Shoots and Branches

“Peaceable Kingdom”, John Swanson, 1994

Isaiah 11: 1-6 (7-8) 9-10

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… 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.

So, once again we read yet another passage about that future vision that God holds for us—you know, the one that we’re walking toward, the one that we are supposed to be a part of bringing to be, the one that God promised us.  We are given a vision of a shoot, a new shoot that will come out of the dead and decaying stump of the past, a branch that will come out of the original roots of our faith and our lives. It doesn’t replace the old; it just continues growing.

Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem, Israel

I have a picture of an olive tree that I took in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Olive trees will actually live for centuries, sprouting new life over and over again.  If you look at this picture, the thing on the left side that looks like a dead and decaying stump (because, well, that’s essentially what it is) is what is left of a tree that was probably in that place 2,000 years ago.  Imagine…that is what is left of a tree that might have been there that night before the Crucifixion as Jesus prayed and submitted his own life to God.  And from that stump came another shoot, that grew into a tree that is probably about 1,000 years old.  And to the right of it is yet another stump that may be 200 years old or so.  And from that is a newer shoot, a live, growing tree that is just a few years old.  It is a picture of new shoots, new creations that God is always creating and always nurturing into being.  But they exist together, sprouting from each other’s strengths into new life.

So, how do we live as new shoots?  How do we embrace that vision we’ve been given and make it part of us?  The message that Advent brings is that God loves us enough to keep showing up—in a vision laid out for us to embrace, in Emmanuel, God-With-Us, and over and over again as God walks with us through our own becoming a new creation.  Maybe the question is whether or not we are holding on to what we know or are we new shoots, giving the old new life?  This is not just a rehash of the same old thing.  William Sloane Coffin once said that “believers know that while our values are embodied in tradition, our hopes are always located in change.”  But change is often uncomfortable.  Change is unpredictable.  Change is hard.  Maybe we can just get through this busy season and then change. 

A couple of years ago, the Today Show had a feature story about some young Panda bears who had been brought up in captivity.  But the plan was to eventually return them to their natural habitat.  So, in order to prepare them for what was to come, their caretakers thought that it would be better if they had no human contact.  So to care for them, the people dressed up like panda bears.  In order to show them how to be pandas, they became them.

I think that’s been done before!  In its simplest form, the Incarnation is God’s mingling of God with humanity.  It is God becoming human and breathing a piece of the Divine into humanity.  It is the mystery of life that always was coming into all life yet to be.  God became human and lived here.  God became us that we might change the world.   God became like us to show us what it meant for us to be like God envisioned (not to be God, not even to be “Godly”, but to be just like God envisioned we could be) in the world.  God didn’t walk this earth to teach us to be divine; God came to show us what it means to be human–caring, loving humans that envision that the world could be different.  The miracle of the birth of the Christ child is that God now comes through us.  We ARE the new shoots of transformation.

So perhaps the reason that the earth is not yet filled with the knowledge of the Lord, that the Reign of God has not come into its fullness, that poverty and homelessness and injustice and war still exists is because we do not dare to imagine it any other way.  This is not some vision of an inaccessible utopian paradise; this is the vision of God.  The passage says that a shoot shall come out of the stump and a branch shall grow out of the roots.  In other words, life shall spring from that which is dead and discarded.  Because in God’s eyes, even death has the foundation, the roots of life.  Even death will not have the last word.  We just have to imagine it into being.  So, imagine beyond all your imaginings; envision a world beyond all you dare to see; and hope for a life greater than anything that is possible.  Imagine what it means to become a new shoot and prepare yourself to be just that. And then you’ll start to be.

