Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 6, 2015:

First Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7a

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23

Psalm: Psalm 146

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 125

Second Reading: James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

Gospel: Mark 7:24-37

Many people find this Gospel's depiction of Jesus disturbing, but I find it refreshing, even as it disturbs me. I grew up with an idea of an inclusive Jesus, a Jesus who came for all of us. The Jesus of my childhood was never angry (except perhaps for that incident in the temple), never irritable, never tired.

The Jesus of the Gospels isn't the Jesus of my childhood. If we read the Gospels carefully, we can see that the view of Jesus shifts as the community of faith continues to interpret the meaning of Jesus and to define what happened to Jesus and the first community of believers. Often we forget that the Gospels were written not by the first disciples (as I thought, when I was a child), but by people who came along later.

One early view of Jesus was an exclusive one, the one that says that Jesus came for the Jews. As the early Christian community expanded to include non-Jews, we can see chunks of the Gospels written with this development in mind. The story of Jesus and the Greek woman may be part of that mission.

Or perhaps we're seeing something more basic. I notice that a running theme in this Gospel is Jesus' attempts to get away, to move anonymously. It doesn't work. Everywhere he turns, there are the people who need him. We've all had those weeks at work or in our families where it seems that people need more and more of us and we can't get away from those incessant demands. We know how cranky that can make us. Maybe we're just seeing a Jesus who is tired and irritable. I like the idea of a snippy Jesus who can be reminded of his mission and who can soften his attitude. I like the idea that we can be occasionally cranky and not ruin our mission, just as Jesus was occasionally cranky, but managed to change our world so radically.

I also find the Greek woman to be refreshing. Here's a woman who fights for her daughter. Here's a woman who is told no, I didn't come for you--and she fights back. She presents a good argument, and it works.

I like the idea of a Jesus who can change his mind. I like the idea of a Jesus who listens to an outsider (a Greek, a woman) and becomes more inclusive.

Often the Gospel gives us a picture of Jesus who seems more divine than human. This Gospel shows me a refreshingly human Jesus, with traits (irritability, a desperate need for rest) that I recognize. I see a divine presence who might really understand me, since he's been under stress himself.

And this time, through this Gospel, I am happy to be reminded that a Divine answer of "no" may not be the final answer.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Filling the Beggar's Bowl

How shall we fill the beggar's bowl? 

What gifts have we to offer?

We may say our honeycombs are empty.  We may feel we have nothing to share.

But perhaps it's time to think differently.  Maybe our gift is steeped in time and tea and a good conversation:

Maybe we have books to share:

We can share the bounty found in nature:

We can lead the way through the labyrinth of life:

Monday, August 31, 2015

God Language and Metaphor

Earlier this August, our congregation’s sending hymn was “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It was strange to hear this song so far away from Reformation Sunday, but hearing it as part of a regular service and not on a high-festival day gave me a chance to really listen to the lyrics – something I haven’t done for many years.  I wrote an essay exploring the metaphors that we use for God over at the Living Lutheran site.  Here are some quotes to whet your appetite.

"I know the history of the time period in which Luther lived, work and wrote. I know that God as fortress, as bulwark (to use the older language), as sword and shield might have been remarkably effective for those listeners."

"I realize that the Bible is full of rich imagery, but it has problems, too. I think of all the agricultural metaphors and bread metaphors. Do they speak to people who have never made a loaf of yeasted bread?"

"I know that many people hate Facebook or other types of social media, but they’re a means of communication that help many of us stay connected. I see God as my Facebook feed on my birthday, full of messages from people throughout my past, all of whom are writing to wish me well. Facebook at its best reminds me that I am surrounded by a wide world of love. God’s love is vast like that."

"I’ve been thinking of God as a coral reef, something that sustains a variety of creatures and keeps the ocean healthier than it would be without a coral reef."

Read the whole blog post here.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Breath of God

We won't be dealing with a tropical storm today, but we do have some remnants.  We've had thunderstorms sweep through in waves through the night.  It's unusual for us to have these kinds of storms, with lots of lightning, in overnight hours.

Luckily, there's been space between the bands of storms, so our streets aren't flooded; we'll be able to make it to church.  There was even a moment of eerie, beautiful light.  I couldn't resist the opportunity to take a different kind of sunrise picture:

With the flash on, the pictures take on an apocalyptic quality:

Yesterday I wrote about going through old files and finding poems that I thought might be lost forever.  Let me post one here.  I think I wrote it in 1998, when we had a hurricane pass nearby.  My spouse and I went to Hollywood Beach, and I was impressed by the power of the ocean and the wind, even with the storm passing through the space between the Florida Keys and Cuba, some 5 hours to our south.

