Why I Do This

brillant leaves

Someone recently asked me why I do this (i.e. write this blog). Well, it began as an exercise in reading the letters of St. Paul and putting down in writing for forty days of Lents a journey in Christ with St. Paul.

Why I’ve continued, however, is a rainbow of reasons. One is my need to share with others; especially when I find something I am passionate about. And I am passionate about the scriptures. And the person of Jesus Christ. If I could just convey to others what a difference he makes in our lives. And the absolute unswerving power of faith. And for me the center of this is in the scriptures, in the Word become flesh, in the person of Jesus as the Christ. Too, I search. And this is how I search. For what it means to be a Christian. How to live life in Christ.

Also, because at heart I’m a teacher (i.e. sharer). The bible is a great piece of literature. Every human experience is written there. As I watch the characters’ lives unfold, I am gain insights into the drama of my own life. I believe these stories help me understand life, help me grow and above all find God at the best and worst times of my life. I believe we are inherently oriented to grow, like living plants reaching for the sun. I know people are changed by hearing the stories of other people’s journeys. Yahweh and Yeshua of Nazareth live today in these pages. So you may see here too that I am fiercely committed to the importance of the story of Israel in understanding the story of Christianity; for the story of Israel is the story that Jesus carried with him as he entered the synagogue each Sabbath morning to read from the sacred scrolls.

This past summer a much loved professor, mentor and friend passed away. He was an ‘Old Testament’ scholar. I went to grad school enthusiastic about the Word. And Ben Asen fired my love for the Hebrew Scriptures permanently and forever. He was a great teacher, passionate about the bible, its poetry and its prophets. He gave me a great gift. I would like to pass that gift on if I am able.

The biblical characters in many real ways are still alive in us today. Alive in how we mature, or don’t, alive in the journeys we make in faith, the challenges we face from within and without, our heroism, our pluck and pint-size attempts to live more fully realized lives; alive as we wrestle with angels, cross barren deserts, succumb to our fears and doubts, try simply to survive in a foreign land, or set out from Egypt with Pharaoh on our heels; where we are often not led by the better angels of our nature but those that hobble us and leave us limping through life, when we feel or are marginalized, until upon the rough seas there appears one who will overcome the forces that toss us about and rage against a fuller life, where our sight is restored, our dis-ease becomes a better facility to navigate the shoals, where we stand taller and walk straighter, and fine we are led by the hand and heart onto that safe place, where the good news he brings prevails and no earthly force has been able to kill it.

 

 

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One for All

St. Tim's stained glass window

Jesus of Nazareth is a puzzlement. A paradoxical figure who does not become clearer to us the farther we are from lst century Palestine. The farther we get from the first more approximate witnesses to his life. But Jesus’ importance lies precisely in this strange, often off-putting man whose family thought he was crazy, posed a threat to the religious and political establishment, and was a devout Jew who worked on the Sabbath and went around with a ban of fishermen, and with any and everyone who came to his table, and even kept company with women! He not only upset the tables outside the Temple but upset everyone’s apple cart. We shy away from this Jesus. A man who stood everything his fellow Jews believed on its head. If we pay attention to his whole story, not just the parts we are comfortable with, that carry more sentimentality than truth or have been emphasized to the exclusion of others, we are faced with a person whose image cannot be sprayed with fixative or content ourselves with neat or systematic pictures of this man. And by wanting to assert his divinity – his extraordinary closeness to God – much of him and his reason for living and dying have been eclipsed.

One thing we can say with some certainty. He provoked change. He invited transformation. He stood at a moment in time between the faith of his fathers, the patriarchs of Israel, and a faith that would follow him and gather together, take up faith in the God of Life, Yahweh, and transform how we would now see, know and experience God, because now God has a human face. As the echoes of Isaiah gather about him, he brought once more the good news, now in his person, where God’s cause became his. Where God’s promise might yet come about.

He took up the cause of the marginal and dispossessed, of outcasts and of sinners, of lepers and prostitutes, the disfigured and the demented. Because of this he would be betrayed, betrayed so that he could become the one through whom (like Joseph) the betrayed and outcasts, the slaves and the homeless, could be numbered among the elect.

