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Kathy Bradley, guest columnist

Lesson learned from whack on head

    It bothers me sometimes when I go to church and the preacher raps me on the head.
    Not all the time. Sometimes the rap is a “Hello? Anybody home?” and it just wakes me up to something I already know but just hadn’t considered in a while. And sometimes it’s a “Hey! Guess what!” that makes me sit up straight and open my eyes a little wider.
    But sometimes, every so often, when I’m sitting there in a column of sunshine slanting through the stained glass window on my pew, the preacher takes out a mallet — no, make that a meat tenderizer with all those spikes on it — and whacks me with a blow so sharp that it’s hard not to yell, “Ouch!” right there in front of God and everybody.
    So I’m walking around this week with a big purple bruise underneath all this hair and still wondering why that one remark, not even a major point in the sermon, is still pulsing so hard and so regularly through whatever artery it is that connects the brain to the heart.
    This is what he said: “The fear itself is a sign that God will keep His promise.”
    Say what? Isn’t that a little, well, untheological? Isn’t the whole idea of believing in God and ultimate eventual good supposed to produce something like spiritual endorphins? Isn’t it supposed to leave us with, if only a platitude, at least a platitude when the Wicked Witch and all her flying monkeys surround us and our cowardly, ignorant and heartless companions?
    And especially on the first Sunday in Advent when we’re supposed to be focusing on the promise of peace on earth and good will toward all of us and the angels are telling us to fear not, should those two things — promise and fear — really be riding on the same float in the Christmas parade?
    Every year about this time I find myself pulling out my well-read copy of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book of sermons, “Home By Another Way.” In the one she titled “Singing Ahead of Time,” she talks about Mary, the teenager who managed somehow in what had to be the most frightening moment she’d ever experienced (but which would pale in comparison to the one she’d face about 34 years later) to believe, to take as truth a promise as yet unfulfilled. Taylor reminds us that Mary has no ultrasound, no DNA test identifying God as the father of her baby. “All she has,” Taylor writes, “is her unreasonable willingness to believe that the God who has chosen her will be a part of whatever happens next.”
    Promise and fear. Together.
    Promise belongs to the future, that unseen and untested place to which we would be drawn by our hearts even if our minds hadn’t created it. And we are drawn to it even as we ask ourselves trembling, “What if it isn’t so?”
    Joan of Arc. Christopher Columbus. Martin Luther King. Everyone who ever teetered on the edge of the high dive. Everyone who ever asked for a raise. Everyone who ever fell in love. Promise hand in hand with fear.
    To be honest, I’m not sure that this particular stream of consciousness is what the preacher had in mind when he chose the lectionary reading from Luke as his text. Then again, it’s not about what he had in mind when he entered the pulpit and it’s certainly not about what I had in mind when I entered the pew.
    It’s about Christmas and the miraculous conception of not just a baby whose individual life would change every thought and idea and action that came after, but the conception of every thought and idea and action that would come after and change every life.
    It’s about, as Taylor put it, “singing ahead of time.” Singing before there’s a reason to sing. Believing the promise while feeling the fear. Standing between the two, holding out our hands and becoming a bridge.

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