Jesus Shows Us The Way

 

footprints

He is the first born. He is our hope. He is our way. He shows us how to live. He shows us how to die. He shows us that death is not the end. He shows we will live on. Changed. Transformed. He shows us how to be in relationship with God, others, the world. How to be at one with our fellow human beings. He shows us the meaning of friendship. Of solidarity. The meaning of true leadership. He shows us the power of story. That power is the ability to act for what is true. And he shows us the cost of freedom. The cost of speaking truth to power. Of not settling for the status quo. He shows us how to become vulnerable and shows us that this is the paradoxical path to intimacy. He shows us who our neighbor is. And how to live in community. He shows us how to be alone. He shows us how to be faithful to who we are. He shows us the value of human life, even in the face of death. And he shows us how to pray, to reach beyond ourselves. And trust that all he shows us is all that we too might become.

 

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Poetry’s Morning

PainterLadyH_0
The bible is a work of art
with the power to transform
in-gathering self and soul.
A presence, both beautiful
 and terrible
where you long to go
               and
fear to tread at the same time.
Where you learn to hold the paradox
            or perish.
Its magnificence winds its way
into your being
threads image and likeness
into your becoming.
Then.
     Snap!
cuts you lose from the
inexorable sweet moorings of the multitude.
rights you
word by word.

 

Servant and Savior

Last Supper

Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is one of the most touching scenes from his life. Here is Jesus, Lord, Savior, Messiah, the Christ, before these titles were placed upon him, on his knees washing the feet of his friends. He tells Peter in his exuberance that he is setting an example for them. Tonight our priests will wash the feet of their congregations. I must say having done this every year it is a rather odd experience. Somewhat uncomfortable as you are there in front of everyone having the leader of your church washing your feet. I have to wonder if this isn’t how Peter felt when he at first refused Jesus to wash his feet. But Jesus tells Peter he is setting an example so that they might copy what he has done for them.

Then Jesus was deeply disturbed because he knew that he was going to be betrayed by Judas. But after Judas leaves the room, Jesus speaks to his disciples one of the greatest talks of his life. (John 13:31-17:26) These four and half chapters of John’s gospel contains the whole meaning of Jesus’ life. Who he is. What he is about in his own words. All of what he meant when he begins the discourse with I am the Way: I am Truth and Life.

These are the words of transformation. These are the words that change the ordinary substance of our humanity into something sacred, into Christ. These are the words that feed us and sustain us. These are the words that change Jesus’ life into our own. These are the final words of man who has just risen from his knees before his friends, knows one of them will betray him, and then goes on to tell them that he loves them. That he will always be with them.  No matter what.

Here is an image we can take beyond the cross; here is the Savior of the world on his knees with a rag in his hand washing the dust of the road off his companions feet, preparing those who have traveled those dusty roads with him all this time, for something even more astounding. Through it all, the man who was reluctant to change the dirty water into wine at Cana, at his last meal, will hold up a cup of wine, and say I Am the life-blood, that he gives himself as the best wine saved for last, servant and savior, guest at the feast, bridegroom of the soul.

Water to Wine

Passover with Jesus and disciples

During the Greco-Roman feast of Dionysus stone vessels were filled with wine as a sign of the god’s ability to instill life. Many of these Greek and Roman rituals were taken and adapted into Christian rituals. At Cana Jesus replaces the jars of water with wine. According to John’s gospel Jesus is now the sole god who instills life. The large earthen jars at the wedding feast filled with water were there for washing. For ‘purification’, for the washing of guests who had traveled over the dusty roads and could wash hands and feet before they sat at the banquet table. This water was not drinkable. And because in those days there were no water purification systems – unless you got your water directly from a well, fed by one of the many springs that ran under the city – the meals were accompanies by mead, the precursor to our beer, and/or wine.

