In the Hours Before the Dawn

dark-before-dawnScripture Text:  Genesis 1:1-5a, 31a, 2:1-3

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good…Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. 

We’re never really sure what to do with this day.  Everything is so quiet, so unsettled.  Memories of the week before interrupt our quiet thoughts, filling our minds with regrets over things we would have done differently, places we would have said “yes”, places we would have said “no”, places that we would have stood, places that we would have stayed.  The Cross is empty and Jesus is gone, laid in the tomb–forever.  We know that we will have to go on but we’re not sure how to do that. This is a day when once again, we are covered in darkness.  The earth feels out of sorts, almost formless and empty once again.  And so we sit here in these hours before the dawn with no direction, no guide, no journey that we can see.

And, yet, God has done this before, this creating.  God takes a formless voice that is immersed in darkness and sweeps into it bringing Light.  God creates and we become.  God creates and the world begins to move.  God creates and everything is as it should be.  And then God rested.  This seventh day, this Sabbath, this day of rest, is not the low point of Creation but the veritable climax.  It is the edge of everything that will be, the veritable edge of Glory.  This is the day to sit without doing, to sit without trying to “fix” the world, without trying to “fix” ourselves, without even worrying what the future may hold, and let the peace of God sweep over us once again.  This is the day to sit in the silence and hear the voice that is beckoning us to a New Creation.  Whether we can see it or not, this is the day that we are standing on the edge of Glory.  It is not what we planned; it is not what we envisioned; it is new.  Creation is happening now–in the quiet, in the darkness.

So what do we do today in these hours before the dawn?  It’s hard for those of us that want to make the future right.  It’s hard for us in a place where it’s always been so easy, so protected, to live with both the memories of yesterday and the uncertain future of a world that seems to teeter even now on the brink of furthering its own demise.  This is a day filled with talk of bombs and crosses.  It is a world that only faith can redeem.  What do we do?  Nothing…just rest…and let God create you.  This is the moment of your re-creation.  God is walking in the darkness with you. It may not be what you imagined but it will be right.  The light is just over the darkened horizon.

The pilgrims sit on the steps of death.  Undanced, the music ends.  Only the children remember that tomorrow’s stars are not yet out.  (Ann Weems)

Grace and Peace,


REMEMBERING OUR JOURNEY: When Things Began to Change (Yet again!)

clouds-floating-over-a-mountainScripture Text:  Matthew 17: 1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

And then our journey brought us to the mountain.  We should have known.  Mountains have always been places of change even as far back as Moses and the Commandments.  But we followed.  Maybe we knew that things would change and maybe we were just being naive.  So we followed Jesus up the mountain that day not knowing what was about to happen.  And there was Jesus, his clothes having taken on a dazzling hue, blinding, whiter than anything we had ever seen before.  And he was not alone.  There was Moses.  There was Elijah.  It was the most amazing thing, surely not of this world, surely something miraculous.  Peter was funny, wanting to build a dwelling for the three.  But at least he spoke.  The rest of us just sort of stood there dumbfounded.  What would we do next?  What was about to happen to us?  And the voice!  Who’s voice was that?  I think it was God.  I know that sounds far-fetched, but I think it was God.  It was God telling us to listen, to listen to Jesus, to listen to our hearts, to listen to the journey.  It was obvious that things had begun to change.  We fell down trying to shield ourselves.

And then in a moment, it was quiet.  We looked up.  The light was gone.  Elijah and Moses were gone.  And there was Jesus.  He looked the same and yet he was different.  Maybe we were different.  Maybe our eyes had been scarred by the bright lights.   Or maybe we had finally learned to look at things differently, to see the change we were being called to see, to traverse the journey ahead with new eyes.  We gathered our things together without speaking.  There were no words that belonged in the holy silence that embraced us.  We wanted to stay, stay there on that mountain with memories of the bright lights and that Presence.  But Jesus took our hands and beckoned us to follow.  We began to walk down the mountain.  There, there was Jerusalem in the distance.  Things were about to change.  We knew it.  But we descended from the mountain that day.  Jesus told us not to say anything.  We would understand it later.  But, for now, we had to return to the world.  The mountain was not ours.

Change is hard.  We try desperately to hold on to what we know, to what is safe and secure, to what feels comfortable.  But every once in awhile, we have a mountain we have to climb.  We ascend into the fog and something happens there.  Our world changes.  And for a little while, God stops talking, perhaps waiting for our silence so that we, too, can listen for what comes next.  On this day, we ascended the mountain as learners following a master.  And, looking back, the ones who walked down the other side together were different.  There was work to do and we were the ones that were called to do it.

