To Thirst

ThirstyScripture Passage:  Exodus 17: 1-7 (Lent 3A)

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Life in the wilderness is, obviously, precarious.  They have put their trust in God and in Moses and here they are in the middle of the desert, the hot sun beating down upon them.  There is no water anywhere.  It seems to many that God has all but deserted them.  They had done exactly what they were told and now they thought they would surely die in the desert.  And poor Moses.  All he can do is listen to the complaining that is directed right at him.  But what could he do?  He can’t make water.  He can’t command the skies to rain.  He probably wishes that he could just run away.  After all, whose idea was it to make him the leader anyway?  He is surely questioning how he got into this mess.

This is not some sort of metaphorical thirst.  They were thirsty–really, really, parched and dry thirsty; there was no water.  Thirst is perhaps the deepest of human physical needs.  What does it mean to thirst for the things you need the most?  It’s hard for us in the Western part of the globe to even imagine.  (As I write this, I actually got thirsty and went and filled a glass with filtered spring water from Kroger.)  And yet, 780 million people lack access to clean and healthy water.  That’s about 1 in 9 people in the world or about 2 1/2 times the population of the United States.  Lack of access to clean water and sanitation kills children at a rate equivalent to a jumbo jet crashing every four hours.  And, amazingly, an American taking a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day.  Thirst is real.

So did you know that in 2016, the sale of bottled water actually surpassed the sale of other soft drinks.  Well, aren’t we enlightened?  But as we fill our recycle bins with plastic water bottles, what does this mean for us?  For what do we thirst?  Again, don’t think of it as metaphorical.  It is real.  Maybe it’s not physical, but it’s real. For what do you thirst?  For security?  For a life of ease and plenty?  For things to just make a little more sense?  Do you thirst for life as you’ve planned it?  Do you thirst for righteousness?  For justice? For peace?  For meaning?  How many of us simply thirst to be alive, truly alive, in the deepest depth of our being?  Being alive is thirsting for God, thirsting for the one who can walk us through grief and shadows and even death and give us life.  It means that we thirst for the one who thirsts for us.  Thirsting is the thing that makes us real.

Dag Hammarskjold wrote in his journal the words, “I am the vessel, the draught is God’s.  And God is the thirsty one.”  God is thirsty.  God’s love for each of us is so deep, so intense, so desiring our response that it can only be characterized as a thirst. God, parched and dry, thirsts for our thirst.  So, is the Lord among us or not?  God knows everything about you.  The very hairs of your head are numbered.  Nothing in your life is unimportant to God.  God has always been with you, always loved you, and always yearned for you to come into the awareness of God’s Presence in your life for which we strive, that sense of needing something more in the deepest part of you, so much that it leaves you parched without it.  And, ironically, it means letting go of the need to quench your thirst.  Because it is thirst for God that this journey is about.  Ironically, we are not questing to quench it but to live it, to open ourselves to the waters that hold God’s creative Spirit.  To thirst is to be.  To thirst is to know in the deepest part of our being that we need God.  To thirst is to be alive.

I thirst for you.  Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe my love for you:  I thirst for you.  I thirst to love and be loved by you—that is how precious you are to me.  I thirst for you.  Come to me, and fill your heart and heal your wounds…Open to me, come to me, thirst for me, give me your life—and I will prove to you how important you are to my heart.  Do you find this hard to believe?  Then look at the cross, look at my heart that was pierced for you…Then listen again to the words I spoke there—for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you:  I thirst.  Come to me with your misery and your sins, with your trouble and needs, and with all your longing to be loved.  I stand at the door of your heart and knock.  Open to me, for I thirst for you. (Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  I thirst.

