You Meant it For Evil…

Day Lily open

At the end of Genesis is the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph goes on a long and arduous journey, sent out from home, betrayed by his brothers, taken as a slave in Egypt where he rises from the lowly shepherd-servant to the great vizier in Pharaoh’s court, second only to Pharaoh in power. Joseph grows from wounded to wisdom. If you read the story carefully you will see that Joseph’s journey mirrors our own. Each event in his life is a place that we too pass through on our own journey’s to wholeness and maturity. This is a very human paradigm, which coincides with the passages that we make in this adventure called life. In Joseph we see the sacred design we are enacted in the drama of this one person’s life as the story of creation closes.

Because Joseph is in Egypt and in charge of the management when a famine comes, he will be able to send for his family and save the ones who betrayed him from starving to death. Save the family of Jacob-Israel to become a nation with a far reaching destiny. Like our lives too, Joseph’s life is informed by dreams, dreams Joseph knows how to interpret. For he is not only shepherd, but also the wise dreamer. Near the end of the story when Joseph’s brothers finally recognize who he is, they are fearful that he will retaliate for the evil they did to him. But, now knowing that it is the hand of Yahweh that has led them all to where they are, he tells them: You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

There is another well-know story of a journey, that ends with much the same words Joseph spoke to his brothers. It is the journey that Jesus makes and the words the risen Christ echoes to those he met along the road, by the lakeside in the Upper Room. For God sustained and journeyed with Joseph throughout his life. It is this same God, the God of Israel, who sustained and brought Jesus beyond (even) death. At the close of Genesis, out of the garden, from tree of life, to the tree of death, to another garden, at the close of Jesus’ earthly life, we are reminded once more, that the gift was not lost when we left the garden, but continues in unhampered freedom as the good will of God to all of his creation, to all of us.

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Powerlessness as Transformation

           

TOPSHOTS A shepherd boy is silhouetted on June 26, 2013, in Qunu a rural village where former South African President Nelson Mandela grew up. Mandela's close family members gathered to hear a sombre prayer wishing the anti-apartheid icon a "peaceful, perfect, end" as he lay in hospital in critical condition with his life seemingly slipping away. AFP PHOTO / CARL DE SOUZA CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

St. Paul often talks about his powerlessness. His weakness. But he will also say that his strength is the strength of the grace of God with him and within him.

Paul likened his weakness to that of Jesus on the cross, and he saw our human powerlessness as a way through which the power of God, the empowerment of grace, reveals itself. For Jesus it meant the transformation from death into life.

For Joseph it meant transformation as well. The transformation of a lowly shepherd boy into the great vizier of all Egypt. But his rise to a position of power, wasn’t the nucleus of his power. Joseph’s power was to come to be who he was; to discover his identity and his purpose in life. Who God meant him to be. And how God transformed the cruelty of his brothers into the saving their whole family because of Joseph too finds himself thrown into a pit by his brothers who leave him there to die. He could not get out of the pit unless someone else lifted him out. He was utterly powerless. But it would be within this powerlessness that he would begin his journey to become one of the most, indeed the second most, powerful person in Pharaoh’s kingdom. A kingdom where he had once been a slave. Joseph’s power, his ability to act, was seen by all about him, as the power of the Hebrew slave’s god, Yahweh.

The true use of power is empowerment born from a sense of justice.  Justice the meeting of heaven’s purpose on earth.  The place of Jesus’ greatest weakness is the place of greatest strength. His humanity the opening channel to the sacred. The journey through vulnerability is where valor is born, a steadfast spirit forged in the fire.  From his marginal place, from his powerlessness, from the cross, by way of his humanity he became diminished and raised, both servant and savior, a shepherd-messiah to the small, the weak, the powerless, where he pastures us into God’s open vista, that vulnerability an opening channel to the strength of God in Christ in our lives.

 

Freedom, a Secular and Sacred Trust

Pentecost red ribbons                                   4th of July

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

These are St. Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians. In a few days we will celebrate the 4th of July, Independence Day. This country’s victory to gain freedom and pursue life, liberty and pursue happiness on our own terms. This is the American spirit.  It is also the gift we call free will. It is the ultimate freedom to choose. To choose who we are, how to lives our lives, and how to practice our beliefs. At the core, this is the freedom those who came here fought for and for which many died.

Having said that, I am also painfully aware of the history of this county which continues to spill into the present, where liberties were denied, freedoms are withheld.

