In a Borrowed Stable | an Advent Musing

The story begins like this: sitting in a car with a dear friend, looking out at the vast expanse of the Rhode Island ocean, coming to the realization that this “Grace” word that was used so often in my vernacular, was one I couldn’t define for myself. I looked at the tossing sea-water that echoed so much of the tumult in my heart and I remember praying silently, my friend oblivious beside me, that the Lord would give me His words to define grace. A calling within my heart (and on my birth certificate – though in a different language!). A confusion and a chaos and a desire to understand this word that is the construct and input ingredient of the gospel. What is grace? What is this unmerited favor that the Bible speaks of, proclaims? How do I see it? How do I learn it for myself?

My definition began in the pages of Exodus.

Thousands of years ago, God, in his unshakeable mercy and boundless love, desired to dwell with his fallen people so much, he had Moses craft a tent that would suit him. With measurements, instructions, materials: a movable dwelling-place was built. Just as God required it, in his holiness and perfection. The tenacity of His desire to meet again with His beloved, to dwell again with His created ones defied all that Israel had done before. He brought them out of slavery, into the wilderness, so he could dwell with them there. With a thundering voice, he spoke to Moses on the great Mountain, about the Atonement Altar, the Altar of Incense, the places that were required to exist, just so, to allow for a constancy of Himself there.

It is important to note here, that this Tent he crafted, did not allow for the people, the vast majority anyhow, to Be in His presence. They could not enter into the presence of God. For most, their dirtiness, their mess, their inadequacies had to be interceded for by the Handpicked Ones, the high Priests of the Tabernacle, to merely have their sins forgiven. Entering into his presence was not allowed. They could not reach the Holy of Holies at all. Their relationship with God, though vibrant and full, was limited to conversations in a courtyard. Conversations, whose content I have imagined in recent days went something like this:

Lord, I know the offering isn’t much. I have given you my best lamb, with all of my mess and my wreckage on it, take it Lord God. Just King. My Sins are many. Have mercy on your child.

And so, many eons ago, there was a separation between the Holy One and his people, because though He loved them enough to make a way for there to be atonement, his Holiness did not allow the citizens of Israel close enough to experience his presence firsthand. They had to stay in the courtyard.

In the squalor of a borrowed stable.

On a night in Bethlehem, 2000+ years ago. A frantic husband, trying to find a place in which his wife could deliver the Son. I imagine there was fear, frustration, as villager upon villager in Bethlehem shook their head, and said “We are sorry, there is simply no room in this place.” When the innkeeper, shook his head, pointed at the barn on the hill, and said something to the effect of, “There is no room in this inn. But there is one place that is vacant for the night. Stay as long as you wish.”

In the Squalor of That borrowed Stable.

The Lord who demanded perfection, with measurements and instructions on the height, and breadth, and material, and the content of the offerings, and the ounces needed to be purchased of oil per year, this Specific King, this One who wanted so desperately to dwell with His people that he had the wilderness voyagers of Exodus create for Him the Tent he required, the only place that was fit for Him to stay. This same King. This specific King. So loved the world.

In That Squalor.

A teenage girl, with a swollen belly, lying on hay in a stable at the edge of town. There is nothing put together about this scene. There are animals, feeding troughs, food for the livestock. The donkey that was ridden all of those miles, taking moments to eat after the journey. I imagine there were lambs. Perhaps cattle. Perhaps. And hay. Nothing shined, there was wood and sod and a building that was not built for a king. There was no specificity of measurements, there was no incense, there was no slaughter. There was a baby, born to a young girl and her husband in the middle of a stable. In the middle of mess. There He met us. There. In that squalor. There.

In The Squalor.

Advent: the season of Arrival. When the world takes time out of the busy schedule to prepare: gifts to give. the house to receive guests. the feasts to gorge themselves on. 

Moses prepared. He prepared That temple with precision, in which God could dwell. I imagine him writing down each measurement, deep into parchment, aware that preparing This Place meant delivering on all of the things the Lord had spoken to him on the Mountain during those 40 days. The ark with its cherubim and acacia wood over-layed with gold. Each hanging: on the south side of the court, at the gate of the court, and everything in-between. The Bronze altar. The altar of Atonement. The altar of Incense. The Bread. The oil. And so much more. Forty days communing with God to receive every instruction that was required for the Place of His Dwelling.

