Saturday, June 21st, was the summer solstice and I spent the day in a solstice retreat. It was a time of quiet meditation, laughter, the beginning of new relationships and the renewal of others. One of our discussions covered how all of us have a ‘longing’ for the companionship of others. I, like most people, was born into a family that served as my primary home of ‘be-longing’ for many years but now the events of normal life has separated me from most of my birth family. As a result I created my own ‘family’ through relationships with good friends, companion animals, and my husband and his family.
I had never thought of either a birth-family or a self created-family as a holy thing until I read a book by the late John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on our Yearning to Belong. In the very beginning of the book O’Donohue says “When you suppress your wild longing and opt for the predictable and safe forms of belonging, you sin against the rest of Nature that longs to live deeply through you” (pg 5). When we deny our need to belong in relationship with others we deny our true selves and we deny God’s gift of grace of the warm embrace of those who care for us. Yes being in relationship with any other being entails risk; the risk of loss and grief, and the risk of being betrayed. Yet while all of those risk may/do/will happen the benefit joy of knowing there is someone who understands you and is willing to be there for you totally outweighs any sorrow that may occur in the future.
Yes I have lost people I had been in relationship with for many years to death, relocation, and arguments. And losing a friend because of anger or betrayal is the hardest lost for it means a break in the sacred bond God had gifted us with. Today I am more aware of my relationships, looking for ways to nurture them instead of poisoning them. Belonging requires hard work, but like a garden the fruits of the harvest are bountiful and delightful.
Today I ask you to hold in prayer your relationships with your family, friends, companion animals, God and draw strength from knowing you are not alone even when the night is the darkest.
Roman 6:1-11 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? 3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. 7For whoever has died is freed from sin. 8But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 10:24-39 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.* 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father,and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
For 10 years I was an environmental consultant performing Human Health and Ecological risk assessments for the military and private concerns. One of the uses of my reports was to define what would be the cost of a cleanup of a contaminated site both as risk of exposure and monetary cost of cleanup. The EPA has a basic cleanup target of 1 in 10000 chances of illness or death from exposure to contaminated soil, water, or air. Of course all is negotiable but that is what is desired. The EPA doesn’t really care about cost but companies do and so does the military. Cleanup is not popular with those who own the property. There is a balancing act that goes on at the negotiation table between the EPA and the owners of the property. The property owners want to remove as little as possible to keep cost down and the EPA wants as much removed as possible to keep risk down. When you add in resident and ecological groups to the mix you probably get some idea of how complicated such negotiations can be. But the key word is negotiable.
Matthew writes in this passage what the cost of discipleship will be for those who follow in the path of Jesus. He tells his community what the risks are when you commit to following Jesus’ teaching and he doesn’t mince any words and the cost is not negotiable. For those who are faithful to God and Christ will face criticism, be misunderstood, run out town, and face death at the hands of the Romans just as Jesus did. How is that for a recruiting statement? I can hear the thought of a potential follower now. “Ok, my family will disown me, I will most likely be run out of town on rail, I will have my words twisted around to mean something other than what I said, and the Romans are going to kill me, tell me again why I should sign up for this.” If a follower of the WAY ever thought about the risks they wouldn’t sign up. I mean would you give up everything to go out and teach others about the WAY of Jesus. Would you give up the king-size bed, the running water, the clean clothes, or 3 meals a day? What is amazing to me is that anyone actually did and I am grateful to those who had, and have, the courage to walk that difficult path.
Matthew wanted his community to understand those risks while having the courage to choose a way of life that would be difficult but result in a life lived within God as found in the life of Jesus. Matthew’s words challenge us to stand up for injustice just as Jesus did. To use our voice to speak for those who are silenced. To live a life of compassion and peace towards everyone no matter how different they may be from us; from a different culture or socio-economic class, differently abled, or differently gendered, or (and this is the hard part) even if they have done harm to us or someone we love. Matthew says we are called to right injustice even at the expense of our own comfort, reputation, relationships, financial security, or even our lives. That is a hard decision to make and I know I (as a risk assessor and a seminary student) that discernment before that decision to be baptized and commit to that life is often very difficult. And let’s face it the reasons to proceed are not all that well laid out. So where do we find some answers.
Well before Matthew wrote his Gospel Paul wrote a letter of introduction to the Roman community and in that letter we have this short passage that summarizes reasons for following the WAY and those reasons are just as valid today as they were in the 1st century. Following the WAY was dangerous and even Paul doesn’t deny that but the benefit is a life lived into love.