Jerusalem-First SightLent teaches us that the world is not ours to plan or control. It is ours to embrace and journey through.  Sometimes we will have things that shake us to our core.  And so we descend the mountain in silence listening for God.  There is more to do.  There is more holy work.  And what God has in store for us is nothing short of a miracle.  And so for now, things are beginning to change.  Jerusalem awaits.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, Give me a light that I might go safely out into the darkness. And he replied, Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be more to you than a light, and safer than a known way. (M.L. Haskins)

On this day before Holy Week begins, we know that things will change.  Embrace them.  Live them.  Change with them.  And walk.  The journey is yours alone.

Grace and Peace,







"Birth of Christ", Robert Campin, c. 1425-1430

Scripture Text:  Luke 2: 1-7

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

“In those days, a decree went out.”…There it is!  It is probably the best known story of all time and a great story it is–forced occupation, poor couple, long trip, impressive ancestry,  a last-minute birth, animals, humble beginnings, angels, assurance, surprise visitors, well-trained angelic choir, and God.  (You know, in hindsight, if there had been a coach and a glass slipper, this would have been perfect!)  But, seriously, think about it.  This story has gripped the world for more than twenty centuries.  Jesus of Nazareth was born a human gift to this world, born the way we were all born.  No, the Scripture doesn’t speak of morning sickness and labor pains.  In fact, in our haste to welcome the Christ child into our lives each Christmas Eve, we forget the humanness of the birth.  We forget that he first appeared in the dim lights of that grotto drenched with the waters of Creation, with the smell of God still in his breath.  We forget that Mary was in tears most of the night as she tried to be strong, entering a realm she had never entered, questioning what the angel nine months before had really convinced her to do.  We often sort of over-romanticize it, forgetting that Jesus was human.

But that night, that silent night, was the night when the Word came forth, Incarnate.  In its simplest form, the Incarnation is the mingling of God with humanity, the mingling of God with us.  It is God becoming human and, in turn, giving humanity a part of the Divine.  It is the mystery of life that always was coming into all life yet to be.  This night, this silent night, was the night that we came to be.  In this moment, Humanity and the Divine are somehow suspended together, neither moving forward, both dancing together in this grotto.  This is the night for which the world had waited.

God has come, sought us out.  Eons of God inviting us and claiming us and drawing us in did not do it.  So God came, came to show us the sacredness that had been created for us, the holy in the ordinary that we kept missing.  God has traversed time and space and the barrier between us and the Divine and as God comes across the line, the line disappears.  God is now with us.  We just have to open our eyes.  And then, the walk began, a walk that is passing through Galilee and, soon, Jerusalem and Golgotha.  And at each point, God asks us to dance again.  And we will never be the same again.  This notion of “Emmanuel”, God With Us, means that all of history has changed.  It means that we have changed.  Lest we over-romanticize that night as one of beauty and candlelight and “Silent Night”, that night was the night we came to be.  We have passed through to another time with our feet still firmly planted here.  God is not asking us to be Divine.  We are not called to be God.  God is asking us to be who God created us to be and came to walk with us to show us what it meant to be human, to be made, not into God, but in the very image of the Divine.

Tradition tells us that the birth happened just a few miles from Jerusalem.  We think of it as another world.  We think of it in the silence without remembering that God came into the midst of a world that is filled with pain and darkness, filled with danger and injustice, filled with the stench of death.  We forget that Jesus was born just a short distance way from a place that is called Golgotha with a waiting cross.  But God still came.  God always comes.  God came to show us Light in the darkness and Life in the midst of death.  God came to show us how to be.  Our journey that we are on now is not separate from that night.  That night was the night it began, the night that God, even in the face of the madness of this world, poured the Sacred and the Divine into our lives.  We were changed forever.  And we can’t separate our past from who we are now.  We can’t help but carry the manger with us on this journey and try our best to make room.  It is part of us.  It is part of when we came to be.  It is what sent us on this journey, the journey that leads us to Jerusalem.

We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.  We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us.  The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

On this day in this Lenten journey, remember when you came to be.  What do you remember about knowing what that means?

Grace and Peace,


REMEMBERING OUR JOURNEY: When Things Began to Change


Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel

Scripture Text:  Luke 1: 30a-38

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Think back.  Think back to that time when things began to change.  Think back to the announcement.  Think back to the point where our world as we know it was rocked to its foundations as God revealed the very Godself to us, bursting into our world, the world that we thought was the one.  For us, it began the mystery that is Jesus Christ, the mystery that brought us here, the mystery that will take us to Jerusalem.  But in this moment we remember, the fog lifted and there before us was the bridge between the human and the Divine.  This IS the beginning of Jesus Christ.  We often sort of skip over that sometimes, choosing not to get much beyond that night of mangers and stars and visiting field hands.  Think about it.  Jesus was fully human and this human Jesus, like all of us, had to be grown and nurtured in the womb before the miracles started.  March 25th (that would be nine months before Christmas) is celebrated as The Feast of the Annunciation, the veritable turning point of all human history.  It is was in this moment that God stepped through the fog into humanity and, just like every human before and every human since, must wait to be fully birthed into this world.  So, let it be…