And thousands of years later, who could have foreseen that the God-Son would come. To the squalor of a stable that was given to Mary and Joseph for but an evening. That when God became flesh, he chose to be welcomed not with trumpets or gold or marble ceilings and immaculate surfaces but in the mess and wreckage of a stable made for animals. Who could have foreseen that thousands of years after that specific Tent was Built, Mary would lay the Son of God in a manger. A feeding trough. This Savior of the World in a messy barn, in a messy world. How glorious.

In our Squalor.

It was but the beginning of the Lord proving himself to us, as the One Who Would Meet Us In Our Mess. Without preparing a spotless place in which to rest. Meeting us in our wreckage and dirt, embracing us despite the sin that has stained every limb: It Is Here, in this Squalor, that he has promised to meet us, that through Jesus we can meet and commune with Him.

His presence is no longer limited to a seat in the Holy of Holies. He is no longer separated from His People. 

He has met us in the courtyard. In our mess.

It is no longer us pleading in the courtyard that he would see our efforts to eradicate sin from us. He tore the curtain after all.

And we get this because of our Priest. This Jesus, sitting at the right hand of the Father, advocating for our forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Himself.

So Grace.

That unmerited favor I am beginning to understand. A surface-level definition and yet a mountain-peak-truth: a tip-of-the-iceberg paragraph that I am praying will be filled in in the coming days. This Grace that I am beginning to understand.

It is the meeting of holy and unholy, in our mess, in our squalor the Creator comes.

Grace sees the mess. Covers the mess. (Opens our eyes to see the ways Grace does all of this.) And uses our knowledge of the Just King Who Requires a Perfect Holy Place ( the one who requires perfection in his presence) to show us the unrelenting bits of His Mercy: through Jesus’ perfect life, death, and resurrection we have access to the throne room, to the presence of God. And those who believe can approach boldly, in the blood-washed linen of our King.

In Our Squalor. His grace.

So on Christmas. I will be celebrating the beginning of this tangibility, this Word Became Flesh Son of Man who dwelt among us. For in the mess and the squalor of That Borrowed Stable: The Savior of the World.

 

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heaven meets earth

this year it has been especially hard for me to get into the christmas spirit.

It’s not that there was some road block deliberately keeping my heart from feeling the soaring joy and cheer of yuletide. It hasn’t been there, which isn’t necessarily abnormal for me. But it’s been frustrating, nonetheless.

So I’ve been forcing myself into jazz christmas playlists, and trying to glean joy from the advent scriptures, and basically attempting to scrounge up cheer from whatever parts of me that I can.

So it’s Christmas Eve morning. I’m running on approximately 5 hours of sleep. I’m harboring a lot of teeth-clenching frustrations from random and oddly trivial things. and I put on my most favorite album, which happened to be a hard choice to make for my heart, and decided to close my eyes.

This song begins to play and my brain, associates words in the song with apparent text from the word, is full – thousands of thoughts, a picture.

A room. Except nothing is truly perceivable. At the foot of the image there is a gold floor, engraved and embossed and shining. Beyond that, only light. Beyond the gold floor is blinding, spot-inducing, earth-shattering, gaze breaking light. And the person standing and seeing this, falls to their knees. But doesn’t lower their head, maintains a steady and strong gaze at the light that seemingly drowns them. There is no movement towards or away, just a stolidity, a steadfastness to the gaze towards the mystery of the light. The person begins to weep. But never looks away.

I can feel something in my heart twist and turn and move, and all I can think of is this:

Christ was nailed to a tree, and with blood dripping from hands, feet, and head, his last breath killed the stigma of sin, washing away our marks of walking in deliberate disobedience to God.

And when he rose again, he defeated sin, death, the curse, and even Satan. Our salvation was accomplished and he invites us to receive this salvation through faith in Him. That invitation beckons us to bask in the glory of the throne room, in the presence of God.

And my brain doesn’t really think about the birth, just the sheer idea that because of Jesus’ life, those who believe in his name are able to walk in communion with him.

