The social setting Jesus of Nazareth was born into was much like our own. It was a hot bed of political and religious tension.
Jesus cut straight through this milieu to the heart of the matter. The image of him turning over the tables on the Temple portico, touching both the political and religious arenas in which it sat, is a perfect metaphor for what he was about. Overturning/challenging the political and religious order…by his challenge to the religious rulers who did the bidding of the Roman authorities. At heart the turning over the tables sent a message that people matter more than powers of exchange or submitting to antiquated religious practices. We see this throughout the gospel narrative. A Jesus who walked, talked, ate and drank with all manner of society, even women and tax collectors! Because the Jewish authorities and the climate of the time stigmatized both. But the man from Nazareth saw each as an individual, not a label which was to be kept separate from the dominant social order. There was essentially no distinction in lst century Palestine between the religious and the political structures. I suspect that is why many authors see Jesus as being a revolutionary or political activist. But he was not. His words and actions confronted both with their own behavior, and attitudes, their own words and actions. It was a challenge by example. By being who he was.
But I guess if you set about to engender a new way of being in a culture embedded with rules and rituals then you might tend to view him as political. His message, his very person, challenged both Rome and the Sanhedrin.
Religious persecution was rife. Something unfortunately we are all too familiar with today, thanks to our ever-vigilant, ever-present media. Have we returned to the dark ages?
We have shrunken to a micro-cosm of ourselves. One that can be viewed within the parameters of a 22 inch screen or a 2 x 3 inch smart phone. Our reach is large; but our vision has narrowed. Our portable screens have diminished how we view the world. Big problems flash on a small screen and pass before our view. Nothing lasts for long. 15 minutes of fame is more like 7 minutes of notoriety. It is easy to forget. Our minds do not dwell or contemplate any one matter for very long. We are on to the next text, tweet, and photo bomb. We keep up with family and friends by logging on to Facebook. We are in information overload so that we no longer retain any real knowledge. Our minds are not expanding but shrinking to the size of a media screen. I am so dependent on my smart phone. Sad to say, it is my connection to the world of others. We connect but don’t communicate. These things are not (all together) bad. It’s how we use them. How we have come to value them and what they have replaced in our lives.
Perhaps during this Lenten season when some ‘give up’ things in the hopes of making ourselves better, perhaps we could focus more on others, pay attention to the world around us, listen to the birds singing in the morning, just sit and be. And see what happens. Invite the great Spirit of Life, the Spirit of Jesus that he left with us, into our midst and see if that doesn’t make a different in our day. Jesus paid attention. To who he was. To others. To the religious and political climate about him. And he went to the synagogue and spoke about the scriptures. He sat on a hillside and told stories. He sat in a board near the shore and took in the world about him; all those in need of him. Perhaps we might look at following Jesus in this way. Bring ourselves to the heart of the matter. To pay attention.
I’ve been facilitating a bible study in the past few months on Acts of the Apostles. In Acts Luke chronicles the early church grappling with what it means to follow Jesus as the Christ. We get a different look at St. Paul in Acts. We see him traveling around the Mediterranean, going from place to place in order to establish belief in Jesus and set up churches in his name. Even though Luke paints Paul in a favorable light (he was his traveling companion for a while) it becomes clear from the outset that their were many challenges Paul faced and difficulties the first apostles faced after Jesus’ resurrection.
But they were not alone as they began to proclaim the triumph of the human Jesus as the messiah, the Christ, as evidenced by his resurrection. His resurrection had a powerful effect on them. Suddenly the things Jesus said and did made sense. They finally got it. They understood. And at Pentecost it became the Spirit of Christ coming upon them, coming into them, that empowered them to go out and proclaim that this holy man from Galilee, who was their friend and teacher, was also the Christ of God.
Each of us over the course of our lives enacts the journey that we see in the first followers of Jesus trying to become ‘church’. The ecclesia –a gathering of believers who would now try to recreate/to tell Jesus’ life, his words, what he taught and what he believed. Their goal to form their identity based on the life of Jesus.
For us too today it is a matter of forming an identity. An identity we need to form and formulate anew as we grow in knowledge and awareness of our spirits as they join with the deepest God-centered self, which is Christ. We are Spirit led. Our creative spirituality is an incarnate spirituality. It is enfleshed in our bodies as we embody the Spirit of Christ.(1 Cor. 15:45) As we make our final march to Holy Week and to Easter, we embody his Spirit, left as legacy and identity.