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Genesis 1: 1-3)

And in some traditions, March 25th is regarded as the first day of Creation.  (Now, really, I don’t even begin to see THAT as a real date!  But it’s a good thing to remember and that date is as good as any, right?)  So, let’s go with it.  March 25th marks the beginning, when God’s Spirit moved across the face of the waters bringing Light into the Darkness.  So the Annunciation…the announcement of the coming of Christ, the coming of God, into our little world…is that day when once again the darkness begins to fill with Light.  So, begin at the beginning and count forward…to the birth of God into the world. Like Creation, the coming of Christ was the Light pushing the darkness away.  It was when things began to change.  The world was with child.

So on this first day of the week leading up to the entrance into Jerusalem, we realize how close we really are, realize that, once again, things are about to change.  It is scary as the ground beneath us begins to shift and the shadows around us begin to move about.  But think about that moment when things began to change.  Can you imagine what Mary must have thought?  She was young, she had plans, she had her whole life ahead of her.  “How can this be?” we read.  In today’s vernacular, it would read, “Are you kidding me?  I had my whole life planned.  It was safe.  It was known.  It was figured out.”  And, if only for a moment, God and the world waited expectantly in the silence.  And so as everything she knew and everything she planned toppled around her, she said “yes” and entered the mystery of God.  And we, those who would follow, those who come into this sometimes maddening, always-changing world, those who are tempted to play it safe and planned, will also say yes.  And in that moment, once again, God’s Spirit will sweep over the face of the waters and bring Light into the darkness.

Hope holds with it the promise that God always answers our questions by showing up, not necessarily with what we ask for but with remarkable gifts that change our lives and the world.   (Mary Lou Redding)

So as things begin to change, envision Light, envision the Light as it moves into the darkness.  What does it mean to follow?  What does it mean to say “yes” when the world is rocking on its foundations?


Grace and Peace,




Psalm 130: A Season of Waiting for Morning

First LightToday’s Psalter:  Psalm 130 (Lent 5A)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.  Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!  If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;  my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.  It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

The Psalmist writes from the deepest bowels of life.  It is his or her lowest point, feeling so overwhelmed with despair, almost hopeless.  And yet, there, is the sound of the still small voice.  It’s only a whisper but it is there.  The Psalmist strains to hear, laying there in the darkness, unable to sleep, unable to see the light of the morning.  It is a Psalm of faith.  It is the expression of one who though wallowing in the depths of sadness and despair, cannot feel God’s Presence and, yet, knows in the deepest part of his or her being that God is there.  It is the writing of one who knows that there is always morning, if we will only wait.

The words of the Psalm promise us that no matter how dark the night will be, there is always morning.  There is always redemption.  The King James Version depicts it as “plenteous redemption”.  We often hear of redemption as if it is some sort of payment that God required for our sins, as if Jesus’ death was somehow foreordained because we were such sinful creatures that God could take it no more.  But redemption also means restoration, to bring something to a better state.  It is what the Psalmist knows.  God is there, though unseen, restoring, recreating, even in this moment of darkness.  Redemption is not about payment; it is about the promise of morning, the promise of life.  Redemption is not about what Jesus gave us or what Jesus did for us but what God in Christ does even now.  God brings morning.

The Psalm does not give us empty promises that “everything will be alright”.  Rather, it is honest.  Sometimes life hurts.  Sometimes life hurts more than we think we can bear.  Sometimes we have our own dark night of the soul.  But in the darkness, we learn to wait.  We learn to hope.  That is what Lent is–a waiting in the depths.  We are journeying now deeper and deeper into the darkness.  We know that it will be painful, at times even unbearable.  But our faith tells us that God is present whether or not we can feel the presence.  And so we learn to wait.  We wait through pain and betrayal and last nights together.  We wait through darkness and death.  We wait in the stillness and foreboding silence.  We wait because we know that morning always comes.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present.  (Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, Also attributed to Carl Jung, because the quote was posted above his door in his house in Switzerland.)

“Out of the Depths”, John Rutter, “Requiem”

On this 5th Sunday of Lent, claim your own depths.  Imagine what your own recreation looks like.

Grace and Peace,


I have posted a reflection on the Stations of the Cross as a “page” on the blog.  If you go to and click on it at the top, you can view it.


Psalm 23: A Season of Shadows

ShadowsPsalter for Today:  Psalm 23 (Lent 4A) (KJV) 

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

(Yes, I used KJV because, according to my Grandmother, you cannot read Psalm 23 in any other version…)

Lent is a season of shadows.  During this time we walk through the shadow of the Cross, the shadow of death, and, even, the shadow of our former selves.  Maybe that’s the point of Lent–to wrestle us away from our comfortable, perfectly-manicured lives, from all those things that we plan and perceive, from all those things that we hide and, finally, teach us to traverse the nuances that the journey holds.  And yet, think about it.  What exactly creates shadows?  The answer is light.  Light must be behind the shadowed object.  So, the shadow of the Cross, the shadow of death, even the shadow of our former selves cannot be without the Light.