The history of the world collapsed on Calvary, as Jesus secured a place in the kingdom of God for those who were believed to be set outside this kingdom. On that hill he held the history of the Jews in himself, their suffering and their cries to their Lord, their beliefs and hopes, their sense of forsakenness and the deafening silence of false gods. All of history that would follow culminated there as well, in him who would stand for, live and die for all who would come after and follow in the footfall of his people through the vast wilderness of plenty and loss, suffering and chaos, hardship and the endless renewal of life which would rise out of the collapse of the world as he breathed his last. In him Israel would rise. In him all that have come after would rise as well. Rise to the possibility and promise of life saved, redeemed and whole.

He came for many. For many he lived. To many he taught. And for many he healed. But in the end he died for all. He died, not for sins, but for all, so that we might become healed and whole, and experience in him the reign of the Holy One of Israel in our lives. For he too could say, echoing the words of Joseph, you meant it for evil, but God – my Father – meant it for good. And Jesus was and is that good.

 

 

 

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.

Seek and You Shall Find

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What makes Jesus unforgettable is that he is first and foremost human. His vulnerability touches us. From ordinary beginnings, born in a stable, he drew others to him from the moment of his birth. Shepherds roused from their night-watch go in search of him. Wise men from far away make the long journey to behold the promised One. It is the universal hope for a better life; for the hero who will make all things right again. The impression he made on all who encountered him never left them. His disciples and followers, evangelist and story tellers, the women and those he healed, those who heard his voice in the synagogue and those who heard him on the grassy rise not far from the sea, would not forget him. He came back to them and lived on in them and in the stories they began to tell in order to keep his memory alive. To keep him alive. They began to piece together like a tapestry woven of the many encounters of him come back to life, where he raised from the dead their faith which now took fire and word began to spread across the countryside and throughout the Mediterranean world. Many sought him out while he lived. And over the centuries many more seek him yet.

We are yet Plato’s children, searching for what is true, to lift the veil, to seek, find and become one with our divine origins. To return to the state of our souls, when we knew God, when we walked in the garden with him, before we covered ourselves and hid, and entered the fog of forgetfulness.  We are ever in search of the unity, the wholeness and well-being we sense is our birthright; who we know ourselves to be, or who we can become. It seems ever to elude us, just beyond the horizon, over the hill, behind the leaves we might push aside and there we are –whole, loved, to know as we are known; to redeem our wayward wandering, to come to the source and goal of our existence and thereby give meaning to that existence. This is the human impetus, this is the story of Israel, of Jesus, of all stories of origins that really stories of goals, the continual theme of our lives, studies, journeys, seeking and searching. To calm the disquieted soul who knows itself and can advance in that confidence. In his very humanity Jesus shows us the way. He shows us what it means to be a human being. As we journey with Jesus through the gospel it is not titles only that we discover, but qualities of beingness. Qualities of being human which in this one person we can begin to see ourselves and achieve what it is we have been searching for since we left the garden, crossed the wilderness and a thousand rivers, to make our home no longer in a place, but in a promise and in a person.

Journey with Jesus

footprints

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 their donkey 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. It will be this journey that he carried within him as Jewish man marked on the margins of society where a second covenant, a new testament would begin.

As an adult he 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, and thereby us all, in his one great act of dedication, living his life.

 Now Israel’s story of transformation would become the story of the transformation of God.  The God who would see Jesus driven into the wilderness by the same Spirit that blessed him, in order to  gather his scattered flock back to him once more.  In the events surrounding Jesus’ coming, the gypsy-god breaks through the laws of nature in order to take his future forward once more.

Jesus takes us on a journey to the very heart of being. Divine or human, god or man, priest or prophet, rabbi or carpenter, how we know him may be how we know ourselves. How we see – experience our own lives may be how we see him. Perhaps at some point our own lives begin to resonate with his story – where meaning and myth meet – where the scriptures live: in the resonance of that life with our own – a ringing true which helps us as we make our way – find its truth – and live our lives with meaning and significance. To forge an identity we can own and from which we can live an authentic life. He shows us a way to being authentic. For above all else…he was authentic…real in the realest sense of the word. Flesh, blood, tears sorrow, questions and crisis and the mounting question as he turns his face toward Jerusalem aside the donkey now himself. How we answer this question will be the measure of our becoming.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

rhizome  He came into this world with little more than a story, surrounding him like the swaddling wrapped about him at his birth. By then the news of his coming was already running rampant across the countryside. The stories taking on a life of their own. Told, retold, ancient memories coming to life in the darkness of Israel’s winter.

