By The Rev. Daniel P. Richards
Elegance is simplicity. I believe that we need to be elegant, because … one day I was in Japan and I saw a just totally empty house. And then they have a small detail like, a flower arrangement, or a painting. And the rest is empty. And I said, oh, my God. What is this? This guy, it was my publisher, and he said — I will never forget — he said, “This is elegance.” I said, “Elegance?” He said, “Yes, because here, there’s only one detail that you can pay attention…. Elegance is to get rid of all the superfluous things and focus on the most beautiful one.” — Paulo Coelho from an interview with Krista Tippett “On Being”
The problem of course is that we come to Christmas through Advent by adding things to the room rather than taking them away. We add in events, extra projects and trips to the mall, relatives, obligations, church services, and wrapping and decorations. We don’t remove distractions, we multiply them.
The prophets often went to the desert to strip away distractions and listen for the word of God. Mountains, wilderness, and especially the long horizons of the actual desert have often served to put today’s would-be prophets in the clearings of life to hear and see what God is doing.
Every year in December I start longing for the desert, and not particularly for the weather. I long for the midday escapes along Trail 100 from my condo in northeast Phoenix or the far end of the road that used to take me to the Seven Springs trail head out east of Tucson: the places where with a few quick steps and fewer provisions I could be out of reach of the demands of the season and regain my sense of clarity.
John the Baptist seemed to see clearly what God was doing in Jesus. He was not pulled away by the Zealots’ cries for justice and liberation, nor was he falling under the spell of the religious powers of his day, nor was he far away in his hopes from what Jesus would do. No, John’s simple cry set up Jesus’ later one: “Change your mind; the Rule of God is in reach.”
I have to change my mind again this year. Repentance is not a one time thing. I have to clear away the clutter that I let build up, and honestly that I decorate this time of year with. I have to give up my Zealotry and my religious ideals, even as I practice my faith and strive for justice; I have to give up my bitterness and self-righteousness. I have to clear space and go into the wilderness of silence, the landscape of God.
Theology is not really found in statements about God anymore than coffee is found in the grounds in a coffee filter. Good theology is in conversation and prayer. It is the moment of actual thought and creativity. The statements we pass around are like mementos of those other moments when we were together and thinking and speaking and creating with God.
I want a church that is capable of the conversations, rather than a congregation that listens to statements. I want a people who can speak and think and create those moments, loaded with Scripture and poetry and wilderness experiences, a people who can speak for God like a community of prophets wandering in and out of the wild places of life renewed with a divine love that is elegant and clear.
Instead we so often just listen on our way to another cluttered room, busy and scattered. As a shepherd in a world of busy, educated, and beautiful sheep, I want to call out and lead my Master’s flock away from the city streets and stores to wilderness at the feet of Mount Horeb where the bushes are alight like Advent candles and God speaks from the flames.
Clear your mind, the Rule of God is here.