Only those who live beyond themselves ever become fully themselves. (Joan Chittister)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Shadows and Remnants

Advent 3B Lectionary:  Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations… 8For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

This is a pretty familiar passage.  We often read it as part of this season.  It speaks of hope.  God has sown God’s own Spirit into the one who speaks, breathed God’s breath into one who will carry out God’s will.  And standing amid the ruins of what was once a thriving Jerusalem, the prophet depicts the perfect Reign of God, the time when all of Creation will be renewed and fulfilled.  It is the hope for the future even in the midst of the smoldering ashes of what is now.  And the prophet acknowledges and affirms an individual call from God, a call to bring good news, to bind up, to proclaim liberty, to witness, and to comfort. Well, that’s good…because we need someone to fix this mess, right?

But, then, in verse 3, notice that the pronoun changes.  No longer is the prophet affirming an individual’s call.  The calling is now to the plural “they”.  It’s not just the “me” that is the prophet; it is the “they” that is everyone. (Ugh…bet you saw that coming!) The prophet is not called to “fix” things; the prophet is called to proclaim that all are called to this work of transformation. In other words, all that work that you think needs to be done?  It’s ours to do!

All of us are part of what the Lord has planted and nourished and grown to bloom.  All of us are “they”.  We are the ones that are called to become the new shoots sprouting to life.  We are the ones that are called to bring good news, to bind up, to proclaim liberty, to bring justice, to witness, and to comfort.  This Scripture may sound vaguely familiar to us for another reason.  In the fourth chapter of the Gospel According to the writer known as Luke, Jesus stands in the synagogue in his home temple in the midst of a world smarting with Roman occupation and cites these same words.  He acknowledges his own calling, his own commissioning to this holy work.  And he sets forth an agenda using the words of this prophet.  So, here we are reminded once again.  We are reminded what we as the people of Christ are called to do–to bring good news, to bind up, to proclaim liberty, to bring justice, to witness, to comfort, and to build the Kingdom of God.

Most of you probably know the story of England’s Coventry Cathedral.  On November 14, 1940 in the midst of the Luftwaffe, the grand medieval Parish Church Cathedral of St. Michael was devastated by bombs and burned to the ground with the surrounding city.  The decision to rebuild the cathedral was made the morning after its destruction. Rebuilding was seen not as an act of defiance, but rather a sign of faith, trust and hope for the future of the world.  Shortly after the destruction, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the charred medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set them up in the ruins where they were later placed on an altar of rubble with the moving words “Father, forgive” inscribed on the sanctuary wall. Another cross was fashioned from three medieval nails by local priest, Arthur Wales. The Cross of Nails has become the symbol of Coventry’s ministry of reconciliation.

Today, the new modern Coventry Cathedral stands dedicated to forgiveness, unity, and redemption.  And next to it are the remains of the medieval cathedral. In the place of the altar are the words “Father, forgive” and flanking the altar are two statues—one given by Germany and one given by Japan.  And although physically attached to the new Cathedral, the Chapel made of ruins is not consecrated as an Anglican space, but instead is on a 999-year lease to an ecumenical Joint Council.  In the Chapel of Unity, people of any faith may gather to worship and receive the sacraments.

In this Season of Advent, we are called to prepare ourselves for what is to come.  We are called to wait in hope and walk in light.  And, yet, so many of us are experiencing a world right now where we are barely able to sense that hope and see the light. We live in a world racked with sickness, and fear, and death, and quarantines, and loneliness.  Some of us have experienced financial hardships and despair.  Many of us may identify more closely with the destruction in this passage than the good news.  See, we like the image of our faith being one of light and promise and that seems like what it should be.  But maybe even of more profound importance is our faith as one of shadows and remnants.  The truth is, God doesn’t call people to “fix” the world; God calls people to transform the world.  And we are “they”.  We are the ones that are called to stand in the ruins, to step through the smoldering ashes, to take the remnants of destruction and hate and despair and to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and to comfort all who mourn.  And as the earth brings forth shoots, as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

  

Faith transforms the earth into a paradise.  By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven.  Every moment reveals God to us.  Faith is our light in this life.   (Jean Pierre de Caussade)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

As If It Is

Advent 2B Lectionary Passage:  2 Peter 3: 8-9 (10-15)

8But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  9The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

Now as patient as the writer of this passage sounds, it is likely that he or she (yes, I think there could have been some she’s writing!) probably assumed that Jesus’ return was imminent (as in weeks or months). In fact, my guess is that most of those that walked the earth in the time of Jesus and the years after would be absolutely stunned and perhaps downright flabbergasted that you and I sit here today having the same discussion.  They assumed that Jesus was returning in their lifetime and that this return entailed Jesus just showing up and making everything right.  But if that had happened, think about what humanity would have missed!