Jesus changing the undrinkable water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana is usually interpreted as one of Jesus’ first miracles. But Jesus’ reply to his mother, seems to indicate two things: that he wasn’t too concerned about the lack of wine and that whatever he saw his life to be about, it was not time to show himself. The man who becomes largely known for his miracles and healing doesn’t see himself as a miracle worker. I like what Michael Chabon says, and I paraphrase, faith bought by signs or miracles is bought very cheaply. Jesus seems to have no need to demonstrate or prove himself as a miracle worker in the ordinary sense of the being a magician. But John has told this story at the beginning of Jesus public ministry for a reason. And I don’t think it’s about proving Jesus was god by doing magic. For it seems that the real miracles Jesus performed were those of healing other. Those that helped others and brought about their well-being. A little wine more or less at a banquet would most likely not have been uppermost in his mind. Of course, the case could also be made that at his mother’s behest he provided what was best, even the best wine, for the bridal party. At the end, of life, of the current system, Jesus is bringing to us the best of what is life-giving. Himself.

One purpose of the wedding feast at Cana may have been to signal to those listening to the story that Jesus had come to change things. That transformations were coming. And these transformations would be life-giving. That Jesus, like his Father, was the god who brought life and could change it, purify it and that the quality and substance of life would be the best. Also notice, that in each of the gospels every scene is about change. Someone or something changes. Fishermen leave their trade, evil spirits are sent packing, people see and walk again, large shrubs grow from tiny seeds, a child comes back to life, water turns into wine. A man comes as guest at a wedding and later will liken himself to the bridegroom. A jar is broken and expensive oil from it becomes his anointing.

At the Passover meal which we celebrate tomorrow night, the jars of water will be there again. But at this final meal of Jesus and his disciples, unlike his first at Cana, the bridegroom will wash the feet of those he loves, and their lives will be changed forever.

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.

 

Pentecost and Peonies

Forty Days With St. Paul

  IMG_0828        Pentecost is just past and I am reminded that Pentecost was already a feast that Paul and the other followers of Christ celebrated. It is the feast of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit that transformed the world in Christ. Like the gift of springtime, Pentecost brings us the gift of the Spirit.
Also, during the Pentecost season both my peonies and irises bloom. Like Pentecost, peonies are my favorite flower. Each year I take copious photographs and make arrangements of them to paint and capture their fleeting beauty on canvas. It seems appropriate that peonies bloom at Pentecost because the word for peony in German is Pfingstrose. It means Spirit Rose. It is a gift in my garden just as the Holy Spirit is Christ’s gift to us.
Moving throughout Paul’s letters, as he goes about guiding people in this new faith in Christ, is the Holy Spirit…

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Creative Spirituality

Pentecost red ribbons   In spite of the vast and varied array of interpretations that have been lumbered on St. Paul’s letters, let me suggest that we also see the importance of his letters as they portray the creative process. For it is the cream rising to the top after we sort through the behavioral cautions and his perplexing treaties on the Mosaic law.

From Genesis we know that we are created in image and likeness. Being created human means we are sacred and we are meant. Something within us looks like the God who created us. For Paul living in Christ is the completion of the creation process.

Spirituality is living in the Spirit of Christ where Christ is the epicenter of our spirituality. This spirituality is creative because in it we come to the fullness of life, more truly who we are and are meant to be.  It is the life of Christ that animates our being. It is a new way of being that we can never exhaust. Here we live beyond mere existence. In a creative Christ-centered spirituality we grow and become; we discover that this life is the most real part of who we are, without which we are just walking bodies.

Creative spirituality is living in our depths. And in our depths is the sacred. This is the hidden self we endeavor to bring into awareness. The hidden self as the Christ-self, the realization that within us resides not only the life but the love of Christ. Discovering this and being changed because of this awareness is at the heart and soul of a creative spirituality. This is the discovery that Paul made on the Damascus Road. It would fire his whole life. He set out to share and to create a way of living that not just resembled, but re-assembled us into the person of Christ. This way of living is about transformation. The Way of becoming whole. (I am the Way, to the Truth, that gives Life.) A way of becoming fully human; experiencing the fullness of the God-life within us.

Creative spirituality is also the realization that like Jesus we are human, and like Jesus as the Christ our lives are ever being renewed, resurrected. Creative spirituality, like all creative endeavors, is open, attentive, flexible, alive and the willingness to participate in mystery and be surprised by what is forming in us. In a Christ-centered creative spirituality we are ever in the process of self-becoming. The Christ-self as the coming to be of the sacred in our lives. A transformation that is ever at work within us.

