Monthly Archives: December 2011

Merry Christmas!!!

“Pious imagination and nostalgic music rob Christmas of its shock value, while some scholars reduce the crib to a tame theological symbol. But the shipwrecked at the stable tremble in adoration of the Christ-child and quake at the inbreak of God Almighty. Because all the Santa Clauses and red-nosed reindeer, fifty-foot trees and thundering church bells put together create less pandemonium than the infant Jesus when, instead of remaining a statue in a crib, he comes alive and delivers us over to the fire that he came to light.”

-Brennan Manning (“Shipwrecked at the Stable” from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas)

May your Christmas be filled with glorious pandemonium…

Love,

Micha

I’ll be taking this week off from posting while we celebrate. I’ll see you on January 2…

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How He Entered

“…a son, a male child, who will rule all nations with an iron scepter.”   -Revelation 12:5

He entered, not a barn, not a hay-filled nursery,
but a galaxy, a kingdom groaning for his rule.

He arrived, not from a young woman, trembling
and homeless, but a queen enthroned in stars.

We saw him, one fleshy hand raised in reflex,
as if in his infancy, we might grasp deliverance.

He was found, not in David’s town, not in swaddling
cloths, an unknown child wiggling in straw,

but as a hero in royal thread, a sorcerer,
whose tap of scepter sends the dragon scurrying in fear.

He came, not to angelic song above hills of sheep,
not to glittering starlight that drew kings,

but to a symphony in which treble clefs are undone,
in which the blaze of fire melts the physical to gold.

He came, not to silence, not to bowing camels,
not to carolers in moonlight, not to candles,

not to peace, not to our praises, our prayers, our holy.
He came not to power, not to battle, not to shouts of glory.

He came in weakness, in furious rule, a God in infancy.
He came. Receive the mystery.

© Micha Boyett Hohorst, 2010. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint or post without attribution. These poems are available at byfor.org.
This is the last poem in a series of five Advent poems I wrote for John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle. See the first poem here, the second here, the third here, and the fourth here.

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Christ’s Mother Reflects, His Childhood

“and for him to see me mended / I must see him torn.”  -Luci Shaw “Mary’s Song”

He stood at the door, wet-faced and panting.
in his hands three baby birds. They’re hungry,
he sniffed, nested them in a bowl with grass,
fed them worms until they died. After, I held him
for an hour, his soul too much for this world.

Who doesn’t want normal for her son?
Yet he chose the lonely of the children, played ball
with the friendless. He was quiet, sat with me
long hours, watching: the grass, the anthills, the sunset.
Sometimes his sigh at such beauty went down too far.

Do you know where I lived before I found you?
He asked once as we sat on cold stones
watching fireflies, Joseph inside with the little ones.
I breathed long and answered. No, my love, I don’t.
I scanned his face with my eyes: a spark, a smile I didn’t know,
as if his chest’s glow might burst, blind me in its radiance.

We never spoke in metaphors: Not light of the world,
not cornerstone, not sacrificial lamb.
When I found him at his studies, face down toward
Isaiah’s words, he looked at me and laughed.
For my sake? I wondered. His own shock?
A memory of the words he would fulfill?

Later: the teaching, the miracles, the homelessness
he chose. How to follow the child you raised?
How to warm yourself in his light
without catching flame and melting?

Drink his blood, eat his flesh, beg his body
to release from the wood it lay torn upon.
Recognize the great pain he’d always carried,
how his split soul all along was mending mine.

© Micha Boyett Hohorst, 2010. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint or post without attribution. These poems are available at byfor.org.

This is from a series of five Advent poems I wrote for John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle. See the first poem here, the second here, and the third here.

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Love in This: An Advent Reflection

It was “Ring of Fire” in my head that day as I moved through our house, 3-year-old at my heels. I was singing…

Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring.
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire.

Maybe I could’ve gotten away with such lyrics leaking from my mouth on a random Wednesday morning while I folded laundry, but the words were too good for August to ignore. This same boy who introduces himself to strangers as, “Hi, I’m August. I like yucky things, like germs and volcanos and fire,” is the boy who says, “Mama, I really like that song you’re singing!”

