Stay Home

Empty VaticanJohn 12:20-36

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

I used to think this was the strangest passage.  I mean, what is that wheat thing?  Well, see, wheat is a caryopsis, which essentially means that the outer “seed” and the inner fruit are connected.  The seed essentially has to die so that the fruit can emerge.  If you were to dig around in the ground and uproot a stalk of wheat, you would not find the original seed.  It is dead and gone.  In essence, the grain must allow itself to be changed, allow itself to become something different. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell us.

See, if we do everything in our power to protect our lives the way they are—if we successfully thwart change, avoid conflict, prevent pain, and hold onto what is essentially a rotting and lifeless seed wall—then at the end we will find that we have no life at all.  Read it again: …”Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.  And whoever does this, God will honor.” This is the only time that the Gospel speaks of God honoring someone.  And we begin to see the connection unfolding.  Whoever follows Jesus through his death, not trying to find another way around, not trying to change the circumstances in which they find themselves, will become part of his everlasting life.  Whoever follows Jesus will see Jesus.  The journey to the Cross is not just Jesus’; it is ours.

So, we’re told to follow.  But now we’re told to stay home.  How exactly do we carry both of those things out during this odd season?  Well, what if this time of what is almost forced confinement was our time of shedding?  I mean, many of us have always complained that we were too busy, running too fast, with not a minute to spare, to spend time–REAL time–working on our own spiritual seeds.  (Notice I didn’t say “needs”; I said “SEEDS”.)  See, faith is not about gaining comfort and affirmation for where you are.  It’s not about standing in one place and obeying some list of rules or believing set-in-stone understandings about God that were actually figured out centuries ago by a bunch of power-hungry wealthy men. (Yes, really)  Faith is about growth; faith is about movement; faith is about listening; faith is about becoming someone different from what you have figured out you should be.  Faith is about following a faint pathway that, yes, sometimes leads us straight through loneliness and pain and fear and conflict and numerous Jerusalems so that we can shed this facade of who we are and become who God calls us to be.

I know this is a hard time.  After all, we are communal creatures and our faith has generally been lived out in that community.  But what if this time taught us that community is not merely those who spend time together?  Community is those who travel together, who are together when they stand beside each other and even when they are worlds or miles or houses apart.  We’re not children of an exclusive community. (I think that would be a cult!).  We are children of the Light that gathers us in and calls us to follow Jesus–together.  And that can be done no matter where we are. Let this be your time of shedding.

“I believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth…and the resurrection of the body…as it was meant to be, the fragmented self made new; so that at the end of time all Creation will be One.  Well, maybe I don’t exactly believe it, but I know it, and knowing is what matters…The strange turning of what seemed to be a horrendous No to a glorious Yes is always the message of Easter.”  (Madeleine L’Engle)

Today, pray for those who are experiencing losses–of jobs, of finances, of life as they know it, even of loved ones.  Their life has changed forever.  Pray that they might have the strength to move forward and find a new way.

Continue on the journey.

Don’t Touch

0_Jody-Mallon

John 12: 1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

She took, poured, and wiped.  It’s more than just touching.  It’s visceral, part of us in the very depth of our being.  Took, poured, and wiped.  It’s what we do.  It’s the Eucharist of our lives.  We lift the wine, we pour it into the chalice, we wipe the small drops of wine that escaped from the line of pouring.  And then we share.

You can imagine the others standing around stunned at the very spectacle of this woman touching Jesus in such an intimate way.  I like to think that there was a part of each of them that wished for that connection, that wanted desperately to touch Jesus, to get close enough to breathe him in.  After all, they were just beginning to understand what was coming and, I’m guessing, they wanted to hold on.

You know that they all smelled it–that strong scent of the oils that had been poured out.  It was wafting from Mary’s touch, seeping into the walls, and forever penetrating the senses of all of those who surrounded her.  They judged her with their words, probably putting on more of a show for each other than for her.  But the scent was overwhelming.  And they would remember.  You know how scent is.  I have a lot of my grandmother’s belongings.  And once in awhile, especially on a very humid day, I’ll open a book or the box of recipes or move what used to be her kitchen chair, or open the secretary on which she used to do her homework when she was little, and I smell it.  It’s the smell of her house, the smell of her life.  It’s the smell I remember from my childhood.  It never goes away.  They would remember.  They would always remember that smell.  And when they were fortunate enough, on a very humid day, to smell it again, it would come back.  And they would remember the way that Mary touched him–not in a sexual way or a predatory way–but in a way that connects us all.  It was an intimacy for which we all crave, an intimacy that seals our hearts and souls to each other.