I used to really wonder what Jesus’ return would look like.  I mean is he going to return to Bethlehem?  Maybe this time he’ll show up in Paris or New York City or Moscow, Russia.  Maybe Australia.  Or Tahiti.  Or perhaps he’ll go for a bit of drama and plop down in the middle of the Super Bowl or something. OR…(and hear me out here) what if the “return” that Jesus spoke about has already happened?  I mean, have you read the account of Pentecost?  Remember the rush of violent wind and the Holy Spirit that filled all who were there.  Remember the quote from the prophet Joel: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh…”

The truth is that we don’t know what will happen or when it will happen or, for that matter, if the Coming that Jesus talked about has already happened.  The full transformation of all of Creation will happen when it will happen.  And it will look EXACTLY like God envisioned it will look.  God’s time is God’s time.  And in God’s time, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. And for us?  We wait. 

But lest you think your waiting is just sitting around dreaming of redemption and re-creation and twiddling your thumbs, you need to remember that you are Spirit-filled.  And as those who are Spirit-filled, we need to realize that WE are the ones that God is calling now.  WE are the ones that God is filling and gathering and sending.  WE are the ones that are supposed to be peacemaking and justice-building.  WE are the ones that are called to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.  WE are the ones that are called to wipe out racism and welcome those who are excluded. WE are the ones who are called to be Christ on earth.  So while you wait for God’s time for the full redemption of Creation to come to be, as one who is Spirit-filled, you are called to live AS IF it’s already here. 

In this Season of Advent as we practice holy waiting, when we both remember those who looked for the coming of the Messiah so long ago and look ahead for Christ’s coming into our own lives, we are also reminded to live as if it’s already come to be.  Because if everyone lived AS IF it was here, as if the world was transformed into what it was meant to be, then it would already be.  The truth is, this IS God’s time.  It’s ALL God’s time.  And we are smack dab in the middle of it.  We wait for the darkness to be pushed away by the light but in the meantime, we need to do a little of our own darkness-pushing.  God is waiting for us to respond, for us to proclaim God’s love and mercy, for us to live “as if”—as if the coming of the Lord is now, as if God’s Spirit has already spilled into the earth, as if justice and righteousness was the only way, and as if we knew no other way to live.

Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God;  But only [they] who see, take off [their] shoes—the rest sit around it and pluck blueberries.   (Elizabeth Barret Browning, from “Aurora Leigh”)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

The Journey Beyond Ourselves

Water13Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. 14John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” 15But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. 16And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17: 1-9)

I remember when John baptized him.  Jesus, dressed in white, got into the water and John pushed his head under.  As he emerged, the heavens seemed to open as if God was pleased.  It was special, sort of an affirmation of who he was, who I had known he was all along.  In that moment, I began to understand that his role was bigger than our family, bigger than my son, even bigger than these that he had gathered around him.  I knew that but in that moment I began to understand it.  I was here to walk with him as he prepared not only to be a rabbi, a teacher, but to take on the ministry to which God called him.  And in that moment in the waters of re-creation, his ministry began.  This is the moment when God claims this child of God as the One who God calls.  This was the becoming and the beginning that he needed.  I had to begin to let go of what I knew.

I thought back to that time in Jerusalem when we found him in the temple with the rabbis.  My first reaction was relief that he was found.  I wanted to take him and hold him and never let him loose again.  My next reaction was anger that he had worried us so.  But the scene of him sitting there listening to the rabbis, understanding more than most adults will ever understand, made up for it all.  I knew then that he was beyond me, that I was here only for a time to help lead him to what he was called to do.  I knew that he was meant to be something more even than what I had thought.

So many of us get so wrapped up in those things that we can control or those that make us at least feel in control.  We want to be safe and comfortable.  So in this Christmas season, we often tend to wrap ourselves in our shopping, our plans for meals, and our family gatherings, our traditions of the way we do things and the expectations that they will be like they’ve been before.  These memories remind us all that we are continuously called beyond ourselves.  God calls us to newness, even in the midst of the familiar traditions that are so much a part of us.  That is the way God transforms us.  That is the way God moves us beyond ourselves.  That is the way God loves us.

God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God.  God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.   (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

FOR TODAY:  How is God moving you beyond yourself?  How is God bringing newness even to the traditions that you hold so closely?

Peace to you as we come closer to that holiest of nights,

Shelli

The Wilderness is Where We Knew Where We Must Go

Transfiguration

Scripture Text:  Mark 9: 2-10

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

 

The wilderness has taught us to see things differently, to open our minds and widen our souls.  It has called us to remove the veil that we have created in our lives to shield us from the things that do not make sense in our world.  The journey through the wilderness has brought us to this place, brought us to this mountain.  Don’t you think the disciples were sort of wondering where they were going?  After all, they had left everything they had, had given up everything and sacrificed all of those things that made life secure and safe.  They did it all to follow Jesus and now they are climbing up this mountain to a place that they did not know.

The mountain that Jesus and the disciples climb sounds a lot like Mount Sinai rising out of the wilderness that Moses had ascended centuries before.  And there on the mountain, they see Jesus change, his clothes taking on a hue of dazzling, blinding white, whiter than anything they had ever seen before.  And on the mountain appear Moses and Elijah, standing there with Jesus—the law, the prophets, all of those things that came before, no longer separate, but suddenly swept into everything that Christ is, swept into the whole presence of God right there on that mountain.  And then the voice…”This is my Son, my Chosen:  listen to him!” OK…what would you have done?  First the mountain, then the cloud, then these spirits from the past, and now this voice…”We are going to die.  We are surely going to die,” they must have thought.   And then, just as suddenly as they appeared, Moses and Elijah drop out of sight and Jesus was standing there alone, completely unveiled.  And all that was and all that is has become part of that, swept into this Holy Presence of God.  And, more importantly, we are invited into it.  No longer are we shielded from God’s Presence.  We become part of it, a mirror for all to experience and encounter the living God. And so the disciples start down the mountain.  Jesus remains with them but they kept silent.  The truth was that Jesus knew that this account would only make sense in light of what was to come.  The disciples would know when to tell the story.  They saw more than Jesus on the mountain.  They also saw who and what he was.  And long after Jesus is gone from this earth, they will continue to tell this strange story of what they saw.  For now, he would just walk with them.  God’s presence remains. The Hebrews understood that no one could see God and live.  You know, I think they were right.  No one can see God and remain unchanged.  We die to ourselves and emerge in the cloud, unveiled before this God that so desires us to know the sacred and the holy that has always been before us.   The truth is, when we are really honest with ourselves, we probably are a little like the disciples.  We’d rather not really have “all” of God.  We’d rather control the way God enters and affects our lives.  We’d rather be a little more in control of any metamorphosis that happens in our lives.  We’d rather be able to pick and choose the way that our lives change.  We’d rather God’s Presence come blowing in at just the right moment as a cool, gentle, springtime breeze.  In fact, we’re downright uncomfortable with this devouring fire, bright lights, almost tornado-like God that really is God.