He made his journey from the green hills of Galilee to the teeming metropolis of Jerusalem, to the shores of the Jordan, from the Kidron Valley, along with his those who loved him, committed to a journey they had no idea where it would lead them. It was enough to be with him. For us too, it is enough to be with him.
His life was a journey. He continues to journey with us as we make our unique identities in the world. It is a promise kept. It is the promise of the coming to be of God in the human heart because he was the human heart of Jesus. A human and sacred heart that is enough.
Spring is here. I can hear the birds singing. Fresh air comes through the open windows. The thaw is underway. Easter is right around the corner. It’s not just the windows that are open, but there is something inside of me that opens up, thaws out, reaches out to the world. Wants to be out in it. With the onset of Spring it seems whatever Lenten ritual I’ve fallen under, in spite of what I have or have not done, the Spirit seems to enliven not just the outside world, but my inner world as well. Perhaps it’s just that wonderful sense of wellbeing that comes with the change in weather. I feel more connect to the world beyond my door. More alive. My souls seems to have expanded.
This seems like a good time to think about the soul. For one thing I know. The soul is not a static thing. It’s large. It embraces the world beyond my door and it enlarges me. Soul can grow. Like Spring. Perhaps being snowed in is an opportunity to read and reflect about life, or just enjoy not having to do anything, but by this time of year, even before I’m sure, something in me has become restless. That’s my soul. The sacred ground of my existence. The sacred ground of all existence.
I want to give flesh to my soul. Find a nugget of inspiration. Make marks on paper. Write. Paint. Watch the flowing crab tree outside my window budding. I pay really close attention each day, each hour if I can, because it buds, bursts, blooms, blossoms and then the flowers are gone. Then I wait for the irises and peonies to grow.
I think the soul is like my flowering crab tree. It has its own dormancy, it sits outside my window, a brown branch, with so much potential. Perhaps I’ve overlook it. Forgotten what it is capable of. So now it’s time to do soul work, soul searching in so many ways. Take walks. Watch Spring come to life. Listen to the voices of children playing outside again. In the mornings I often read the poetry of Mary Oliver. There is something about poetry that bring us to the threshold of the sacred. Connections are made. Images bringing revelation. It’s like whatever reading you do in the morning, it stays with you during the day. Shapes your day. Taking a walk, digging in the garden, the soul of poetry connects us to the soul of the world and our own life. It is the Word becoming flesh in our lives. We shape our souls and they shape us. It is the inexhaustible resource which makes life possible; which makes living worthwhile. Paying attention to these small bloomings is how we enlarge life. Then perhaps like the poet we can write the day. Take up a blank page and draw, paint, write this moment, this day, our lives in the poetry that shows the soul taking flesh in our lives.
When we speak of Jesus paying attention in the same breadth we are speaking of creative spirituality. A creative spirituality that Jesus lived. Jesus was about healing others. By a touch, a glance, a story, by acceptance and even by his very essence, his spirit, that could be accessed by just touching the hem of his garment. Jesus’ healed to make room for something new to be created in them. Free of whatever dis-ease keeps us from living into the fullness of life, achieving all that we can be. In Jesus’ life we see the God who wills our well-being. When we want to discern God’s will (a tricky subject!) we need only ask ourselves is this life giving. Creative spirituality is about living in concert with the sacred that wills our wholeness and well-being, creating what gives life.
Jesus is the definition of what it means to be whole. This is what is meant by ‘salvation’. For Paul this is achieved in Jesus as the Christ. We don’t need a predictable cardboard cut-out of Jesus. He refused this kind of idolatry in his life. We will never be able to fully find the real Jesus, who walked the dusty ground between Galilee and Jerusalem. But what we have now is life in his Spirit, the endlessly creative spirit/spirituality of the Christ life.
Something in each of us wants to be healed. This is the sacred in the depths of our being that wants to bring us to well-being, wholeness. This thing that impels us toward becoming whole is the god-life within each of us. This is the workings within the province and sovereignty of the sacred self. As our growing awareness admits into our lives the counsel of the unconscious as it shines forth in our dreams and in the stories, symbols and images that come to our attention, we enter into the ever-expanding circle of the sacred self as it takes within its embrace all that will be healed and reconciled within us.