In creative spirituality we are both forming and being formed. Shaping and being shaped.  It is the genesis in solitude of awareness, attention, receptivity and trust, to trust oneself and ones instincts, which are the cornerstones of the creative spirit. Creative spirituality is the expression of one’s own soul as it forms, finds and keeps to the deepest center of one’s life. It is the ability to become whole, to discover and be discovered by a sacred purpose and allow oneself to be led by the creative spirit as one makes one’s way into the heart of divine existence and the sacredness of oneself.

For the Love of Christ

 

couple on bench watiching sunset   Lent is on the horizon. I will be spending another forty days with St. Paul. (I have just finished the Advent series in this blog entitled The Birth of the Word in the Soul.)

Paul wanted to bring Christ to the world. He wanted to bring the world to Christ. His letter are love letters, written to the Christian communities he established and cared passionately about. There were no half measures with St. Paul.

Paul’s Letters to the budding Christian communities were centered on Transformation. Transformation in Christ. A transformation that was life-changing for Paul and is life-changing for all of us, for all those who put their faith in Christ. The following prayer from Ephesians is at the heart and soul of what that transformation was, and remains for  us today.* This prayer then is the summation of St. Paul’s Letters. The goal, as I see it, of his work and our lives.

This, then, is what I pray, kneeling before the Father, from whom every family, whether spiritual or natural, takes its name:

Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and that, planted on love and built on love, you will with all the saints 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 knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.      Ephesians 4:14-19

Isn’t this the goal of Christian life. To come to realize the  fullness of God within. And in our very ordinary and daily lives. This fullness comes to us in the love of Christ.  This is what Paul wants us to know-the love of Christ. This love is within, hidden in our inner most being, in our selves.

The hidden self is the Christ-self. The Christ  who is within each of us, waiting to be discovered, inviting us to follow him, to grow strong in his life and love, and lead us into the fullness of God, the One he called Father.

  • Ephesians was most likely written by one of Paul’s companions. However, it truly reflects Paul’s prayer for the Christian communities and may have been prayed, heard and then transcribed by one of his companions and incorporated into this letter.

The Triumph of Powerlessness

  IMG_0318      Weakness versus the power. That is what Paul is talking about when he addresses the transformation of weakness into power.  For Paul it is the power of the Gospel that allows him to even boast about his own weaknesses. And there are many. First, there was some kind of illness, the thorn in his side that never seemed to wholly relent. Then, however Paul is seen, he saw himself as weak and vulnerable. Even his weakness is somewhat of a boast, a confidence, that in his weakness those in the budding faith community would see that their faith did not reside in his or any person’s wisdom or power, not in talk, but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1-5)

The word power is often heard as subjugation of one person over another. Conquest. It implies domination, abuse of authority and especially violence. Power is strength. Might. But here we might look at power simply defined as the ability to act. For Paul it is his weakness that gives him the power, empowers him to act on behalf of faith in Jesus Christ.  This is what he meant when he said the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. (1 Cor. 4) Paul knew talk could often be much ado about nothing. For Jesus, too, his stories were showing not telling. If we do not live the gospel it is meaningless. What we do matters more than what we say.  That is why it seems Paul’s insistence on behavior that matched faith in Christ.

Paul’s ultimate example of weakness is Christ crucified.  He was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but we shall live with him by the power of God. (2 Cor. 13).

Paul saw his weakness, the weakness of Jesus on the cross and our own to be the way through which the power of God, the empowerment of grace, reveals itself. For Jesus it meant the transformation of death into life. Death as the ultimate weakness, the ultimate powerlessness. The power of Death over Life. The Romans and Jewish authorities had had their power over him. Strangely the man who told his disciples to go out and preach taking their swords with them so as to defend themselves if necessary, did not resist when swords were drawn against him. This kind of power could be a Mobius strip of unrelenting evil that promulgates suffering rather than God’s reign.  The kingdom would not come by the sword. God would not sit on a throne as a powerful deity, but reign in the empty manger of our hearts.

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.

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.