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

Beyond the Wilderness

 

Moses and the Burning BushScripture Text:  Exodus 3: 1-5

 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

We sometimes miss that nuance when we read this story.  I think I read this for years as if this miraculous burning bush was placed right in Moses’ path, impeding his way, something that he could not possibly miss, perhaps something that he would just trip over if he wasn’t paying attention.  But the passage says that Moses had to “go over” or turn aside to see it, had to actually get off the path that he was on to see this incredible sight.

Here is Moses, who has led his flock to a place “beyond the wilderness”.  I’m not sure what that is.  But it’s apparently a place to which only a journey through the wilderness can take you.  If it’s a literal place, then it’s WAY off any map that we have.  I think it’s more than likely that it’s the place to which you come when you yield to the wilderness, when you let yourself relinquish control and let go of what you are holding so tightly, when, finally, you trust God enough to turn aside to see what God has in store for you.  But, whatever this place is, Moses is leading his flock off the beaten path into a mysterious and unknown place right up to the mountain of God.

And there, off the path, not where he could stumble over it, but where he had to leave his planned pathway to investigate, he sees it—a bush blazing brightly with a fire that did not consume.  This was beyond what was normal.  Well, needless to say, his curiosity was piqued.  He needed to know more, needed to get a closer look.  So he steps toward it.  And then he hears his name.  “Moses, Moses.”  Startled, Moses stammered out a meager response:  “Here I am.”

Now in that moment, I think it’s probable that Moses didn’t even completely understand what was happening.  After all, remember, in early Hebrew thought, if you see God, if you hear God, you die.  And then this great voice tells him to take off his shoes, to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground.  Holy ground?  Well, it was ordinary a minute ago!  How did it get to be holy? And then God tells Moses what Moses is called to do.  This shepherd, this ordinary person standing in bare feet on the side of what used to be an ordinary mountain is called to deliver the people of Israel, to lead them to freedom.  This is Moses’ commissioning. And somehow he began to process and understand what was happening.  So, he began to take control of the situation and try his best to get out of what was happening.  After all, Holy Ground is a dangerous place.  For there, you touch the Divine and are changed forever.  There is no going back.

Our Lenten journey is one that will take us beyond the wilderness, to a place where you will see and know things that you’ve never seen and known before, to a place where you will finally turn aside from your plans, from your routine and, there, find yourself standing on Holy Ground.

Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty if waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure. (Macrina Wiederkher, A Tree Full of Angels)

FOR TODAY: Journey to a place beyond the wilderness, beyond the place where you have so far allowed yourself to go. Then turn aside.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Finding Enough in the Wilderness

Shifting Sands on the PathwayScripture Text:  Romans 4: 13-22

13For 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. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For 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,  17as 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. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

According to the passage, faith is and has always been the basis of a relationship with God.  (Well, duh!)  We know that.  We are told to believe, to have faith, no matter what.  And so we wander around in another wilderness perhaps beating ourselves up because it just doesn’t make sense to us.  Our pragmatic 21st century minds need proof.  We want to touch it or we want to somehow see it or AT LEAST be able to google it and get more information.  But, as Paul reminds us here, if our whole faith system depends on nothing more than adhering to some limited set of laws or hard and fast Scriptural interpretations that have been laid down by those that came before us, what good is faith?  It’s not bad, mind you, it’s just not enough.  Faith is about relationship; faith is about jumping off into the abyss of unknowing whether or not it makes sense; faith is about knowing only that what you know, what you understand, and what you’ve been told is just not enough.

Now I have to admit, I am a list maker of the highest magnitude.  There is a certain satisfaction, almost power-driven, in “checking things off” my list.  So, faith, for me, is definitely a walk in the wilderness where the winds blow the sands beneath my feet distorting my planned path, where the road winds and turns into unknown terrain, and where nothing, I mean NOTHING, is ever completed or “checked off” as “OK, I got that one”.  See, I don’t think Paul would have ever have meant to dismiss systematized religion or even the rules.  They help shape us; they give us a starting point.  But Paul is reminding us that they have their limitations.  They tend to make sense of something that, in our minds, in our limited human minds, does not and cannot fully make sense.  An authentic, growing, faith making its way through the wild terrain is one that weaves what doesn’t make sense into understanding, laughter into prayer, and grace into the everyday.  It is a mixture of sense-making and transcendence that, sometimes, on our very best days, opens us to an encounter with the Divine when we least expect it in our everyday, carefully planned, list-ridden life.  And in that moment, the path beneath us shifts just a bit as God gently moves us to face a new direction.

As the passage says, the promises of God do not come to us through our religion or through our laws or through even our reading of the Scriptures (shhhh!)  The promise of God comes to us through our faith.  The promise comes to be in the wilds of our lives when our lists cannot be completed and we can no longer control where our path leads.  The promise takes life when we encounter and know God as perfectly revealed and totally hidden.  The promise takes life when we finally know that what we know is never enough.

On this Lenten wilderness journey, we are taught to open our eyes to what we’re missing seeing and opening our hearts to the ways that we’re missing being and opening our minds beyond the boundaries that we have drawn to know that there is so much more, that what we know and what we see is never enough.  We are never called to tame the wilderness through which we journey or to try to redraw the shifting pathways but rather to believe that the Promise will be. The wilderness teaches us that faith fills the void where knowing is not enough.  And, for now, that is enough.

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.  (G.K. Chesterton)

FOR TODAY: Put the list down. Stop checking things off.  Now let yourself travel into the wilderness where faith is enough.

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 shouold give him the benefit 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 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.

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 ourself 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