Advent Reflections: Surprise (Week 3)

by Ruminate Magazine December 12, 2009

[A]dvent Series from Urban Skye Project

(Luke 2:8-20)

       Thin Places come where we least expect it.

The Shepherds were where you expect to find them: in the fields watching sheep sleep. Without warning or invitation, an angel appears – enough to unnerve the cockiest of shepherds - followed by a crowd of heavenly beings.  They were chosen to receive the clearest message of cosmic importance to date: Today, Bethlehem, Child born, Savior. No interpretation necessary. Romantic figures they may be, shepherds are idolized in our stories, but were mistrusted by their own community.  Figuratively and literally, they operated on the edges of society.  They would not have been able to read, they were looked down upon religiously and mistrusted personally and legally.  In a thin place encounter none of this matters in the least. Why shepherds? Unlike our other thin place encounters, personal virtue has no part of the equation. They were simply going about their lives, enjoying the silence of beautiful night around a fire.  The sheep would have been asleep and their only responsibility would have been protection from natural predators and thieves.   Maybe some had the night off and went into town; the rest would remain in the field sleeping in shifts and telling stories (stories that may not be fit for the temple crowd).   When the angel appeared did they hide their bottles? If a heavenly host covered the sky you would think all towns in the region would have noticed.  Maybe some did and we just don’t have their stories.  Regardless, we look at these unnamed shepherds and scratch our collective heads looking for clues that might have made them worthy of such an honor. Nothing.  They were just going about their business and found themselves chosen to have the Divine veil lowered.   Their normal space had become sacred and we still sing of it:                   Gloria Glory to God in the highest,                   And on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.(2:14) The Celtic Way: Sacred Space                           Those who first brought the message of Christ to the Celtic          “barbarians” sought to honor the Celtic culture.  In contrast to the “Roman Way”, which believed you must make them good Romans before they could become good Christians, St. Patrick and successors embraced Celtic passions such as nature, poetry and tribe.   The surprise was that God was present everywhere.  Even when Patrick would come across a pagan ritual site, rather than destroy it, he would pray over it, bless it and make it sacred.   Through prayer and blessing there was no ordinary space! Cultivate your Thin Place It is paradoxical to try to cultivate the unexpected thin place, but, as the Nativity Story thrives on paradox, we seek to understand what we may learn from the shepherds.  Just as their grassy field surprisingly became a place of worship and revelation, we may find sacred space in the ordinary. Rediscover a place that is already sacred to you.  It may be in nature, in a museum, or in a particular house of worship.  If possible, visit that space (or one like it) this week asking God to continue to speak to you through it.   If nothing comes to mind, follow the lead of the shepherds and take one walk at night this week.  Be sure to look up. Make sacred ordinary space.  Without an abundance of accessible churches, the Celts had an altar in the home as their central place or worship. Wherever you spend time during Advent – your office, your car, different rooms in your home – this is fair game to be considered sacred space.  Pray the prayer on the back cover as a blessing for the space. Light candles, add a Celtic cross or symbol or write out a prayer to post. As so much of our lives take place on the job, pray this prayer for yourself as you head to work: May you see in what you do the beauty of your soul.          May the sacredness of your work bring light and renewal to those who          work with you and to those who see and receive your work.          May your work never exhaust you.          May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.          May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected. “For Work”, John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us


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