Paul tells the Romans, and us, that when we commit ourselves to being baptized we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. Just as Christ died to sin and lives to God we are to recognize our baptism as dying to sin and living into God. Notice I didn’t say Christ died FOR our sins, Paul did not believe Jesus died because God wanted a sacrifice for our sins. No, Jesus death on the cross saves us because God overcame and said No to sin through his resurrection of Christ. God’s message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was to reconcile those who are separated from God back into those loving arms. Called Atonement, or better still “at-one-ment,” reconciliation is the means of re-membering those who have spent their lives lost in a wilderness far from God back into the body of God through Christ.
When Paul writes “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” he is talking about saying no to sin and moving toward God as experienced in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book Meeting Paul open the verse 6:3-4 to a new insight
“all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
We are graced with newness of life that includes a transformed way we see our world. A commitment leading to the ritual sacrament of Baptism results in a “renewing of [our] minds.” We being to see the world differently, living our lives into a richer and fuller life in love. We no longer see the world as other and different from ourselves but rather we see ourselves and the world as part of the body of God and Christ.
For Matthew, for Paul and for us these changes and commitments have political implications. It means we as followers of the WAY are to stand against the “wisdom of this world” as it is known today. We are to refuse to follow a path that results in harm, injustice, or death for anyone, whether we agree with them or not.
That is hard to do, I know it is hard for me. I too have watched the news and read the papers about mass shootings, people who demonize the poor and needy and I get angry. Sometimes I say things I might regret because I want them punished; you see I also forget they are part of God’s body. As a consultant I tried to tell the truth as I calculated it and saw it but I dealt with people who had very different agendas from mine. I grew frustrated and angry at people who only looked at the “bottom line” or a single unachievable number instead of considering how what they had done, and will do, affects those who live in the area, human and ecological. I wanted things to change and it wasn’t until I realized that the change must begin with me that I knew what I would do. I had to stop seeing the world with a “bottom line” perspective because all of creation, human and non-human are simply too important..
In Matthew Jesus says “Those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The life I lost is the one that holds tight to the world I see in the news reports while the life I gain is a life lived in relationship with God. While I often forget that I try to remember, what all of us need to remember are these words of Jesus’ “Do not be afraid … I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I am preaching next Sunday and the first step in the preparation for my sermon is to pray my scripture using Lectio Divina. The last step in my Lectio Divina is to write in my journal what I hear in the scripture. Often I will draw a Mandala as a visual image of what I hear and the Mandala above is my representation of Romans 6:1b-11, which is my text for next Sunday.
Lectio Divina is one of my favorite practices to delve into a particular scripture and I often add the process of drawing a Mandala when the scripture is long or very visual. I find the resultant drawing adds another layer to my spiritual practice. I draw circular Mandalas for my reflections; I find the confined space of the circle helps me focus on the most important aspects of hearing. But, prayers through art can take any form that reflects your own personal prayers. Therefore pen and ink drawings, soul collage, painting, sculpting anything that lets you express through your artistic and creative senses will help you find a new richness in your prayers, and you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy putting the color and form of your prayers onto paper. Trust me I’m no Rembrandt and if I can do it anyone can. Just give yourself permission to play and be open to what happens.
This week I suggest trying prayer through art. Using 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 try praying with art.
Begin your prayer using the steps of Lectio Divina:
Reading/listening: read the passage to yourself twice. Listen for the word or phrase that catches your attention. Silently focus on that word or phrase, allowing it to sift through your heart and mind.
Meditation: As you focus on your chosen word pay attention to your feelings and thoughts, what images, thoughts, or memories does the word or phrase bring to mind.
Responding: What desires has your prayer brought, is there something you need to work on, or does your prayer lead you something you are grateful for. Sit in silent prayer and listen as God forms your prayer in your heart.
Resting: Having heard the word or praise that has drawn you closer to God and having felt a response to the prayer allow yourself to rest in silence. As you continue to sit in silence pick up your paper and pen or pencil and if an image has come forth in your prayer try putting it down on paper. When you feel the prayer has ended express your gratitude to God with a “Thank You”, or, “Amen”
Remember you are not looking for a drawing of perfection rather you are expressing your feelings and thoughts as a visual image and whatever it is it will be your image, beautiful in all aspects.
