Ephipany

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Once he came, walking the Judean roads. Over dirt and rocks, along sea shores, across the green hills down from Galilee.  Once he stopped along the road to speak words of comfort to those who were waiting for him. Many were waiting for him.

News spreads fast.

He went to the river just to see what his cousin, the wild man, was up to. But something more happened than just attempting for his family to stop John from his dangerous talk. After John, his own family would come looking for him for the same reasons.

We are told the heavens opened and a voice was heard, as he joined with the others in the water of new life. He went to rescue one but went on to rescue many. From the shores of the Jordan

News spread fast.

Have you ever wished for just one day that you could hear his voice, feel his touch, look into his eyes, hear his words, experience that presence. I have. And yet I also know

Christ comes to us in each moment of our day. His Spirit lives where we are. Rocky roads. I’ve seen a few. Quiet waters. Those too.  I only have to stop along the road, and listen for the footfall of God in my life.  I have only to Be. To Listen. Be still and you will know that I Am.  In every moment of every day, there is this still small voice speaking to us in our hearts. Look at the creature world, the world of nature and you will see not just the magnificence of this world, but feel the heart of this sacred heart, his Spirit, his wondrous wings beating with the rhythm of your heart beat and even in the cadence of your heart break.

 

 

 

 

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In The Waters of the Jordan

Reflections Photograph by Cathie Horrell

There is some thought that perhaps Jesus had studied with the monks at Qumran or been a follower of John the Baptist, before that day he appeared on the bank of the Jordan River, awaiting John’s baptism. He may have joined John at some point, perhaps to continue his education, to be schooled by his slightly older cousin. But we do know from the gospel accounts that he even went to John and submitted to John’s baptism. Was it because he felt he needed to repent or could it have been the opposite. That he believed. That he saw John’s baptism as a ritual, an entry point into solidarity with what John was saying. And it seems that that experience changed him. That something happened that day in the waters of Jordan that would set Jesus on his path, knowing his own mission and place in the sacred order of things that sent him out to the wilderness to think about what had just happened to him. It must have been something profound to have sent him off by himself to contemplate what his life was going to be about. To wrestle with the wild beasts and be attended to by angels. Those same creatures that attended at his birth. He had come to John to become part of something. And that experience ‘baptized’ Jesus with a new and radical way of seeing what needed to be changed, renewed in the faithful of Israel. It seems that it was in the waters of the Jordan River that Jesus religious education, upbringing and his awareness of the political/religious climate of his country collided in such a significant way that from this he saw what his mission and destiny was and would be. For certainly, Jesus life until now had led him to this day when another Spirit would come upon him, as the evangelists portray it, and he would become aware that he was to be about his other Father’s business. In the waters of the Jordan Jesus was empowered to shepherd Israel to another return, this time the return to the true meaning of its faith and to the one God, who Jesus now addressed as Abba Father. The intimacy of that day would never leave him. The effect of that day drove him off into the wilderness to a lonely place, there to wrestle with its meaning and to accept his commissioning.

 

Jesus the Christ

footprints

The drama and tension that runs through all the gospels is at their core the question of Jesus’ identity. Between John the Baptists, who proclaims the coming one, and Paul, who proclaims the meaning of the one who now has come, Jesus stands. Awash in the waters of the Jordan River, beyond its shores Jesus himself became the message swirling about the Mediterranean in the questions Paul’s converts raised about this Christ Paul asked them to follow. By a dramatic turn of events, Paul would call him Christ and range far wider than any of the evangelists in his proclamation of Jesus’ identity, the nearness of God and saving sovereign for all who believed in him. The gospels and Paul’s letters, read in tandem today can orchestrate for us the mosaic of Jesus’ life and person.

Rising out of the waters of the Jordan he became a magnet to those searching for a better way, a better day. But we do not have the physical presence of Jesus to draw us to him. What sensibility quiets the clamor that seems to reign today? How do we enkindle the flame so our hearts burn within us when we hear his voice, hear the stories he told retold to us today? This is no small challenge. Our desire must be great. Our imaginations open wide. Our searching hearts undaunted by the secular world’s hold, sway and pull on us. And yet we live in the midst of our world, the way in which Jesus lived in and moved about in his world, awash with its own profane and materialistic determinations.

Woven about the person of Jesus, like a shroud that had begun to unravel over the years, over the centuries, are stories and legends, the fact and fictions of his life. He became draped in the mantel of Israel’s hopes. Soon enough, those hopes dashed, he would wear the royal purple of Rome and then become the Roman Empire’s standard bearer, cooped by a king, to be a King.

His life is a mosaic of those who loved him, those who followed him, those who believed he was their savior. His life story was even shaped by those who feared him. But the voices of those whom he had touched won out. Those are the voices that remain to carry his story forward for future generations, for us.

