Archive | September 2012

Always in Trouble

Yesterday I was reading a booklet written by the Quaker writer Douglas Steere. The theme of the booklet is all the different ways that we can and do engage in active prayer. Even though the “contemporary world” of Steere is the late 1960’s, there is much in it that spoke to me. One of the concepts that he proposes is that the ethical message of the Gospels might be summed with the phrase “unlimited liability” which we bear for our fellow human beings. Steere says that we are liable without limits to help other people come through to what they are meant to be. We practice this kind of unlimited living in our families, when we are stretched beyond our limits in caring for our children, our parents and even ourselves. We practice this in our work places, our churches, our neighborhoods, our country and our environment. Often we fail the test and then we can call upon the unlimited God to turn us around. Steere prays “Grant us the grace to respond with imagination and delicacy to these needs and the constancy of affection so that when we fail, the other member of this gallant company will least come to know that we cared, and that we cherish them. You who have cherished us, quicken in us the tender gift of cherishing.”

Steere asks if there are no limits to our vulnerability, because keeping ourselves so open to the needs of the world can rip us open when we might rather be boxed away from troubles. He quoted another theologian who answers this question by saying that Jesus promised the disciples who followed him only three things “that they would be absurdly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.”  No, there are no limits to our vulnerability if we choose to follow the one who gave everything and who is willing to take on everything, even our own limits and our failings. To follow Jesus is to be absurdly happy because we wake up to the incredible experience of wallowing in unlimited love and grace. To follow Jesus is to be entirely fearless because now nothing and no one is “off limits” to our hearts. To follow Jesus is to be always in trouble because we will find ourselves constantly crossing the boundaries that are set up by conventional society which is always trying to protect special interests and denigrate the interests of the ordinary person.

I remember many years ago, when I was working as a teacher in a Headstart program. I was called on the carpet many times by those in authority because I would not stop putting the needs of the least ahead of the most, whether “the least” was the children, their parents or the underpaid teachers who were trying to form a union. One of my co-workers gave me a button to wear. It said, in big letters, TROUBLE MAKER, and I wore it with pride. Years later I was dubbed “fearless leader” by staff people in another program. Now I see that I was, even then, following my calling by following my teacher. Even then when I was true to my highest self, I was absurdly happy, entirely fearless and always in trouble.

Jesus help me to continue on the path that  you have blazed. Keep my heart open and stretched when I would rather pull into my shell and put up a sign that says “closed.” Tempt me with the absurdity of loving the unloved, strip away my fears, and please, when I am too content, please trouble the waters. Amen.

A Cramped House

Last week I read a short meditation by Augustine from his book called Confessions. As  a child I was taught the discipline of going to confession weekly as a way of putting my own house in order before coming into the unique presence of God in a communion service. We children had little of anything serious to confess but it taught us from an early age that it is good to bear your heart to someone else and even more importantly, that all sins, small or large, are forgivable.  So when I hear about someone’s confession I listen closely.

Augustine said “My soul’s house is cramped. Expand it, so that you may enter it. It is in ruins. Restore it.” All week, I have been meditating on the idea of my soul’s house being cramped. It is not only cramped and too tight to breathe in, but as a friend interpreted this line for me,  the house of my soul is too full of stuff; anxieties, fears, wrong thinking, and all kinds of behavior that leaves me missing the mark on what is really important. Not only is the house of my soul sometimes overfull of stuff and cramped so that I cannot move freely,but it is in ruins. And then, just on the heels of despair about this house in ruins, comes the good news that there is something that can be done about it. I can ask to have God expand my soul so that there will be room for the God of Love, that all forgiving, all-powerful force of goodness and creativity, that can restore me.