I wrote the following poem, which I still like.  I look at my current poems and see how much I've grown as a poet.  But I'm glad that poems like these still make me happy.

I think there's a Pentecost/Holy Spirit quality to this poem too, although I wouldn't have articulated it quite this way at the time I wrote it.  In the intervening years, I've become much more aware of the wind imagery in the Bible, in the idea of God breathing and creating things, in the idea of "ruack," that wonderful, Old Testament word for wind and used to describe God's creative process in the creation stories of Genesis.

Clean Sweep

While other folks board
up their windows,
she opens hers wide
to the hurricane winds.

She goes to the beach.
Unlike the surfers,
she has no interest in waves
that crash against the shore.

The sand abrades her skin.
The wind sweeps into every crevice.
Behind her, transformers pop and crackle.
Energy explodes.

Even though the palms bow
to the storm, she lifts
her arms above her head,
struggles to remain standing.

That night, she sleeps
soundly. Even though the wind
howls and hoots and hammers at the walls,
she breathes clean air and dreams fresh visions.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Hurricanes Present and Past

It looks like today may be more of a normal Saturday than I was expecting.  I checked the 5 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center, and we are no longer in the cone of possibility.  Hurrah!

Of course, we may still get some heavy rain.  We will now be on the dirty side of the storm, if there's a storm moving north.   If we get enough rain for flooding, which often happens during heavy thunderstorms that last over an hour, we have sandbags.
Ten years ago, life would have been different.  We'd have been in the condo that we still owned after the death of my spouse's mom in April, returning to our house to do hurricane clean up from Hurricane Katrina.  Ten years ago today, Hurricane Katrina would have been coming ashore at New Orleans.  And then, the levees broke, which did the true damage.

Happily, this week will be different for me.  My hurricane prep is done, and does not require a lot of undoing--the sandbags can be stored as sandbags.  Hopefully the storm will fall into tiny shreds that bring rain but not much destruction.  Hopefully the island of Domenica, so far the worst hit, can recover quickly.

But let us also use this time to remember the lives lost with every storm.  Let us remember those who will never return to their homes.  Let us remember the homes that are gone forever.

Here's a prayer that I wrote for those preparing for storms and those recovering:

Creator God, who fashioned this astonishing planet of atmospheric swirls, help us remember the abundance that our habitat usually offers us.  Be with those who work to protect their homes.  Be with those who can never return.  Be with those who suffer from fear and anxiety each time a storm gathers intensity.  Remind us that you are with us, and help calm our fears.

Friday, August 28, 2015

An Illuminated Prayer for Those in the Path of the Storm

As storm clouds gather, let us remember God's power:

Let the batteries not die.  Let us remember the true source of our light:

As we fill up the water bottles, we can remember our baptism:

Let us take time to savor the sweetness, especially when storms approach:

As we shutter the windows, we can also protect the fragile and the breakable:

We must cling to the ultimate promise:  the sun will come out, and order will be restored:

(with the exception of the sunrise beach picture, the other pictures were taken in August of 2012, as we prepared for Hurricane Isaac, which stayed to our south)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Stay Alert: Watching for Hurricanes, Watching for God

I've spent an inordinate amount of time tracking Tropical Storm Erika.  At work yesterday, productivity plummeted as we kept a wary eye on Tropical Storm Erika.  It's not like we waited for the update at 11 a.m. and then went back to work.  We analyzed the cone of probability.  We looked at possible rain amounts.  We tried to remember which side of the storm is the more destructive side.

I have a vision of God saying, "You know, if you spent half the time that you've spent on this storm on the look-out for me--why think of how your life would be different!"

I always try to be mindful of how I spend my time, but I'm not always successful.  Often I say, "Hey, I've spent a lot of time on Internet sites that don't nourish me"--but it's after I've spent more time than I would like on those sites.  Sigh.

As I do an inventory of my days, I realize how much more I could work writing opportunities into my day.  I would like to remember to stretch every time I get up from my chair.  I'd like to pray more.

There's so much to distract us.  Again and again, I lose patience with myself and say, "Why is this so hard for you?"

As I analyze my frazzled, fractured attention span during approaching tropical systems, I realize that this state of mind is becoming more common.  It's not just during hurricane season. 

I think about my spin class experiences--it's easy for me to lose focus.  But my spin class instructor always calls us back.

A friend of mine talks about her frustration living in the center of a German town (Heidelberg?).  She talks about the church bells going off every 15 minutes and how that frustrated her.  I know that many people likely tune out the bells.  I like to think that I would use them to center my attention.

I could do something similar with alerts on my computer or a chime on my watch.  But my ultimate goal is to be mindful without the reminder.