Lent is dark. It’s time of year is in that no man’s land between the harshness of winter and the first buddings of spring. Here we are on the cusp of new life, in an as yet uncreated space. But creative spirituality uses the darkness, it embraces our brokenness, what is limited and wanting within us, and makes new life from it. Up through dirt comes the flower. The bud needs the darkness of the earth to spring to life. Even in our own dirt and darkness we find the healing embrace of the sacred self, the unconditional embrace of the Christ-life. In the garden nothing is excluded, all is used. This is where the sacred and the human become indistinguishable. In this uncreated space, like the first dawning of creations, we are ever on a journey of self-discovery so that we might come to know the ever-present horizon of our being. We are ever in the process of becoming. Becoming healed, becoming whole, becoming sacred.
…And Jesus Paid Attention
From an early age my nieces were told bible stories. (One thing I’ve come to realize over the years is that whether you are part of a faith community or not, it is important that our children hear the bible stories. The rest will take care of itself.)
My nieces were told the bible stories from an early age. My sister always started off the stories by saying to the girls ‘now pay attention’. One Easter, my sister was showing off a bit, as parents do. She asked then three year old Ashley “what did Jesus do at Easter?” Ashley thought hard. You could see her little mind working. Then the little light bulb came on and she said “he paid attention.” Well, it sounds like resurrection doesn’t it.
At Easter Jesus paid attention. St. Paul would agree. Attention is defined as to wait upon, to take care, to minister, to serve. Isn’t this precisely what Jesus did. He paid attention to who he was; he paid attention to God as his Father and his relationship with him; and he paid attention to the needs of the people around him. He cared, he waited upon and ministered to them. Listened to them. Told them stories. (Guess he figured the rest would take care of itself as well.) And as a result it would appear that at Easter God paid attention to him. Throughout Paul’s letters he is asking his audience to pay attention to who they are because then they are paying attention to the Christ-within. Paying attention to oneself, ones’ community and to the Christ-life is to live life in Christ.
This might be a good definition of faith as well. Paying attention – focusing our hearts, minds and imaginations on how Jesus paid attention to who he understood himself to be. Jesus paid attention to the greatest human need: to be loved. That love took many forms. If we can see ourselves reflected in his life and love, to care about and for others, then we incarnate Christ in our lives today and to others.
As Jesus carried his cross up the dirty, rock littered road, he was paying attention. To his life and to those he loved. To us. The attention Jesus paid turned the cross from a sign of death to the tree of life.
This first Sunday of Lent was about rainbows and wilderness. The God pledging fidelity to a boat maker who would cast his fidelity, trust and life out upon the waters and await the world to be made a second time. The human and the god to begin again. The wilderness where one searches out the pledge of that fidelity in one’s life. While angels and beasts attend, one gentle, one fierce, one winged, one earth bound, a sacred and human nature, the light and the shadow, at play as the god and the daemon square off for the soul of a man. Is he still in that wilderness, in the remembering rainbow, by the river?
Perhaps as one who sought him concluded, he come to us as one unknown, across the lakeside, down the green hill, in the warm dough kneaded by human hands, in fields, carrying rocks, making baskets, in silent moments, in the children’s laughter, in the book that opens just so and the song playing on the radio just when you needed to hear it, in jails and in churches, where the bread is broken, and hearts also, coming and going, men bowing, women rising, on a dusty road wars raging, two people, one people, three faiths, tearing at the heart of the gypsy-god with a human face; there, just on the horizon, as if on a cloud.
