An Ambiguous Journey

AmbiguityScripture Text:  Genesis 2: 15-17

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Well, you know the rest of the story.  The first couple ate from the forbidden tree (which, most artistic renditions notwithstanding, was not depicted as an apple tree) and the ambiguous journey began.  Life is full of ambiguities; faith is full of ambiguities; and this season of Lent is fraught with ambiguity.  We begin the season in the desert wilderness where Jesus, the fully human one, the one who we so try to emulate in every way is tempted.  Jesus, tempted?  Are you kidding me?  Then the ministry begins as he gathers this sort of wild and motley crew of followers who seem to be somewhat confused and completely inexperienced.  They then spend a couple of years hanging around this lake in the region of Galilee essentially trying to get people to wake up and look at themselves and their lives and in the process, they continually antagonize the religious establishment.  This would be the religious establishment of Jesus’ own religion, the one into which he was born.  And then after years of ministry, the scene moves to Jerusalem, to the holy city, the place of the Temple.  And there, there Jesus is tried, convicted, and put to death.  Ambiguity doesn’t begin to describe it.  The journey we take is not a straight and pre-paved pathway.  It is fraught with questions and the perils of ambiguity that challenge us and call us to go deeper into the journey and, at the same time, to go deeper into ourselves.

But Ray Anderson says that “spirituality is the ability to live with ambiguity.”  In other words, perhaps it’s MEANT to be this way.  It is part of our faith journey.  It is the way that we wind our way to God.  Because, think about it, what if the story was different?  What if the first couple had not eaten of the forbidden tree and had instead spent their lives living in some sort of utopian paradise we affectionately call “The Garden”?  Sure, they would have been good children and all but they never would have grown.  They never would have grown to understand God not as a rule-maker but as one who calls us forth into life, ambiguous though it may be.  And if Jesus had not been tempted?  Well, what good would that do us?  We would never even understand the perils that humanity faces.  And what if the disciples had been a group of impeccably well-trained rabbinical seminary professors who had no need to massage their own needs and egos? (No comment.)  And what if the religious establishment had just accepted Jesus and his new way of seeing and the Passion would never have transpired and Jesus had died of old age sometime in his late 40’s.  What if the journey were straight and predictable?  Well, we wouldn’t need faith.  We wouldn’t need to grow.  We would be wonderful little rule-followers with no need for spirituality. Hey, we probably never really would have gotten out of the garden.  And think what we would have missed!  Maybe this is a good lesson to remember in this strange time in which our society and our politics seems to have landed.  Maybe the ambiguities should prompt us to journey, to question, to change.

Lent (and life) is indeed ambiguous.  There is wilderness and city, darkness and light, temptation and grace, repentance and forgiveness, anointing and betrayal, dust and wine, death and life.  Maybe Lent is an ambiguous journey to teach us how to live, to teach us how to traverse the ambiguities that are part of our faith journey.  Ambiguity is not bad.  So many of us try to rid ourselves of it, try to “nail down” what life and what God means.  Is that really what you want, a God that you can explain, can “nail down”?  Do you really want a God that holds no mystery, no wonder, no awe?  And what would you do if everything about this God was explained and understood?  What if you DID have God all figured out?  Where would you be then?  You would miss this ambiguous journey, a journey of searching and questing, of broadening and growth, of corners and turns around which you will always find life anew.  You would have no need for faith, no need for spirituality.  You would have no need for God to lead you through this ambiguous journey.

Meaning does not come to us in finished form, ready-made; it must be found, created, received, constructed. We grow our way toward it.(Ann Bedford Ulanov)

On this ambiguous journey, think of those things that you have found anew.  Think of the life that they give.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

An Ambiguous Journey

AmbiguityScripture Text:  Genesis 2: 15-17

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.  And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Well, you know the rest of the story.  The first couple ate from the forbidden tree (which, most artistic renditions notwithstanding, was not depicted as an apple tree) and the ambiguous journey began.  Life is full of ambiguities; faith is full of ambiguities; and this season of Lent is fraught with ambiguity.  We begin the season in the desert wilderness where Jesus, the fully human one, the one who we so try to emulate in every way is tempted.  Jesus, tempted?  Are you kidding me?  Then the ministry begins as he gathers this sort of wild and motley crew of followers who seem to be somewhat confused and completely inexperienced.  They then spend a couple of years hanging around this lake in the region of Galilee essentially trying to get people to wake up and look at themselves and their lives and in the process, they continually antagonize the religious establishment.  This would be the religious establishment of Jesus’ own religion, the one into which he was born.  And then after years of ministry, the scene moves to Jerusalem, to the holy city, the place of the Temple.  And there, there Jesus is tried, convicted, and put to death.  Ambiguity doesn’t begin to describe it.  The journey we take is not a straight and pre-paved pathway.  It is fraught with questions and the perils of ambiguity that challenge us and call us to go deeper into the journey and, at the same time, to go deeper into ourselves.

