Thank you to my viewers

All things are eventually redeemed in the heart of God.

The Guarded Heart

Thank you to all of you all over the world who are viewing this blog and following along. Lent is finished, but I am not finished with Paul. Forty days is not enough time to read and reflect on his letters. There are a few more letters to read. Paul’s wisdom for a lifetime.  I trust you will continue with me and spread the word. We could spend a lifetime sifting through letters for all the gems that are there for us to take with us each day. Treasures to support us on our journey. I am thinking these letters should appear first in the New Testament because they were written earlier than the gospels and also because give incite into the life of Jesus. Paul is, as we are now, living and writing after the resurrection. But Jesus’ heart and soul, life and mission shine out from Paul to all of us today.

In his farewell to the Philippians, Paul has some endearing and encouraging words for all of us. He says I want you to be happy, happy in the Lord. Reading the passage that follows this (chapter 4:5-9) I am struck once again of Paul’s affection and care for the first Christians. Paul’s very positive good wishes for his listeners. And I am also struck that the churches as they formed over the past two thousands years failed to teach and preach the God, the Christ Jesus, that wants our happiness and well-being first and foremost.

Scholars and Preachers, take heed.  It is not too late to get the message right.

Paul, like God,  doesn’t want us to worry. He says if there is anything you need, pray for it, asking God for it with prayer and thanksgiving and that peace of God…will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.

As we go forward on our journey, allowing Paul to accompany us and dialogue with us in his letters, he asks that we remember what he has taught and lived. These are values that will enrich our lives, as we pray for what we need, thanking God for all our blessings. Virtues that grace and guard our hearts, and to continue to be mindful of:

Fill your minds with everything that is true,

everything noble and pure,

everything we love and honor,

those things that are virtuous and worthy of praise.

I would say with Paul, the truest, noblest, most virtuous and worthy of praise is the Christ life that guards, loves and honors us and wants to be kept in our hearts and lives.

P.S. Paul is writing this letter from prison. Which makes his faith, hope and good wishes for his audience even more remarkable.


Passover and Maundy Thursday

 Passover began this past Monday evening. During Passover, our Jewish brothers and sisters invite friends and family into their homes for a Seder supper, to celebrate Passover together. The Seder supper recalls  the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Pharaoh’s house of slavery. In preparation for their being led out, Yahweh gave instructions to the people as to how to prepare themselves for their flight from Egypt. It is also called the feast of Unleavened Bread because the people had no time for the bread they would take with them to rise. The name for Passover comes from the their sprinkling the blood of a lamb over their two doorposts and lintel so that the angel of death, one of the plagues set upon  Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to let the people go, would pass over the houses of the Hebrew people.

Jesus’ last supper was the Passover meal. Tonight Christians go to their respective churches to celebrate the Last Supper. It is called Maundy Thursday as it recalls Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples before  the Passover meal they shared together.  The meal together becomes a sign of his self-giving, his sense of service to his followers. The Last Supper recalls the Exodus and the Passover meal Jesus shared with his friends the night before he died. The words of the Eucharist celebration are the words St. Paul puts down in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27 that he received from the Lord, and in turn passed on to you. They are the words that turned Jesus’s last supper, his final Passover feast, into the Eucharist, the Mass, as the Christian remembrance of Jesus’ Passover from death to life.

There is much speculation outside the gospels accounts of the Jesus’ last meal with his friends, as to what actually occurred there. The gospels tell us that Jesus knew one of his own would betray him. It would not have taken super powers for Jesus to know that there were those who were out to put an end to him and his teachings. He was surely aware that John, whose work he most likely took up after his cousin’s death, had been killed because he challenged the status quo both religiously and politically.

As a devout and faithful Hebrew, one very familiar with the sacred writings of Israel, he would have read, along with singing the Psalms, the story of the Exodus.  At the close of the reading he would have held the scroll up and said ‘this is the word of the Lord.’ Soon enough he would be raised up to the world as the living Word, the Word of G-d become flesh.

Part of the readings that night would recall Yahweh’s command to Israel in the Book of Exodus to perform Passover as a yearly ritual in remembrance of the day Yahweh brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. You will observe this ordinance each year at the appointed time. For St. Paul these words that Jesus’ disciples heard at the Passover meal with him would also be remembered as Jesus’ own instructions to remember what they did together that night on the final Passover he most likely knew would be his last to celebrate with them.

In the Passover meal Yeshua of Nazareth stands as the center point, at the heart, of the ongoing faith journey of G-d’s sacred people. The people chosen and meant, called to be his own. Part of the promise given to Israel was that she would bring the rest of the world to faith in the one G-d, the Lord of Life, the I Am Who Am.

