incarnational travel

You had to be there – Part 2 1/2

by Steve Brock on January 4, 2012

A forest is a quiet place and yet where do you go for pure slience...and what do you find when you get there?

This doesn’t quite rate as Part 3 of the series on “You had to be there” because I hadn’t planned on it until I just read something that seemed highly related to the last entry (Part 2).

In that entry, we looked at the connection between “you had to be there” and the Incarnation, God’s “being there” on this planet and our own way of traveling both physically and spiritually. All heady stuff, I admit.

Then this weekend, I picked up a copy of Kathleen Norris’s book,  Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. In the book, she takes on the “scary words” of Christianity as she calls them, words that for years kept her away from her faith. The book chronicles her return to that faith and her understanding, or at least wrestling with words like “dogma,” “salvation,” “sinner,” “faith” and even “Incarnation.”

She approaches these words with honesty and hopefulness rather than cynicism and judgment. She also does so with a poet’s touch and intersperses her own story amidst the short meditations on the words. I’m only on page 17 but am enjoying the journey so far.

On that page, she addresses the word, “Silence.” She tells of teaching elementary school kids about poetry and language and in so doing, she does an exercise with them regarding noise and silence. She gives the children a simple rule: When she raises her hand, the kids are to make as much noise as possible without leaving their seats.

When she lowers her hand, they are to be completely silent. The responses are quite interesting. You can imagine how the kids dealt with noise – they know how to do that well (though never with permission to do so in school before this).

Silence, however, was something quite different. Many of them found it somewhat unnerving. Why? One fifth grader noted that, “It’s like waiting for something – it’s scary!”

But the main thing the silence did was to free the children’s imaginations. And that’s where we come to the connection to “You had to be there” and the idea of incarnational travel.

In a small town in North Dakota, a young girl offered an insight beyond her years regarding what silence meant to her:

“Silence reminds me to take my soul with me wherever I go.”

And so we do, wherever we travel. We just need to be silent or still enough to remember that.


 If you haven’t done so, check out the rest of the series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5

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The traveling God

by Steve Brock on December 24, 2010

The three Wise Men traveled far to see Jesus. But it was Jesus who made the longest journey...

Last time, I noted my quest to rediscover the meaning of Christmas. I actually believe that is a lifelong journey. But here is something I realized this week.

Throughout the bible we see that God is a traveling God. The quintessential example of this is his appearance as the Divine Traveling Companion manifested as the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night with the Israelites. God was with Abraham on his trek, with David when he fled Saul and with the Israelites to and from Babylon.

God gets around.

With the Exodus story, our traveling God shows up in a big way. Then, when we get to the New Testament, he shows up in a very small way. As a baby.

A baby.

The omnipotent Creator of the universe comes to us as a helpless infant. The package is always what’s blown me away about the Incarnation, but as I try to regain a fresh perspective this week on Christmas, I’m struck by the delivery system. Not the detailed part of being born in a stable and all that, but the fact that he came to us.

In every other religion, we have to go to the god or gods, supplicating them, seeking their favor, doing things on our part that will earn us our entry ticket into a better life the next round. But with the Incarnation, God came to us. He traveled to us.

Travel is inherently incarnational. We take our full selves into another place. With the Incarnation, God took his fullness and somehow confined it into flesh and blood just like us. We often travel for our own sakes, but he traveled to this planet for ours. And therein lies the amazing thing to me about the Incarnation.

I’ve never thought about Jesus’ birth relating to the parable of the prodigal son until now, but there’s an interesting parallel. In the parable (Luke 15:11-32) the father sees the returning younger son from a distance and comes running to him. In the same way, with the Incarnation, God comes to us.  He is Emmanuel, God with us. He travels with us. No matter where we go. But it all starts with the fact that he took the initiative to travel here first.

What we celebrate with Christmas is, in a small way, the fact that we are not alone in our travels.  Even more marvelous is that through the Incarnation, we’re invited into a personal, intimate journey with the traveling God who, like Aslan in the Narnia books, is still “on the move.”

And it is always in a direction toward us.

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The longest journey on earth

by Steve Brock on December 21, 2010

How do you take something as familiar as the Christmas story and see it in a new way?

As I’ve traveled and talked with people over the last few weeks, I hear a common sentiment: “How do you make Christmas feel like Christmas?” We talk about all the reasons it doesn’t, from weather to busyness to distractions to commercialism.

Rather than just complain about why it doesn’t feel special, this year I did something different. I took a trip. Not the usual kind where you travel to see family or the exotic kind where you fly to Israel to spend Christmas in Bethlehem.

Instead, I chose to take one of the longest journeys on earth, traveling the twelve or so inches from my head to my heart. For therein lies the real problem: I understand intellectually what Christmas is about but have lost the soul-level knowledge of its deeper meaning.

To tackle this journey, I applied some of what I’ve learned about meaningful travel as follows:

  • Pray – Always a good starting point, but how God answers our prayers isn’t always what we expect.
  • Get a change of perspective – Travel provides distance and the ability to see things anew. I don’t have the geographical advantage of distance on this trip, so I needed some other adjustment. God provided this by waking me up in the middle of the night the last two nights. In both cases, being awake at an unusual time allowed me to think and pray about Christmas differently. It changed my perspective.
  • Reflect – I could have just ignored the thoughts about Christmas when I awoke in the night. But I intentionally took the ember  that God planted and fanned it through reflection for richer insights.
  • Know your destination – Here’s the hard one. I realized that my “destination” was to reclaim that special feeling of Christmas I had as a child. But there are two distinct problems with that. First, I don’t fit into those old PJs with the attached feet anymore. I can’t reclaim the past and go back, even through my own kids. I can enjoy their experience, but that’s not the same as mine. Second, I realized I am nostalgic for a Christmas that has more to do with Rudolf, Santa, family gatherings and presents than with the coming of the Son of God to earth. The heart of my problem in rediscovering the meaning of Christmas is that I’ve been looking in the wrong places.
  • Pay attention to details – When a story becomes so familiar it loses meaning, another way to gain a new perspective is to look at the details you may have glossed over before. Two things stand out this time with the real Christmas story:

First, the “great company of heavenly hosts” (Luke 2:13). Throughout most of the bible, angels show up in a onesy and twosy fashion. Here, there are a ton of them. And when they do show up elsewhere in Scripture, the reaction isn’t the “oh isn’t that cute” response we have to our kids dressed up as heavenly beings in the church’s Christmas pageant. The normal response is terror. So spend some time imagining what the shepherd’s witnessed and why the angels were doing this and I guarantee that at least the glimmerings of awe will creep into even the most Grinch-like of hearts.

Second, another detail I’ve passed by before is how people responded to the Christ child. Not just the shepherds and wise men (or Wise Guys as my son used to call them). But look at Simeon and Anna when Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple on the eighth day (Luke 2:22-40). What struck me about this is that they all realized something I too often miss: This child is special.

I’ve missed the meaning of Christmas for so many years because I keep focusing on the day. I want the event to be special. What a little reflection and divine nudging this year showed me is that it isn’t the day that is special, it’s the Person. Even writing this sounds obvious and familiar, but like all good journeys it is how you get there that matters most.

I’ll share one additional insight about Christmas that relates to travel in the next entry. But for now, with only a few days left until Christmas, take time to get away from everything familiar about Christmas and make that long  journey from your own head to your heart in a new fashion. You may find that the end destination isn’t an old kind of nostalgia but a new kind of wonder.

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