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part IV

Luke’s narrative opens in the Jerusalem Temple. It is the same Temple from which Jesus will later make his final fateful journey. Zechariah, a priest of the order of Aaron, is in the Temple performing his priestly duties. The angel Gabriel, the first of many who make up the chorus of Luke’s gospel, appears before him standing at the altar in the Holy of Holies where Zechariah serves.  Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are a couple on in years. He and Elizabeth are childless. But now he is told by Gabriel that his wife, believed to be barren, will give him a son. His prayers have been answered. With the incessant do not be afraid of the Lord’s messengers, Gabriel’s announcement imparts the mantle of the prophet Elijah on their unborn son, naming him John, delivering a not-so-subtle indication of the trajectory of John’s life. From being the joy and delight of his parents, to the commission to bring the repentance and return of the whole nation to Yahweh, even before his conception, John has his work cut out for him.

This first annunciation happens during the hour of incense, the rising smoke of the Temple offering calling the people to prayer. Unbeknownst to the waiting multitude, they are also being called to be among the first witnesses to their own saving. These are the first of the many crowds that will shadow Jesus throughout his life. From the outset, both John and Jesus draw the attention of many people in Judea and the surrounding countryside. From the people waiting outside the Temple to the neighbors who will rejoice along with Zechariah and Elizabeth, the births of these two extraordinary children, who will change the face of Israel and the world, is not to be a singular blessing for their parents alone, but an experience for the multitude and the many.

When Zechariah emerges from the Temple he is unable to speak, struck dumb by Gabriel because he openly dared to doubt the angel’s words.  He can communicate only in signs. Yet when he emerges it is evident to the people that Zechariah has had a vision. Luke sets these events squarely in real time, noting the hour of the day, lest we get lost in the other-worldliness of angels and visions.  It is three o’clock in the afternoon, known as the ninth hour. This will be the same hour in which Jesus breathes his last. Luke too is communicating in signs. He is signaling to his audience, already familiar with the sacred writings of Israel, something more telling about these events.

Zechariah returns home mute. He is able to indicate, however, to Elizabeth that they are to have a son. We do not hear Elizabeth’s response to this revelation until later, when she is visited by Mary. All we are told at this juncture is that once she conceives she keeps herself apart, like her people when they first came to Jerusalem, staying apart, growing quietly to maturity, deepening the roots of their faith. This news of this miraculous event ends Elizabeth’s humiliation of being barren; now she has only to wait and watch for the miracle to take root within her.

In another not-so-distant countryside from Zechariah and Elizabeth, another birth is announced by an angel. Before Israel held or heard of the child Jesus, a young Jewish girl, destined to be the first follower of her son, becomes a partner to the promise made long ago to her people. The ru’ah of Yahweh that hovered over the waters at creation will now overshadow the mother of Jesus, forming in her flesh the beloved son, who will later stand in the waters of the Jordan, blessed by that same spirit into his own life work.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part II

angel to Zechariah  John the Baptist stands at the confluence of the two testaments. The Hebrew Bible ends with the Book of Malachi. In Malachi, Yahweh is speaking. His are the first words of Genesis and his will be the last words in the final chapter of the recorded history of Israel. In Malachi we hear the Lord God’s last lament over his people, an impassioned reminder of what he has done for them, who he is for them and what he expects of them. He tells them he will send an Elijah-like prophet to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. These enjoinders echo in the angel’s announcement of John’s birth to Zechariah at the opening of Luke’s gospel.  Through Gabriel, Yahweh voice reverberates in his Temple, across two testaments, charging John even before he is in the world with the task of preparing the path and the people for the next emissary of Israel’s fierce, possessive, loving God.

As the second testament begins, Yahweh sets himself squarely in the midst of Israel again, making himself the architect of these two unlikely births. The Spirit of Yahweh inhabiting Luke’s gospel will overtake John, from the outset setting him apart. John will not follow in his father’s footsteps as a Temple priest. The Temple priests were hand-picked by Yahweh to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem after David took the holy city for his people. Rather, John has been chosen to carry the covenant back into the imagination of Israel, to grow in the wilderness, raving like a mad man on the margins of society, a fiery prophet challenging, cajoling the Hebrew people. His words ring out much like Yahweh at the end of Malachi. Between the two testaments comes a yawning silence. But before his voice goes silent, Yahweh Sabbaoth entreats the tribes of Israel, who have strayed from the covenant, to repent and return to him so that he can return to them.

The prophets are gone. A remnant awaits. A child is born. A child who comes into the ordinariness of life, into the midst of a faithful remnant waiting for a messiah to deliver them from their Roman oppressors and reclaim the vision of the covenant, now imaged in the birth of a child. This child, Jesus.

From the moment of his conception, Jesus’ life is marked by many journeys. The first he makes inside his mother, when she goes to visit Elizabeth to share her good tidings. At the end of Mary’s half-day’s walk to Zechariah’s house, it is John in his mother’s womb who first acknowledges by his leap of joy the cousin for whom he will pave the path made of the expectant hopes of the Jewish people. The next journey Jesus makes is to Bethlehem, still safely ensconced within his mother, his father Joseph leading her mount across the rocky wilderness to a census taking and his birth. Throughout his life Jesus journeys toward each new horizon of being before him. But the journey that was his long before he came into the world, is the journey the Hebrew nation made as they crossed the wilderness, on their way to becoming the people of God.

© 2014 Cathie Horrell. All Rights Reserved.

