Let My People Go (Into the Wilderness)

Open gatesScripture Text:  Exodus 5: 1

 Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, so that they may celebrate a festival to me in the wilderness.’“

We know the story. The people had been taken away, held in slavery. And now, God is insisting: “Let my people go.” The truth is, it probably wasn’t slavery as we think about it. There were probably not prison bars or shackles or anything of the like. Their slavery may have resembled more of an indentured servant or perhaps an economic enslavement. They could not leave, of course, but not because they were held but because they were bound. It was just as bad and in some cases, it is harder to claim release.

 

So God screams, “Let my people go.” The truth is, maybe God wasn’t worried about the economic enslavement at all. Because, you see, they had been there awhile, a couple of generations if you’re counting. And as generations go on, we forget, we forget who we are. It would have been so incredibly easy to lapse into the Egyptian society. It wasn’t bad. In fact, it would have been easier to do just that. But it wasn’t who they were. Somehow, I think God’s concern was not that they were economically enslaved but that they had forgotten who they were.  In God’s vision, the wilderness, the place where darkness loomed, was better than the place of safety that enslaved the people.

 

SO, does this sound familiar?  We are not enslaved.  We are, however, bound.  We are bound by our lifestyle, by what our life expects us to be.  We are bound by the expectations of others.  We are bound by our plans for what our life holds.  We are bound by what we think we are supposed to be in this world.  We, too, have forgotten who we are.  And, just as God did so long ago, the Divine screams into the night, “Let my people go.”  We are not enslaved in the usual sense.  There are no prison bars and no shackles.  But we are enslaved.  This season of Lent is God’s time, God’s time to scream “let my people go,” and be heard.  And even the wilderness is better than what we have.

 

The wilderness is calling.  The place where we are not bound, where we can finally learn to be free, where  danger meets us and we know that rather turn to the ones who enslave  us, who offer no help in the wilderness, we will finally look to God.  Let us be the ones who finally, once and for all, know that we are offered freedom, freedom, mostly, not from whom holds us, but from the one who we are not.  Let us be the people who, finally, go and be the one that we are meant to be.

 

I think most of the spiritual life is really a matter of relaxing — letting go, ceasing to cling, ceasing to insist on our own way, ceasing to tense ourselves up for this or against that. (Beatrice Bruteau)

 

FOR TODAY:  In what ways are you enslaved?  What would it mean to be let go?  God is waiting to do that.

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

 

 

Lessons From the Desert Fathers

 

 

The Judean Wilderness, February, 2010
The Judean Wilderness, February, 2010

Scripture Text:  Mark 1: 10-13

10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Jesus was baptized by John and then the version of the Gospel by the writer we know as Mark has immediately being driven into the wilderness.  Still wet with the waters of life, Jesus began his 40-day quest filled with danger, temptation, and probably questions about his own identity and the ministry that would come.  We struggle with this.  We often get hung up on the whole temptation thing, trying to come up with reasons why Jesus, of all people, would have been tempted.  But the writer of this version of the account doesn’t offer more than a mere mention of that.  Instead, we have Jesus being driven out into the wilderness and then the story picks up a few sentences later.  You see, no one followed Jesus out in the desert to get the first hand account.  He was on his own, alone in the wilderness.

We’re not big fans of wildernesses.  In fact, we try to do everything we can to avoid them, or at least find one that has cellular reception and free WIFI available.  And yet, Jesus was driven into the wilderness, as if he had no choice.  Jesus was forced to spend 40 days in what is essentially a wasteland.  The wilderness was waiting for him, offering something that the crowds and the towns and even the synagogue could not.  The wilderness, the place that no one owns, the place that no one has tamed, the place that no one really wants to beat, the place that will never become something that it is not offers just that–itself.  Jesus is not the first to wander in the wilderness and he was not the last.  A few centuries after this, orders of monks in Northern Africa began to make their way into the desert, into the wilderness to experience God’s Presence unhindered by what humans have attempted to create, unhindered by expectations and schedules.  It was the place where they went to renew their prayer life, to begin again.  There were those, like Jesus, that returned to their lives but with new eyes and new hearts.  There were also though that chose to stay , even though they would remain visitors in a place that was not theirs.  In the wilderness, nothing exists but you and God, and, uninterrupted and unhindered, God can create you yet again.

Our wildernesses come in all forms.  Some are self-imposed and others are those to which we are driven at a time that we have no control over where we are going.  The wilderness is hard and dangerous and uncomfortable.  Some are filled with grief and despair.  Others are wrought with a feeling that we will never get out.  Sometimes the wilderness seems unforgiving, as if it’s only focus is to push us into vulnerability, to push us into temptation.  But the lesson that we learn from the wilderness is that, when everything else is gone, when the clouds make us unable to see the way out, when we feel that it will never end, God is there.  And we have become someone new.