That day I pulled up the YouTube video of Johnny singing in black and white and we spent the rest of the day stuck on, “Down down down down down!” as we went about our tasks, August on his knees in his room, Playmobile knights in hand, a song he didn’t even know he was still singing in his mouth.

So last Friday night, after dinner, when we blew out the three lit Advent candles on the table, the boy snuck back to the slowly hardening wax and stuck his finger in to feel its warmth on fingertip. He walked to my husband.

“Daddy, there’s love in this” he said, holding his waxy finger toward Chris’ face. “You know why? Because that song says ‘love is a burning thing.'”

The other day I read in Isaiah 9, “Those who lived in the land of deep darkness– / on them a light has shined.”

Every light is a burning thing, right? Our most necessary light, the life-giving sun, is a consumer, the most dangerous fire of all. We cover our skin from it. We shield our eyes from it. And then we beg it to come toward us, to warm us, to bring life again to this dark winter-ridden land.

This is Advent. We don’t just passively wait for the light; we actively engage with it. We cup it in our hands, we light the candles. We pray for enlightenment, that we may understand this God who sends his son, that we may see the miracle that we usually miss.

We beg for light because our souls know there’s love in it.

Our souls know when the star shines over Bethlehem, when the angels awaken sleepy shepherds with Glory, when a baby cries in the filth-filled barn, there’s love in it. The darkness is consumed, the path is revealed, the star hovers above the secret place where the baby is born.

And we stand beside our children on Christmas Eve and watch the wicks on every handheld candle whoosh into flame across the dark sanctuary. We hover around the little hands holding fire, imagining the one spark that might set the place ablaze. Then we remember to sing, to hold up notes with the voices beside us. And in that moment when we look up from the children, when we release the momentary fear, when we sing of the “Virgin, mother and child.” We sing of the “holy infant…” and we see that yellow glow in the room that was blind before. We remember the light. And we blow out the candles. The overhead lamps click on.

But we drag our fingers through the warm wax, the reminder that for a moment we held something holy, something dangerous and life-giving, something that marks us by its heat. And on that fingertip, that pointer finger warmed by quickly hardening wax, we know the secret. We know love is a burning thing.

And there’s love in this.

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{Practicing Benedict} Humility

“Holy Scripture, brethren, cries out to us, saying, ‘Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled,and he who humbles himself shall be exalted’ (Luke 14:11). In saying this it shows us that all exaltation is a kind of pride, against which the Prophet proves himself to be on guard when he says, ‘Lord, my heart is not exalted, nor are mine eyes lifted up; neither have I walked in great matters, nor in wonders above me'” (Ps. 131:1).

The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 7

Just in case you assumed that St. Benedict and I would never have any arguments, I’m here to let you know that he and I don’t always agree. You would think that his chapter on humility would get me all gooey and weepy, that I’d be crying to myself about how far I have to go in the contemplative life. And, I probably will end up crying about my need for humility, but not because St. Benedict has inspired me to.

Chapter 7 lists 12 intense steps to humility. They’re not for the faint of heart and they include a lot of talk of hellfire and fear. See, his emphasis in Chapter 7 is heavy on on fear of hell directing the monks toward humility. It’s an emphasis that runs very close to self-hate, which doesn’t mesh with the kind of humility I see in Jesus.

The humility I see in Jesus is led by love. Love for the Father results in love for others. The kind of love for others that is sincere allows us to see the people around us (as Christ instructed) as Jesus himself. And that leads to action.

If Benedict and I agree on anything in Chapter 7 it’s that humble action leads to humility. If we want to get our minds off ourselves, then we sacrifice, we give up our comforts and offer ourselves. We serve with our hands. We cook for others; we wash dishes. We, as Benedict says, make the choice that, like Christ, “I have come not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me” (John 6:38).

Humility, then, becomes reality, seeing things as they really are: Not that we’re worthless, but that we are desperately beloved. We have been rescued by our creator, who became flesh and gave himself for us. So we, in our flesh, give ourselves away.

Oh, Benedict, I want to whisper to you that those 12 steps are wonderful, it’s just your motivation that’s off, friend. Humility is not born of fear but of joy.