And, yet, here we are.  Don’t touch.  Don’t stand too close.  I saw a video today.  It was a nurse that used paint to show how, even wearing gloves, our touch spreads, whether we realize it or not.  We don’t even know when it happens.  We touch our face or our cell phone or a head of lettuce in the grocery store and we leave a part of ourselves behind and take whatever is there with us.  I wish it didn’t have to do with viral bacteria because it’s a wonderful image.  Our touch is left behind.  When we hold, when we embrace, when we anoint, we leave a part of ourselves behind and we take the memory of what we touched with us.

So, for now, we don’t touch. Because, right now, we’re, literally, viral.  (And not in a good way!) But when we can’t touch, we remember.  We remember what it felt like to embrace and that memory sustains us.  We remember the scent of that moment.  I think that’s why God gave us these senses–because they remember even when we don’t.  Those gathered in that small stuffy room that was overwhelmed with expensive perfumed oil will always remember.  Because their senses were there.  We can’t touch right now and, yet, we remember.  We remember the things that connected us once and, for now, when we don’t touch, that’s enough. And, in the meantime, there’s a connection between us all that is beyond us.  That’s what faith is.  It’s not merely trust or belief.  It’s certainly not proof.  It’s that connection that pulls us beyond ourselves and calls us to remember again.

I found this video on Twitter today.  You may have seen it.  It’s proof that symphonies are not about being together; they are about remembering who you are and playing the part you are called to play.  We can do this!

I believe that life is given us so we may grow in love, and I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the colour and fragrance of a flower…I believe that in the life to come I shall have the senses I have not had here, and that my home there will be beautiful with colour, music, and speech of flowers and faces I love.  Without this faith there would be little meaning in my life.  I should be “a mere pillar of darkness in the dark.” (Helen Keller)

Today, pray for those that are overwhelmed with this isolation, that are craving the touch we all crave at times.  And, in your prayers, there will be a person that comes to mind.  Call them and touch their hearts.

Continue on this road.

Six Feet Apart

Six Feet Apart


Matthew 21: 1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The parade.  I’ve always loved the parade.  As a child, I loved the story.  And I REALLY loved getting a palm branch to wave during the first hymn and then play with throughout the rest of the service.  It was an odd story to me then.  Truthfully, I really didn’t understand the connection to the rest of Holy Week at all.  I think I assumed that Jesus was entering the city like a movie star, that everyone there dropped what they were doing and got on board with the whole Jesus agenda and had a party or something.

But that’s not really it.  Jesus and his small band of followers wound up the narrow, ruddy road around the Garden of Gethsemane with an uncooperative donkey walking over the cheaply-made cloaks of ordinary people.  There were no grand stallions.  There was no finery.  And it was set against the backdrop of a bustling city that really wasn’t paying attention to Jesus at all.  And so he entered through the back door of the city and the small crowd that had gathered with him went about their way.  Jesus was alone with only a few of his disciples.  He wasn’t surrounded by a crowd.  Most of those with him outside the gates had gone back to their lives.  He was essentially alone.  And Holy Week began.

But this year we won’t wave palm branches and walk with a crowd.  This year we won’t play with the palm during the service.  Our sanctuaries are empty with the possible exception of those involved in the streaming operation.  This year we all walk alone–or at least six feet apart.  How did the world change so dramatically in a couple of weeks?  How did we go from being part of bustling crowds on our streets, in our restaurants, at sporting events, and in the pews to this?  How did we go from being free to come and go as we please to this?  How did we end up alone–or at least six feet apart?

And, yet, the fact that the whole world has all at once been brought to this place, brought to our knees simultaneously, in an odd way brings us together.  It makes us pay attention.  It has seemed to make most of us more empathetic.  We can’t drop our used palms and go “back to our lives” because our lives, for now, are gone.  But our hearts are intact.  And it’s made us pay attention.  We’re suddenly aware that there are people that are just a paycheck away from having nothing to eat.  We’re suddenly aware that those who struggle on the streets are in real danger.  We’re suddenly aware of those who have no insurance. We’re aware that many of us, maybe even some of us reading this, are vulnerable.  Maybe that awareness is not such a bad thing.  Maybe sometimes we need to be jolted out of our comfortable assumptions and our comfortable lives.  I wish this wasn’t the way that had to happen.  But, isn’t it weird, that when we can’t touch each other, when we can’t all be together, we pay more attention to each other?  We seem to be more in tune with each other because we’ve been forced to listen to each other.

Today we enter Jerusalem alone–or at least six feet apart.  Today we crave to touch and hug and laugh and share.  Today we have to listen a little harder to the world around us.  Today we know what’s important and we go through the gate. Because today, our hearts lead the way.  We’ve never walked this way alone.  But we’re really not alone.  We’re just six feet apart. And if we listen, we can still sing the Hallelujahs even from that distance.