On this Lenten journey, I pray that you thirst.  I pray that you experience the deepest and most profound human need that you’ve ever experienced.  I pray that you will know what it means to thirst for God.  Because that is where you will most fully encounter God.  But while we fill our recycling bins with plastic water bottles and quench our thirst with filtered waters from refrigerator doors, I implore you to be a part of projects to bring clean and sustainable water to areas of the world that do not have what we have, to those that truly experience physical thirst.  There are many.  If you feel so inclined, I would encourage you to visit the website for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (Advance # 3020811 is raising funds for the construction of wells to improve drinking water and build toilets in Liberia, Africa.)  Think about it, what if you donated one dime for every glass of water you drank?  Do what you can where you can. 

To donate, click here (and for United Methodists, make sure and enter your church so the church can get credit for the donation.)

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

The Path of the Wind

WindScripture Passage: John 3: 1-17 (Lent 2A)

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

This is a hard one.  More of us are probably a lot more like Nicodemus than we care to admit.  I don’t think that there’s any question that he was smart, well-learned even.  He was a rabbi, a teacher of all things Scriptural and all things of faith.  He knew what questions to ask and we should give him the benefit of the doubt that he was continuing to probe and explore.  Perhaps he wasn’t as sure anymore of his own certainty when it came to his beliefs.  But he wasn’t ready to admit it even to himself.  He wasn’t really ready to go there yet.  So he goes to Jesus in the dark of night, cloaked in mystery and secrets.  And Jesus begins to explain in the way that Jesus always does–not literally, not factually, but open-ended, inviting one not to believe what he is saying but to enter who he was.

You know, when you have a seminary degree, people often assume that you somehow spent several years of your life studying so that you will have all the answers.  Well, sadly, that would not be the case.  You see, not so sadly, seminary does not teach you the answers; it teaches you how to ask the questions.  That’s what sort of makes up faith, don’t you think–questions that leave us desiring more, questions that will not allow us to rest on the laurels of who we have figured out God is, what we have figured out God meant (Really?)  and what we have figured out God wants us to do.  Faith is what reminds us that there is always something more, always something up ahead, always a faint road that God calls us to walk not so that we will know the answers but so that we will become The Way to God.

And, interestingly enough, this calling often comes when we are at our most vulnerable, cloaked in the dark of night, so to speak.  The anonymous 14th century mystic described it as “the cloud of unknowing”, proposing that the only way to know God is to let go of what we know, to risk surrendering ego and mind and what we have “figured out”, and enter the cloud of the unknown, where we would truly know God.  (The 4th century bishop Gregory of Nyssa contended that as we journeyed deeper into faith, we entered darker and darker places and in the darkness we could finally see what needed to be seen.) That’s where Nicodemus was–still struggling, still wandering somewhat aimlessly in the darkness, still asking “how can this be?”, but beginning to know. (Not “understand”, mind you, just know.)

Jesus tells the questing rabbi that he must be born from above (or “again”, or “anew”–the Greek anothen remains ambiguous at best.)  But whatever it is, you have to let the wind blow where it chooses and just be in it.  When I read that, I thought of “riding out” Hurricane Ike in my pier and beam bungalow a couple of years ago with my mom (who didn’t want me to do that by myself) and my rather confused Black Lab.  What we realized was that, as opposed to a house with a slab that remains staid and unyielding. my house is built so that the hurricane-force winds swirls around it and UNDER it.  It just moves with the wind.  It doesn’t have to bend or push.  There were no straining or creeking walls.  It just moves.  It gives itself to the wind. (Conversely, the tornado that grazed the slab house in which I now live convinced me in that moment that the roof was going to definitely come off!  Thankfully, that did not happen–it just creaked horribly for several minutes over me and yet another confused Black Lab!)

In this Season of Lent, the winds of change are swirling all about.  We hear the sounds but we do not know its path.  We, too, must give ourselves to the wind, must enter the darkness, the cloud of unknowing, and walk, trusting that we will find ourselves in the place where we belong.  We are not always called to understand, but only to know.

Where does the wind come from, Nicodemus?  Rabbi, I do not know.  Nor can you tell where it will go. 

Put yourself into the path of the wind, Nicodemus.  You will be borne along by something greater than yourself.  You are proud of your position, content in your security, but you will perish in such stagnant air. 