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part 1

During this Christmas week I want to post an article I have previously written. It is a commentary on the Infancy Narrative in Luke’s Gospel. You will find in the following series of postings of this article many of the themes that appear in this blog, connected as they are to St. Paul’s invocation of the hidden-self, the Christ-self. I hope you enjoy it. Happy Holidays.

© 2014 Cathie Horrell. All Rights Reserved.

     night sky I will speak to you in poetry,

to unfold the mysteries of the past.

what we have heard and know,

what our ancestors have told us.

We shall not conceal

from their descendants, but

will tell to a generation still to come.

                                                                                                                                      Psalm 78: 2-4

And this will be a sign for you; You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.                                                                                                                    Luke 2:12

At the heart of Luke’s infancy narrative, surrounded by songs of praise and joy, the hope of Israel is found lying in a manger. When the infant Jesus comes into the world he is set in the only place his mother has to lay him in their stable sanctuary, a wood-hewn trough. This trough, where animals have feed, becomes a manger, a sign for the shepherds who go in search of him. It is to this sign of the manger that we too, more shepherd than scholar, might look as we search for him as well.

Luke’s infancy narrative is a wonderful mix of people and emotions. There is belief and disbelief, surprise and bewilderment, questioning and assent, blindness and recognition, silence and song. Through the chorus and cacophony, two children come, one a prophet, wild and free, who will splash in the waters of the Jordan River, turning the hearts and sights of the people to the other. There the other will come, confident, striding across the rocky landscape of Judea, intent on his destination, carrying with him the hopes of his people, bound at birth to free them in his one great act of dedication, living his life.

With poetry, puzzlement and wonder, Luke crafts his narrative to give us the story of Jesus’ coming. It is a story that turns on prophecy and praise, promise and fulfillment. It is the story of Yahweh. Yahweh, the gypsy-god who journeyed with the Israelites, pitching his tent among them as he led them through the wilderness. It is the story of the transformation of a nation. It is the story of the transformation of their God. Their God is the Lord God of Israel as both author and protagonist, who reveals himself through his Spirit in the births of John the Baptizer and Yeshua of Nazareth to bring new life to Israel, calling the people back to him. In the events surrounding Jesus’ coming, the tent-dwelling Yahweh breaks through the laws of nature in order to take his future forward once more.

The Christ-self

  brillant leaves    Autumn is a season of striking transformation. Unlike Spring which comes slowly, softly, tiny shoots rising up out of the earth, small green buds gradually come to bloom on the trees, autumn blazes across the landscape. Right now the Midwest is ablaze with change. The trees that rumble across the landscape in shades of green one day are a warm palette of reds, orange, yellows, rusts, purple, crimson the next. We drive across the countryside searching for the passion and blaze of this season, before all falls away into winter.

Whether landscape or mindscape, change is at the very heart of the natural world and of human life. The worlds turning tells us this with each new day, with each season, in each plant, species and amoeba. Down to the very last cell of DNA we possess within us the ability to grow, to change, and to become. In fact, it is human nature to be in an on-going state of becoming.

We have often heard the word transformation used in the word conversion. John the Baptist would use the word repent, by which he meant return. It was a return to the one true faith and God of Israel. Yahweh. The living God. His was the outspoken cry from the wilderness, beside the Jordan, where a sign of being transformed was emersion in the waters of the Jordan. For whatever reason it was John’s activities that caused Jesus to come from Nazareth to the river that day, where his life too would, by the gospel accounts, change as well.

Paul’s very first letter to the Thessalonians was a call to change, to be converted, transformed so that they might follow and serve the true and living God. It is in Ephesians that we find the heart, soul and core of his message to the infant church that he is guiding into being. Paul’s call to put on Christ, to live your lives in Christ, is summed up in the hidden self that he prays will grow strong within us. This hidden self is Christ. The Christ-self.

This Christ-self is the Christ that may live in our hearts through faith, and it is in our hearts that we will know the love of Christ, which Paul adds is beyond all knowledge, so that we become filled with the utter fullness of God. It is this Christ-self, the Christ-life within is Paul’s raison d’etre.

To grow, if you will, to become more and more aware of the Christ-self within. It is in Christ, in the Christ-self that we participate and become part of the life of God. In Christ’s love for us is the utter, absolute, complete life of the living God. We could also speak about the sacred self.

All theology is anthropology. Of necessity then, to speak a word about God, is to speak about the human person as well. It is to speak of the sacred in the human heart – by this Paul meant in the depths of our being. Paul’s call to live in Christ is shaped by the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. For Paul death, death with Christ, becomes the corridor to the fullness of being. A death that because we live in Christ, also means that we come to new life, transformed in him as well.

Autumn will give way to the sometimes dark and dreary days of winter. But in that winter, after the fall of the leaves, the dying out of the colors that so brilliantly blaze across the landscape today, will come, as the year itself dies away, a celebration of something that may be just a myth, but within that recurring myth, is the truth of the Christ coming upon the landscape of our waiting hearts.

Enamored in autumn’s brilliance is a promise. The promise of He who is ever new. The Christ-self as our abiding and permanent openness to God.