Amelia is a 5 year old, little girl who is a mixture of tomboy, imp, princess and budding scientist but most of all a Grammy’s delight. Walking home from school with Amelia is always an adventure. Today we hadn’t gotten even 100 feet from her school when she bent over and said, “Look Grammy, I found a purple maple seed.” Amelia hands me the seed and says “now you carry this for me I want to show dad.” Off she runs to her next exciting stop, which is about 50 feet ahead. “Look what I can do Grammy,” she said as she runs up a yard to the brick wall and with one heart stopping leap lands safely on the ground in front of me. “My, my you are so good at jumping,” I said as I pushed my heart back into my chest.
Running ahead of me again she suddenly stops and gets down on her knees, as I walk up to her she is talking to a small ant hill. “Look how busy they are, Grammy, where are they going so fast?” “Well,” I tell her, “this is a new ant hill so they are just building it up right now and gathering in some of the leaves for food. Don’t disturb the nest or they will bite.” “Really,” she says as she prepares to test my theory. “Yes really, and those bites hurt so let’s leave them to their work, OK.” “Ok,” and she is off again.
“Help me look for snails, Grammy.” Amelia has a love affair going with snails of every shape and size. She picks them up and carries them carefully along with her, until, that is, she forgets she has them in the heat of a new discovery and then the snails are old news. Sometimes she carries them all the way home and we release them into the backyard and into the wild.
Every moment with Amelia is a discovery in a half, every rock a treasure trove, every leaf a rare jewel to be enjoyed. Worms and snails are potential friends or pets to be trained. We sing songs to stop traffic on our progression across a busy street and she dances down the street to a tune in her head.
Oh the life of a 5 year old, a world of discovery ahead and an imagination that has no boundaries. Where does all of the enthusiasm go to as we grow older? Is life so trying and stressful that we forget just what it means to be in the moment? As I watch my little adventurer skip down the sidewalk I am trying to remember what it was like to be that carefree, and find delight in a snail slowly making its way up a wall.
Maybe that is what grandchildren are for, to awaken in each of us that little boy or girl lost in the mists of time. To remind us of the important things like snails, red leaves, purple maple seeds and sunshine and shadow. Amelia has reopened a door I thought was shut and locked. A part of me remembers and dances with my little genius, princess, geologist, archaeologist, biologist, and junk collector as we walk home from school.
I have been reading a book titled Never Pray Again that explores prayer leading into action. I have always been an advocate of prayer that gets me moving in the right direction. I want prayers that get me up out of my chair, out of my house, out into my neighborhood and community to do my small part in fighting injustice, cleaning up creation, or sitting with someone in need of a friend. Like the authors I believe that when we say those magic words “I will pray for you” all to often we think that is all we have to do, and that isn’t quite right. God does answer prayers, but God cannot do it alone. God needs our arms and legs, and yes even our imagination, to get the job done. We are to not just offer prayers of intercession but also intercede on behalf of those who cannot act by themselves. We are not to just offer prayers of healing but also enable and encourage those who are wounded so that they may become whole members of the community. We are not to just to offer prayers of support but also get out on the street and offer ourselves in support of those in need. We are to shower the love God has gifted us with onto everyone we meet, whether they are friend or enemy.
Just imagine what the world would look like if this became the radical new trend. I can hardly contain myself because it is such an exciting thought. But reality will and does set in to temper my enthusiasm. Because I know, and you know, that isn’t happening anytime soon, but we have to start somewhere. Here are 2 possible things to do that are suggested by the authors:
The next time you someone begging go and grab a couple of meals and sit down with that person and listen to them talk about their problems. When you both have finished your meal thank them and the next time you see them acknowledge them instead of passing them by. If you can’t sit down with them then, at the very least, give them the meal and ask for their name so you might respond to them as a fellow traveler.
Invite and outsider in. Find a new person, in your apartment building, neighborhood, workplace or school and invite them to lunch or tea and coffee. Even if they may not “fit-in” with your normal social group listen to them and get to know them as a person, someone with their own dreams and aspirations. You might invite them to something you do regularly with others, not as a token, but as a real invitation.
Both of these activities are prayer in action, reaching out to those who we might never have met, sharing ourselves, offering respect, leading to a new wholeness in all. This is what Jesus did. If we are to call ourselves followers of Jesus aren’t we obligated to do what he taught us?