But in-between the first and second service, the first and second glory-filled moment, there are a lot of frustrations. Grumblings. Annoyances. But they disappear when the pastor starts talking at the evening service, service number 2.

“I think there must have been unaccompanied rejoicing in the courts as the events unfolded in Bethlehem.”

And he mentions how perhaps the veil must have been was moved back, and how if that were the case, the separation between between those bound to earth and those dancing in the courts was merely physical. I can imagine the angels marveled as they watched the shepherds wonder at the star. As they watched the wise men on camels carrying gifts for this promised One.  And I imagine when they met the Shepherds in the field that night, the army of angels commanded by our Merciful God were joy-filled: their savior had become flesh. To save the lost, to bring His Beloved back into his courts.

Heaven watched earth receive their king, into a barn in David’s town. They watched. They sang. The Great Joy for All People, their Glorious King, a baby in Bethlehem.

And yet, Jesus had come to a world that would not receive him with open arms. He came to a people who would spit on him, revile him, wound him, hate him.

He came from the heavenly courts, of 24/7 light and dancing and feasting and perfection to become like us in every way, to know our pain, healing, grief, joys, sorrows, happinesses, and imperfections intimately.

But Peace on Earth was born.

And this birth started a chain of events that allowed us the following gift:

To whomever believes in him, receiving him as the King of their life and heart, He has given the right (because of Jesus’ life – from cradle to grave), to become children of God.  (see John 1:9-13) And as a child of God, those who are saved receive the birthright of Jesus. When God sees us, he sees Him and the perfection that he was and will continue to be.

And so today. There is cheer and joy and awe and marvel that resounds: the Gloried One came to bridge the gap between God and man.

Merry Christmas. May today be filled with reminders of Jesus’ Great Birth and what it means for those who believe in Him.

– Brittany

*=paraphrased

Being a Samaritan in a Hard and Callous City / A Journal Entry

New York is not for the faint of heart.

I can recall to mind clearly, the thoughts my drama teacher spoke in my graduation send-off  (a bit paraphrased since this was 2 years ago and I don’t have the tape currently on me!)

Coming From New York, I understand what is required for someone to thrive there. And of the many students who have come to me with their dreams for the city, I have only recommended three individuals to take it on. It requires a fierceness and tenacity that only few have.

And I remember thinking: how hard can it really be?

As a silver linings person and an idealist, I fantasize over only the good aspects of places, people. Upon arriving, it was a startling, cold truth that met me. Especially when temperatures were no longer easy-breezy-70, but rather a bitter 25.

When the weather turns cold, people turn inward and with that emotional withdraw the care-free summer working girl becomes a hard, callous person, annoyed and frustrated with…just about everything.

Anyhow, I never thought I’d be the girl who’d yell “Seriously, man?” when a cab driver cut me off when I had the obvious right of way, never thought I’d be the one to send dirty, nasty looks to those who are visiting and walking 4 abreast on a sidewalk where you really ought to be walking single file. I never thought I’d be that one.

And yet here I am.

Today, a giant, black SUV defiantly ignored the traffic regulator and brushed right past me as I attempted to cross 29th Street. If the smoke coming from my ears was visible, it definitely would have been cause for onlooker concern. Sitting here in a quiet dorm room 9 hours later, it seems trivial to have deliberately made eye contact with the guy as I passed by him, yet at approximately 1:48 PM today, yowza.

How fitting that tonight I’m reading about Mercy. Being a good samaritan – loving your neighbor. It’s easy enough to say, to promise yourself to do, yet when that guy in the black SUV cuts you off – love begone, bygones will not be bygones, seriously dude?

And 9 hours later and I’m reading Luke 10 and yeeks, it hurts.

Some of the immediate thoughts I had after reading the text were penned as follows:

Cultivate mercy. Your neighbor includes the guy who runs the red. the groups who walk slowly. the people who don’t hold the door open for you when your hands are full.

anger is a choice.

being merciful is too.

Second only to loving the Lord with all your Heart and Soul and Mind (Luke 10:27a), is loving those around you (a longer synonym for “neighbor”) as you love yourself.

NOTE TO SELF: Mercy goes far beyond seeing someone in physical need and wrapping their broken with your feeble. Yes, it is a thousand times over coming to where the man lies, wounded and stopping and to bind up his wounds.

It’s also a heart-state.

It has to go beyond empathizing with someone who is injured, sick, or in an especially dark place.

This week and all the weeks after, may this mindset be something I lean into through my days. Because in this cold callous city, when someone allows you to take your right-of-way, when the girl in front of you waits a second longer to hold the door open for you when your hands are brimming, when the teacher helps you collect fallen papers off the floor: these are the ways you love those people around you as yourself. And when they cut me off. I am called to love them still.

 

on writing and the park bench

there is a frantic nature to it

to push each word through your limbs as fast as the sentences and your fingers allow.

verbiage waits for no man.

//

it’s clumsy, like learning to walk except once you pen the last mark, the clock reverses

the legs lose muscle memory,

and you’re back on the floor, crawling through chaos and catastrophe, allowing each texture and moment to surge through you.

//

to write is to magnify your weakness,

to take a microscope and focus on the swab of your failures

and to sketch what you see.

atoms and molecules, vibrating and buzzing and alive –

to write is to expose

temptations, mistakes, victories, happiness’

it is to peel back the layers of your yesterdays

to reveal todays thoughts, fears, truths.

///

it is art that does not need interpreting

because each sentence says the same thing

look at the ways i have lived

look at the things i have felt.

//

so it’s frantic

because nothing makes sense and to put a pen to paper is to attempt to understand why rain feels the way it does. because if you wait one second too long the moment will pass, the breeze will carry the scent of his clothing away from you, the man will hop onto a subway, the peaches juice will dry on your hands, and with the transience

goes the words.

so you put it down quick,

on the bench for ollie in the park,

so that tomorrow when you start thinking about sitting in that spot in hopes of a certain freckle faced boy walking by and saying ‘hello stranger, you are ravishing’

you won’t

because you’ll remember, he never comes.

and it was a mistake to sit there for all that time and look for him in each face.

///

this is the way i write.

frantically. frenetically.

 

diez y seis

 

I have nearly burst into tears numerous times throughout today’s 12 hours of wakefulness. It wasn’t until I was sitting in class writing down the day’s date that the sinking feeling arose in my stomach. Now it is all I can think about.

 

I just keep looking up at the perfectly blue sky, and the clear air, and I see New Yorkers taking pregnant pauses on street corners and I’m reading all these “Never Forget” posts all over the internet and I am in this city and it exists as usual. With it’s humans, it’s inhabitants pushing vulnerability into the bottom of their belly and carrying on as usual. And I’m not sure why it’s the 16th marker that triggered something in my soul, that unlocked a certain sorrow that I haven’t known before, but today 16 years later, I am not only profoundly aware of the date. I am painfully aware of the people who never got to go home.

And I can’t think too long about it. Because the breath gets all stuck in my throat and the tears gather beneath my eyelids because I’m…overwhelmed. Because 16 years later, I am walking and breathing and living steps away from the place that rocked the tectonic plates of the city.  I ache all the way down to my bones, because every time I visit Ground Zero, I touch someone else’s name and it hurts the lines in my palms, that they have never known the same name twice.

 

I feel cut up and carved out.

 

Because 2,996 is a big number. Because each one was a separate entity at one point that now makes up a whole. I am hurting and bruised for those who visit graves today and picnic beside the markers with those lost names on them. I ache. The skies are blue, the sun is shining, and it has been 16 years.

 

So I’m taking those pregnant pauses with New Yorkers today. I’m stopping. To look up at the sky and marvel at the blues that I get to see, the coffee I get to drink, the steps I get to take, the feelings I get to feel.

I’m remembering but not thinking too hard. Because I’ll cry. And the gratitude will seep right out of me.

Gratitude and sorrow exist simultaneously today. And I’m running out of words to say. 

So here. The rest of the journal entry:

Profoundly aware of the blessing of today. Of being able to breathe and remember in unison with a city that has groaned and grown in the wake of tragedy. 16 years later and the exact moment the towers cracked was spent learning about the collective processes that allow us to see the colors of our world. It is a day to mull over the gift that is today.

16 Years Later and I’m beginning to cry writing this at the table on the second floor, because I don’t remember what the skyline was like before. I don’t remember the crackle of the TV screen and the sound of Mom crying as she watched the tragedy in real time. 