This season of Lent is one that by its very nature is a journey through wilderness, through loss and despair and doubt and not really knowing what comes next. It is a journey through a place where all of a sudden God is not as God should be. No longer is God a freshly cleaned-up deity handing out three cotton candy wishes to faithful followers. In the wilderness, we find God in the trenches and in the silence of our lives. Or maybe it is that that is the place that we finally notice God at all. When our lives are emptied out, when our needs and our deepest emotions are exposed, is the time that a lot of us realize that God was there all along. Maybe Lent is way of getting to the depths of ourselves, the place where in our search for God, we find our faith in God, and there in the silence we find our hope.

In her book, When God is Silent, Barbara Brown Taylor tells “a story from the Sufi tradition about a man who cried, “Allah! Allah!” until his lips became sweet with the sound. A skeptic who heard him said, “Well! I have heard you calling out but where is the answer to your prayer? Have you ever gotten a response?” The man had no answer to that. Sadly, he abandoned his prayers and went to sleep. In his dreams, he saw his soul guide, walking toward him through a garden. “Why did you stop praising?” the saint asked him. “Because I never heard anything back,” the man said. “This longing you voice IS the return message,” the guide told him. The grief you cry out from draws you toward union. Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those people that think that God sends us suffering or heartache or grief to make us stronger or to test our faith or just to prove something. I don’t think I’d have a lot of respect for a God that has so little compassion for those who love God so much. God is always there, listening and guiding, and wanting us to get a sense of the holy and the sacred to which we’ve been called. But the point is that those times when life is not that great, when we struggle in the very depths of our being, are the times when God reaches through our waiting and our struggles and we can finally hear the silence that is God. We experience the biggest part of God when our need is the greatest.

Now I know that this Psalm brings about different thoughts and memories for each of us—some wonderful, some painful, some bittersweet. It’s probably one of those few passages that you can actually recite all the way through. It goes beyond the words, beyond the rhythm, beyond the hearing. It is truly beloved. It is a glimpse of the holy and the sacred.

My own standout experience with it happened several years ago. I was in seminary with little or no worship experience. I went to the funeral of one of my great aunts. And then, after the perfunctory family lunch (with our rather large family) and the funeral, we began to make our way to the cemetery for the burial. It was just a short drive. As we arrived, one of the ministers came up to me and asked me if I would like to read the Scripture at the graveside. Well, I have to tell you, when you’re in seminary, have little or no worship experience, and must now do this in front of your entire rather large family, many of whom are thinking it’s odd or wrong or at the very least just sort of cute that this woman is going to seminary to become a pastor, it’s a little overwhelming. I opened the funeral handbook (yes, there’s a funeral handbook! Perhaps we’re not as smart as you think!). And there, there it was…this wonderful Psalm. I would read that. But I did not choose it because I had opened to it; I did not choose it because it was familiar to me and I knew that there weren’t any hard words. I chose it because I knew that my grandmother, though nearly deaf, could hear it.  As I began to read, there was a stillness that settled over the crowd. The Spring wind that had been blowing all day stopped and all I heard was the faint sound of some wind chimes near the cemetery entrance. And I heard my voice but it didn’t sound like it was coming from me. As we got into the car to go, my grandmother whispered to me, “I heard you.” Don’t think it was a miracle; she didn’t hear a word I said. But it was part of her.   She had repeated it for 92 or 93 years at that point. She no longer needed to listen to the words. She could hear them anyway.

Several years later, I stood in another cemetery beside my grandmother’s casket, reading these words again.  This time I had graduated from seminary and had a little experience in worship. But don’t get me wrong…there was also my entire rather large family, many of whom are thinking it’s odd or wrong or at the very least just sort of cute that this woman has become a pastor. At the cemetery, I read the Scripture. I chose the same Psalm, not because my grandmother could hear it, but because I could.  (I will say that my grandmother always insisted that this Psalm could ONLY be read in the King James Version, so let that be a lesson too!)

Life is filled with shadows, places that you did not plan to go, places that scare you and challenge you, places that are filled with pain.  But God did not call us to walk through blinding Light.  God called us to learn to see.  Maybe the shadows help us do that.  Maybe the shadows are the reason we see the Light.

Blessed are the ears which hear God’s whisper and listen not to the murmurs of the world. (Thomas A’Kempis)

On this fourth Sunday of the Lenten season, look into the shadows.  Live with them.  Let them lead you to the Light.

Grace and Peace,







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,