Put yourself into the path of the wind, Nicodemus.  Bring leaves will dance before you.  You will find yourself in places you never dreamed of going; you will be forced into situation you have dreaded and find them like a coming home. 

You will have power you never had before, Nicodemus.  You will be a new man. 

Put yourself into the path of the wind.

      (Myra Scovel, “The Wind of the Spirit”, 1970, in Hearing God’s Call, by Ben Campbell Johnson)

In this Season of Changing Winds, what things that you have “figured out” do you need to release?  What will it take for you to let go of needing to understand?  What will it mean for you to know?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

The Pilgrim’s Way

the_journeyScripture Passage:  Genesis 12: 1

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

Have you ever noticed that no one spends much time standing still in the Bible?  The story begins with God breathing life into Creation and, in essence, making us a home, a place.  But it doesn’t take but a few chapters before we are on the move–aliens, immigrants, sojourners.  It’s pretty clear that God calls us to be pilgrims on this Way, traveling light and gathering all of Creation together as we move. And along the way, we hear lots of words like “sent forth” and “go” and “follow”.  We are called to be a people on the move (at least figuratively and probably even a little literally), essentially migrating from one place to the next, from one way of being to another.  And most of the time, those that came before us moved freely through their journey without a map, without real plans or even real provisions.  Most of the time they were just journeying to a place they did not know but that they knew that God would show them.

So what has happened to us?  How did we become so planted? How did our lives become so safe?  It was never that way in the beginning.  The journey of faith was a wildly unpredictable one into places unknown. The journey of faith called its travelers to be pilgrims in the wilderness, sojourners through foreign lands.  Oh, we like to think of ourselves as journeyers, particularly we Methodists who readily espouse Wesley’s notion of faith as movement, as, to coin his words, “going on to perfection”.  (Gee, there’s that “go” thing again!)  And yet, we will do everything possible to avoid getting driven to the wilderness or left without everything that we need (or at least the latest technological gadget).  We tend to separate ourselves from discomfort or inconvenience or chaos.  We stick to our plans.  But wildness and chaos often creates a certain energy.  It wakes us up; it makes us pay attention.  This week on the Today Show, Al Roker is doing some sort of “Tech Out” series, meaning not that he techs out but that he TAKES tech out.  He’s going analog and old school and EVEN vinyl.  (Remember those words?  They existed before we became so technologically advanced.  On Monday, he looked at vinyl (yes, vinyl) records.  The interesting thing is that a company that was about to go belly up a few years ago is searching for old LP printing machines because the sale of albums has surpassed the sale of streaming music this year.  Who would’ve thought THAT?  (I mean, because we’re so advanced and all.)

Maybe on some level we really DO crave wilderness.  Maybe that’s why Lent begins in the wilderness.  Have you ever noticed that when you travel you see a lot more than when you’re just driving to and from work?  Is it because there’s more to see?  Or is it that when one is unfamiliar territory, one is more aware of the surroundings, more open to seeing things as they are?  Seeing oneself as a pilgrim, a wanderer, is the same thing.  It keeps our eyes open and our minds alert.  We notice God’s Presence; we notice God’s People; we do not see ourselves as “owners” or even squatters.  We see ourselves as part of Creation.  We begin to see that we are called not to arrive but to journey.  Our faith IS the journey.  So Lent begins in the wilderness and asks us to travel deep within ourselves, beyond our preconceptions, beyond our assumptions, beyond our plans.  We go, open to what God has to show us along the way. (So, maybe it would help if we put down our smart phones just for a little while so that we could see the world!)

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work. And when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. (Wendell Berry)

So as we make this Lenten journey, what do you see?  What are you missing?  Where are you being called to go? (And does that have to involve your cell phone?)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Re-Patterned

RoundaboutScripture Passage:  Romans 4: 1-5, 13-17 (Lent 2A)

What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness…For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

We are creatures of habit.  We cling to our patterns of life sometimes for our very identity.  And it is no different with our faith.  Our ways of believing, our ways of worship, our ways of practicing our faith are, for most of us, virtually untouchable.  (If any of you have ever tried to make any changes in a worship service, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about!)  We are open to change as long as WE don’t have to be the ones that change.  We are open to doing things differently as long as it doesn’t affect us.  Does that sound a little bit uncomfortably familiar?