          The interesting thing about spirit is that unlike the body its very nature is its ability to be at liberty. The inherently sacred nature of our humanity is bestowed with this spirit of freedom. Freedom is a sacred trust. Stories of faith are fraught with journey narratives where the protagonist’s/hero’s goal is freedom. The story of Israel which began with Abram/Abraham is such a story. A people seeking to be free of Pharaoh, free from Exile, of her oppressors. When Jesus came upon the scene, she wanted to be free of Roman rule. But the Galilean carpenter had another idea of what freedom meant. It was a freedom within, whose only rule was the reign of God. He told us stories so we too might make our own journey with more insight and understanding, and perhaps the awareness of the presence and experience of the Spirit carrying us to the new land of our truest and most free selves.

          Long before Jesus came on the scene, a Hebrew shepherd boy, who lost his home, his family and his country, and became a slave in Egypt, had something also to tell us about captivity and freedom. For Joseph, the son of Jacob/Israel, came to realize that in the most foreign circumstances nothing is foreign to the Spirit of the Lord God. Even in the prison of our lives a light can begin to dawn. In the darkest, deepest prison we can be most free because we carry our freedom within as a rescuing presence, a redeeming love. A love that redeems not just us but the circumstances of our lives as well. This is Genesis’ final revelation. Our humanity is shaped by a sacred design, endowed with a sacred spirit ever available to us.

          Life’s purpose is often hidden within the unlikely path, the unintended journey, the fall from the garden or from grace, the fall into the abyss as it appears to harbor the absence of God. We are a sacred design created for good, for well-being, that no prison can prevail against. In the midst of suffering and loss, in betrayal, alienation, captivity, in our most unfreedom, we are most free in the Spirit that journeys with us, the Spirit that is often seen by others rather than ourselves as we struggle with the daily round that challenges the awareness of Spirit dogging us to the awareness of the sacred in our lives. The Spirit of the Lord of Life is the way in which we are free, successful, whole. For it is God that is the definition of what it means to be whole. The deepest human bondage is no barrier for the sacred available to us, not instead of but along with all we carry with us into bondage and captivity. We have built altars to the processes that would care and cure the captivity and bring us release through self-understanding and insight; to the crumbling altars of our displaced hopes where we worship the false gods of processes that only further imprison us. The life of Joseph and Jesus, along with the letters of St. Paul, remind us that even death or being forgotten can stay the presence of the Spirit of Christ Jesus who is for us wholeness, his Spirit the freedom that is ours, which grows brighter as we turn into the image and likeness we reflect.

Enjoy and be thankful for Independence Day.

 

Feed My Lambs

 

  shepherd   Now we have seen Peter twice after the Resurrection. Once where he runs ahead of the others to the empty tomb. The next is when he literally casts himself from the fishing boat into the water when he sees Jesus on the shore of Tiberias. In both instances Peter hurries ahead of the others, unafraid to get to get to Jesus and see him up close. Perhaps his joy and eagerness to see Jesus is because there is something he sorely needs to say to Jesus.

The last thing Jesus did with his disciples was share a meal with them. The first thing he does after the Resurrection is also to share a meal with them. A meal of fish and bread. Echoes of the loaves and fishes. A sacred symmetry meant to evoke their memories. A chance to talk, to catch up, or simply to be in his startling presence. To remember what he had said to them and suddenly realize the significance of all he did and all he said. The significance of his life. And now the significance of their lives, especially Peter’s.

After the meal Jesus takes Peter aside. He wants to ask him a question. He has a job for Peter to do. Commentaries and sermons on this scene often focus on the three questions ‘do you love me?’ as the way in which Peter redeems himself from the thrice denial of knowing Jesus during the trial. What I find wonderfully consistent with who Jesus was before and now, is that he doesn’t chide Peter, he doesn’t even bring the denials up. He doesn’t condemn Peter as a sinner. He doesn’t go right for the sin. He goes right for the very heart of Peter. He goes to the man he knows Peter to be, in all his exuberance; impetuous, skeptical, self-protective and, yes, a man scared of death. He knows what that feeling felt like.

Why does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him, if, as Peter insists, Jesus already knows Peter loves him? And Jesus knows he does. Perhaps because Peter needs to hear himself say the words. Perhaps because Jesus also knows the doubt that may still be lingering with him, especially his own self-doubt and self-condemnation.  For no one is more aware of Peter’s sorrow and shame than Peter. In repeating that he loves Jesus, Jesus gives Peter a chance to not only forgive himself, but also to focus on what is really important to Him.

