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

Holy Patience

PatienceScripture Text (Advent 2B): 2 Peter 3:8-9

But 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.  The 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.

 

I must admit that I am not the most patient person I know.  I think it’s safe to assume that, really, few of us are.  The world just moves too fast.  The patient ones, the ones who wait, tend to get left behind.  And yet, those of us of us who are always on the move don’t really get there any sooner.  What is that about?  And then we read this passage that describes God as patient.  Have you ever thought of the Divine, the Holy, the Creator, the One who is always and forever on the move, compelling us to go forward, to live into this glorious Vision that God has, as “patient.”  I suppose the impatient ones of us want God to get this show on the road, already.  After all, where IS peace?  Where IS righteousness?  Where IS this promise of no poverty, no hunger, no suffering?  But wait, it doesn’t say that God is sitting back on the holy laurels and being slow about things happening.  God is not slow to fill the world with glory; God is waiting for us, patiently waiting for us, to catch up.

 

So perhaps our impatience, our living life full-throttle, without stopping, just stopping to see what God is doing, to hear where God is calling, is what is slowing this whole thing down.  After all, God knows where God is going.  God is waiting for us, waiting for our response, waiting for us to perhaps wait to see, wait to hear.  Oh, shoot!  It’s back to that waiting thing.  We CAN’T hurry this along.  We CAN’T live for the next thing.  We CAN’T live as if we are in a season that is not quite yet.  God is waiting for us to stop, to wait on God, so that we can catch up to what God envisions us to be.  It’s back to the Sabbath ideal.  God created times for us to stop, to wait, to let ourselves sort of regroup so that we could move forward down the way we are called to go.

 

You’ve heard the story of the American traveler on safari in Kenya.  He was loaded down with maps, and timetables, and travel agendas.  Porters from a local tribe were carrying his cumbersome supplies, luggage, and “essential stuff.”  On the first morning, everyone awoke early and traveled fast and went far into the bush.  On the second morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went very far into the bush.  On the third morning, they all woke very early and traveled very fast and went even farther into the bush.  The American seemed pleased.  But on the fourth morning, the porters refused to move.  They simply sat by a tree.  Their behavior incensed the impatient American.  “This is a waste of valuable time.  Can someone tell me what is going on here?”  The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

 

This Advent time is a time of waiting for God.  But it is also a time when God waits on us–patiently and lovingly waits for us to awake to God’s Presence, awake to God’s beckoning, awake to finally see where we were meant to be all along.  We cannot do that if we are too busy impatiently moving through life, always reaching and grasping for the next thing and missing that God is waiting for us now.  If we would be a little more patient, if we could just for a moment stop and breathe in that Holy Patience of God, perhaps God would no longer have to wait another day or another thousand years for the promises to come to be.

 

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

 

FOR TODAY:  Stop moving so fast.  Be patient.  Look.  Listen.  Take off your shoes and be.  God is waiting.

 

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

 

Comfort, O Comfort My People

 

 

Scripture Text:  Isaiah 40: 1-5Road through the desert

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.  A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

“Comfort, O Comfort my people.”  That sounds nice.  It sounds warm and inviting, something that we can just sort of fold ourselves into and relax and let God take care of us.  Well, maybe.  But then what happens?  What we do with our lives after that?  The truth is, as much as we like to imagine a warm and fuzzy God that heaps everything we desire and everything we need to make our lives easy and comfortable on us, that’s not exactly the way it always is.  Here, comfort is not solace; here comfort is transformation.  God is promising something new.  These words begin with God’s initiative–to bring the exiles home.  Sure, it will mean ending their suffering and making their lives better.  But it is more.  It means that they will become something new–a new creation.  The former things have passed away.  God is not in the habit of rebuilding or “fixing” the way it is easy for us to imagine could happen.  God is the Creator, the great I AM, the one who brings newness and life.

 

So, God prepares a highway through the wilderness.  Now, don’t think that there wasn’t already a road there.  In the year 539 BCE, Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonians. Now he tended to be sort of a benign and tolerant ruler and so he allowed those who had been previously exiled from Jerusalem the chance to return home. So the people are beginning to return home, but to a home that was nothing like it was before. If you can imagine, these waves upon waves of people on this highway that leads toward Jerusalem—a Jerusalem that now lies in ruins without the Temple that used to be in the center of its life. This highway, a highway through the desert that, typical of the ancient world, was originally built to accommodate royal processions. Everything was done to make the highway smooth and clear.   The road was there, already made straight and smooth for the royals to travel.  And so the exiles, returning to “who knows what?” were on this road.

 

But, wait, look, over here.  God also promises a highway, smoothed and cleared of mountains and deep, treacherous valleys that would impede the journey.  God promises a holy highway built for a grand procession led by the Almighty God.  It’s still a road that you have to travel, but, rather than leading you to the ruins of the life you once knew, THIS road leads you Home.  And as we travel this road, God is creating and creating and creating the whole time, unfolding our life before us as long as we keep our eyes open to see what God is doing.  This is the way that the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed.

 

This is the road that Advent shows us.  It’s not one that takes us to the place that we’ve always known.  Advent shows us the newness that God is offering.  In the Advent season, we remember those generations upon generations that waited for a Savior.  We also prepare ourselves to remember once again how Christ came and comes.  But there’s another part of Advent that we miss.  It is this road, this road that we’re on that leads us to finally see things in a different light.  There is a Maori proverb that says “turn your face to the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”  “Comfort, O Comfort my people.”  The Light is changing and you, even you, even now, are being made new.  “Then the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”

 

Learn to see and then you’ll know there is no end to the new worlds of our vision.  (Carlos Castaneda)

 

FOR TODAY:  What newness has God created in your life?  During this Advent, what newness can you find on the road?

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli