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December 31, 2015

January 2016
Nancy S. Wiens 

  Those of us seeking to follow the Way of Jesus and be mentored by his Spirit in our daily lives are in a rich season of the year. In Advent, Christmastide, and the Epiphany, we feast on the Mystery we call God, who is embodied in the vulnerable and humble Child of Love. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come to thee. We’re nourished by fellowship with loved ones, companions in the Body of Christ. O come, all ye faithful. We sup at the Table of the One who calls us to Love one another. In Bethlehem, a Babe was born with love enough for all. Routine words cannot express what it means to be fed by God, so we create hymns and rituals and traditions to convey the sumptuousness. We long to respond to this extravagant grace, and daily practices arise in us to remind us of its Source. How do you respond to being nourished so generously by God? What patterns of life express the overflow of Love that this season offers?

  In my experience, food often plays a central role in family and faith-community traditions. I don’t think it’s just because we get hungry. It’s a natural overflow from the outpouring of God’s nourishment. What would it look like if the food we share—from the extraordinary events of Christmas dinner to our routine breakfasts before work—were reflections of nourishing Love, which is God with Us?

  Our relationship with food can be very complicated in this US culture. Since food can bring satisfaction of biological hunger and the delightful sensations of physical needs being met, we can confuse it with what will bring relief when emotional discomfort arises. Since most of us have a relationship with our food no deeper than the distance from the grocery store to our plates, we can ingest food mindlessly while we watch TV or work on the internet.

  But what if food is an expression of our relationship with God’s good Creation, a concrete place where the Sustainer meets us three times a day to nourish us? What if there is a sacred human-nature relationship that God longs to enrich, not just for humans but also for all of Creation, and food is one expression of it? What if God longs to embody Shalom—a peace characterized by justice and righteousness—through our stewardship of that part of Creation, known as food? These and other questions arise in the realm of food and faith, the terrain of thriving nourishment.

  Jesus’ eating practices were part of his prophetic and pastoral ministries. What if ours were part of our response to Jesus?

  In February, I will offer a New College Berkeley retreat about food and faith, and would love for you to join us. We will explore the intersection of biblical, spiritual, ecological, and economic insights as they relate to a Christian engagement with God’s hungry world. This topic empowers us to be followers of Jesus day in and day out with practices that deepen our relationship with God and care for all.

  Most importantly, the conversations about food and faith bridge two key areas into Christianity: economic justice and ecological resilience. They reach across economic barriers and into the physical health and financial compensation of those who grow our food, transport, sell, and prepare it, before a meal even begins. The conversations also take into account the wisdom of improving the Earth’s resilience through the growth of food. The knowledge to cultivate robust yields while enhancing the generativity of soil and water is readily available and widely practiced in some regions. What might it be like if we, who claim our Belovedness with Christ, responded to God’s extravagant grace by making choices about our food three times a day that cared for all God’s children while simultaneously practicing stewardship for the Earth?


Nancy S. Wiens (spiritual director, NCB), is Emergence Director and Co-Founder of Emergence: A Center for Initiating Contemplatives in Action. She received her M.Div. from San Francisco Theological Seminary and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. from the Graduate Theological Union in Christian spirituality, ritual studies, and the dialogue between theology and science. Visit the Faculty page to read more about her.



Posted on December 31, 2015 at 12:20 PM

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December 3, 2015

December 2015

   During this season of the Christian year we sing the wondrous songs of the birth of Jesus, just as a choir of angels did in a nighttime surprise long ago to shepherds near Bethlehem.  

   Since then music and words about this Jesus have been in our hearts and voices.  For me, there is no musical masterwork as inspiring and beloved as Messiah by George F. Handel.  This is the music that soars in dynamic splendor and also in quietly moving tenderness. Added to the glory of the music are the texts that take me on a journey that begins with the Old Testament narratives of coming hope for a people in danger  “speak tenderly to Jerusalem that her warfare is ended” (Isaiah 40).  What follows is the prophetic hope of the coming of Jesus “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given …And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9). The New Testament texts then take us through Christ’s life as teacher, shepherd, and his death and victory over death in our behalf as risen King of Kings.  In the finale chorale of Messiah we hear the words of thankfulness in “Worthy is the Lamb” (Rev.5).  This is followed with the grand Amen, the Hebrew word for “faithful.”

   George F. Handel begins this incredible portrayal of Jesus Christ as the one who fulfills the ancient hope for the Messiah. It might have been expected that such a total story about the Christ would begin at the very beginnings of the Biblical account in Genesis, the books of the Law and the Exodus out of Egypt but Handel begins with the Prophets of the Old Testament who write mid-story in the holy history of Abraham’s family. They write in the dangerous years during and after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The event of Christ’s birth shakes the world with the promise of hope in the midst of crisis.

   Handel born 1685, was a contemporary of other giants of Christian music who wrote some of the greatest Christian music still ringing forth in our time – "Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring" (JS Bach), "Joy To The World The Lord Has Come" (Isaac Watts) and "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" (Charles Wesley). Messiah was performed in Dublin with Handel conducting in April of 1742. The orchestra was modest and Handel wrote each chorale so that singers of ordinary choirs with little training could sing them. This sheer simplicity of harmony and melody may help us to explain why we all love and hum the tunes of the great chorales. In my view, the apex of the work is the most beautiful single piece of musical composition. It is the companion solo for contralto “He will feed His flock” followed by the soprano solo “Come Unto Him All Ye Who Labor And Are Heavy Laden.” These moving solos become the Gospel invitation to all who are alone and hurting – longing for hope. In 1743 with more instruments added by Handel to the orchestra he conducted the work in London to instant and permanent praise. That response has continued into our present century.

   The words in Messiah help us to discover for ourselves the significance of the birth of Jesus in bringing hope as brought forth in the biblical texts of the Prophets, the Gospel writers and New Testament letter writers – even including “I know that my redeemer liveth,” (from the book of Job). Yes, Messiah is a masterwork but most importantly it brings comfort. For those who listen to the Lord of the Story they are invited to turn to the one who can heal brokenness that the Prophets tell of and who can make what is broken whole. This invitation makes us want to sing the “Hallelujah”.

Posted on December 3, 2015 at 5:00 PM

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