The dear and I locked eyes for a moment. I know that sounds impossible and maybe a bit on the edge of flakey but you just have to go with me one this one – we locked eyes. Then the dear cocked its head again and took a few steps forward and we locked eyes again. The process repeated itself probably four times. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I have probably encountered 50 dear out on that trail in the past few years and every time at the first sight of me they take off running. But this one – it was almost as if she were – curious. It’s as if she were curious and her curiosity trumped any fear that she should have had of this strange human with the dog. And in her curiosity she continued to stare, cock her head and then take a few cautious steps forward until she was about 100 yards from me. Then as if she had seen enough turned around and very casually trotted back into the woods to join the rest of her family.
I am not one to take these experiences and claim that God sent me an angel in the form of a dear. I don’t deny such experiences, I just want to express that was not my experience. I was not in some distressed place needing rescue or assurance. My perspective is that a dear and me happened to be in the exact same place at the exact same time and the two of us were just calm enough to allow space for curiosity. And in that space – in the curiosity – there was the Holy Spirit of God. God was in the space made for curiosity. That’s where I am going with this experience – that it was a stark reminder, or lesson that the Holy Spirit is in our taking pause and playing with curiosity.
I say that the Holy Spirit is in that space because I am beginning to believe that one of the Spiritual goals in life is to in every situation we find ourselves carve out space for curiosity.
I’m feeling anxious about this thing. Why?
Say more about what you just shared…
Or in the case of God,
I wonder what it would be like to be one of them…
Mary, I believe, gives us the best example we have of this sense of curiosity in all of scripture. We are introduced to Mary for the first time in Luke 1 verse 27. We know that she is a virgin, which means she is young and she was engaged. And so in this young and somewhat vulnerable place an angel approached Mary and said to her,
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
I don’t know why but for some reason all of my life I have imagined Mary standing outside on a sunny day minding her own business hanging laundry or something when the angel shows up. I know that’s sexist – Cara was sure to point that out to me last night when I was going over this. Mary was not dreaming because the text would have indicated as such. She was alone, minding her own business when an angel showed up. I don’t know what the angel looked like. I don’t know if he was recognizable as an angel. He would have looked like an ordinary man if this story is to have any consistency with other accounts of angels appearing to people – like the two men who appeared to Lot. I think we can get a more accurate feeling of the event itself if we perhaps look at the story from Mary’s perspective that a complete stranger just showed up one day and said,
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
And by the way, “Greetings” is just a more elegant way of saying what is more accurately translated as “Hi.”
So a complete stranger came to Mary when she was minding her business and said, “Hi. You are full of grace. The Lord is with you.”
Nothing about this situation is normal or comfortable. If I receive this greeting from a perfect stranger I am skeptical. I am looking at my watch – “Gee it’s getting time for me to head home.” Or even more probable – Ruth can attest to this – if I’m given this greeting on say, a Wednesday afternoon by a perfect stranger at the church it is likely going to be followed by something like “I’m wondering if you could give me a ride somewhere…might you have a few hundred dollars to help me out with an eviction notice… have some work I could do around the church?” You get the point. I’m skeptical of the greeting.
And there is Mary…it says that “Mary was perplexed…” and she “…pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”
She pondered the words.
She considered them.
She contemplated them.
She chewed on them.
She mused over them.
She was curious.
Mary’s pondering; Mary’s curiosity was a pause.
It was a holy pause. It was the first Advent. It was a new beginning.
Mary’s pause was a silent invitation to God to “…say more about that.” And out of her silent curiosity came the word from God and the word was “Do not be afraid…” God’s first word to Mary was “Do not be afraid.” The first word was not an announcement of her pregnancy. It was “Do not be afraid.” There was no small talk. “Hey there Mary, looks like it might rain today…” No it was simply “Do not be afraid.” It was a word of Grace. God’s first word to us is always a word of Grace but in order to hear the word of Grace we have to follow Mary’s lead and shut up and simply be curious.
But this is the hardest thing. How can I be curious when there is a pile of work on my desk? How can I be curious when my calendar has zero white space? How can I be curious when there is an accumulation of unpaid bills? How can I be curious when I am worried about making it to the next paycheck? When the moment I find myself in is filled with intense emotion how in the world do I pause and like Mary ponder the situation? How do I pause and take notice when the kids are hanging on me and screaming. How I do I carve out space for the Holy in that 5 minute transition from one high energy event to another attention demanding meeting?
Look around you.
What do you see? What do you feel? What do you notice? Pay attention.
And then remember that God’s first word will be a word of Grace. The only thing God needs is for you pause if only for a moment and listen. I know that’s hard. I know that you might be thinking, “But Matt I don’t have the time to sit down and pray like that.” Well that’s not what I’m talking about. Mary’s pause was a moment – it was merely a breath. And in the breath was God’s first word and it was a word of grace.
Then came God’s second word that second word was an announcement.
You will be with child and give birth to a son, you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.
Don’t worry God’s second word is not a word that you’re pregnant. Kind of. It is a word of hope. God’s next word is a word of hope. It is a word of hope that we are all pregnant with the possibility of God doing something great in and through us. You are full of the possibility that God is going to do something great in and through you. And right now as I am saying these things I can see it on some of your faces, you’re thinking “No not me. God’s not doing anything great through me.”
And right here. Right here is precisely the moment when the Holy Spirit wants nothing more for you than to stop and simply be curious. God is going to come to you and God is going to do a work within you. Now stop right there.
What you are feeling? What do you see? What do you notice?
…and Mary pondered these words…
Mary had questions to be sure. Of course Mary had questions. No one get’s the announcement that she is pregnant and a virgin without asking questions. No one is told that her child will become the savior of the world, God taking on human flesh and not ask questions. So of course Mary asked questions. “How can this be?” Like – what? Really? Because you know there are some things that need to happen here that, haven’t happened yet…” Curiosity. But there was no but…There was no listing of all the reasons this couldn’t be. There was no argument. There was no consideration or at least naming of all the potential consequences of saying “Yes” to this thing. Mary’s question was a question of pure curiosity.
“How? How will this be?”
“Well, you see the Holy Spirit is going to make this happen. Look even your cousin Elizabeth is going to have a baby. She is an old woman and she was never supposed to have a child but there she is already in her sixth month of pregnancy. And, well you see my point is that nothing is impossible with God.”
“Oh. Well. I am God’s servant, so – ok. Yes. Let’s do this.”
And Mary’s yes was God’s entry into the world.
It is the final Sunday in Advent. You will go from here and the world will want to force all of your attention onto Christmas and on December 26th the whole thing will be over. Don’t let it happen. Don’t go there yet.
Right now just locate yourself in this time of Holy Wait.
What do you see? What do you notice? What do you feel?
Wait for the word of God and know that it will be a word of Grace. It will be followed by a word of hope. God is about to do something great in a through you and remember this is the same God who took on the form of human flesh and entered our world as a baby who grew to be the Christ because you know, nothing is impossible for God.