There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.
In the psalm for today’s minor feast we read these words.
As Advent approaches we face not only a season in which we consider and express our longings for God’s coming to us, we also look inward to ask questions about John the Baptist’s call to make the pathways straight. What lies in the lanes of our lives which block the coming of Christ? How does Christ come to us?
What makes all the difference to this question is how we define the coming of Christ. It may be that we focus on the end coming with fire and damnation – a choice many will make from a soup of guilt and shame. But the church has always seen the coming of Christ as three and not the classic two. The two are, of course, a meek and mild baby as well as a thunderous hail of judgement and retribution for sin. But there is a third.
The third coming of Christ is how Christ arrives in our lives on a day to day basis. The church mostly focuses on this third middle-coming in terms of prayer. But in my experience there is another way Christ comes to us in our day which is easy to overlook. Christ comes to us hidden inside those we love, and even those we do not love, but encounter. My friends bring Christ to me is a way I find more attractive and more powerful than any liturgy. Yesterday my friend Paul called just to hear my voice and check in. He had no agenda. He was setting no dates. He was asking no question.
Paul is one of those people in my life, like my sister, and a small few others, who have no guile. The word “guile” comes from an ancient Frankish word meaning the trickery of witchcraft. The word has evolved into lies or deceit. Ether way, the kind of rest Jesus invites us into is impossible with people we do not trust or whose actions indicate that they are liars or manipulators. As soon as we see that in someone, we red-flag them and are on-guard. What I find is that the best indication of what a person will do in the future, is what they have done in the past.
So I keep a document on the opening screen of my computer. I call it “The Garden” and it lists the people in my life whose “life” and friendship with me inspires love in my own life. These are friends without guile. These are the hot coals which warm me when I am smart enough to be with them.
The first part of the list are those who live in Denver. The second, those who live away. The third, those “sprouts” which I am exploring to see if they become “plants” in the garden of my life. I let my eyes wander this list every day as a part of my morning spiritual practice as both gratitude and reminder in prayer.
The garden of Genesis is a powerful myth. It is a place of welcome and absolute trust. We think the Garden of Eden story is about sin, but even beyond it being about sin, it is fundamentally about trust. When Adam and Eve and God walk naked together in the garden there is trust. There is no guile – no manipulation, no lies. Only when lies enter the conversation, do the fig leaves come out to cover the newly formed “shame” – among other things.
The image above is of my farmhouse door. I wove the leaves one night into a wreath for a party of my closest friends. The wreath is an ancient sign of welcome and celebration and it could easily represent the woven names of our friends. My job is not to be on the hunt for liars and manipulators- they abound and always will. My job, rather, is to tend The Garden which God has seen fit to plant with me. Who needs a call? Who needs a visit? Who needs a letter? Who needs a hug? Who needs a card or a small gift mailed? What do I need to do with these names? These are the guileless – the pearls of great price – the only real treasure to which I will ever have access. To ignore a garden invites beasts which devour, weeds which drain nutrients, saplings which block sunlight, dryness which starves cells, and fruit which goes un-picked and wasted.
I consider the tending of my friendships to be the most holy act I can possibly do in my life. Making and tending friendships is the great high priestly act of humanity and in so doing, we welcome Christ over and over again.