WITH Embracing Mystery in the New Year: Ten Essential Practices
by Christine Valters Paintner
Holy God, show us the way,
as we seek the quiet centre.
Give us light... as we honour your love.
I invite you to answer a question... three times… just in your mind…
Three answers… one question.
Start with the words I am...
Who are you?
How many mentioned what you do... I am a carpenter or a clerk... a teacher…
or your present status... retired...?
Did you perhaps name yourself in a relationship with someone else... grandparent, spouse, sibling?
Did any of you identify yourself with ‘what you love’?
I am a person who loves to fish, who paints, who breathes deeply....
... someone who sings, loves to walk the labyrinth.... ?
Who are you?
And I wonder…
Does God care who you are or how you name yourself?
Did you happen to name yourself as a ‘child of the living God’?
In the middle of the muddy waters of the Jordan,
Jesus hears who he is... who he is in relationship with,
and how God feels about him.
At his baptism, Jesus is given the interlocking gifts of identity and affirmation.
'This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased.'
Jesus, you are my Son, my beloved…
and I really like you ... and I like who you are!
The event of Jesus' baptism is found in all four Gospels.
Mark, Matthew, and Luke describe the happenings in a very similar way.
John's Gospel does not directly describe the baptism
but gives testimony of John the Baptist and what he saw.
In each of the four Gospels,
the Baptism of Jesus is accompanied by the giving of the Holy Spirit.
And in three accounts, it is accompanied by a voice from heaven
pronouncing Jesus as my beloved Son,
a child with whom I am well pleased.
God was well pleased.
John, however... did not jump at the chance to Baptize Jesus.
John was trying to live up to his life’s calling,
John was called to point to the Messiah.
He was showing the way,
and preparing people by offering them the waters of repentance.
And John felt unqualified to do the very first thing Jesus asked him to do.
John had previously stated that he thought he was
unworthy even to untie the sandals of Jesus.
And now in the waters of the Jordan,
even though Jesus has previously said
that John was the greatest of all prophets, (Lk 7:28)
John is uncertain about Baptizing Jesus.
Yet he does… John plunges Jesus down into the water,
and pulls him back up again.
The Holy Spirit moves…
and Jesus is given the interlocking gifts of identity and affirmation.
Jesus learns definitively who he is in relationship with,
and to whom he belongs.
By coming to John for Baptism,
Jesus sets the stage for his deep connection with all people.
Jesus stands in solidarity with everyone on that riverbank.
Jesus stands in harmony and unity with all of humankind.
Jesus stands with the poor, the marginalised, the unloved and unwanted.
In his Baptism… in our Baptism and in all of life,
Jesus invites us to share in a unity that names us kindred in Spirit,
and names us as sisters and brothers together...
in the love of the Creator.
In the mystery of Baptism,
we are also given the interlocking gifts
of identity and affirmation.
So... who are you?
Baptism is the beginning of something new.
Through the waters of Baptism,
the Spirit moves and stirs; rests and blesses.
And in that mystery,
a person is made new in the Spirit of God’s love.
We are usually only Baptized once...
yet the promises of Baptism are ours every day,
and the Spirit stirs and rests on us... every day!
Everyday promises, mystery, and wholeness.
During the Sacrament of Baptism,
when I pour water on a person's head,
whether infant, toddler, youth or adult,
I use these words:
"I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit; one God, Mother of us all.
I mark you with the sign of the Christ,
that you may know and the world may never forget,
who you are, and to whom you belong."
So this morning, I invite you again to take the time to know who you are...
and to whom you belong.
Even if you have not been Baptized...
you can still embrace the Spirit, know who you are,
and live into the newness of God’s love.
So... Think about Baptism ... and live into the new life that Spirit offers.
Branch in the Baptism bowl and spray people with water!
Twelve days into the year 2020,
the year is still new.
You may have made some New Year Resolutions...
but I invite you into a time of practice,
that leans into the mystery of who you are,
honouring gifts that the Spirit of God offers anew.
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD,
is a Benedictine oblate, living as a monk in Galway, Ireland.
She is an author, leads pilgrimages and is the online Abbess at AbbeyOfTheArts.com.
She invites us to ‘embrace mystery’ in this New Year,
and offers ten practices.
She invites us to create an altar for God
and for the unknown depths of our own beautiful being
waiting to be freed.
1. Breathe deeply – our breath is our most immediate and vital connection to the life force which sustains us moment by moment. Let yourself be filled with awe and wonder at the marvels of this intimate gift.
2. Embrace night wisdom – one of the great gifts of dreams is that they upend our desire for logic and immerse us in a narrative which reveals the shadows we must wrestle with and the joys which call to us, whether or not they make sense to the waking world.
3. Dance freely – Dance has been part of human culture for thousands of years as a way to experience union with ourselves, one another, and the divine. Each day put on one piece of music that you love, close the door, and dance. If you resist, even better – dance with your resistance!
4. Follow the thread – each of us has a unique unfolding story and call in this world. We don't "figure this out", but rather we allow the story to emerge in its own time, tending the symbols and synchronicities which guide us along.
5. Trust in what you love – What are the things that make your heart beat loudly, no matter how at odds you feel with your current life (and perhaps especially so)? Make some room this year to honour what brings you alive.
6. Let the rhythms of nature guide you – Turn to the natural world … each moon cycle, the rhythm of each season. Make some time to embrace the rising and falling and emptiness of life which immerses us in an experience of mystery.
7. Release what is no longer necessary – Reflect on what is most essential. Even if just for a moment… release control of the direction of your life and yield to grace.
8. Remember that you will die – St. Benedict writes in his Rule… to "keep death daily before your eyes." This is a reminder of life's incredible gift. A vibrant relationship to our own mortality is essential to a vibrant relationship to life.
9. Ask for the wisdom of your ancestors – each of us is the inheritor of generations of stories which beat through our blood. Each of us has mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, who wrestled mightily with living a meaningful life. We can call upon this great "cloud of witnesses" to support us in our own wrestling. We can listen across the veil between worlds.
10. Open yourself to receiving a word for the year ahead – in quiet moments… what are the desires you hear being whispered from your heart? Is there a word or phrase that shimmers forth, inviting you to dwell with it, in the months ahead? Grow into this, even if you don't fully understand?
I end with a story.
A person had been sitting by the side of a road for over ten years,
asking passers-by for help.
One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?" mumbled the person,
almost unconsciously... holding out an old baseball cap.
“I have nothing for you,” said the stranger.
Then they asked: “What are you sitting on?”
“Nothing,” replied the person. “Just an old box.”
I have been sitting on it for as long as I remember.”
“Ever look inside?” asked the stranger.
“No,” said the person. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in there.”
“Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger.
The person managed to pry open the lid.
With astonishment, disbelief, and excitement,
they saw that the box was filled with gold.
Today... let me be that stranger, who has nothing to give you...
and who is telling you to look inside.
Not inside a box, as in this parable,
but somewhere more personal, more important.
Look inside yourself and find gold.
God loves you and reveals a sacred, intimate relationship,
embracing your very being.
We are all loved and named beloved.
Because of that love,
we can know who we are .... and to whom we belong.
When we are truly connected to our own unique sense of being...
we will lean into Spirit and be set free.
We will live with an openness that is without shield or sword.
We will not be at war with the calm of our heart,
or the easy rhythm of deep peace and joy.
We will find room for hope to enter, courage when we are shrinking,
and the quiet centre.
In the Spirit’s lively scheming, there is always room to spare.
So be who you are...
and make a difference in someone's life… for the sake of love.