Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Meditation on John 5:39-40

“You search the scriptures, because you think in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me: yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
The Daily Office, Proper 15, Tuesday

From the ages of 12 to about 15, I was involved in a charismatic group who took the scripture literally as a word for word guide to being “saved”. At that time in my development it was a good thing. Yes, it promoted a relationship with God, and therefor the world, as being fear based, but for a precocious child such as me, fear was a good thing, keeping me out of big trouble, and maybe even keeping me alive. Eventually though as my mind continued to mature, I could not reconcile the contradictions in the Bible, and if I was to be honest to myself I had to acknowledge the truth of this. Life is not a stationary stagnant thing, so why in heaven or on earth would the spiritual life be any different? Of course it is not.

In many ways, the Gospel of John brought me through this troubling transition of the sanctity of absolutism and into the holiness of possibilities in the mysteries of life and of God. I think God is in part mystery. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 18 that God, “made darkness his covering around him, his canopy thick clouds dark with water.” The whole notion of God in human form is in itself mysterious and this most mysterious gospel allowed me to begin to become a little comfortable with the notion of mystery resting in the heart of faith while living in a life and world of uncertainties.

It’s funny, ask a person who’s read the gospels, even more than once, “When in his ministry does Jesus go to confront the Temple authorities?” Most will answer that Jesus went to the Temple at the end of his ministry, creating the confrontations which ultimately led to Jesus’ arrest and execution, as described in the first three gospels. Yet in John, the Temple confrontation occurs at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. For the first time I saw the conflict of a purely literal frame of mind in my reading of the scriptures: even the gospels cannot reach a literal agreement. I thought that the literal compliance to these words written on paper would lead me to the Promised Land, would give God good reason to sweep me up in the literal rapture. I thought the scripture was a “how to” book; follow the rules and never be troubled again in this life and after it, be spared the prospects of hell. Easy.

But I can’t follow the rules perfectly. No one can. The rules can’t provide eternal life. No book can provide eternal life, not even the Bible. I know this now, but there was a time when I thought I had to believe the Bible literally, word for word, without question, or be punished. In this frame of mind, the Bible was then a weapon, one to punish myself with, and one to punish others with. The Bible was intended to be an inspirational tool, a plow to till the soil of the heart and mind to make them ready for God’s love, but literalism and absolutism beat God’s plow into swords and spears to be wielded for spiritual and emotional violence, even to physical violence. In the voices of literalism and absolutism, God’s scriptural call for loving community is distorted into the dismal tortured cry of hypocrisy and division.

I know in my heart that truly God’s spirit moves through the Bible, giving signs, “bearing witness” in Jesus’s words written in John. They are Jesus’ words, words of love. They are words of compassion. They are words which promise justice, realized in the lives of “the righteous” whose righteousness is found in their care for the poor, the sick, the friendless and the outcasts, in living the life Jesus calls us to. The healing salvation, the life we come to when we come to Jesus, is not the life promised by a book, but a life born of the promise of God’s loving spirit, reborn in the hearts of humans who accept the way of Jesus as the way of loving God, loving ourselves, loving our neighbors and even our enemies.

Verse 42 reads, “But I know you do not have the love of God in you.” In this verse Jesus explains the folly of the literalist absolutist of his time, of our time and in my life at times. The Bible means absolutely nothing if the love of God is not in me. If the love of God is not in me, then no matter how perfectly, literally and absolutely I believe the Bible, it will do neither me, nor anyone else, any good at all towards the healing salvation found in loving God and all God’s works.

There is a requirement to realizing God’s love in my life, humility. The humility to more absolutely trust God’s love offered to us in Jesus. The humility to trust in the love of Jesus, trusting in God’s love more than in my trust of scripture or a particular interpretation of it, which means too that I have to trust the mystery of God, the mystery of loving. I have to humbly trust the mystery of God’s love made real in my love of humanity, the humanity I like and the humanity I may despise. I have to humbly have faith in God's love in you. I have to have humility of faith to trust God's love when you fail me and I fail you. I have to have the humility and faith in the Spirit of love living in me to realize Jesus’ loving life, in the uncertain now, now living faithfully toward living the eternal life, now in love.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sacramental Way

I have a friend who left her life of vows after 30 years because she was “tired of living the lie.” I wish I knew which lie she had tired of, there are so many to choose from. It’s funny, where ones’ wrestling takes them. My friend wrestled with her faith for decades to leave religion… I wrestled with mine for decades to return to religion.

God, Irony is thy name!

I do know we give “the lie” many names and attributions, but no matter where we go, if untreated, it remains, whether in religion or outside it.

The truth is we all have lies we live. We all have secrets and the pain which rests in the heart of them. Whatever her lie is, I pray she will come to accept it and find healing. Perhaps this move will lead her to her truth, perhaps the absence of the convent’s shelter will allow her to see it and treat it face on; healing is never an easy thing to do. May she be granted the courage and grace to be healed.

