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Soon I'll retire for the day and receive the gift of sleep. I'm writing from the Katoski room at the Shalom Retreat Center in Dubuque, Iowa where I'm leading a 3-day Advent Centering Prayer retreat. Advent and Lent are ideal times to take extra time for a Centering Prayer retreat. If you can carve some time out this Advent, it's a very meaningful way to prepare yourself to experience the miracle of Christmas continuing in you: the living presence of Christ in the womb of silence.
A cold front pushed early this morning with fierce wind dropping temperatures to nearly zero degrees, a sudden reminder that the longest and coldest nights of the year are fast approaching. On my drive here this afternoon I passed a man walking on the side of the highway. His truck was pulled over too, and he was about 1/4 mile from it, walking against traffic. What caught my attention was that he wasn't wearing a jacket. It was maybe 10 degrees. So, at the next turn off, which in Iowa can be miles, I turned around and made my way back to the walking man. Just as I put my turn signal on and began to move onto the shoulder, he bent down and out of the grass ditch picked up a large ladder and put it on his shoulder, turned around and began heading to his truck. Suddenly, I felt silly for worrying about him. And kept driving, realizing that he did not need help, he was just picking up the ladder that had fallen out of the back of his truck.
The Gospel reading for today reminded me that sometimes appearances can be deceiving. The people we think are OK may not be, and the people we think are NOT Ok, may be just fine. It's difficult for us to tell, and really, it's not our place. Our role is to listen to the Spirit. In my case, the Spirit prompted me to care for another who might be freezing. And I did something I normally would not do: adjust my travel, go out of my way, and help a total stranger. It turns out the goal wasn't so much to actually help the person, but to discover if I was willing to help. Perhaps, as Thomas Keating suggests, in Christianity motivation is everything.
So often I realize that I am willing to love and serve and help in theory - but not in practice. So, when opportunities arise that allow me to put my theory of love to the test, I'm curious to discover whether I will enter into the kingdom of God in that moment or "keep driving," missing the opportunity.
I take the kingdom of God to be any experience that births the living presence of Christ in and through each of us. How about you?
"Jesus said to his disciples:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’
will enter the Kingdom of heaven,
but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." - Matthew 7.21
Peter Traben Haas