A new essay by Denise on ‘Cultivating’ – an online Publication

Cultivating_WelcomingRest

For someone Tropic born and bred, like myself, the season of Winter can conjure conflicting responses—breath-taking emotions of worshipful silent wonder or lonely feelings of cold, bitter dreariness. Whatever your posture towards Old Man Winter, I have a delectable treat to offer! With more than two months of cold temperatures and curtailed activity yet to weather, I invite you to click over to The Cultivating Project’s Winter issue! —It will, yes, ‘warm the cockles of your heart!’ More than chicken soup, this issue, with its theme of ‘Welcoming Rest’, will do your soul good. I was again blessed to have an essay of mine, The Labour that Welcomes to Rest, included in its excellent fare. Enjoy! Also, don’t forget to leave a comment and share with anyone you know who longs for beauty and truth! And who doesn’t?

The Festivities of Advent

 As the Advent season approached this year, I found myself wondering, for the first time, what preparations on the heaven side of things may have looked like that first Advent. My fertile imagination pictured angel-feathers flying everywhere

Scripture Reading: Matthew 22:1-14

christiann-koepke-YiMRF2kO4Aw-unsplash.jpg     God clearly loves feasts and the celebrations surrounding them and has built similar delight into the hearts of us humans. No other creature has behavior that compares to the uniquely human practice of festive celebration. God’s instructions to Moses for His ancient people, Israel, organized their year around major feasts. They also had smaller ones regularly attending other aspects of their daily life, such as the Sabbath. So, it’s not surprising that Jesus often taught of the advancing entry of the Kingdom of God in terms of preparation for a great feast.

     As the Advent season approached this year, I found myself wondering, for the first time, what preparations on the heaven side of things may have looked like that first Advent. My fertile imagination pictured angel-feathers flying everywhere, as the heavenly messengers delivered missives, via dreams and annunciations to the relevant characters of the Christmas story, seeing to the fulfillment of prophecies and keeping demon spirits at bay. Was there a send-off feast? I know I run the risk of venturing into anthropomorphism—bringing God down to human form—yet the circumstance invites the imagination to take wing.  It tempts us to wonder what the feast in heaven may have looked like, if there was one? I believe Jesus gave us a hint, in the parable, from today’s Scripture. 

     Here, in Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus draws on the practices of these ancient cultures familiar to His hearers, but with a twist that would delight the ‘poor in spirit’ of His audience and anger the proud and self-righteous of the religious elite. It would have been clear to the crowd who the bad actors in the parable represented and who the humble folk, dragged in from the highways and byways, needing to be issued appropriate clothing.

     But lest we mistakenly assume that Jesus was playing into ‘classism’— elevating the ‘poor in pocket’ over the wealthy, His parable makes clear that no one in attendance at the feast of His coming Kingdom will do so on his or her own merit. We must all come as the ‘poor in spirit’—the same fury which the King displayed against the initial guests, who esteemed their own business above the King’s, and killed His messengers, is also dished out to the latter guests of humble means, who declined the covering provided in Grace. The response of the King, representative of the Heavenly Father, is completely understandable when you consider that Jesus’ parable is of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, at His Second Advent, and the covering graciously provided, nothing less than the priceless blood of the Son of God Himself!

Prayer:

“Thank You, gracious King and Lord, for Your amazing invitation to feast in Your glorious Kingdom. As we approach the celebration of Your incarnation, may we all make ourselves ready, robed in Your righteousness alone.”

Possessing Our Souls in Patience at Advent

Scripture Reading: Luke 21:5-19

    Believers in Jesus Christ have had several centuries to touch, taste and handle the glorious reality and ultimate Truth of Jesus’ first Advent; but not so much His Second. In fact, the proclamation of His imminent return has fallen on hard times as church’s shy away from a focus on what has been known throughout the ages as “The Believers’ Glorious Hope”.

nativity2.jpg

     I love the Christmas cards and nativity scenery artistically portraying the shining face of the Christ-Child in the manger, and that light reflecting from those gathered around the Holy family to adore Him. Yet, the historical facts and events, soon to follow that scene, record a brutal, ugly, God-hating world, in the not so distant backdrop. Yet those who gazed and received His Light were forever transformed; going out from that space, proclaimed, preserved and stewarded the Best News the World has ever received and ever will.

   Jesus, in Luke 21:5-19, sought to prepare His followers for the unpleasant circumstances that would also attend His second advent—the destruction of Jerusalem, wars at home and abroad, worldwide cataclysmic events, chaos and disruptions in society and the created order, cosmic phenomena and, in it all, persecution of believers in Him. His admonition to them in verse 19 is to ‘possess their souls in patience’, promising that they would be imbued with supernaturally supplied responses and powerful testimonies of Him for their persecutors and captors and that not a hair on their heads would be lost.