The audience to whom Paul was probably writing were really no different.  They had grown up with norms of what was “right” and “righteous”, what made them acceptable before God and as people of faith.  For them, their revered patriarch Abraham was blessed because he followed God and did the right things (which also happened to of course be the things that they were doing or at least thought they were doing).  And now here is Paul daring to write that that’s not what it meant at all, that it had nothing to do with what Abraham did or whether he lived and practiced his faith in the right way but that he had faith in a God that freely offered relationship, in a God that freely and maybe even a little haphazardly offered this relationship to everyone (whether or not it’s actually deserved–go figure!).  Faith is not something that you define or check of your list of “to do’s”; faith is something that you live.

In this Season of Lent, we talk a lot about giving up old ways and taking on new patterns in life.  Lent is a season of re-patterning who we are and how we live.  Maybe it’s a time to let go of the things that we assume, those habits that are so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize that they are there, things that have somehow become so much a part of our lives that they have by their nature changed who we are.  Think of Lent as the season that asks us to drive on the other side of the road.  I remember the first time I did that.  It was in New Zealand.  Now if you’ve been to New Zealand, you understand that the miles and miles of rolling hills patterned only by sheep farms is a good place to learn to drive on the other side.  There is lots of room for “correction”, shall we say.  That wasn’t the problem.  The problem was the more heavily populated areas where we had to deal with other people’s habits and ways of being.  (As in when you had to worry about other people on the road, all of whom were driving on the “wrong” side of the road!)  And in the middle of every town was what they call a “round-about”.  It was sort of fun to get on but getting off was a completely different story.  My brain did not work that way.  I couldn’t make myself turn the right way (or the wrong way) while I was driving on what was to me the “wrong” side of the road.  (So, needless to say, we would just drive around that circle several times until I just took a breath and sort of went for it!)  It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.

Paul was trying to get people to look at things differently, to think differently, perhaps even to drive on the other side of the road.  “Leave the old patterns and the old rules and the old ways of thinking behind,” he was saying, and get on.  It’s a little scary and you might have to drive around it a few times just to re-pattern your brain.  But just do it.  Open your eyes and look at things differently.  Open your lives to faith.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, our rules and our patterns can help us at times.  They give us foundations, sort of a tangible guide to support us on this journey.  They are necessary.  They are a means of grace.  But the passage reminds us that these rules and foundation are just that.  They are not an end unto themselves.  It takes faith to breathe life into them, to make them come alive.  It takes faith to give us the ability to back away from ourselves sometimes and figure out in what ways our life needs to be re-patterned.  (Otherwise, we just keep driving around in circles!)  Lent calls us to look at all of our life with a critical eye, to discern what is purely habit and what is truly a way of living out our faith.  Lent calls us to look at things differently, to really see rather than just assume.  Lent calls us to have enough faith to drive on the other side of the road.  So, just take a breath and go for it!

In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t. (Blaise Pascal)

As we continue on this Lenten journey, take a look at your habits, at those things that you just take for granted.  Which ones are life-giving?  Which ones hinder faith and openness?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Poustinia

 

The Judean Wilderness, February, 2010

Scripture Passage:  Matthew 4: 1-11

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Well, you know that we’re coming up on the first Sunday in Lent when you read of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness.  To be honest, most of us are incredibly uncomfortable with this passage.  After all, how can Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, the gift of the father’s unfailing grace, Emmanuel, God With Us, the Savior of the World be tempted?  How can that even be possible? And why would someone like Jesus even risk it?  What, really, is Jesus doing out in the wilderness all by himself?  What, really, is the purpose at all?  I mean, it almost sounds like this was an attempt to gather some sort of proof that Jesus was who he was.  I’ve always been just a bit distrustful of “proof” of the Divine.  So, what is this all about?