Ash Wednesday 2015
This morning I talked to my sister Mary. She has decided to keep a spiritual journey for the next forty days. She called and wanted to explore where our ‘spirituality’ came from. It was an interesting and often funny conversation about our early religious schooling (Catholic nuns!). The conversation then turned to the faith of our grandmother. As we talked I had to say that my own faith journey began because of our grandmother. She was deeply religious, a convert to Catholicism. She was also a very creative person. She loved music and to sing. She could play any song she heard on the piano – without sheet music. She loved cats and kept a sweet little kitchen garden under a small tree just outside her kitchen door. I recall how lovingly and carefully she attend each Spring to picking out the pansies or marigolds that she planted. She loved cats (seemed to favor her cats more than her grandchildren) and Brandy Alexander’s. She was also a wonderful baker. She had lived over the bakery with her first husband who as a baker. She always had some baked goodie when we went to visit. I guess like all families each of my siblings has a different view of who Anne was. (She was a very young grandmother. She had had my mother when she was fifteen years old, so we were not allowed to call her ‘grandma’. We were to call her Anne. My father, her son-in-law, preferred to call her by her given name, Myrt (short for Myrtle). There’s probably a story there too. For whatever reason my grandmother did not endear herself to all my siblings. She and I were very close however. I was her favorite. I think this hurt my sisters, especially Mary, when we were growing up. This did not foster a warm fuzzy feeling for our grandmother on their part. We could not recall what prompted little Mary one day to lock our grandmother in the small bathroom just off the living room and even though we laugh about it today, Mary was high tailing it out of the house when grandma was let out. The irony here also is that my sister Mary inherited more of Anne than any of the rest of us. She loves cats, has beautiful gardens, plays the piano better than any of the rest of us and is a great cook and baker.
Eventually we got around to the topic of Lent and spirituality. She asked me where the idea of giving something up for Lent had come from. She thinks the idea ludicrous, since after Lent what have you achieved in spiritual growth by not eating chocolate or drinking alcohol. All I could say is that it was the old way of the church. That penitential view of Lent. Thankfully things have changed.
By keeping her spiritual journal during Lent she wants to become more mindful. Giving up the hours on the computer or the mindless morning television shows. I do that too. Let those hours eat up my day. She’s addicted to Pinterest. I play too much solitaire. I think it keeps my mind sharp! Probably not doing much for my soul though.
Isn’t that what St. Paul was writing about in his letters? Staying mindful of who they were.
Perhaps this Lent you might want to keep a journal. Find something enlightening to read and write about it. Or just reflect on how you got where you are today. Your path to who you have become. Where is the sacred in that journey? What do I need to do or to be to become more mindful during each day? Thanks, Mary, my friend and sister.
We have been too long in mea culpa.
The way my life has been going lately Lent is redundant. Some days there just isn’t enough chocolate to get me through the day. All the more reason to think not about giving something up, but to focus my attention elsewhere. It’s been my experience when I give something up that is all I think about and talk about for forty days. So each year I try to find something uplifting, inspiring that will keep me focused on the true purpose of this sacred season. To keep my eye on the real prize and purpose of the season of new life. This year I thought perhaps I could achieve this by reading the letters of St. Paul in chronological order. In the order they were written they might reveal something about growth in Christ. I can’t think of no one else who had the prize more in mind and can keep my attention focused there for the next forty days.
Lent’s purpose over the centuries was to dedicate a time to fast, pray and reflect one’s life and make some advance, however small, in our spiritual development. We were taught the way to do this was by self-denial. However, more recently the focus has been less on self-denial, what to give up, and more about taking up a more positive practice in order to achieve this transformation. To build as St. Paul would say. And there is no one who can speak better to a faith-life transformation than St. Paul.
Over the centuries Paul has become a lighting rod for scholars and non-scholars alike. With fire in his belly, warrants in hand, Saul was on his way to bring some of the followers of Jesus to prosecution and prison. However, in a lightning flash of a moment this Hellenized Hebrew became, in his own words, a prisoner for Christ. On the Damascus Road Saul, the persecutor of the first followers of Jesus, would become his greatest Champion. This experience was life changing for Paul. Paul’s preaching and writing would become life changing for the world. Perhaps during these forty days set aside for prayer and reflection, reading and reflecting on the letters of Paul can be transformative for me as well.
As I read through his first letter to the Thessalonians it occurred to me that Paul has set out some good themes for traversing Lent. About this passionate and firey orator there is much controversy. But I have always had a soft spot in my heart for him because of his passion, enthusiasm and the sheer force of his conviction that Yeshua of Nazareth was indeed the long-awaited messiah, the Christ. At the center of his love, and life and writing is Jesus. This Lent I felt that I might keep my focus on the person of Jesus reading all the letters of the thirteenth disciples in the order he wrote them.
We have been too long in mea culpa. And I believe that even in the often maligned and misunderstood apostle to the Gentiles, we can find a positive and uplifting approach to this sacred season. Paul’s resounding theme is to put on Christ. To be in Christ. And isn’t this the goal of not only Lent but of our entire lives?
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