    In this ‘now and not yet’ prophetic passage we, today, can testify that the disciples, just like the faithful shepherds and the holy family, did ‘possess their souls in patience’, in their time. The light of the Glory of God in the Face of Christ had burst forth from a Middle-Eastern tomb, and they had beheld His Glory, even of the only begotten of the Eternal Father! They waited in prayer and worship till the Spirit fell and filled them, then they faithfully delivered the Gospel to successive generations, sustained even up until our day.

How will we do in our time?

Prayer:
“Father, as our quaking world holds the prospect of Christ’s second Advent in derision, help us choose to ‘look up’ in joyful anticipation of His appearing, as Jesus told us to while working the works of Him who sent us while it is still day; knowing that He who promised us supernatural testimony of You, by His Spirit, will also supply the joyful vision to sustain and enable us to ‘possess our souls in patience’ till that Day of days.”

Preparing for Redemptive Merry-Making with a Jamaican Christmas Tradition

The juxtaposition of Christ’s imperfect earthly family tree with the memory of our Jamaican merry-making tradition, (of preparing for and baking Christmas cakes), provides a segue to rejoice in the redemption of our imperfect lineage, when it is sorted and sifted by the Savior’s hands on our own, in redemptive merry-making.

     I was truly surprised by joy when I gave in and read Matthew’s entire list of names in Jesus’ genealogy through his earthly adoptive father, Joseph. Ken Gire’s writing the Scripture at the top of the first reading in his devotional, Moments with The Savior, subtly compelled me. His insightful commentary, describing the earthly genealogy of Jesus as,

“…a lineage of grace, a testimony to the reach of (God’s) love throughout the generations.”

Lineage of Jesus1

deftly guided me to fuller appreciation of the importance of never discounting even one word of the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. The motley mix that is here laid out for all to see, brought an unexpected sense of relief—a reminder that God means what He says—He is not only willing, but able to redeem all things, causing them to work together for the good of the one who simply admits the desperate need and looks to Him who is Redeemer.

     In Gire’s sifting and sorting through the motley inclusions on Jesus’ family tree, I saw, in stark portrayal against the backdrop of humanity walking in darkness, the bright promise of Christ, emerging from a hopeless mess, to manifest as the sweet promise the Christmas season represents in eternal terms—Mankind’s full redemption.  The glee that surprised me was reminiscent of that which would peep out at us children from market and grocery bags, when the Trade Winds we called ‘Christmas breeze’ would start to blow across the hills and plains of our island home, and the traditional Jamaican household begins to move towards preparing for it. The items in the bags promised a sweet and wonderful treat that would soon be ours, along with all the fellowshipping, joyful family gathering and community merry-making that it would foster—the making and sharing of the Jamaican Christmas cake tradition!

christmas cake3.jpg    On my kitchen counter sits two large bags of organic raisins, and an equally large bag of prunes, waiting to recreate that memory, in another land, in hope nevertheless, of sealing a prophetic moment for our family this Thanksgiving, as we try to handle family history redemptively. By the end of October, the traditional Jamaican mother-householder has put her fruit to soak— that is, she has seeded and cut up prunes, washed and dried raisins and currants and put batches of them to soak in jars with a mixture of Jamaican overproof rum and Red Label port wine. This is all a precursor to the later grand baking of the cakes, for family festive dining, as well as for entertaining those expected to visit or just stop by throughout the holiday season. This delectable culinary treasure, no doubt, entered the Jamaican culture via the British of our slave- colonial past, the appearance and ingredients being similar to the British plum pudding.

   I am grateful that my mother held to this tradition, though hers was a modest deal: a couple cakes for the immediate family, one for her parents, who lived a few miles away, and one for the visitors likely to sporadically pop in. For my Aunty P, however, who lived on the other side of our extended-family-dwelling, with my paternal grandparents during my growing up years, this was a major happening, almost a community event in scope—complete with laughter, conversation, the sounds of the wooden spoon pounding on the side of the large mixing bowls and the constant whirring of the hand mixer as one of us helped whip the eggs. It was an act of merry-making in itself, this making of cakes that would be given to friends, folks and family and often even shipped to them many miles away, overseas.

christmas cake2     The batches of fruit were substantial and the heavy bowls of batter, comprising pounds of butter, sugar, and flour, which would soon receive the dozens of whipped eggs, seemed massive to my young eyes. To an outsider happening upon the scene, after the fruit mixture, mixed spices, vanilla, brown food coloring, and more wine were finally added, it would probably seem just a gargantuan tub of mud-colored sludge, until …Until!!!! poured into a myriad of lined pans and baked at just the right temperature they became that unimaginably fragrant batch of wonderful Jamaican Christmas cakes that filled the house with the heady festive aroma, sizzling tantalizingly, as more wine and rum are drizzled on.  Other than preparing to sing in the school choir for the glorious carol service at the Parish church, the Sunday School Christmas Program of our neighborhood church and the family Christmas dinner, these sights, sounds, and smells are still my strongest association with Christmas merry-making and sharing!