In Russian (because THAT’S current), the word poustinia means “a desert, a lonely and silent place”.  It is a place of solitude.  In the Russian Orthodox tradition, a poustinik was one who was called by God to live alone in the desert with God.  But the notion was not looked upon as a solitary life removed from the rest of the world.  Because it was there that he or she prayed, fasted, and made oneself available to humanity.  Think of the poustinik as humanity’s listener.  The idea was that even though the poustinik lived in solitude, there was always a part of him or her that was open to the world, a door to a life of solitude that invited the world in and sent the person forth.

And yet, this pilgrimage into the wilderness is not really part of the world in which most of us live.  Our culture may be a bit too goal-oriented and scheduled for that.  We tend to respond better to words like “connection”, “community”, and “fellowship”.  (Those are the words on which religious entities build good mission statements, aren’t they?)  Going out into the desert or the wilderness alone to find oneself or center oneself sometimes sounds to us a little selfish, as if the person is not participating with others, not caring for others.  Maybe our problem is that we’ve forgotten the door, the threshold.  We forgot that there is always a door between solitude with God and the world, between the community of faith and that part of the Godself that each of us hold inside of us.  It is not an either-or.  The poustiniks understood that.  They stepped into the solitude to connect with God while at the same time keeping a foothold on the world, being available in case the world needed them or open to what God needed them to take into the world.  It was a way of listening and a way of active faith.

Maybe that’s why this passage is so difficult for us.  We forgot that there was always a door.  Jesus was not shutting himself away from the world.  Jesus was called to the world (good grief, he was the Savior of the World, was he not?).  But in the bustling and noisy ways of the world, it is important to find the door, to listen to God, to enter the solitude of our deepest self so that we can finally hear where we are called to go.  There will always be voices pulling us away, pulling us toward things that we think we need, things that we think will help us in life, or things that will give us the power to do what we think we should do.  But deep within us is a holy place of solitude, a place where we can listen to God unencumbered by the voices of the world.   Some of us need to go into the wilderness to hear it; others need to only listen where we are.  Jesus trek into the wilderness was not because he needed to get away from the world but rather so that he could hear the world’s needs and God’s calling to fill them with grace.

The poustinia is within, and one is forever immersed in the silence of God. foreverlistening to the word of God, forever repeating it to others in word and deed.  (Catherine Doherty)

On this Lenten journey as we traverse through the wilderness, think of those place of solitude in your life.  Where are those place where you are at your best at listening to the needs of the world, at listening to what God is calling you to do?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

A Gift in the Wilderness

 

 

Mt. SinaiScripture Text:  Exodus 20: 1-17

Then God spoke all these words: 2I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me. 4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.  12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

This is hard.  The people are journeying through the wilderness.  Food is in short supply and nerves are raw.  They have quarreled and tested God but until now, they have had no real identity, no real purpose.  This is the place where they are finally aware of the intention that God has for them as a people. This is the place where their lives and their journey becomes meaningful. And God gives them this covenant.  The specific laws would have been selected from among the many social and moral laws over many generations.  It is probable that they did not magically drop out of the sky but rather grew out of a people’s understanding of who God was.

So many in our society try to make these laws more judicial, as if they are a hard and fast set of rules that God laid down, perhaps metaphorically slapping the people on their hands for misbehaving, like small unruly children.  There are those who think we need to post these up on the board (or in front of court buildings and the like) so that people will remember them (and, sadly, interpret them the way the person that pinned them up does!).  But these are not laws to obey in the “following the rules” sense.  They are the shape of who we are, the shape of God’s people.  They depict who we are as people of God.  It is about how we relate to God, how we relate to each other, and how we sustain ourselves on our faith journey.  The wilderness provided a gift of how to wander in the wilderness, of how to be.  Think of them not as boundaries but as declarations of freedom, freedom not just from the slavery endured before but from every time that we allow ourselves to be enslaved by anything.  I don’t think we’re called to remember the words of the ten commandments as much we are to remember who and whose we are.