Yeshua of Nazareth came to his own people. He came to a scattered and oppressed Israel.   His mission as he understood it was to the Hebrew people. We understand from St. Paul too, that being saved, saved from oppression, being set aside as a sacred people for G-d, would come to the Jews first and through them to the rest of the world.

Israel gave us Jesus. We believe Yeshua (which means Yahweh saves) of Nazareth to be the Christ. Our faith in Christ is also faith in the G-d of Israel.

As we all join this week in spirit if not in place to celebrate the Passover of the Lord let us remember together with gratitude the bitter tears and the suffering of our shared faith journey that transformed forever who we are, a people all, meant and sacred.  Let us remember as charged the G-d of Israel and of Jesus, who brought us from slavery to freedom, from death to life, giving us a way of being his, a way to  him.

Failure as Fertilizer

On Good Friday a good Jewish man was crucified in a Roman form of execution, condemned to death by the leaders and members of his very own faith. Yeshua of Nazareth, a faithful and devout Hebrew, believed that his mission in life was to his own, to Israel. He fearlessly challenged the powers that be and sought to show a way of being Israel that followed the spirit rather than the letter of the law. He did not come to establish another faith, church or religion as many believe. His words and the following he had threatened the rulers of both Judaism and Rome. His death was to put an end to his mission. It would seem that his mission had been a failure. Indeed, his own followers were destitute and disillusioned at his death and ran away to hide. They believed that what he stood for and taught them had failed.

To this day we run/distance ourselves from our own (seeming) sense of failure rather than bear the untenable pain and suffering of counting all our efforts and activities as for nothing. I have been struggling with my own sense of failure during the past week or so as well.

My identity is bound up in my ‘work’. My sense of self and self-worth is bound up in not just what I do, but other’s reactions to it. It’s easy to say you don’t care what others think. I think that can only be true if you live on an island. For women especially, we worry the one negative reaction or comment, to the exclusion of all the positive that should outweigh or at least put these worrisome responses in perspective. And it doesn’t really help when you are hosting a pity party to tell yourself ‘you learn from your mistakes and/or failures’. There are days I want out of the school of life.

As Good Friday approaches I get a good reality check. I have a place to put this down. At the foot of a cross. St. Paul is clear about what happens next.

Even having acknowledged this myself I know that if we can but stay with the sense of the death of our dreams, ambitions, callings, some small grace begins to push its way through, course its way into our sense of being, up through the softened ground of loose dirt that we feel covered in, a rhizome rising, the ever-hidden sacred substance, where a green shoot of renewal begins to emerge, fertilized by a sense of failure.

So perhaps when our lives feel like so much manure, we can throw our sense of failure out on the thawed dirt of spring and  wait to see what comes up, what blooms there. Let failure empower/fertilize the ground where your dreams seem to have sidled away with the worms.

Even now ‘failure’ I think allows God to take mastery of our mission, our self meaning, and ‘redeem’ it, turn it into his purpose, in order to re-orient our understanding in the wake of Jesus’ life and thereby our own.

Job already had the conversation, so we don’t have to have that conversation again. Jesus died on the cross, his mission also a seeming failure. So much so we hear him cry out with the words signifying complete abandonment by God. Like three days in a tomb, we just have to wait, listen, believe when belief doesn’t feel possible, until we hear God say I got this. And know that he does.

Partners of the Promsie

Wednesday of Holy Week

As we enter more deeply into this Holy Week, I am struck by the positive nature of Paul’s letters. They are encouraging, prayerful, instructive, supportive and, yes, affectionate.

A few weeks into writing this blog, I had to ask myself what I was doing. Making a commitment to write every day, show up and have something to say about what I had read. But at this juncture, I have to say I am glad that I did. I have learned a lot. And my primary goal was to keep Christ in my sights for these forty days. To pay attention to the Christ-life that I strive to grow into. It reminds me of something Maya Angelo said when some asked her if she was a Christian. She said ‘I am becoming a Christian.’

In Ephesians part of Paul’s parting instructions are about ‘morals of the home’. It is the oft quoted ‘wives submit to their husbands’. As indicated before in this blog, if we read the entire passage, we see that Paul is also telling husbands to love their wives. And, using Christ as the supreme example of martial love, Christ for his church; like Christ husbands are to ‘sacrifice’ for their wives. Paul goes on to ask respect from children for their parents and masters for those who serve them (‘slaves’). This was a reality of the times as well, but Paul is addressing the abuses that men, children and ‘masters’ committed, enjoining on them Christ-like treatment of one another.

