December 3, 2009 This past weekend we began our Advent series. We are calling it Monsters Inc., a look at how fear is addressed within the Christmas story. We began with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptizer, the forerunner to Jesus. This is an astounding thing in light of how they would have thought about the significance of their lives up to the moment we meet them.
So how do we come to understand significance and value? And how can we learn to measure our significance on a different scale?
Brother Lawrence is the inspiration and source for one of the most beloved and famous of all spiritual books, The Practice of the Presence of God. He lived the humblest of lives, spending much of it in a monastery kitchen. There is nothing too impressive about what Brother Lawrence did; the impressive thing is how he chooses to see the value of his life. The key was that he made a conscious choice to be aware of God in all that he did, and to do everything with love. He said:
Men invent means and methods of coming at God's love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God's presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?
Through common, everyday chores Brother Lawrence came to realize his particular significance. In the words of Theresa of Calcutta, it is not so much the doing of great things, but the doing of simple things with great love. Lawrence learned that significance was not in the task but in the motivation: "I turn the cake that is frying on the pan out of love for him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I… worship...; afterwards I rise happier than a king."
The significance and beauty of the (little) life of Brother Lawrence is understood as worship. This theme will repeat for us as we make our way through these Christmas stories, just as we will meet again with fear. These two realities -- worship and fear -- struggle within us, and we have to understand their effect. Fear is being overwhelmed with the sense of aloneness, our significance something we have to make by ourselves. Worship, by contrast, is the overwhelming sense of God, that he is the author of our story and is actually bringing it to its best end. Worship is the practice of the presence of God, something Brother Lawrence learned about in the most surprising and humblest of places, the kitchen.
This Sunday we take a look at Mary and the fear of chaos. We hope to see you at 9:29 or 11:11 -- the coffee is always on.
For further reflection, read Luke 1:5-25, 57-80, and think about the following: 1. How does our culture assign significance? What does this text teach us about how significance is assigned? 2. The story has two aspects: what happens to the characters, and how the characters interpret their lives. What can we learn from what Elizabeth and Zechariah actually say? 3. Look up Brother Lawrence in Wikipedia. What effect does his story have on your life? 4. How do you need to focus or refocus significance within your daily routine? What are some ways we can learn to see life differently?