This Season of Lent is not really about following rules either.  It is not meant to burden us or make us quit enjoying life or any of that.  It, too, is about freedom, about finally experiencing the freedom that God gives us from slavery, from our plans, from the expectations of the world.  God is not expecting us to follow rules; God is asking us to dance, to delight in Creation, to delight in the world that was created for us.  And the way we do that?  We love God. We love ourselves. We love our neighbor as ourselves.  And we learn the meaning of rest and reflection and glorious Sabbath.  That’s all.  But that’s the way we will know God.  Consider these commandments not as rules but as a glorious gift of God from the wilderness.  But, notice, we had to get away, we had to wander a bit, all the while shedding ourselves of the trappings that we have created in our life, of those things that enslave us, to really understand what we have been given.  We have not been given rules; we have been given Life.

If indeed we love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, and strength, we are going to have to stretch our hearts, open our minds, and strengthen our souls, whether our years are three score and ten or not yet twenty.  God cannot lodge in a narrow mind.  God cannot lodge in a small heart.  To accommodate God, they must be palatial. (William Sloane Coffin)

FOR TODAY:  Love God. Love yourself. Love your neighbor.  And then rest, and reflect, and be still.  That’s all.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

 

When the Lord Spoke in the Wilderness

 

 

Traveling in the WildernessScripture Text:  Numbers 9: 1-3

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: 2Let the Israelites keep the passover at its appointed time. 3On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its regulations you shall keep it.

Well, we’ve been wandering in the wilderness awhile.  Have you heard God speak to you yet?  If not, maybe we’re still not traveling light enough, still dragging baggage with us over the rough terrain, so afraid that we will be without something.  I, personally, am a terrible over-packer.  It’s not so much that I’m afraid to be without something; it really has more to do with preparation.  In my swirling life, if I wait until the last minute to pack (which I often do), I end up just throwing things in a bag.  Without taking the time to think things through, I tend to over-compensate.  And, more times than not, the bag that I planned to bring turns out not to be big enough or I have to add another bag.

The wilderness requires preparation.  The wilderness requires that we be intentional about what it is we do.  Why do you think God was so specific about the preparations for the Passover?  The Scripture doesn’t say to make sure you cram the Passover into your schedule once a year at a time when it’s convenient or when the weather is right or when you can find time on the church schedule.  Sometimes living our faith is NOT convenient.  Sometimes it gets in the way of our plans and our lives.  Thanks be to God!

Traveling in our wilderness requires that we pack light, that we leave ourselves nimble and with enough room for what we find.  The truth is, God is always speaking to us in the wilderness.  God is always speaking to us everywhere.  But in the wilderness, unencumbered by our baggage, we finally hear.  In the wilderness, we have to be aware, we have to be prepared, we have to present.  The way we prepare for the wilderness, the way we be present in the wilderness is to become aware of everything, to hear every sound as if it was our first sound, to taste the dust as it flies up and makes its way between our lips, to feel the thirst in every molecule of our body, to know what we need and to, finally, need it.  Preparing to travel light, preparing to feel, preparing to thirst is how will finally pay attention to the God who has been speaking all along.

On this Lenten journey, I hope that you have packed well and only brought what you truly need.  I hope that your bag is light enough for you to keep moving, to be prepared to encounter God at every turn.  Martin Buber said that “all actual life is encounter.”  The wilderness journey will teach us what we need.  In the drought, we will learn to thirst.  The wilderness teaches us to encounter; the wilderness teaches us how to live.

All your love, your your stretching out, your hope, your thirst, God is creating in you so that God may fill you…God is on the inside of the longing.  (Maria Boulding)

FOR TODAY:  Set your baggage down and listen…just listen.  Feel your hunger; feel your thirst.  Encounter God.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli