Saturday, June 13, 2009

commonplacing: yeast & the feast

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast," we heard him say, "that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened."
Judith put her hands to her mouth and actually giggled.
"What's so funny?" I wondered.
"Don't you know, Mary? The rabbis consider yeast unclean. Only women handle it. Who but our Jesus would dare to compare it to the Kingdom of God!"
Many times I witnessed the gap-toothed grins of old women, and the clapping and dancing of younger ones as they recognized themselves and their lives in the stories: the persistent widow demanding justice, the woman throwing a party when she finds the lost coin. They needed no explanation. They understood: the Bridegroom was here in their midst. They were invited to the feast."
pp 414-415

First, the obvious things that I like about this passage:
1) Jesus speaks directly to women's lives - rather than overlooking us or lumping us into stories where men are normative & primary.
2) Jesus says and does the things that are vitally different from the conventions of his time & place and through that conveys the heart of his message.
3) Jesus used stories about people's real lives to share that message and to welcome & cultivate a community who got the message.

Now, maybe more subtly, how this passage applies to me.

In the last few weeks, my little family took a pause from our church attendance. We need more time as a family, interacting with each other, doing fun stuff, chatting, chasing & getting chased by Baby N.... When we go to church we feel like we give the best hours of the day (before N's nap) to an event that doesn't give us much room to interact with each other. It felt like a loss. Plus, I tend to come home all riled up.

But in the course of Sunday night's June moon ritual, something came to me. I need to go back to church:
1) Because it's good for me to hear other people's ideas about Christianity. Some of the folks in this congregation have powerful love and commitment to Jesus. They tell stories of their experiences of the presence of Christ in their lives.
2) Because I want to do good work in my community and this church does that all day, every day. They are sharing "the feast" in tangible ways (rent, food, recovery groups, access to medical care...). I will be a lot more effective as part of this community than I will be on my own.
3) It's good for me to get riled up. Maybe not every Sunday, & certainly not to the point where I get bitter & dried up, but enough to point me to something vitally different as illuminated by Jesus & to prompt me in how I'm going to live that.
4) [bonus!] This is a congregation of quirky loving folks that I enjoy. They love my son. They welcomed my family from minute 1. (They shared "the feast" even with us?) Churches like this are rare. People like this are to be held onto.

So, this Sunday, Baby N and I will be heading around the corner to church. Instead of family time, L will get a morning to himself - to play bass or read philosophy or take a long bath. All the good refreshing restorative things that a stay-at-home parent rarely gets to do for himself. And we'll work it out, like all families do. We'll keep moving so that each of us is growing and challenged, nurtured and celebrated. And I hope we'll bring a little bit more into our time together from this kind of time apart.

Cunningham, Elizabeth. The Passion of Mary Magdalen. New York: Monkfish. 2006.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

chosen, befriended & blessed

"What does it mean to be chosen by God?"

The question derived from today's Gospel reading - a passage about being chosen by God and now being a friend of Christ, rather than a servant. Pastor J posed it to the congregation and then gave us five minutes to discuss it with our neighbors in the pew. Whoah. Huge! I put my head down - not ready to chat about this. The conversations around me wandered away from the topic.

I have no idea what it means... and I know it means so many things. What does it mean to me? Do I even believe it? (& how does it relate to last week's message about acceptance & pruning by God?)

Walking home I remembered reading some encouraging and challenging ideas about being chosen by God in Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved. I want to claim his words as my answer to the question... but really I'm still trying to understand & believe it.

"Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that call us the 'Beloved.' Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence." p. 28

"Becoming the beloved is the great spiritual journey that we have to make." p. 32

"First of all, you have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry and, in the long run, destructive. The world tells you many lies about who you are, and you simply have to remain realistic enough to reminder yourself of this." p. 49

"Secondly, you have to keep looking for people and places where your truth is spoken and where you are reminded of your deepest identity as the chosen one. Yes, we must dare to opt consciously for our chosenness and not allow our emotion, feelings or passions to seduce us into self-rejection." p. 49-50

"Thirdly, you have to celebrate your chosenness constantly. This means saying 'thank you' to God for having chosen you, and 'thank you' to all who reminded you of your chosenness. Gratitude is the most fruitful way of deepening your consciousness that you are not an 'accident' but a divine choice." p. 50

"When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the chosen ones, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness. Instead of making us feel that we are better, more precious or valuable than others, our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to the chosenness of others." p. 52-53

"The characteristic of the blessed ones is that wherever they go, they always speak words of blessing. It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourselves are in touch with your own blessedness. The blessed one always blesses." p. 67

And I think this is the link between last week's message & this week's:

"Becoming the Beloved is pulling the truth revealed to me from above down into the ordinariness of what I am, in fact, thinking of, talking about an doing from hour to hour. ... When our deepest truth is that we are the Beloved and when our greatest joy and peace come from fully claiming that truth, it follows that this has to become visible and tangible in the ways that we eat and drink, talk and love, play and work." pp. 39-40

Nouwen, Henri. Life of the beloved: Spiritual living in a secular world. NY: Crossroads. 1993.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

my lenten challenge

"But the idea that Jesus was deliberately handed over and abandoned by his Father to the fate of death is intolerable. When you think about it, what kind of Father is this? A sadist. Even Abraham drew back from killing his own son. This construal of the cross blames the Father for what in fact was done to Jesus by the history of human injustice. It schools people in patterns of thought that regard sadistic behavior as legitimate. When translated into spirituality, it encourages them to worship the executioner." p. 63

I am really struggling with Easter this year. It's not a holiday that you can just skip, like Columbus Day. As the centerpiece of the Christian religion you have to deal with the biblical events and their meaning. But what do you have to work with if you reject the notion that a Father God had his Only Son killed for your sake? That story is immediately grisly. Guilt-inducing. Illogical, at least to contemporary thinking. & maybe not coherent with the rest of the Gospel.

In the last couple of years I've encountered some new-to-me interpretations of scripture. There are other ways to understand atonement and, as in the quote above, the crucifixion. Unfortunately, I haven't found a community of believers that I can study and embody this stuff with. The churches I've visited either maintain the conventional interpretations or issue New Age teaching. Neither one sustains the depth and vision I'm seeking.

So I'm trying to find my way this season. I'm still attending church services (I love our quirky little community). And then, often prompted by something in a sermon or hymn, I'm still exploring what else it may all mean - in books, in my journal, and in my heart. The discord between what I'm hearing in my faith community and what I'm hearing in my heart is drawing me to continue my exploration. Surely there is something else, something essentially different, that is still true and it calls me to continue.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. Quest for the Living God: Mapping frontiers in the theology of God. New York: Continuum. 2007

Friday, March 6, 2009

rote & ritual

"Still I miss Jewish ways. I miss the rhythms and routines that drew the sacred into the everyday. I miss Sabbaths on which I actually rested. I have even found that I miss the drudgery of keeping kosher. I miss the work these practices effected between me and God." p. vii

"Your faith might come and go, but your practice ought not waver. (Indeed, Judaism suggests that the repeating of practice is the best way to ensure that a doubter's faith will return.)" p. ix

For years I have tried and faltered and wished for "rhythms and routines that drew the sacred into the everyday." I want daily actions and seasonal traditions in order to honor the sacred that I know and experience. But I also want them to hold a place for what I have not experienced and yet hope to know.

I think of these rituals and daily practices like a skeleton or a bowl. They bear witness that there is hot rich marrow to fill these bones, flesh and life to clothe them. There is something, however numinous, that this bowl is waiting to hold.

By tending these containers I invite the Holy to me, into my life.

Winner, Lauren. Mudhouse Sabbath. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press. 2003

Saturday, February 28, 2009

lord of the dance

Elizabeth A. Johnson in Quest for the Living God, expanding on the analogy between perichoresis and the cognate word for choreography:

"If God is dancing, why not step out to the contagious rhythms of salsa, merengue, calypso, swing, or reggae or to the intricate a-rhythmic patterns of modern dance? The point is, with the three circling around in a mutual, dynamic movement of love, God is not a static being but a plenitude of self-giving love, a saving mystery that overflows into the world of sin and death to heal, redeem, and liberate. The whole point of this history of God with the world is to bring the world back into the life of God's own communion, back into the divine dance of life." (p. 214)

The word perichoresis first caught my attention while I was reading for my master's thesis. What a funny word! Broken into its parts it's: peri - around + choresis - dancing. I didn't entirely get it. It was something to do with the trinity, the communion of those aspects, and them giving to everything else. What has God "dancing around" got to do with any of that? But it certainly captures the imagination. I mean, imagine the trinity that way - not some dry theological fine point anymore, is it. I noted it in my blog and kept on with my reading.

So it's like running into a friend of a friend at my favorite take-out place to find that word again in another book that is significant to me. Maybe we'll get to know each other a little better this time.

The word was embedded in a chapter devoted to the recall and revitalization of the trinity as an expression and understanding of an essentially different relationship with God made possible through Christ. A trinitarian description of God began as a vivid articulation that in addition to the God whose name is YHWH and goes unspoken, there is also God as we know in the historical life of Jesus and God as we know in the ongoing presence of the Spirit. YHWH drew near to us, nearer than a burning bush or still small voice, by living with us as one of us, extending that solidarity to the point of death. That is a phenomenal gift. It continues with Jesus' resurrection and upon his return to Heaven we perceive the Holy Spirit which remains with us granting insight, supporting & prompting change in the world, offering comfort in the midst of this great work.

Getting back to perichoresis, Johnson leads up to it with this description on the previous page, "The holy mystery of God is not a single monolith with a rigid nature, an undifferentiated whole, but a living fecundity of relational life that overflows to the world."

And now I start to get it. There is a Mystery. We learn to let it be Mystery and simultaneously we try to articulate what we have observed and experienced of it. We say, "it is a Transcendent Other, and an Historical Man, and an Immanent Companion." We say anything about it at all because we want to honor it (along with our less flattering motives). We believe, and the evidence of these three ways of meeting the Mystery fosters that belief, that it wants to know and be known, love and be loved, by us.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. Quest for the Living God: Mapping frontiers in the theology of God. New York: Continuum. 2007

Sunday, January 11, 2009

of the waters

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."

Genesis 1:2 King James Version

They say that humans are 78% water.  Imagine that we're made of the very same water of those primordial days. The Spirit of God moved upon the face of us then and so moves within us now. Providing good company, in darkness and in light.

I don't usually read the book of Genesis but this was read to us on Sunday morning and it's remained with me. You can read a little more about what came to me on Sunday at this posting: ִ עִמָּנוּאֵל

Thursday, January 8, 2009

quest for the living church

"The good news treasured by Christian faith proclaims that this ineffable horizon graciously approaches us and bids us approach, enfolding us in an ultimate and radical love." p. 41

"Such loving presence is what theology calls grace." p. 41

"First and last the church is the sacramental presence of the promise of God to the world, a community that despite its sinfulness signals to the whole world that God's self-gift is continuously offered to all." p. 43

I want to believe, experience, and behave as a Christian, in the best sense of the word. Since I was a child I have wrestled with my faith and with Christian identity. I devour books that resonate with my sense of what Christianity is at the core and can be in the world. I hold onto companions who share this quest for a radical faith. I want to be challenged beyond awakening into living, daily and in relationship, this faith. And I am amateur. I need teachers and companions in this journey.

Quest for the Living God
is one of those books. It was suggested to me by my friend the Bright Reverend A. In it, I discovered the theologian Karl Rahner, who presented the ideas above in response to the pervasive atheism of the 20th century. Reading this book with A prompted me to find a faith community and I am impressed with our pastor and congregation. Our community convinces me, challenges me, and moves me deeper into a life of faith.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. Quest for the Living God: Mapping frontiers in the theology of God. New York: Continuum. 2007

You can expect more quotes from this book. It really is that good.
The Bright Reverend A isn't actually ordained yet but I am certain that she will be called & supported in it when the time is right. She shines just as bright regardless.