With each affirmation of his love for Jesus, Jesus tells Peter to feed my lambs. Look after my sheep. Feed my sheep. Jesus is asking this fisherman to become a shepherd. The catch is in. A shepherd to those lambs-innocent followers of his who are going to be in need of protection from the wolves still prowling about waiting to snatch them away from the greener pastures of Jesus’ fellowship. His sheep-the inner circle of those more seasoned in following Jesus, his disciples. Look after them. Clearly Jesus is concerned for them. Wants them to be taken care of. Wants them to safe. And yet….

Jesus is evoking the image of past shepherds of Israel, like Joseph, who saved his family and all of Egypt from starving to death when the famine came. Who led them to safer pastures. (At least for a few hundred years.) Of the lowly shepherd boy who slay the Goliath waiting to devour his people and led them to a kingdom where he would be their first king. The old kingdom was gone. The new kingdom would need another kind of shepherding. Surely Jesus knew it would take all the shepherding qualities, to feed, to ensure well-being, to be ever watchful, to make sure that none get lost, that all have safe pasturing. Peter is making his pledge and promise, a pledge and promise because he loves Jesus.

After Jesus tells Peter the cost, he simply repeats the first words he ever said to him. Follow me.

 

Birth of the Word in the Soul Part VI

Carl Jung says Jesus lives our unlived lives. He is speaking of the Christ-Self in each of us that must be awakened if we are to achieve the fullness of our humanity. Both testaments are treaties on how we are able to achieve the fullness of our humanity. In the letter to the Ephesians, * its author includes Paul’s pray that the hidden self grow strong, that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then, planted and built on love, you will have the strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depths, until knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowing, you will be filled with the utter fullness of God.  It is this hidden self that Jung is referring to; the realization of the God-life within us. Across centuries both men acknowledge that Jesus is the incarnation of the sacred Self, the embodiment of the sacred humanity that is our birthright. From Genesis to Revelations we are shown that we are inherently ordered to the sacred, to that which has within it the possibility at each turn of becoming the sacred reality for which we are meant. Jesus is the becoming thing in us. He is the embodiment of that which becomes itself in God. With each day we attend to his birth within us.

 We are seeded with the Christ-self like the sacred seed planted in Mary. We are invited to give life and meaning to that seed, to attend to its growth, so that who Jesus is we too can become. For we are also heirs to the promise going out from the first pages of Genesis. The promise that we are sacred and meant. As we journey with Jesus, we join with Mary and Elizabeth, as partners of the promise, to awaken and give birth to the Christ-Self. This is our let it be to the God who is ever renewing the world in his image. Just as his spirit came upon the mother of Jesus in his great act of loving us and the world, by the grace of his spirit we also become the waiting manger for the birth of the Word in the soul.

Like the ancient rabbis who lovingly held the Torah in their arms, the Word become flesh is now carried in the arms of his parents to the temple on the day of presentation, in accordance with the Mosaic Law. There Mary and Joseph encounter an old man named Simeon. He takes Jesus in his arms, giving thanks and praise for he knows he is holding the salvation of Israel in his arms. As Simeon blesses the parents of Jesus, he tells Mary that a sword shall pierce your heart. It is a sword that will lay bare the hearts of many, the sword will spill the life blood of her son upon the bitter ground of misunderstanding and his rejection.

Jesus will return to the Temple when he is twelve years old. By then he is a young man who knows his scriptures so well he is able to discourse with the rabbis, forgetting it is time to return home with his parents. In Luke’s account, the last we see of Joseph is when he and Mary spend three days searching for their missing son in the crowds who have come to Jerusalem for Passover. In Matthew’s infancy narrative it is after the visit of the wise men to Bethlehem that we last see Joseph. In this sequence, Joseph, prompted once more by an angel, leads his family to safety in Egypt, to protect his infant son from Herod, who is intent on murdering the already rumored king of the Jews.

After the incident in the Temple there is no record of Jesus’ life until he goes to meet John at the Jordan River. Yet there are clues to the early influence his family had on Jesus. His parents surely shaped the man he would become. At times he must have seemed as enigmatic to them as he often appears to us today. From the recorded accounts of his life, it is evident Jesus was well-versed in the sacred writings of Israel. From his parents Jesus learned to be attentive and faithful to Torah, exhibiting a respect and reverence for the faith of his people, the law and the Temple. When he teaches the people in parables, his words ring with authority, demonstrating his command of the Hebrew Scriptures. From Joseph Jesus learned carpentry, but it is a trade he would abandoned at some point, like John before him. Perhaps it was there, working at Joseph’s side or at his mother’s knee learning his scriptures, that he realized a new trade, that a new task had been set before him, and he went to it most likely knowing from his mother early on that he was destined for something singularly special.

