The Contemplative New Testament: Luke 1

As a PhD candidate in Christian Origins, I spend a lot of my time in the Bible. What this means is that if you would trust a first year med student to operate on your brain, you will feel comfortable using these for your devotional life.  I have translated the texts with two main angles always in mind:  God’s Kingdom and Christian Spirituality.  I trust you will find these new paraphrases enlightening as you live out God’s counter-intuitive ways on earth as it is in heaven.
 

Luke 1.5-25

The matters you are interested in came to pass in the days of Herod King of the Jews.  There was a certain priest named Zachariah, from the order of Abia and his wife from among the daughters of Aaron.  And her name was Elizabeth.  They were both righteous before God, embracing all the commands.  And when it came to walking in the righteousness of the Lord, they were blameless.  But they had no children.

It was because Elizabeth was barren.  And their childbearing days were far gone.

The time came for him to serve as priest before God, in the way of his order.  According to the custom of the priests, the dice chose him to be the one to burn incense when he came into the temple of the Lord

And all the people were praying outside during the hour of the lighting.

And an angel of the Lord appeared to him.  It was standing to the right of the altar of incense.  And when Zachariah saw it, he was so startled that fear fell upon him.  And the angel said to him:

“Don’t fear Zacharia, because your deep prayer has been heard.  And your wife Elizabeth will bear you a child.  And you shall call him John.  With the boy, you will find yourself so happy and rejoicing. In fact, many will be filled with joy at his birth.  And listen carefully: he must not drink wine or hard alcohol.  It gets deeper.  He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even in his mother’s womb.  And he will bring back many sons of Israel to the Lord their God.  And he will come before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah with a two fold mission: first to return the hearts of fathers to children and the disobedient into right thinking; second to by tilling the soil, to prepare the people for the Lord.”

Zacharia said to the angel:

“By what sign will I know this?”  For I am old and my wife’s childbearing days are far gone.”

And responding, the angel said to him:

“You want a sign? I am Gabriel, the one who stands near to the face of God.   I was sent to you to speak and to declare these things.  Now behold, silence will come upon you and you will not be able to speak.   You won’t be able to speak until the day these things come to pass. This will happen, because you didn’t believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their right time.”

All the while, the people were waiting for Zachariah.  And they were astonished at how long it was taking him in the temple.   And when he came to them, he wasn’t able to speak to them.   And all they could discern were three things: that he saw a vision in the temple, that he was gesturing to them, and that he remained unable to speak. And so it came to pass that when the time of his service was fulfilled, he left for home.

After this all happened, Elizabeth, his wife, conceived.  She kept herself in her room for five months in wonder, saying, “The Lord has done this for me.  These are surprising days when He king-heartedly brought me out of the night of my disgrace among the race of men.”

Nicodemus the Boy and the Blind Man

On the day Jesus died, two men appear from under the shadow of the cross.  They are rich men, both with considerable political power.  Yet they were both touched at some point in their past by this son of Man.  One of them was a religious leader: Nicodemus.  We first meet him in the fear of the night.  He visits Jesus.  Perhaps it is their first meeting.  He came with faith.

And almost immediately, as if Jesus trusts him too, Jesus starts talking about being born again, of water and the spirit. For any man who has seen the birth of a baby, it is clear what being “born of water” means.  We all have been born of water.  But what does it mean to be born of the spirit?  We men would do well to wonder this.   Was Jesus thinking about his strange teaching when a few months later he would come up on a broken man, blind from birth?

The disciples were there then and asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” When this young boy found his way into the world by water, how did his parents respond? They they want him? Were they abusive?  We don’t know.  We do know about their answer when the deformities of this boy’s youth had been taken away in the prime of his manhood: “We know this is our son, and we know he was born blind, but how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know.  Ask him.  He is of age; he will speak for himself.”

The young man speaks for himself. The authorities claim, “We don’t know where this Jesus comes from.”  His parents were afraid of the authorities but this man who Jesus touched stands up with a bit attitude, “do you want to be his disciples too?”  Then he gets real lippy, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  They kick him out.

This young man had been born of water and the spirit.  And I don’t think his being born of the Spirit was primarily about him coming to see who Jesus was.  The young man had a voice now. Something had changed in him, his confidence rose.  This is a man of the Cross.  He stood up in the day to do what Nicodemus could only do by dark.