But Ray Anderson says that “spirituality is the ability to live with ambiguity.”  In other words, perhaps it’s MEANT to be this way.  It is part of our faith journey.  It is the way that we wind our way to God.  Because, think about it, what if the story was different?  What if the first couple had not eaten of the forbidden tree and had instead spent their lives living in some sort of utopian paradise we affectionately call “The Garden”?  Sure, they would have been good children and all but they never would have grown.  They never would have grown to understand God not as a rule-maker but as one who calls us forth into life, ambiguous though it may be.  And if Jesus had not been tempted?  Well, what good would that do us?  We would never even understand the perils that humanity faces.  And what if the disciples had been a group of impeccably well-trained rabbinical seminary professors who had no need to massage their own needs and egos? (No comment.)  And what if the religious establishment had just accepted Jesus and his new way of seeing and the Passion would never have transpired and Jesus had died of old age sometime in his late 40’s.  What if the journey were straight and predictable?  Well, we wouldn’t need faith.  We wouldn’t need to grow.  We would be wonderful little rule-followers with no need for spirituality. Hey, we probably never really would have gotten out of the garden.  And think what we would have missed!

Lent is indeed ambiguous.  There is wilderness and city, darkness and light, temptation and grace, repentance and forgiveness, anointing and betrayal, dust and wine, death and life.  Maybe Lent is an ambiguous journey to teach us how to live, to teach us how to traverse the ambiguities that are part of our faith journey.  Ambiguity is not bad.  So many of us try to rid ourselves of it, try to “nail down” what life and what God means.  Is that really what you want, a God that you can explain, can “nail down”?  Do you really want a God that holds no mystery, no wonder, no awe?  And what would you do if everything about this God was explained and understood?  What if you DID have God all figured out?  Where would you be then?  You would miss this ambiguous journey, a journey of searching and questing, of broadening and growth, of corners and turns around which you will always find life anew.  You would have no need for faith, no need for spirituality.  You would have no need for God to lead you through this ambiguous journey.

Meaning does not come to us in finished form, ready-made; it must be found, created, received, constructed. We grow our way toward it.(Ann Bedford Ulanov)

On this ambiguous journey, think of those things that you have found anew.  Think of the life that they give.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Advent 2A: Shoots and Stumps

Garden of Gethsemane 07 (New Shoots)Advent 2A Old Testament Passage: Isaiah 11: 1-10

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

We Christians tend to read this with our own Christ-centered lens.  The shoot–newness, replacing the old sad stump–and the branch–us, growing from the foundations that have been laid.  And yet, this Scripture is purely Old Testament, purely Hebrew Scripture.  It speaks of a vision, a vision when life will be what God calls it to be, when the earth and all that it holds will finally once and for all live together just as the Lord intended.  Jesse was the father of David, the pinnacle of the great dynasty of Israel.  But dynasties and kingdoms have life spans just as people do.  And what was once a thriving political powerhouse becomes a stump, seemingly useless for the world, a shadow of the past.  And yet, from what we thought was dead suddenly springs forth life, providing a foundation for a new shoot.  It creates a new order, a new way of seeing the world, a time of peace and unity for all the world.  The people of Israel expected this from their king.  This was what God intended–an order of justice and righteousness and peace.  They long for a dynasty such as this, one with all the solid foundations of the past but one that grows in righteousness.

So, back to the Christ-centered lens…new order, justice, righteousness, peace…isn’t that the thing for which we hope?  In this season of Advent, we once again remember and live that hope of the people of Israel for the Messiah, the Savior of the World.  And we prepare for this year’s coming that will once again push us just a little bit closer to who we are meant to me.  And at the same time we wait for our own Advent, our own coming of God in its fullness.  Advent is all these things.  We long for that new creation.  We long for the day when  warriors will sit down with those that they now attack, when predators will live in peace with their victims, and when those that consume more than they need just because they can finally come to the realization that the resources of this world belong to all.  We hope against hope for a world without poverty and homelessness, without the threat of annihilation from weapons of all kinds, a world where each and every child has enough nutrition and education and healthcare to grow and flourish into who God calls him or her to be.

So, are we the shoot or the stump?  Are we the newness bursting forth or are we the foundation from whence it comes?  The answer is yes.  The two are so inter-connected that they cannot be separated.  The shoot does not just drop out of the sky but is born into generations upon generations of waiting and hoping for the Light to come.