Here in the wilderness, with bright white lights and shrouds of wonder, we have seen God.  Here, in this place, where the wilderness has brought us.  We have arrived open-eyed and soul-ready for God’s Presence to be made known.  And this was nothing like anything that we would have imagined—Old Testament heroes re-appearing, God speaking from the cloud, and Jesus all lit up so brightly that it is hard for us to look at him.  And then the lights dim.  There are no chariots, Moses and Elijah are gone, and, if only for a little while, God stops talking.  And in the silence, Jesus starts walking down the mountain toward Jerusalem.  You know, on some level, for all the dramatic sequences of this story, I think the way down the mountain is the point of it all.  I mean, think about it, the disciples went up as students, as mentees, as admirers, and came down as followers.  The way down is where the transformation begins to be, when they know where they had to go.  Now I’m sure that Jesus knew that the ones who walked with him were not ready.  I’m sure he knew that they thought they had more time with him.  I’m sure he knew that they doubted themselves.  But it was time.  And Jesus knew that if they followed, they would know the way.  And in this moment, Jesus’ journey to the Cross begins and the disciples, for all the antics that they will pull over the next few days, begin the same journey.

And us?  I’m sure Jesus knows how difficult this has been for us.  I’m sure Jesus knows that there is a part of us that would’ve liked to have avoided the whole thing, to move from the Mardi Gras party right into the sanctuary when they are setting up the Easter lilies.  But then we would have missed the wilderness and we wouldn’t know where to go.  We know now what we must do, where we must go.  We know that we are called to follow Jesus.  The way down is hard.  Jerusalem is going to be even harder.  But the wilderness has taught us that it is where we must go.  You see, in this wilderness, we have changed.  We have learned to let go, to get out of ourselves, to see things differently.  We have learned to listen.  We have learned to follow.  And that is what we will do.  Jerusalem awaits.

 

When I first met him, I knew in a moment I would have to spend the next few days re-arranging my mind so there’d be room for him to stay. (Brian Andreas)

 

Jerusalem AwaitsFOR TODAY:  The gates of the city are just up ahead.  There is no other way around.  This is not an easy journey.  But it one that all of must walk.  As you enter this Holiest of Weeks, what do you need to leave behind?  And what do you need to carry into the city?

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

As If Everything Were Downside Up

 

upsidedownworldScripture Text: John 2: 13-17

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

 

We don’t know what to make of this passage. Oh, we try to make sense of it, sort of clean it up so that it doesn’t look so bad. After all, what happened to that loving, mild-mannered Savior that we knew? What happened to the consummate storyteller that knew how to get everyone to listen to him? What happened to Jesus? Here he is, whip raised like some sort of drunken cowboy herding all the sheep and cattle out of the square outside the temple. And then grabbing all of the baskets of coins from the money changers and throwing them on the ground. So, when he walked away there were animals scattered into the town, tables turned over, coins strewn everywhere, and, I’m assuming, some pretty flabbergasted merchants standing around not knowing what to do.

 

Well, of course, we know why. After all, the temple is God’s house; the temple is a place of reverence and worship. Well, OK, BUT, remember that God dwells everywhere—in you, in me. Remember…God made flesh, Emmanuel, Dwelt among us,..all that stuff. So what exactly was wrong? After all, that was the way society ran. No one was breaking the law. No one was mistreating anyone (or at least not in any way that was not properly sanctioned by both the community and the religious tradition) So what was wrong? Why was Jesus so upset? Because, there they were…essentially selling worship, selling religious practice, selling God.

 

“Horrible!,” we sigh. But think about our own society.  Think about us. Our lives are reward-driven and because of it we live with the idea that we should get what is “due” to us. We believe that by working hard and doing the right things we will be rewarded. And often that carries into our spiritual lives. How many of us do the things we do because we think we should, because we think that it will in some way earn us points with God, or, even, because we think that we are the only ones that can do them? Oh, you know the stuff. If I pray really hard, God will answer. If I have faith, God will reward me. If I serve God, I will feel good. If I study and try my best to make sense of God, God will guide me and everything will turn out alright. It is our own way of merchandising. What do we do because we love God and what do we do because we think that will reap a reward (or at least insure us against future calamity)?