It’s important to remember that this is a patriarchal world Paul is addressing and lives in. In his stance, he is addressing things as they are, where households are headed by men, but also going further and asking men to respect, love and honor their wives. Paul is championing a portrait of marriage as a mutual, respectful partnership, where love and the well-being of the other person is the foremost consideration.

The instructions in this passage are really aimed at the men who are being told to treat women as they would treat/love themselves. It is the man who is to leave everything else behind, father and mother, and give himself wholly over to this relationship, again mirroring Christ’s stance to his church. At the end of Philippians, Paul acknowledges the women who have a certain independence, are companions of his fellow assistants, and have aided him in the spread of the Good News, helped in defending the faith. He says Their names are written in the book of life. They are along with Paul and the other apostles, Partners of the Promise, bringing the new of its fulfillment, no longer as a place, but in the person of Jesus the Christ. Persons in their own right. Perhaps few and far between, but it was a beginning. It was the intention and imitation of Jesus, which Paul understood even more relevant to the Christ-life.

I am again reminded of something the poet Rilke wrote, that seems to me to be carefully hovering between the lines in Paul’s letters on the subject of women and their roles, roles that included discipleship and advancing the faith. In Letters to a Young Poet Rilke writes:

Someday there will be girls and women whose name will no longer signify merely an opposite of the masculine but something in itself…not of any compliment and limit, but only of life and existence: the feminine human being. This advance will change the love-experience, which is now full of error, will alter it from the ground up, reshape it into a relation that is meant to be of one human being to another, no longer man to woman. And this more human love…will resemble that which we are preparing with struggle and toil, the love that consists in this, that two solitudes protect and harbor and salute each other.

He comes to us as one unknown…

Paul had more than one revelation of the risen Christ. Whatever those experiences were I get the sense that he gropes and grapples for words to convey what those experiences were. They seem to be experiences that are beyond words. But they are mostly likely the locus of his passion for preaching the risen Christ. He continually prays that we too might enter into the mystery and the revelation, the reality of Christ. Yet, too, as with all mystical experiences, they are first and foremost for the receiver. For reason that only he or she knows. They are impetus. And they are not bound by words.

Paul’s prayer for us in Ephesians, where he prays that our hidden self grown strong and the love of Christ which is beyond all knowing, seem enigmatic, a reality shrouded in mystery. Hidden for us to uncover. Treasure buried in a Self that we are meant to discover.

In the next two letters, Philippians and Colossians, Paul also used similar language:

…now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God. Co 3:3

He speaks of the infinite treasure that is Christ. Why the mystery? Why hidden?

In the past few decades, which began with Albert Schweitzer, there has arisen what is called the search or quest for the historical Jesus. It’s not a search so much for what Paul calls the reality of Christ, but to go back to the historical documents and try to uncover the real (historical) Jesus. This is not a search into the mystery or the reality of the Christ of faith.

Perhaps its our all-to-human tendency to set things in stone. To nail down that which refuses to be nailed down. Our tendency to codify, dogmatize and decree what is living, organic, supple and transmutable. The human person and the human spirit in the never-ending process of becoming. Becoming oneself. Becoming God’s. The journey to an identity that is the journey of transformation. From one way of being to another. From a half life to the fullness of life.

Seek and you shall find. It seems to be human nature to be on a discovery mission. To search the mystery. It is the seeking that seems to be part and parcel of the human experience, the way in which we are to go about finding not only ourselves, but the sacred reality that impinges upon our awareness as it both beckons and eludes us. In Philippians Paul likens this process of discovery as a race. Paul too wants to know Christ. To know the power of his resurrection. He says he has not gotten there yet. He is still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ Jesus captured him. In this same context he says we are called to be ‘perfect’  (to be whole and achieve well being in Christ). Then in this passage he advises to keep going on the road…

Like Israel and Jesus before us, the realization of our identities and the simultaneous revelation of God come to us on the road, on the journey of life. We are meant to search out so that we can make these realizations our own. I suspect that  in that way, what is hard won, or ferretted out in life, are those things that stay with us.

 A living process of searching out our own depths and dimensions, how we are meant to achieve and realize the hidden self, yet always sense the mystery just ahead, over the next horizon, the beckoning beyond of something illusive, the Someone who wants to be known, not in formulas or definitions, but in the lived experience of relationship. Known more in the biblical sense (i.e. intimacy) as an encounter with  the sacred Other who is invitation. Our search is our practice and march toward eternity. Toward becoming fully human. A knowing not of the head but of the heart.

At the end of his search for the ‘real Jesus’ Schweitzer had this to say:

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of hold, by the lakeside. He came to those (persons) who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: ‘Follow me’ and sets us to the task which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the suffering which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who He is.