In December 20th’s reading of Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, Brennan Manning shares a story of Saint Francis and Brother Leo walking down the road. Francis has noticed that Brother Leo is depressed and Leo has admitted to being overwhelmed of the work of “ever arriving at purity of heart.” St. Francis responds:

“Leo, listen carefully to me.  Don’t be so preoccupied with the purity of your heart. Turn and look at Jesus. Admire him. Rejoice that he is what he is–your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior. That, little brother, is what it means to be pure of heart. And once you’ve turned to Jesus, don’t turn back and look at yourself. Don’t wonder where you stand with him.

“The sadness of not being perfect, the discovery that you really are sinful, is a feeling much too human, even borders on idolatry. Focus your vision outside yourself on the beauty, graciousness and compassion of Jesus Christ. The pure of heart praise him from sunrise to sundown. Even when they feel broken, feeble, distracted, insecure and uncertain, they are able to release it into his peace. A heart like that is stripped and filled — stripped of self and filled with the fullness of God. It is enough that Jesus is Lord.”

After a long pause, Leo said, “Still, Francis, the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.”

“No doubt about that,” replied Francis. “But holiness is not a personal achievement. It’s an emptiness you discover in yourself. Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where the Lord can create anew…Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins. See only the compassion, the infinite patience, and the tender love of Christ. Jesus is Lord. That suffices. Your guilt and reproach disappear into the nothingness of non-attention. You are not longer aware of yourself. Like the sparrow aloft and free in the azure sky. Even the desire for holiness is transformed into a pure and simple desire for Jesus.”

Oh, that this Christmas we might renounce everything that is heavy and see in our newborn Savior “the compassion, the infinite patience, and the tender love” that changes us…the love that brings us to true and deep humility.

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Thankful Tuesday: Christmas Travel Edition!

  • Having a friend like Jamie in Austin, who was up all night with her 4-month-old and still willing to drive us to the airport at 4:30 am. Yay for friends who love us
  • Boys who go to sleep on airplanes and choose not to scream. Thank you, children.
  • The gift of being able to see family we love, even though they are so far away.
  • Hugging my husband’s little sister and sharing a chair with her because there are too many of us to fit.
  • Spending a Monday night eating cheese (did I mention I can eat dairy now? nine months without was long and I’m so thankful!) and laughing with three of Chris’ five(!) siblings, dad and step mom.
  • Eating pot roast at 10 pm.
  • A late-night round of catching ice cream bites with our mouths across the formal dining room table.
  • Uncles who play knights and wrestle with August.
  • Seeing Brooksie mesmerized by the height of the Hohorst men. (My husband looks short as the 6′ 4″ one.)
  • A make-do high chair. (Tying your baby to a chair works fine.)
  • Early morning fire in the fireplace.
  • The promise of rest.
  • Being able to spend these few days here before we head to Chris’ mom’s for Christmas.
  • Have there ever been two families more different than Christopher’s dad’s family and mine? Only grace could give both of us a home with either.

It’s almost Christmas! And it’s Thankful Tuesday. What are you thankful for?

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Darkness

“For Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall rise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee, and the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”

Handel’s Messiah (from Isaiah, chapter 60)

“Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb, / Now leaves His well-beloved imprisonment.

-John Donne “La Corona”

We are all some mother’s child,
all born through great pain,

then a flood of release, an unbearable empty.
I sang a broken song, a wail of psalm

until you came. We were cold, alone,
this man who will raise you, and I.

No mother, no midwife, one blanket,
a borrowed pot of water on the fire.

Did I not expect you would cry with me,
you who had willed every infant’s cry?

Did I not expect you would need me,
your body suddenly cold, craving my skin?

You bobbed your head along my chest
in search of milk: ordinary, human.

Where were the trumpets, where the showering
of gold? We three were hushed in the dark,

my blood trickling to the ground, my husband’s silent tears,
your infant body learning to swallow.

And in this, somehow, Glory.
My God, you deserve more than the two of us,

torn open and shivering with you in the dark.

This is from a series of five Advent poems I wrote for John Knox Presbyterian Church in Seattle. See the first poem here and the second poem here.
© Micha Boyett Hohorst, 2010. All rights reserved. Please do not reprint or post without attribution. If you or your church would like access to these poems for worship, they are avvailable at The By/For Project.

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