 

Meister Eckhart (13th-14th century German mystic) said that “as long as we strive to get something from God on some kind of exchange, we are like the merchants. If you want to be rid of the commercial spirit, then by all means do all you can in the way of good works, but do so solely for the praise of God.” Eckhart then exhorts us to “live as if you do not exist…then God alone dwells there.” So what would that mean, then, to live as if we do not exist? It means to live without an “if-then” statement. It means to live “as if”, as if God’s Kingdom is here in its fullness and glory, as if all of Creation echoes the song of God, as if God dwells in our midst and you are God’s holy temple (oh, yeah…that one IS supposed to be an already one). We live between the already and the not yet. This season of Lent makes that oh so much more real to us as we journey in the wilderness knowing that the Cross, and, indeed, the Resurrection, God’s ultimate act of bringing the downside up, is up ahead.  But that does not mean that the tables cannot be turned—even now. So, to live as if you do not exist, to live as if God dwells in you as a holy temple, what tables in your life does Jesus need to turn downside up to get your attention? (Or what do you need to do to at least live as if it were that way?)

 

The noblest prayer is when [one] who prays is inwardly transformed into what [one] kneels before. (Angelus Silesius, 17th century)

 

FOR TODAY:  Think about what tables Jesus need to turn downside up in your life so that you can live as if you do not exist.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Roundabout Way of the Wilderness

Moses in the WildernessScripture Text:  Exodus 13: 17-22

17When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. 19And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” 20They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

The Season of Lent is the wilderness season.  It begins in the wilderness and ends in another wilderness until Easter bursts forth.  And in between those wildernesses are the stories of the way of the wilderness.  Lent is about fasting from what we know and feasting on what we find in our roundabout way through the wilderness.  There are, of course, many mentions of wildernesses in the Scriptures.  The NRSV touts 287 times that the word “wilderness” shows up.  Well, there seems to be a recurring theme here.  Maybe it’s not that wilderness just keeps cropping up in our Scriptures; maybe the Scriptures are rather about the wilderness, or, more specifically, a rhythm of going and return, forsakenness and deliverance, hopelessness and redemption.  The Scriptures begin in the wilderness.  Genesis 1 doesn’t specifically mention the word.  But in its place is a depiction of it as a formless void filled with darkness.  It is where we begin and then God recreates it into order and light.  Pilgrimage, or journeying, is a way of life.  And all of us struggle along the way.  The wilderness is part of our story.  It is part of us.  It is the way we grow in our faith.

When you read the Exodus passage above, we are told that God sort of “redirected” the people through the wilderness to avoid the land of the Philistines.  And there they wandered for forty years, through a wilderness with no real “roadmap”, through shifting sands and places devoid of landmarks.  They journeyed through hopelessness and forsakenness, continually asking questions and doubting that God was there at all.  But they grew.  They grew to know God, grew to know themselves.  What they found in the wilderness was their identity.  The sometimes harsh lessons of the desert transformed the people into God’s people.  Led by a cloud through the desert, the people became people of faith.

We are no different.  This season may sometimes seem to be a roundabout way through the wilderness.  We encounter the dangers of hopelessness and forsakenness; we experience the dangers of questions and doubt; and somewhere in there, if we give ourselves the chance, we are recreated and transformed into newness and life.  During this season, we keep hearing over and over to empty ourselves before God and open ourselves to what God is showing us.  It is our season of unmasking, peeling off all of the layers that do not belong to us, that make us someone who we are not. Leo Tolstoy once said that “there are many reasons for the failure to comprehend Christ’s teaching…but the chief cause which has engendered all these misconceptions is this: that Christ’s teaching is considered to be such that it cannot be accepted, or even not accepted, without changing one’s life.” The wilderness is what changes us, what changes our life.

In the spiritual tradition, wilderness is the place where we leave the world behind and place ourselves at God’s disposal. (Daniel Wolpert)

FOR TODAY:  Embrace your journey through the wilderness.  Make it your story.  This is your beginning.  Place yourself at God’s disposal and change your life.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli