Be Open to God

JM Bertrand/CC-NC-ND

The best gifts I’ve received have been those that were unexpected or completely out of my control. What I mean by that explains a peeve of mine today where increasingly people feel an undue burden with pleasing others with what they give. We want people to like what we give them, but today we stress over how satisfied they will be if our gifts are not to their liking. Our charitableness must bow to lists of buying options or we give gift cards and money so there is no question that one got what he wished for. I’ve fallen into that trap, too. But that practice robs the giver of the joy that comes with presenting a particular item that has first filled their heart for the special one. Read More »

Do You Hear What I Hear?

CC BY-NC, smadness, Foter
CC BY-NC, smadness, Foter

A news report covered locals polled on their thoughts about all-Christmas music radio schedules started early in November. Most people felt that it was simply too soon for Christmas music and would appreciate it more following Thanksgiving. I found myself agreeing, already having my two favorite stations jingling all the way before Halloween costumes were packed away good. But my opinion has changed.

Maybe we don’t have to reject Christmas music because thankfulness is too difficult a theme for us capitalists to convert—and since Thanksgiving presents none of the flare and seasonal accoutrement Christmas does. Perhaps we have been blinded by the overwhelming commercialism of Christmas and do not notice that we love about Thanksgiving the same things we enjoy about Christmas yet don’t celebrate but for a day.

The Power of a Wish

When I consider these conjoined holidays, something like a domino effect occurs in my thoughts. I think of a wish, in all its magical wonder and good fortune, with the power to cram a tike’s toy list as well as a heart hoping for a soldier’s return. A wish tends toward indulgence, of heart and mind, and sets the imagination free to run—How nice it would be to have snow. How cool it will be to see auntie. How healing reconciliation could be.

Every now and then a catharsis of unrestrained delight, if only wishful thinking, becomes essential to well-being. Sweets are so commonly a way we tangibly make this point. Whether it is the pumpkin pie we overeat at Thanksgiving or the simple proof that we often make our most uninhibited wishes over ornately beautiful cakes, we cannot get around the deeper fact that we crave a certain kind of significance and playfulness that measures in more spiritually appeasing ways than the dollars we earn and the possessions we accumulate.

Snow. Family. Friends. Food. Fun. Laughter. ‘Tis the season to go crazy wishing upon every star to be found because it is the only one in which we feel it safe enough to indulge the guiltless pleasures that do the most for us, which is humanize us. And opposite any religious significance we choose or do not choose to draw from the season, it is the spirit of this time that enthusiastically lends itself to being repeated any other time of the year.

Until There’s Thanksgiving Music…

Thus, we get lighthearted when Christmas music plays because it encapsulates everything we cherish about both Thanksgiving and Christmas. It open-handedly offers us those missing spiritual elements we’ve longed for all year and wrests us free from the grind of making lives for ourselves to simply enjoying those lives for once.

Christmas music is a gladdening music that sadly gets squeezed into a corner of the year. I get why people spurn its play in November, but to dissociate the themes in the music from Thanksgiving may be a false dichotomy because thankfulness is the touchstone of both holidays.

So that’s why I’m already listening. I can’t help myself.

When You Wish Upon a Star

Flickr Stars
CC BY-NC, John_H_Moore, Flickr

I still needed to make my birthday wish. It was five days late, but what could it hurt? So I grabbed the white star-shaped, helium-filled balloon and went outside. There I whispered a prayer to the God of all hopes for three things I desired and really needed to see happen for me in the coming year. Having wished upon a star, I released it into the oncoming night and let it fly to God.

It is the irony of that moment that lingers and strangely satisfies me like a finely textured dish: a wish and a prayer, the star and God, hope and faith, chance and certainty, eagerness and waiting, ease and agony.

The God Who Realigns the Stars

The stars have always kept humans wondering. What were they? Who were they? What power did they possess? They were close enough for marvel but distant enough to perplex. Certainly they were greater than us. Mythologies abounded and still do. Although most of us today don’t give credence to astrology or the power of the stars, we still wish on them, shooting or not, to chance the possibility of favorable outcomes. It’s our human nature.

I find nothing wrong it.

Many approach God, however, in the same frame of mind. If some of us would honestly explain ourselves, we would disclose a faith not unlike the talisman or amulet. We’d describe a magic akin to the shaman and traditionalists that “works” and retards and keeps us in luck. We’d tell of a God who beckons with haste to our every call and never disappoints.

God took Abram out one night and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars…so shall your offspring be” (Gen. 15:5). Being a Mesopotamian, Abram would have at some time in his life relied on the stars for their religious symbolism and premonition. The skies explained everything.

But this was a new context for the stars, offered by the star-maker himself. And it involved the dearest wish of Abram’s heart, a child. This wasn’t just a natural illustration God was making; it was a spiritual one, too. Power was shifting from the stars to this personal One who had already commandeered Abram’s life when he ordered, “Just go until I tell you to stop!” Oddity had become the new normal for Abram.

You see, the things that matter most to us take faith. Faith is co-oped and faith is difficult. I wish I could offer you an easier approach to God, but it wouldn’t be realistic or acceptable. Moreover, life can be tough and we don’t get through it by chancing good results. And so stands God, turning our eyes away from the stars to himself, advising, “Trust me.”

With Him All is Possible

God began a process of conversion in Abram’s life, converting…his wishes to prayers, his hope to faith, his chance to certainty, his eagerness to waiting, his ease to agony. Although it was far from pleasurable, it radically altered the core of his spiritual existence.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised (Rom. 4:18-21).

Abram stopped reaching for…believing in the stars and learned to trust the God who could bring the stars down to him. It was the only way. They were his God-given possession that God always wanted for him, not haphazard good coming his way.

Augustine said, “Faith is to believe in what you do not yet see; the reward for faith is to see what you have believed.” Maybe the reward is even better than what we’ve hoped for; it is to see God himself. Have you ever gotten your desire from the Lord, but it was his reality and love that crashed in on you more than anything?

Perhaps Abram shows us what true piety is all about. It is not simply a life of faith, but a life disciplined enough to believe God until it becomes a natural response. The pious one is he or she with conviction lodged in the bones. It is not about the star but about the one who guides it.