Reach back over the two thousand years of debris that cover his story, back over the institutionalization of the soul, ritualization, dogma, defense, legend and myth, to the words, the Word that became flesh in the story of his life.

Before his birth his people made their long journey across the wilderness forming a sacred identity. Israel’s journey changed her. The story of this journey informed the Hebrew nation as it unfolded over time. Over time the story was knit and reknit, a weave of many colors that would unravel and be reshaped again and again. Eventually it took on mythical proportions that no longer looked like the covenant woven by the Lord God of Israel. As Israel strayed farther and farther from the heart of her identity, the Lord God of Israel unraveled into a distant silence as well. The silence drove John mad, drove him into the wilderness. Irony of ironies. One Hebrew alone in the desert now.

Into this silence came the Word; the Word that created, the Word that led, the Word that shaped and formed Israel into Yahweh’s own. To start over? Not exactly. But to reknit, to restore, rekindle, the true faith of Israel.  He came made of the cloth of humanity, a man, who would carry within him the promise. By his life he touched the people with words, with healing and more importantly with his presence. He embodied the faith of Israel keeping the promise Yahweh made to Abraham, to extend that faith to all the nations of the world, even the gentile nations. And yet, he too would be misunderstood.  He would challenge the powers that be, both religious and political, and in the end, his mission could not be sustained. Undaunted, the Lord God of Israel, whom he called Abba, would not let misunderstanding or death defeat his plan for his people. His a promised kept.  And so one fine Monday morning, when all seemed lost, his friends, weary and sleepless from their own betrayal and bewilderment, saw him, walking beside them, tending a fire by the shore, beckoning a woman to rise, as if proving himself to them, yet again, reaching beyond the boundaries of nature in order to call forth meaning from the dark tomb of their ignorance. From this seed a faith sprang up around him, vestiges of himself, fumbling forward for two thousand years, a rhizome swept away in whatever current paradigm it found to pitch its tent, shifting, sifting, defending, wending its way across the wilderness once more.

This work, including its contents, may not be used, reproduced, duplicated, displayed or distributed without the express written permission of the author.

The Language of the Soul

 night sky  Creative spirituality sees life as a journey. On that journey, which we all undertake one way or another, aware or unawares, to go  on this journey asks that we learn the language of the soul. The language of the soul provides markers along the way. They provide provisions for the journey. The means by which we chart the course, get our bearing, choose a path and seek the counsel of the sacred as we go. The counsel of the sacred, what some might call the will of God. Yet it is not such a big thing as that. It is that still small voice that is all about us if we just listen and are watchful. When we travel we learn about the place we are going. If another country we learn all or at least some of the language, some of the essential words so we can navigate, get some of our needs met, not get lost. At some point in our lives, the soul makes its claim upon us. When it speaks it would be well if we know its language, what it is saying to  us. We are seeded with markers, symbols and images, planted along the path, in our psyches that incarnate in our dreams, the stories we tell of ourselves, the stories that have been told to us, both ancient and new. In the very lives we lead. In the story that we are. The chartings are all about us. All that is required is to pay attention. To have some intentionality. Then the universe shows up. Shows us. Lights the way. This is where  the moments and mysteries of our encounters speak for us, speak to us and sustain us. Here we come to the threshold of revelation. The only hermeneutic we need is our humanity. Creative spirituality is the grace to hear the voice of our souls and discover our sacred humanity imaged there. Creative spirituality is the Word taking flesh in our lives.

There Was No Horse

Reflections  Photograph by Cathie Horrell

At this point one might ask, what relevance do St. Paul’s letters and these reflections have for us today?  For myself, I began reading his letters as a way to keep Christ in my sights for the forty days of Lent. But something happened.  I could have said, fini! Lent’s over, done with that. Which is usually what happens with our Lenten practices. But something happened.