Divinity Schools are Dying in the West, Deemed Irrelevant: Why I am Going for A PhD Christian Origins

If you’re like me, you love this world. And you feel a terrible tenderness for humanity, the evil it lives with and the death it must face. And for all your doubt, you have come to the somewhat unshakable conviction that evil and death were faced square on some two thousand years ago. The teaching and deeds and death of a Jewish peasant swirls through your heart almost daily.

You conclude that though God doesn’t do it, hadn’t done it before, or yet again, the resurrection happened, with Jesus’ body.  In this once in million years act, you see in it the celebration of life and promise of living without evil or death.  You sense that the longings of the human heart were fulfilled in that moment.  You know it isn’t escapist, because while you spend the days dwelling in your issues, you see marks of life sprouting all around.  You catch faint echoes of a deep love dwelling strongly in dark places.  And when you follow the reverberations of this hope, you find yourself just a little bit more every day living into your destiny and becoming the person you feel just right about.   You find yourself strong, a healer, whose breath gets taken away sometimes by the world’s landscapes and the humans dwelling upon them.

That’s why I aspire to apprentice in the healing ministry Jesus began.  That’s why I feel called to dwell on and eventually teach the historical origins of the man and his earliest followers.  That’s why I have compiled this platform of resources for contemplation– for like-minded individuals and communities seeking to share life together and their concern for this world and its people.

Creation Poems: Wendell Berry

THE MAN BORN TO FARMING: Wendell Berry

The grower of trees, the gardener, the man born to farming, whose hands reach into the ground and sprout,

to him the soil is a divine drug. He enters into death yearly, and comes back rejoicing.He has seen the light lie down in the dung heap,and rise again in the corn.

His thought passes along the row ends like a mole.What miraculous seed has he swallowed that the enending sentence of his love flows out of his mouthlike a vine clinging in the sunlight, and like water descending in the dark?…

The Contemplative New Testament: Luke 1

As a PhD candidate in Christian Origins, I spend a lot of my time in the Bible. What this means is that if you would trust a first year med student to operate on your brain, you will feel comfortable using these for your devotional life.  I have translated the texts with two main angles always in mind:  God’s Kingdom and Christian Spirituality.  I trust you will find these new paraphrases enlightening as you live out God’s counter-intuitive ways on earth as it is in heaven.
 

Luke 1.1-4

Most excellent Theophilus, lover of God,

It seemed it was time to write to you.  Having myself investigated everything clearly and for a long time, I have written an accurate account in sequence.  I have devoted my work and words here with a particular goal in mind: so that you might know the certainty about the matters reported to you by word of mouth.  And I have compiled this account since many have put their hands to the task to write down an account about the matters that were fulfilled among us.  Their accounts were recorded just as the eyewitnesses and those who became servants of the Word told it to us.

Prayers of the Saints: A New Prayer Resource with Christian Masters

Jesus

Zechariah father of John the Baptist

Augustine of Hippo

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Teresa of Avila

St. John of the Cross

Ignatius of Loyola

St. Therese of Lisieux

Evelyn Underhill

Thomas Merton

Adrian van Kaam

Mother Teresa

Dancing with a Homeless Man

It is a cold November morning on the streets of Boulder Colorado.  My wife and I find ourselves welling with compassion.  We see a homeless man begging on the streets outside the local starbucks.  We pass him at first.  But a sense of concern comes bubbling up.  We turn back, invite him in for some breakfast with us.  His is a likely story.  He needs money for bus tickets to see his parents.  As we share ourselves with this man, I can’t help but notice his shirt.  It reads, “John 316”.  I say, “Where did you get that shirt?”  He replies, “somewhere.  I don’t know.”  “Do you know that is a reference to the Bible?”  My wife happens to have her bible on her.  We open it, share its message with the young man and give him the book.  As we are leaving, I wad up a 50 dollar bill inside some ones.  “This is all I have,” I say.  Who knows when he found the 50 or what he used it for.  I sense in that moment a rightness about life, that we are doing something that matters to God who was mysteriously present with this man even before we arrived.

I suspect I need to continually make room in my life for encounters like these and hope that if I ever find myself on the streets I would have the grace to be patronized by a young privileged couple discovering the world.   Why did we do it?  Perhaps out of some half-selfish motive.  But as I look back on it know, I see it may have been full of right inspirations as three beloved children of God experienced the fingerprints of the creator networking us together in a sacred dance of transformation.