     As October closed this year, my mind began, perhaps instinctively, to reach out for the Christmas theme that would best connect our family’s holiday gatherings this year with things joyful and eternal, beginning with Thanksgiving— what would be at the heart of our merry-making? And God’s Holy Spirit was faithful to supply it again. In seeking to build our young cross-cultural family, we early realized we had to be intentional in seasons that invoke family of origin memories and traditions, for even sweet memories can come laced with the poison of sad, bad and mad relics—ghosts of human relationships and seasons of generations past or more recent—memories we wish we could erase from the line. But God did not so exemplify. Gire, in describing some of the branches included in Messiah’s family tree, employed words such as, “bent, broken, blighted, twisted and uncultivated”. What a relief that when God came to save us, He knew what He was getting into and did not balk; He is not fazed by broken imperfect storylines. In fact, that’s why He came.

     So, like David, we try to run in faith towards those looming specters, instead of cowering each holiday season, awaiting their dread effect, meeting them head-on—seeking to acknowledge and discern God’s redemptive work through them all. Our hands-on His great ones, sifting and sorting family and cultural traditions, tracing our prophetic history, looking to see, like our Jewish friends still do in their Seder observances—including the bitter herbs alongside the sweet Charoset, facing the bitter past without rancour, accepting it as the dark thread that will make the good times shine even more brightly, when God breaks through. In this way we demonstrate our trust in the Sovereign hand of a good God who is at work, not only on the grand scale, but also in the low estate of our family lineage, weaving away at His grand “Poeima”, healing, restoring, bringing all things together under Him who is the Head.

     Thus, the simple tradition of putting the Christmas cake fruit to soak before Thanksgiving creates anticipation and makes tangible now the full reason for merry-making then, when we celebrate at Christmas that the Savior came! unveiling God’s love and setting His salvation plan in motion. Yes, merry-making, and all manner of effort to that end, is eminently warranted! Purposefully anticipating ensures that when the last morsel and tinsel of the merry-making season is finally savored and supped away, like the last drops from a sweet cup, then what’s left behind is deep satisfaction and also a well-developed palate and appetite for more. It is like the longing after the final crumb of Christmas cake is eaten, which grows on you and leaves you wanting more but willing to wait another year for the Season with the Reason. I wonder if Aunty P knew the extent to which she was cultivating merry-making at its best—an appreciation for everything in its time, for the glory of Him who weaves all our broken stories into His glorious One.

 

“When Letting Go Means Holding On” an essay by Denise on ‘Cultivating’ – an online Publication

Permit me to urge you to treat yourself to soul-nourishing fare over at ‘Cultivating’ — a delightful literary and visual smorgasbord. The theme of the Fall issue of this online publication is ‘Letting Go’.

I was once again privileged to have an essay, When Letting Go Means Holding On, published in the reading/journal section.

There I relate the events leading to my migration to America and share aspects of the struggle to hold on to the promises of a trustworthy God, when letting go of the familiar feels like free fall.

Denise on “The Cultivating Project” E-zine

CultivatingPic1Summer-Joy! I have been given the wonderful opportunity to write for an absolutely beautiful online publication, “The Cultivating Project”, on their ‘Journals’ page.  I can’t wait another minute to share the work of these exquisite writers, artists, and lovers of all things beautiful! Come plunge into the Summer 2019 issue for a breath-taking, “many-splendored” look at ‘Flourishing’ and my essay ‘When You Think the Spring is Not for You’.

Enjoy this feast until my next post on ‘Dawnwings’ this month!

God with Piercings

    I was glad the night before Palm Sunday 2019 when my husband set up his laptop at the far end of the dining table with Dr. Paul Maier’s Easter week documentary — ‘Three days that Shook the World’. Seeing another presentation on the historical facts behind the wondrous Gospel laid out with ‘many infallible proofs’, to borrow from the words of synoptic Gospel writer, Luke, made the chicken vegetable soup I served for supper that evening go down with great satisfaction. Continue reading “God with Piercings”