Augustine continues his prayer of confession by saying “I confess and know it, but who will cleanse it? To whom shall I cry but to you. Cleanse me from my hidden faults, O Lord, and keep back your servant also from those of others.” And so this week when I do my morning yoga practice and end with the prayer “There is a golden thread that runs through my life and holds all that I need for me life” I then reach my arms up high in front of me in a posture that says Expand Me and declare “I open myself to the Divine and pray for clarity of thought, for freedom of expression, for compassion and loving kindness. Thy will, not my will, be done.” Expand me so that you might enter me.

Expand the soul of my heart. Empty me of everything that keeps You, the Lord of Love, at bay. Make room for change. Make room for healing and starting anew. Make me as open as a child who believes, through and through, that everything can be forgiven and made anew. Amen

What to abandon and what to hold on to.

Sometimes the daily lectionary (the suggested scripture readings for the day) boggles me. How did they even think to pair this reading with that one? What is the connection? Is there any connection or did they just roll the dice to fill in the space?  When I started reading this morning I was boggled again. Here are just two of the four readings and believe me the two other ones are equally boggling!

First we have the erotic love song of Solomon where the flowers appear on the earth and the time of singing has come, and then we get a story from the gospel of Mark where Jesus calls the Pharisees on their almost idolatrous grasping to religious tradition. From the Song of  Solomon. “The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills. Look there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me; “Arise, my love, my fair one and come away.” Immediate, up close, thoroughly sensual and bursting with passion. God is present, right  now, leaping and bounding and standing right here and saying “wake up and come to me now!” Or maybe, it is we, the beloved of God who in our desire to be known and loved leap over those mountains and stand looking at God’s window, calling out for God to come out of the house where she/he has been domesticated by our oh so limited understanding.

And then, juxtaposed with this love song we have a Gospel reading in which the rabbis have noticed that the disciples have slipped up on the required tradition of the elders which in this case is to thoroughly wash their food and their hands and their pots and pans and cups and kettles before digging into the meal. And when they ask Jesus, a rabbi himself, why his students are being so lax, Jesus talks about defilement and reminds them that it is not what goes into a person that defiles them but what comes out. For instance, when our intentions are impure what comes out are things like theft, murder, deceit, envy, slander, pride, folly… the list goes on and on. It is not what we eat but what we think! “The people honor me with their lips; but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrine. You abandon the commandments of God, and hold to the human tradition.”

What is the connection? All day long the messages bubbled beneath the surface of my mind until I got out to the pond. I floated on my back and just closed my eyes. And then I heard something new. Funny how being buoyed up by water can open new pathways in my being.

What is the commandment of God but to love God with our whole hearts and our whole minds and our whole souls and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The commandment of God is to keep whatever human tradition brings us closer and closer into intimacy, with God, with our neighbor, and with our deepest and most desiring self. The commandment of God is to turn toward God, to knock on that window and to respond by throwing open the window when love knocks for us. Wash your hands and your food and your pots and your cups and your kettles if in washing you are deeply and thoroughly readying yourself to have God bound into your life. But when washing, or following any human tradition (and we have thousands of traditions that all seem so important) becomes the object of your affection it is better to abandon it and to hold on to desire.

All week I have been focusing on the right and the wrong way to follow a tradition (in my case it is the tradition of offering communion.) I know that some of my over focusing has been because I believe deep in my heart that sharing communion is one the most powerful of actions.  I also know that having grown up in the Catholic tradition where women could not touch the bread and the wine even if we scrubbed our hands raw, that having the honor now to lift up the elements is awesome and maybe even frightening. What might happen?

And then today, when I was floating in the pond, immersed in the glory of creation, with God’s great love bounding like a gazelle all around me I knew that I had been missing the point. The point is not to offer communion perfectly right. The point is to wake up and see that the voice of my Beloved is here leaping over the mountains of my concerns and landing right in my heart. There are a lot of traditional words and actions in the sacrament of communion, and each word and each action is loaded with thick meaning. But what I want to hold on to is the thin place – the place where my eyes and the eyes of the congregation can peer through the lattice of words and actions into the living God who comes right into our hearts, when we commune together and when we float in the pond. Look! God is here!