Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God ’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God ! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best. Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over. But don’t, dear friend, resent God ’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction. It’s the child he loves that God corrects; a father’s delight is behind all this.
Proverbs 3:5-12 MSG
At a special showing of Chasing Coral at Mote Marine Aquarium, we chatted with a principal in the film via Skype, and afterwards with two of Mote’s researchers. I’d thought global warming was simply a normal weather cycle, like the time of the dinosaurs or the Ice Age. Time-lapse photography of coral reefs rapidly dying due to unprecedented heights in ocean temps, paralleled with the peaks on graphs of earth and ocean temps, changed all that for me.
(healthy coral reef)
If the world’s forest were dying as quickly as the corals (which provide an equally important segment of the oceanic environment) we would do everything necessary to reverse the process before it’s too late. For many corals, it already is.
Mote biologists are working to save specimens and as much genetic material as possible, in hopes of a time when the environment once again allows the corals to live. That will happen only if we change what is going into our atmosphere and dumping into the ocean. If the oceans did not absorb so much extra heat held in by greenhouse gases our atmospheric temperatures would rise to 110 degrees, right now! The ocean cannot keep absorbing more heat and pollution. Not without widespread death.
Why am I sharing this here?
First of all, I believe we are charged by our Creator with the care and nurture of our environment.
I will get flack on this from both sides, but I have to say that I don’t understand how this issue became a political divide. Why are people working to protect the unborn child, but doing nothing to provide a safe environment for those children to grow up in? And why are others working to save any living thing, as long as it isn’t human, pre-born, disabled, sick, old, or “a burden to society”?
Either we nurture, or something dies.
Outside of us, and inside of us.
Secondly, though I usually share my glimpses of peace, I don’t want to be one who says, “Peace! Peace!” where there is no peace.
If we have our needs met and can take care of those in our purview, we may be lulled into thinking all is well. But, like lifeless reefs below the ocean’s surface, silent death can be at work within us, too.
The interesting thing about the corals is that the ocean temperatures aren’t directly killing them. In a symbiotic relationship, algae live inside the coral polyps and use photosynthesis to convert sunlight into food for the corals. Even a slight increase in temperature quickly kills the algae. When these organisms cease to provide for their needs, the corals expel them, leaving themselves with no food source. Without their little buddies inside to feed them, they soon die, as well. Almost overnight, they turn completely white.
( dead reef)
Similarly, the junk of daily life can kill the life within our hearts and spirits.
Then we lose the creative spark, whatever makes us different, and was meant to make us a difference-maker.
We like to say all is well, but, in truth, all cannot be well with us if a creeping darkness is blocking the light. Without the constant work of God’s Spirit filling us with new life, our souls will follow our bodies in the daily march toward death.
The good news is, our inner world can be revived and renewed.
Just like the beauty of a healthy coral reef, we were created to show God’s glory.
To stay in health, it is vital that we connect to Life, that we receive life-giving energy. If we are filled daily, our light-bearing receptors grow stronger. When we open our hearts to his saving, cleansing work initiated through the death and resurrection of Jesus, then the destructive power of darkness within is immobilized.
We all have as much of God as we really want. It’s a choice, and one we must make daily to nourish the holy work within us.
The health of our world depends on our choices every day, which determine how much greenhouse gas we release into the air.
The health of our soul depends on our daily choices, as well. If the Light of the World does not fill and refill us, we start to lose the spark within.
If that continues, we will eventually shrivel up and go dark. We will miss the life we were created to live, and the world will suffer the loss of the gifts we were meant to share.
It may seem gloomy to talk about this during a holiday season, but it is precisely at times like this that our choices stand out. How we spend our time, money, and energy determines what fills us, and what overflows to those around us.
Let this not be said about us. “Stand in shock, heavens, at what you see! Throw up your hands in disbelief—this can’t be!” God ’s Decree. “My people have committed a compound sin: they’ve walked out on me, the fountain of fresh flowing waters, and then dug cisterns— cisterns that leak, cisterns that are no better than sieves. Jeremiah 2:12-13 MSG
For his PhD in Oceanography, my husband, Jack, studied the effects of drilling mud on coral reefs. I’ve watched his reels of little coral polyps shaking off drilling mud — until the burden was too great. The mud didn’t directly kill the coral, but when it blocked the sunlight, the algae within died. The death that he saw in his studies was minute compared to the scope of current coral bleaching (death). Like reefs around the world, the reefs he studied in the Florida Keys and the Texas Flower Gardens in the Gulf of Mexico were vibrant and thriving. Now, they are almost completely white. It is close to being too late for them.
Is that true for us, too?
This weekend we began the observance of Advent. The Coming. I heard a lot of teaching and songs about getting ready, preparing ourselves. My mind wanders back to a cold December night in Oswego, NY. I scrape frost from the window and watch snow falling in the street light. A white Christmas must make it better, at least that what the songs says–dreaming of it. And sleighs can’t be jingling their bells that make everyone happy unless there is snow to slide on. But when I drop the curtain and return to wrapping gifts, I wonder what I can do. How do I prepare enough to make Christmas right? To keep us all safe?
We are one-less this Christmas, though his name is never spoken. Mac’s stocking is missing when we unpack the ornaments and decorations. My three-year-old brother, who drowned last summer, loved everyone. He always sang “Jesus Loves Me” while he played. He begged us to sit in the front pew in church so he could greet Jesus (and sing with gusto, though his hymnal was upside down and he was one syllable behind the choir). What did Mac do wrong?
In my ten-year-old mind, if we please God, then good things happen to us. So if bad things happen, we must be doing something wrong.
What did I do wrong?
And what can I do this Christmas to get the baby back in the manger?
It has taken many decades to purge my thoughts of the lies about being able to do it all right, and make it all right.
But it is easy to slide back into polish-yourself-up-and-get-presentable thinking.
When you hear, “Prepare the way,” do you go there, too, either by decorating beautifully, or baking up a storm, trying to create the magic that we wish is Christmas? Or buying the best gifts ever? Singing fantastic Christmas music, or decorating the church, or taking food to the poor? By being nice when you want to curse or helping someone you might usually ignore? Maybe you even read the Bible more or go to church when you don’t feel like it?
We have a million different ways to try to pave our way to the manger.
Or perhaps you shy from the light, feeling you don’t deserve to go in there, where candles flicker, and “Come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel…” drifts out the open door?
Maybe you are the one closest to the truth.
We don’t deserve to creep up the manger.
We don’t deserve a Redeemer.
We don’t deserve Abundant Life.
It’s all a gift.
Once again, I go to my favorite prophet, Isaiah, who calls to us from the very distant past.
“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am GOD, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. I paid a huge price for you…That’s how much you mean to me! That’s how much I love you! I’d sell off the whole world to get you back, trade the creation just for you. “So don’t be afraid: I’m with you.
Isaiah 43 2-5 MSG
Reassured, I flip forward, spanning centuries, and land on the book written by the youngest follower of Jesus, John. He called himself the one Jesus loved.
How loved he must have felt to write that!
Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!—came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out. The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light…whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed and would do what he said, He made to be their true selves, their child-of-God selves.
John 1:3-4,9,12 MSG
Tonight, I’ll our Advent candle in peace, knowing I can’t, and don’t have to make myself, my home, my family, my writing — anything perfect for Christmas. I can give up trying to make everything right (again).
I don’t need to try to be the savior.
He came as an infant over 2,000 years ago, and made the way for us that we could never reach on our own.
That’s why those angels were singing!
I think I’ll hum along.