So it’s 16 years later and I can’t remember what 8:46am was like.

But I know how it feels to look at the beautiful blue tower resurrected in honor of the 2,996. I know the surge of joy, of sorrow, of fresh pain, of pride, that rushes through every limb and muscle strand when I glimpse the building resurrected in their honor.

So it’s 16 years later and I can’t remember the exact moment. But I am thinking about all the names. And praying hard for the ones left behind. And there is no smoke in the air. And the skies are blue. And it’s 16 years later and it hurts. And I’m grateful.

happiness’

today, i ate dumplings for the first time. 1.25 of pure deliciousness.

IMG_7823

tasty dumpling / chinatown

can we take a minute to appreciate these shadows? all the heart eyes. yes please.

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lowes / 6th ave

if you’re ever in the city, wanting to do non-touristy things (10/10 would rec), the union square farmers market is the loveliest! honey bee farmers with jars of delicious syrup, gorgeously wrapped bouquets, the freshest tomatoes, juiciest strawberries and a whole lotta local love. (open m, w, f)

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farmers market / union square park

waitress was one of the most wonderful musicals i’ve seen. all the of the gut-wrenching tears and belly-aching laughs.

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waitress, the musical / 47th street, b/t 7th and 8th ave

this van gogh quote, stirring up my heart-strings:

happy labor day. here’s to all the little happiness’ that collect around our lives like stardust does to the night sky.

xoxo,

brittanycharis

 

Of Devotions and Storms

 

Today I was reading this passage in Luke:

“And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves and they ceased and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and waters and they obey Him?” (8v23-25)

This is my response:

I like the calm after the storm. The way the water begins to flow softly, tenderly. The way sun breaks through the clouds, pushing darkness to the edge of the world. The golden light that shakes water from tree branches, touches the tips of the waves, kisses light, goodness, and peace back into the places that had, moments before, been places of upheaval.

I like the calm after the physical earth-shaking storm. I like the calm after the spiritual one, too.

The peace. The easy-breathing. The golden days. The light.

And this metaphor is horribly cliche and yet ever so telling of how trials and tragedies and dark times feel. Like chaos. Like disorder. Like darkness. And as I was thinking about the words of these 3 verses of scripture, this seemed to bubble up out my soul.

Storms inevitably rise up in our lives. In places that were once calm, in places that we’ve never been before. They rise. Around us, in us. The kind of storms you don’t see coming that happen in places of joy and peace, are suddenly ripped apart the winds and rain. And we tremble. The ground beneath our feet gives way. We shake. The physical, worldly comforts are removed. We are filled with fear.

In these seasons, how quick we are to ask the King to calm it.

We are taught that He is our helper, our merciful Lord, our sure and steady rock and He is all these things.

So we accuse him of distance and detachment when the storms gurgle and boil and rise.

As our boats fill with water and the waters bubble up within our hearts, fear and trembling and doubts creep in to a faith that we once dubbed as being strong.

And when the Lord returns to view, when he wakes and draws near and calms the wind and the raging waves with but a word, we are filled us with marvel. Suddenly our long drawn out season is but a drop in the bucket, He becomes the “Good God” in our hearts, he becomes the caring, merciful King once more.

And it begs this simple question: “Where [was] your faith?”

The disciples marveled at his ability to calm the sea, once it was no longer a threat.

And I think we feel this same marvel too, when trials and valleys disappear.

But how incredible is the wind?

The waves?

The way the waters rise and surge? The electricity pops and the darts of light that drag themselves across the sky? How wonderful are the disasters? How messy, how muddy, how beautiful.

These things should fill us with marvel. Metaphorically and physically.

They are extraordinary, beautiful, disasters.

I want to be filled with marvel and wonderment in the midst of the flood.

In the midst of the deep. In the midst of the storm. In the midst of fear, in the midst of pain, in the midst of tragedy. I want to see the ways he has strengthened the pain so I might become less. So He might become greater.

May the pain of trial, winds, and rain show you the greatness and

Unfathomable beauty of our Savior and king.

In our weakness, He is made strong.

The calm will come, but until then, be filled.

With marvel.

Xoxo,

brittanycharis