Healing is God’s salvation. With our willing healing participation, in the shaping of the inescapable pain and sorrows of life we discover the source of love in the shared vulnerability of Jesus, in him we find and know mercy; his compassion now made alive in us. Here is a sacred act, the living act of our pain, even the pain of our transgression, now transformed into compassion.

More and more I realize, in my life at least, the calling is to be healed and in turn be healers. The more I’m healed, the more I’m able to heal: all by the grace of God, realized in the compassion of God for us in Jesus of Nazareth. This is love. This is real change.

This is restoration to our proper place and transformation of the holy space within us, our hearts, from a place of secret pain walled up with stone, into an open place where sits God on the mercy seat within, choosing to heal us rather than punish, choosing to cast out our demons rather than crush us. Here is our liberation from fear to be more fully engaged in our humanness, in our light and our shadows, in our sorrows and our joys. We all know suffering and we can all know love in it's receiving and more so in its giving.

Through all of it, Jesus shows us this way, calling us to witness to his way, the sacramental way of giving our love away. It doesn’t matter who we are, what we do, where we’re from or what we’ve done. Love is calling us. Life is calling us. God’s love is calling us to share in God’s way, to take our love, to be grateful for the blessing of it, and give it away in all its healing power, and likewise be healed.

This is life in the sacramental way.

This is more than just a promise from God; this is the reality we know, this in the fullness of God's compassion in the very human Jesus. We also know this truth in every tangible human act of justice, kindness and mercy, for ourselves and each other, all reflecting God's glory, grace and love. We know this truth because when we really take love’s risk, we are rewarded love’s joy.

We can feel it. We can see it and can know God’s joy in it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Open Me

In every face
and in every place
in every heart
and in every space

Christ open
my eyes to see you
open my ears to hear you

Christ open
my mind to know you
open my mouth to praise you

Christ open
my hands to offer you

Christ open
my life to live in you

Christ open
my heart to welcome you

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Meditation on Psalm 145:9

“The Lord is loving to everyone * and his compassion is over all his works.” Psalm 145:9

Thursday, Proper 13, Morning Prayer, The Daily Office.

This is my favorite verse from the Old Testament. I’m not sure if there is an Old Testament verse which better anticipates the nature of God’s presence in the world as being fully realized in the Lord Jesus Christ. This verse makes clear in my understanding that indeed Jesus came not to “abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill.” It also makes pretty clear to me that indeed if I believe myself to be a disciple, and therefore a servant to the Lord of compassion, then I am obliged in this relationship to model my intentions and ways to loving everyone and to have compassion cover all my works.

Another aspect of this verse which is interesting to me, and causes me to pause, is that there is none of the typical language about the “righteous” and “wicked”, which is typical in describing the Psalmist’s struggles with the notions of rewards for the “righteous” and punishment for the “wicked”. The verse also describes God’s love in the present tense, “is loving”, which is very different form the usual scriptural past-tense of God in history or in the future tense of love as a reward, as in, “the Lord will love the righteous and destroy the wicked”. No, this verse says of the Lord that he is loving to everyone, the righteous and the wicked.

This verse is also a very good definition of God’s quality of grace as being the loving which is always present to everyone. This is a good description too of the “Am-ness” of God’s being as the “is-ness” of God loving everyone, and loving the “everyone” in each of us, the “righteous and wicked”. With this realization, it is easy to see why the Psalms following 145 are hymns of praise and joy. God is loving me, and covering me with the Lord’s compassion, liberating me from my wicked petty self-centered self, so I may be more loving. I need to recognize that the Psalmist just couldn’t help himself and had to mention, one more time in verse 20, God crushing “the wicked”. To which I must say, Jesus didn’t crush or punish “the wicked”, in loving compassion he forgave them, the Lord cast their demons out, and again made them whole.

If we too trust that God is loving us, covering us in compassion made manifest in Jesus, we too can be healed and transformed from our fears and suffering into more loving beings, more loving people. We know this in our love relationships with God and each other. We just sometimes have wake up and to remember it.

We’re not childish; we know that the requirements of healing involve some pain: even pulling the bandage off hurts a little. Sometimes the pain may indeed seem like the agony of an exorcism, or the pain of moving past an addiction, or for a few, it might feel like the pain of being “the wicked” crushed as the Psalmists liked to describe. But if we trust in God’s love, and we trust the love God makes available to us in our communities, we can be “a people healed, restored and renewed”, as a way to build communities for ourselves, our churches, and beyond.

The fourth edition of the Oxford Bible interprets The Book of Common Prayer’s version of verse nine, “…his compassion is over all his works” as “…over all he has made.” I like both as together they point to God’s loving as being active past, present and future with the word “works”, and also indicates God’s constant presence in the whole of creation in the phrase “all he has made.” For me this is a verse of great hope for those who fear the wrath of God rather than trusting in the Good News we know in Jesus: that God is loving us, and compassionately covering us with love, now and always. This verse also creates hope as the predicate for a day when all Christians will consider how we are loving to everyone, in the decisions we make about our lives and our communities, and in whether too, compassion is overseeing our work on earth in the communities of Christianity and the world.