The way of Love is the way of the Cross, and it is only through the cross that we come to the Resurrection.  (Malcolm Muggeridge)

On this Palm Sunday, pray for those fighting for us on the front lines–the healthcare workers, the first responders, those who are packing our food and bagging our groceries and delivering the stuff we need.  And remember that you can still make music–even when you’re six feet apart.

Go into the Gate.  You do not walk alone.

 

 

In Concert

Scripture Passage: John [15:26-16:1-11] 12-15

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

So, now that we’ve been showered with wind and fire, the next thing is to affirm the Trinity, the three in one.  We do it every year.  And we talk about it A LOT.  Our Trinitarian faith depicts not only our understanding of God but also our understanding of ourselves.  So, everyone, raise your hand if you’d like to explain what it means…anyone?….anyone out there?  Yeah, that’s the problem.  What does it MEAN?

I think we all do the Trinity a disservice.  We make the mistake of sort of picking which higher power team with whom we choose to associate.  And God/Father/Creator becomes a sort of deist, kicking the world off but somehow removed after that.  And Jesus/Son/Redeemer gets pulled down to our own personal version of who God should be, a Savior not of the world but just of us (just of me, like Shelli’s version of Jesus is all I need), of OUR sins and OUR redemption.  And then that Holy Spirit/Sustainer character is designated as beyond us, something to which we should possibly aspire (in an acceptable and moderate way, of course) but something that is not us.  None of this is right.  The image of the Trinity cannot be separated or pitted against one another because it’s all the same.

For several years, I co-lead an Interfaith Scripture Study with a Rabbi from the Temple down the street.  With both Jewish and Christian participants, we would study various Scriptures and share in both our diverse and common understandings of them.  As time permits, we would often end the study sessions with either an “Ask the Christians” question or an “Ask the Jews” question.  (It was our own version of a sometimes very dangerous Jeopardy session)  One day during the “Ask the Christians” episode, I got the always-dreaded question:  “Explain the Trinity to us and tell us how it is not polytheistic, how it is not a depiction of three Gods.”  Truthfully, I remember my feeling of sheer panic.  To me, trying to “define” the Trinity was almost anathema because it would sound limiting and shallow and perhaps even fall into the “my God is bigger than your God” misunderstanding.  But not bothering to attempt to explain its meaning is not giving it enough credit either.  So I took a deep breath and dove in:

“Well, in the beginning was God.  God created everything that was and everything that is and laid out a vision for what it would become.  But we didn’t really get it.  So God tried and tried again to explain it.  God sent us Abraham and Moses and Judges and Kings and Prophets.  But we still didn’t get it.  God wove a vision of what Creation was meant to be and what we were meant to be as God’s children through poetry and songs and beautiful writings of wisdom.  But we still didn’t get it. 

“So,” God thought, “there is only one thing left to do.  I’ll show you.  I’ll show you the way to who I am and who I desire you to be.  I will walk with you.”  So God came, Emmanuel, God-with-us, and was born just like we were with controversy and labor pains and all those very human conceptions of what life is.  Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, was the Incarnation of a universal truth, a universal path, the embodiment of the way to God and the vision that God holds for all of Creation.  But we still didn’t get it.  We fought and we argued and we held on to our own human-contrived understandings of who God is.  And it didn’t make sense to us.  This image of God did not fit into our carefully-constructed boxes that we had so painstakingly laid out.  And so, as we humans have done so many times before and so many times since, we destroyed that which got in the way of our understanding and made our lives difficult to maintain.  There…it was finished…we could go back to the way it was before.

But God loves us too much to allow us to lose our way.  And so God promised to be with us forever.  Because now you have seen me; now you know what it is I intended; now you know the way.  And so I will always be with you, always inside of you, always surrounding you, always ahead of you, and always behind you.  There will always be a part of me in you.  Come, follow me..this way.

As you celebrate the Trinity this Sunday, remember that there is a piece of God just for you and there is always more of God beyond anything that you can even imagine.  The image of the Trinity, both separate and one, in concert and in harmony, depicts both, pulling it in to our understanding and then taking our understanding beyond.

  God creates us, Jesus leads us, and the Spirit shows us ways that are not always in the book.  (Joan Chittister, from “In Search of Belief”)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Spirit-Poured

Scripture Passage: Acts 2: 1-6, [7-11], 12-17, [18-21]

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each…” 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 17‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. 

I know it’s been too long since I did this.  But rather than beleaguering that point now, I’ll just let all the reasons why I have seemed to be missing in action drift into future writings.  So, over the years, I have often written in “high holy” seasons, those seasons that sort of burst in and interrupt our day-to-day ordinary lives.  They are the seasons, like Advent and Lent, that make us pay attention, perhaps even change what we are doing.

We often think the same thing of Pentecost.  It has been portrayed with images of winds and fires and brightly colored streamers that at the very least draw our attention to the day.  Some even refer to it as the “Church’s birthday”.  Truthfully, I hate that.  I don’t think it was the birth of the church (the organized church came along much later).  I also don’t think it was merely an awakening of a sleepy people (although that would be helpful even now).  And it is not merely a day filled with fire and winds.  (When I was young, I conjured up images of forest fires and hurricanes, which did not seem helpful to me at all.)  Instead, in my thoughts, this day is tied to the Sunday before.  The Ascension of Christ left what seemed to be an emptiness, a place that was once filled but is now an uncomfortable gaping hole in the story.  And we are told to wait.  (Have you noticed there’s a lot of waiting in this life?)

And then, we are told, a wind comes upon us and the Spirit pours into us, filling that emptiness with the piece of God that is meant just for us.  And it is like tongues of fire, all-consuming, burning away those things around the edges of our lives onto which we hold a little too tightly.  The Hebrew for it is “Ruah”, more than wind, more than Spirit, but the very breath of God breathed into us.  It does not interrupt our ordinary lives; it makes them what they are meant to be; it makes them holy.

This “high holy” day is different from the rest.  Because it brings our ordinariness along with it.  It is now the norm.  And if we are open to being Spirit-poured, we can never go back to the old ways again.  So, what part of God’s Spirit is yours?  What part of Jesus life is yours to carry? And what will you do with your newfound ordinariness?

Without Pentecost, the Christ-event–the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus–remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about, and reflect on.  The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so that we can become living Christs here and now. (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Re-Patterned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

The Dwelling Place

Open HouseScripture Passage: Psalm 27:4

One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple. (KJV)

The Psalmist gives us great comfort, this idea of dwelling with God forever.  It is our hope; it is our promise; it is what our faith is all about.  So what does it mean to “dwell”?  One definition is to “stay” or to “reside in permanent residence.”  That is usually the way we think of this notion–to live with God, to stay with God forever.  For us, a “dwelling” is something permanent, a structure that protects us and gives us shelter.  It is the place where we can go when life gets to be too much and when we need rest and sustenance.  It is the place where we can hide ourselves away and heal.  It is the place that feels like home.

IMG_0033[2]But dwellings also wall us off from the rest of the world, setting up boundaries of what is “mine” and what is “yours”.   They allow us to ignore the needs and the lives of those who are not within our walls.  I used to live in an older neighborhood in Houston.  Once filled with a few older Victorian homes and lots of small 1920’s bungalows (I had one of those), it eventually became a victim of the so-called “McMansion” syndrome as bungalow after bungalow was torn down so that a sprawling three-story (or even four-story) Victorian wannabe can take over the entire lot.  Sadly, when I sold my lovely historic bungalow this past September, it was immediately torn down to make room for “more” dwelling.  It still bothers me.  Is it appropriate to grieve for a house?  See, beyond mere protection and shelter, the dwelling has creeped beyond its own boundaries and taken on an identity all its own.

Is this how we read these words now, as if we have somehow taken up residence with God and God’s sprawling house?  Is that what it means to dwell with God, to stay, to hide, take move into a permanent structure (perhaps with other like-minded children of God)?  But there is another meaning of the word “dwell”.  It is also defined as “to linger over” or “ponder”. So what, then, would it mean to spend all the days of one’s life pondering God, lingering with God?  I don’t think God calls us to stay with God but rather to be with God.  The walls of dwellings sound to me far too limiting of a limitless God. (Which is the reason that the image of Christ becomes the new Temple, the new Dwelling.)  But this dwelling that we have somehow conjured up in our minds is not where God lives but rather where we want God to be, the place where we envision pulling God into our notion of who God is.  But to be, to be with God, means to go where God is, which means we have to open one’s mind and heart and soul to being the very image of God, to being the dwelling of God.

Once again, it requires us to make room, to clear our lives of the “stuff” that we have accumulated and to perhaps open the doors and windows and let the fresh air and light in.  God IS our sustenance, our shelter, even, at times, our protector.  But God does not wall us off from the rest of the world.  We are called to go forth, to be God’s image in the world.  We are called to ponder, to linger over, to become.  Doesn’t that sound a little familiar?  Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2: 19, NRSV)  And then, if you remember, she became the very dwelling of the Godself, the God-bearer, the one that birthed God into the world.  We are not called to stay with God; we are called to be with God, to be a dwelling place for God with God in God.  We are called to be the God-bearers.  It is home, the place where we can truly rest our souls.

My ego is like a fortress.  I have built its walls stone by stone to hold out the invasion of the love of God.  But I have stayed here long enough.  There is light over the barriers.  O my God…I let go of the past, I withdraw my grasping hand from the future, and in the great silence of this moment, I alertly rest my soul.  (Howard Thurman)

On this Lenten journey, what does it mean for you to dwell in God, to ponder?  What does it mean to become a dwelling place for God?

Grace and Peace,

Shelli