As I was reading, reflecting and blogging about these letters I began to get a clearer understanding of St. Paul than that coming over the air ways. It has also strengthened my commitment as a lay woman in a church that does not always value the voice of lay women to continue the work I have been given to do.

This: When I was in grad school, I was in a small group discussion with religious who were going back to parishes to preach. It was a class in Methodology and we were discussing Paul’s letters and his experience. This one young religious kept talking about Paul falling from his horse on the Damascus Road. At one point I couldn’t contain myself any further, and piped up there was no horse. This may seem like an insignificant distinction and without much matter in the preaching. BUT, what it clearly showed me, is that this young man had not actually read the scriptural account of Paul experience on the Damascus Road. Can you really preach the gospel if you haven’t actually read it? Well, of course. It’s been happening for two thousand years.

I read it because I want to really know what it means to follow Jesus. What it means to be a Christian. And the only way to do this is to actually read the bible as it was written and in context. Paul’s been misunderstood in snippets. Pieces parsed out, misunderstood out of context and in the light of his entire body of work, and made into doctrine. Paul’s writing is about a way of life and living. Ways of being. Ways of being Christ. What faith in Christ makes of us.

Reading the letters in chronological order puts the letters in a different light. We can see Paul’s own development. Themes begin to emerge. His notion of the self. As you sift through his letters his sense of what I call the Christ-self emerges and it is this Christ-self that is ours to experience within ourselves today and I think that is significant in our bringing our faith-life into this century.

If we want to know what it means to live our lives accord to the Christ we have received he is a good place to start. Coupled with the gospels, we have a more well-rounded insight into the Christ-life.  In a way, although written before the gospels, Paul’s letters are a commentary on the gospels.

It is not just meaning we seek, but the experience of God in Christ.

For Paul Christ is our abiding openness to God.

It is about our own self-understanding. What it means to be created in image and likeness, human and sacred. And that changes everything.

Paul’s theology (which is not a systematic theology at all) of the ‘hidden self’ is rooted in his message of self-understanding and knowledge of Christ’s life and love for us, which we especially need to get closer to today. It’s about the Life of the Spirit working in our lives. It’s about the journey, the journey that is about transformation, a journey as relevant for us today as the days in which Paul wrote, with or without a horse.

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.

The Gypsy-God

Have you ever spoken to someone who thought it was incomprehensible that someone would die as Jesus did for others? We, who have been born into the Christian faith, take this, I think, as a given, for granted, without question. But there are times when I myself look at this wonder did it have to be that way? Surely, God being God, what God did in Jesus could have been accomplished without Jesus having to die, and die as he did?

It goes back to the image of tent that was yesterday’s topic. It’s about the God who pitches his tent among us. The God who signifies himself as a tent-dweller, journeying with his people as they made their trek through the wilderness. The Son too, who St. John says is the Word become flesh, the still living God, pitches his tent among us. In Jesus God continues to dwell in a tent, to journey, to suffer and die AND bring us back to life.

God is saying to us in Jesus, in the Word that become flesh, Jesus shows us the way. The way in this too; because it is the way of all flesh. Jesus’ way of dying precedes his rising, his coming back to us. The living God’s Yes in the face of humanities worst, in the face of death’s no.

He is the God of All Things, good and bad. And the badest is death. In Jesus’ death God is saying “I got this.”

Death changes everything. Jesus’ death was very human, very public and got a lot of people’s attention. But his reappearance in three days got even more. In fact his reappearance, changed the way people thought of his death. It changed the way they thought of life and living. It changes us. It changed the Western world.

Jesus’s death then was the beginning. Not the beginning of the end. But the beginning of a new way of life. Life reinstated. Life rethought. Life relived. A new way of being. A new way of becoming.

God is saying Stay tuned. This is only the beginning, the beginning of the next stage of a journey that began long ago, when I too was a wandering, tent-dweller. I made my home with you then, saved and kept you for myself. In Yeshua I continue to love, to care, to save, to go with you. He too saved you from death, saved you for life. I have saved you for myself. He changed water into wine. I change death into life. Because I not only got this, I got you.