At his side Jesus learned from Joseph, the man entrusted by God with his care and upbringing, how to care for those with whom he would be entrusted. Just as Mary’s attention and fidelity shaped Jesus, certainly he was shaped by the father we know little of. After Jesus’ childhood, Joseph is never mentioned again. The assumption is that he is no longer living. If indeed Joseph died before Jesus’ public ministry that might explain why Jesus’ public life had to wait until he was almost thirty years of age, long past the age a Jewish man would have taken up a profession. Perhaps Joseph entrusted the safekeeping and livelihood of his family, Jesus’ mother and siblings, to his first-born before he passed on, just as Jesus would entrust his mother to the care of the disciple standing at the foot of the cross with her. Could it be that in John’s gospel, when Jesus says he has not lost one of these you have given me, he is also thinking of the family Joseph entrusted to him? And one has to wonder if the father whom Jesus addresses as Abba, Daddy, isn’t at times Joseph, the carpenter from Nazareth, who guided the boy’s hands over the wood as he fostered and protected Jesus, who he knew would eventually be about another Father’s business.

©2014 Cathie Horrell.  All Rights Reserved.

*The Letter to the Ephesians is not attributed to Paul, but to one of his companions.

 

The World is Too Much With Us

looking_to_the_future1.jpg On the horizon of being the human heart is endowed with hope.

      Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:39)

The cross of Christ is not the (only) reality that we live under. We live under the sign of the resurrection as well. It wasn’t even until the Middle Ages that the cross began to appear with the crucified savior upon it. Rather, it was the depictions of Christ in his glory, as having triumphed over death, that were imaged in religious artwork until then. But more and more lately, well beyond Lent, when Jesus’s cross becomes the place to center our faith and praxis, these hot August days seem to swelter under the heavy burden of the cross.

It’s not just in Jerusalem or Ferguson, but all over the world, man’s inhumanity to others seems to be on the rampage. I finally had to turn the television off. But the subject would not leave me, because the next topic of transformation that I was going to address was the transformation of evil to good. During these days I have kept my bible close at hand. And I was grateful again that I had continued with this blog,  because I began to search again through the scriptures and Paul, for a way to come to grips with the epidemic of evil sweeping our globe. The obvious response (because there is no ‘answer’ to evil): the Way through – the absolute, unswerving faith in God, the great Transformer.

I wrote all things are eventually redeemed in the heart of God. I absolutely believe this. I have experienced this in my life. We see even now the first inklings of that drive in the human spirit to make sure those who have died have not died in vain. That good comes from this. This too is the meaning of Christ’s cross. This is the god-place within us, the indomitable human spirit that needs to keep creating and recreating ourselves and the world in image and likeness as the ongoing reality of living.

But, the events of the past few weeks have made me pause and pray and search what I believe and hear it as others might hear it, as the most recent victims of injustice and evil might hear these words. To make sure this is not pious prattle. That it might come from the depths of holding to the cross while living in the resurrection. Holding to the paradox of good and evil in God’s good creation. I hear Joseph saying to the brothers who wrecked their evil upon him and tried to kill him: You meant it for evil but God meant it for good. (Genesis 50:18). Joseph made his own long, very human journey of transformation. (I write about Joseph’s journey in my just completed mss I Am Joseph: Symbols of Transformation in the Joseph Narrative.)

When St. Paul talks about evil, he isn’t engaging a theological debate (theodicy), evil as the dark specter that swarmed about Job, rather evil for Paul is a matter of human behavior. He begins many of his letters asking the people to curb their evil deeds (Co 1:21-23). Fornication, impurity, evil desire (covetousness), slander, foul talk, anger, wrath, malice, slander and idolatry. These are all sins of one person against another or against God. For Paul evil comes from people’s behavior. In 2 Thessalonians 3:2 Paul prays that we may be preserved from the interference of bigoted and evil people. Following the passage from Romans 8 quoted above Paul reminds us of the word from the Hebrew Scriptures: For thy sake we are being killed all day long. We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. It is then he says Nothing – not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus the Lord. Paul later in Romans will ask that we overcome evil with good. By good he means love each other, respect one another, work with untiring effort for what is right and just, keep praying even in the face of trials and make hospitality your special care. (12:9-21) Forgive one another because you have been forgiven (Co 3:12-15). Let the message of Christ find a home in you. That great, real Love saves. This is the resurrection.

Joseph eventually save the lives of the brothers who wished him dead and forgives them saying You meant it for evil but God meant it for good. Suffering and the resultant on-going search for meaning and judgment are to lie ever hidden in the mysterious design of God that Joseph can only answer by his continued care of his family, suffering and evil’s only recourse to choose how one is to live within it and beyond. And to know the beyond as God.