can have moments of true union. Only in the life to come, can the union become more permanent.

Union with God in this life and the life to come is characterized by 5 qualities.

1) It is marked by a union of minds. The mystic begins to share God’s values, ideas, and wisdom. Because of this union, they often understand intuitively what God would have them do different situations.

2) It is marked by a union of hearts. The mystic begins to love what God loves. The true mystic, united with God, has compassion for all that God has made.

3) The third mark should go without saying, but it is often not clearly understood. If we share God’s values and love what God loves, we will desire union with one another. To be united with God, one must in one way or another, be immersed in the life of the people of God.

4) The fourth mark is joy. One of my favorite mystics, Richard Rolle compared the person united with God to a music pipe always playing joyful songs of love to Christ.

5) The fifth mark is peace. One of my favorite hymns expresses this well. It is “Like a River Glorious” by Frances Havergal:

Life a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace,

Over all victorious in its bright increase;

Perfect, yet it floweth fuller every day;

Perfect, yet it groweth deeper all the way.

Hidden in the hollow of God’s blessed hand,

Never foe can follow, never traitor stand.

Not a surge of worry, not a shade of care,

Nor a blast of hurry touch the spirit there.

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest;

Finding as God promised, perfect peace and rest.

This is not the last thing I want to say about this beautiful mystic path, but perhaps that is enough for today. As always, if you find what I have written helpful, feel free to share it with others.

God is Like a Mother

Sometimes a pathway to God can be opened up by how we think about God or how we imagine God. One image that I have found helpful is to understand that God is like a mother.

This is not unique with me. Julian of Norwich wrote, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.”  In Scripture, the prophet Isaiah used this image as well. “You will nurse and be carried on the hip and bounced on the knee. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.”¹

Isaiah pictures God as nursing us like a new mother. This is a reminder that God feeds us with food and drink. Every meal we consume comes from the bounty of God’s creation. Additionally, our hearts and minds are fed on the Word of God. We also have ‘vitamin enriched’ (for lack of a better phrase!) spiritual food in Holy Communion. And instead of being drunk on wine, we are encouraged to be filled with the Spirit.

Next, Isaiah imagines us as being carried on the hip by God. God never casts us away. God always holds us. Like a mother, God will always carry us through the twists and turns of life.

Then, in a wonderful picture, Isaiah, perhaps remembering his own mother’s actions, thinks of God as bouncing us on God’s knees! The word translated ‘bounce’ is only used three other times in the Hebrew Scripture. There it is translated as ‘play’, ‘cheer’, and ‘delight’. As a mother brings a smile to the face of her child, so can God fill our mouths with laughter and our hearts with joy.

Lastly, Isaiah writes that like a mother, God will comfort us. The Hebrew word translated ‘comfort’ is used in reference to God 9 times in the Book of Isaiah. It is the image of someone sighing over the pain of another. So like a good mother, God notices our pain, takes some of it away, and helps us to live with the rest.

I am thankful that God is as much like a mother as a father.

¹Isaiah 66:12b-13a (Common English Bible). Several translations in verse 12b use ‘her’ instead of ‘the’ which makes the phrases refer back to Mother Zion. The CEB is more literal (there is no ‘her’ in the Hebrew) which allows for the interpretation that I have given.

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Feeling the Spirit

I recently attended a concert with my wife Pat and our daughter Kari. It may have been my favorite concert of all time. It was Amos Lee and an amazing six piece, multi-talented band. The extended version of Lee’s songs allowed the different musicians to highlight their skills. Amos Lee, himself, was engaging. His singing was moving. My daughter compared him to Otis Redding. I think perhaps a male version of Norah Jones. Though I swear on one song he was channeling a clear-voiced Bob Dylan!

Spirit by Amos Lee

The song that moved me most is entitled Spirit off the cd by the same name. He explained that the song was written in New Orleans. (It begins on Royal Street in the French Quarter.) The repeated chorus is “I just wanna feel the spirit washin’ over me.” The ‘spirit’ in the song is the spirit of singing and music.

I too am a music lover. I know what it means for the spirit to wash over me as I listen to Amos Lee and many others. Music is powerful. Augustine is credited with saying, “To sing is to pray twice.” Of course, he was talking about singing the Psalms with mouth and heart. But all kinds of music, whether strictly religious or not, is powerful to move us.

The spirit of music can move our spirits. And whenever that move generates love, peace or joy, the Spirit of God is also in the mix.

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