As the year begins to wind down I’m thinking about the experiences that have marked me this year. There has been many encounters, moments, and conversations that will stay with me into the future. It is my practice to reflect on the moments that have given life, the moments that have broken my heart, and the moments that have taught me something about myself, others, and the world. Being marked is more about lessons learned than harm done. It is about memory and how that memory will shape my future.
It is not unusual that I am doing this assessment (examen) during Advent. I really believe that this season of hope-filled waiting is the perfect time to ask about how Christ is being born in me, how I am preparing the way to that birth, and how am I fooling myself into the same old ways. It turns out that human beings are really good at telling ourselves that we are good. The hopeful expectation of Advent moves me to look around, pay attention, and become more aware of the stuff that the Holy Spirit is up to in me.
In a recent note to my leaders I talked about the importance of confession. About the difficult yet freeing admonition from John the Baptizer to “bear fruit worthy of repentance.” Confession tills the soil and fertilizes it so that it can become fruitful. I know for me it means being open to sharing with trusted spiritual companions the ways that I have missed the mark in living the way of Jesus, the tendencies of my soul to idolatry, and the number of other ways that I am still bound to sin and death. Not so that I feel sorry for myself, but so that I hear again the words of forgiveness and reconciliation in an accountable way. So that I can allow the Spirit of God to heal my sin sick soul as I—by God’s grace—walk each day more closely to Jesus than I did the day before.
The water that nourishes the soil in repentance is penance. Not penance as obligatory busy work to earn our forgiveness instead penance as the practice that re-orders our soul into a more faithful and full Christlikeness and reminds us of the breath of God’s grace for us. These practices—prayer, fasting/abstinence, seeking forgiveness, serving the poor, almsgiving— are the same means of Grace that sustain our life in Christ, in penance we commit to these in community as a way to accountably and intentionally restore the joy of our salvation.
On Advent we go from darkness to light. For me this means from hiddenness to revelation, from obscure to evident, and from vague to clear. Love becoming more visible, its transforming fruit, more powerful. It begins deep in our souls but as it comes it begins to take over our entire lives and soon the lives of those around us, then the life of the world. This is not idealism or some romanticized notion of holidays. It is the promise of a God with Us!
I am committed to continuing working out my salvation with fear and trembling. I am committed to practicing the means of Grace as pathways to live in God. I am committed to constant conversion which means, constant repentance, a constant awareness of my need for grace. I am also committed to life together with the people of God for as John Wesley reminded us:
Solitary religion is not to be found there. “Holy Solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than Holy Adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.(fn)
I am also committed to a more disciplined life. This includes a more engaged connection with my covenant partners, the people who tell me the truth who remind me that I am forgiven and help me stay in love with God. It also means to be more attentive to my rhythms in the every day of life. To the presence of God in the everyday and in structuring my day in ways that I can be more present and more productive.
In the end as I make my own journey from darkness to light I am filled with gratitude. I live a blessed life, a life filled with love, joy, and abundance, a life where I get to live into my calling as a follower of Jesus who happens to pastor. It is also a life filled with possibility, good news, and opportunities to make a difference. My prayer now is that I remember all of this when the difficult seasons come in 2019.