Garden of Gethsemane 08 (New Shoots)When I was in Israel a few years ago, I was fascinated with the olive trees.  You see, they live hundreds or perhaps even a thousand years.  And then they die, they leave what seems to be a mere stump.  But the root system gives way to something new.  So one of the oldest trees has a stump that is thousands of years old, almost petrified from the eons of weathering.  But shooting from its foundation is another tree that is hundreds of years old.  And shooting from it is another younger tree.  And shooting from it is yet another brand new shoot.  The tree is both a stump and a shoot, embracing the foundations of the past but leaving room for newness and recreation, leaving room for God’s work.  And they exist together there in the garden, the Garden of Gethsemane.

God did not create a disposable world, regardless of what we do with it.  God created an earth that would sustain itself not as individual lives making their way on others but as solid foundations giving way to new life.  Both shoots and stumps are part of God’s vision for what will be.  God is not replacing but recreating, redeeming, and resurrecting over and over again.

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. (Julian of Norwich)

Reflection:  Where are the stumps in your life?  Now look closer.  What shoots do you see emerging from them?  Are there parts of your life that you have discarded before God was finished working on them?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

To see my full notes for this week’s Lectionary passages, go to http://journeytopenuel.com/.  If you’d like to get them each week, just follow the blog!

We Have Risen! We Have Risen Indeed!

To read today’s Gospel passage, click on
http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=200846939

THE LORD IS RISEN!

THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!

“The Resurrection of Christ”
Vyssi Brod Hohenfurth, c. 1350

Christ, the Lord, is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth, reply, Alleluia!

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Lo! the Sun’s eclipse is over, Alleluia!
Lo! He sets in blood no more, Alleluia!

Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Alleluia!
Christ hath burst the gates of hell, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia!

Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!  Following our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!  Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!

Hail, the Lord of earth and Heaven, Alleluia!  Praise to Thee by both be given, Alleluia!
Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!  Hail, the resurrection, thou, Alleluia!

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia!  Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia!  Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

(Charles Wesley, 1739)

The day has arrived!  After all this time of anunciation and birth, of baptism and ministry, of teaching and healing, of calling and response, of temptation and darkness, of dying and crucifixion, this Day of Resurrection has dawned.  Christ has risen!  Christ has risen indeed!

But lest we lapse into thinking of this day as a commemoration of The Resurrection of Christ, as a mere remembrance of what happened on that third day so long ago, we need to realize that this day is not just about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is also about our own.  We who carried our cross, we who died to self, are this day given new life.  God has recreated us into who God calls us to be.  And, in a way, that is almost more scary than the dying.  There is no going back.  The self that we knew before is no more.  We are a new creation.  We have risen!  We have risen indeed!

You see, Jesus did not die and magically come back to life.  God did not undo what had been done.  There was still a bloody cross standing on an unknown hill called Golgotha.  Rather, God created something new–a new way of seeing and a new way of being.  Do you remember the first time God did that?

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. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1: 1-5)

From the void, from the darkness, God created Light and Life.  Truthfully, if you look at it from a literal view, nothing has really changed.  Jesus, sadly, is still dead.  But through eyes that have been resurrected, nothing will ever be the same again.  Maybe resurrection comes not in raising one above life, but in raising life to where it is supposed to be.  Jesus was the first to cross that threshold between–between death and life, between the world and the sacred, between seeing with the eyes of the world and seeing with the eyes of the Divine.  Resurrection is not about being transplanted to a new world but rather being called to live in this one with a new way of seeing.  It means being recreated into the one that God envisions you to be.  It means being given a new way of seeing where love is stronger than death, where hope abides, and where life has no end.  It means being capable of glimpsing the Holy and the Sacred, the promise of Life, even in this life, even now.  This day of Easter is now only about Jesus’ Resurrection; it is about ours!  So, what do you plan to do with your new life?

The end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time. (T.S. Eliot)

King of glory, Soul of bliss, Alleluia! Everlasting life is this, Alleluia!
Thee to know, Thy power to prove, Alleluia! Thus to sing and thus to love, Alleluia!

Everlasting life is truly this!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Thank you for joining with me on this Lenten journey!  I have been so blessed by all the comments and the reflections that you have shared.  We will do this again.  In the meantime, I’m going to take a little “blogging sabbatical” and return on April 25th with posts two or three times a week.  I will do the “every day” thing again later!  Let me know if you or others that you know want to join the Google group and get emails each time I post.  And comment!  Let’s start a discussion!   You can email me at swilliams@stpaulshouston.org.  Let me hear from you!