Most of us will not drop out of society and make our way to the wilderness.  Even Jesus returned to Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel.  But in this season that remembers Jesus’ time in the wilderness, we can learn what it means to awaken to God’s Presence, to be mindful of this Presence that is always and forever with us, to, day by day, strip those things away that have our attention.  We can learn what it means to enter an intentional wilderness, a place and a time where God is all we have. These forty days are our emptying time—the time when we strip all of our preconceptions away and meet God where God is—right there with us.  We do not walk this road alone.  God is always there.  And when we are tempted to once again take control, God will still be there.  Lent is the time when we allow God to work on us that we might burst forth on Easter morning in radiant bloom.

We need the tonic of wildness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow-hen lurk, and hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only the wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.  We can never have enough of nature.  We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander. (Henry David Thoreau)

FOR TODAY:  Think of what it would mean to enter an intentional wilderness this Lent, to, day by day strip all those things away that have your attention until all that is left is God, who is recreating you even now.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

Be Light

Being LightScripture Text:  John 1:6-9

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

 

John again?  John the Baptist, this brash camel’s hair-wearing, locust-eating, wilderness wandered, is back.  But here we are told that John is but a witness to something bigger, there to point to the Light of Christ that is coming.  But what makes John’s message uncomfortable is that he is always pointing to that which the light illumines.  For the writer of the Gospel According to John, the Logos was the true light bursting forth into humanity.  Rather than an angel announcing the birth of a baby, the writer is using John as a witness to point to that light as well as the purpose of that light.  We love the image of light but sometimes we are uncomfortable with full illumination.  I mean, here’s John, running around like a wild man in the wilderness preaching repentance, calling for us to change, and just being really loud.  Our reaction in this season is to respond with:  “John…shhhh!  You’ll wake the baby.”

 

We don’t really want to hear this during this season.  We’d rather hear the tales of a baby being born, of shepherd’s visits, of angel’s callings.  This is just too hard.  This is just too uncomfortable.  The season is just too dark for such a bright light.  So John sort of gets in the way.  And there we can’t help but look at the light.  But, good grief, it’s so bright!  How in the world can we be prepared for THIS?  Well, don’t you remember how you prepare yourself to look at light?  You prepare yourself to look at light by looking at light.  So this Light of Christ, this radiant, fully-illuminating light, has now begun to peek into our lives in the form of a witness by this wild wilderness man.  But the way that John witnessed (if you read on) was by pointing the light away from himself and toward the Light itself.  John became a reflection of the Light.  (Yeah…talking in circles again!  It’s this light thing!)

 

Maybe that’s it.  We are called to bask in the light and then deflect the light toward the light.  We are called to illumine the Light of Christ for the world.  We are called to be light by reflecting the Light.  And the world will never be the same.  You see, the reason that light is so incredibly uncomfortable is that, contrary to what we’d like to conjure up in our heads, this light is not warm and cozy.  It is not a light that merely adds a little needed ambiance to an already-shadowed room.  This light is BRIGHT, UNCOMFORTABLY BRIGHT.  This is the kind of light that shines into the darkest corners and then bends itself around the turn.  This is the kind of light that shines into the shadows that were trying desperately to remain hidden.  This is the kind of light that shows the hidden shadows for what they are.  Darkness cannot exist with this light.  This light casts no shadows.  This Light changes the way we see, changes the way we live.  This Light exposes the world to itself.

 

It is that for which we’ve been waiting.  We’ve been waiting for something to not just light our way but to illumine the darkness.  The darkness will be no more.  The Light will come.  And we, like John, are called to be witnesses to that light, to shine a light toward it.  We are called to be light, the light that shines toward the Light.  And the world will be forever different.  No longer are the shadows able to exist unnoticed.  You see, this light exposes everything for what it is.  This Light makes us realize that poverty and homelessness, violence and war, greed and injustice are not just things that exist.  This Light shines such a light that they become unacceptable, unimaginable, undone.  This is the Light that calls us to see not just a dream of the way we could be, but the notion that we are called to be nothing less.  Here’s the deal.  The baby is already awake, already basking in the Light of the Eternal.  So, we need to wake up, rub the sleep out of our eyes, and be a reflection of that light.  Be Light.

 

Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.  (Rabindranath Tagore)

 

FOR TODAY:  Look for the light.  Then reflect it toward the world.  Be light.  Be the Light.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

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, 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?  Nothing…just rest…and let God create you.

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,

Shelli

When Things Began to Change

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,

Shelli

 

 

 

When We Came to Be

 

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

Shelli

When Things Began to Change

 

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel
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.

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 29th day of Lent, 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,

Shelli