Morning’s Lectio Divina

 

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Fire in Yosemite National Park, October 2017

It has been some time since I’ve posted something on my blog and the time away has been interesting, restful, and thoughtful. Over the last several months I have practiced three spiritual practices, Meditation, walking prayer, and Lectio Divina that have fed my soul and reawakened my imagination and inspiration, and yes, a little rebellion. Lectio Divina has been most important in raising my awareness of myself and the world around me and I have had a growing desire to share what I hear, feel, and see in scripture meditation. I claim no special expertise or knowledge only heartfelt understanding from my perspective a pericope. I pray that if you meditate on the same scriptures you will find your own insights and open doors.

Isaiah 5:1-7 (NRSV)

1 Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.
2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it;
he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.
3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?
5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured;
I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down.
6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns;
I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,
and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting;
he expected justice, but saw bloodshed;
righteousness, but heard a cry!

Meditation:

Reading 1: beloved; judge; righteousness;
Reading 2: break down; devoured; justice; bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry;

This pericope is about God’s justice for Judah for failing to be a people who embrace mercy, justice, peace, and compassion. I sit here and somehow feel we are in the same place now as the people of Judah in 800 BCE. I wouldn’t be surprised if God does something to today’s vineyard, actually I would find God’s action a relief from the horrendous tension.

There are many levels of interpretation to this scripture but on one level we can see how God’s plea to Judah as a plea to us today. After all this country is slipping into a pattern not that different from Judah, or Israel. We have political leaders claiming a faith in God and Christ yet fail to do justice, protect the innocent, or welcome the stranger. These men, and they are mostly men but also women, claim the Bible sanctions their actions of separating children from their parents, cutting health care to the young and the elderly, making health care to expensive for even the average citizen to have, and raising taxes to a level that will keep the poor poorer, and the wealthy wealthier. None of that is sanctioned by God or Christ.

In this passage Isaiah tells the people of Judah God’s justice will result in their destruction. I know God will eventually offer forgiveness (I’ve read ahead) but here Judah doesn’t know that. All they hear, if they are listening, is their little kingdom is going to be destroyed and God tells them why. God expected justice but saw only bloodshed, righteousness but heard only cries of despair and pain and for failing to be the fruit of God’s vineyard they will face destruction and despair.

The parallel between Judah and the United States is too close. There is little justice coming out of Washington D.C., but there is a great deal of turning away from doing good and right. There is no justifiable actions coming from the White House or Congress, only unethical, and morally bankrupt rhetoric from people who enjoy causing pain and suffering on others.

This government likes to call on the scripture to justify their actions. They take a short phrase out of context and wave it around like a sword. The truth is that scripture condemns them as apostates. They embrace the exact opposite of the teachings of God and Jesus. By their own words they have renounced a faith in God in favor of a faith in only themselves. They are their own god!

I cannot call them Christian, or a follower of The God of Abraham, no, they have no faith recognized by those who believe God’s mandate of Justice, Mercy, Compassion and Peace. Isaiah warned Judah what would happen, they didn’t listen and I doubt todays version of Judah will listen either.

Ruth Jewell, ©July 21, 2018

Who’s Cross

Who's Cross
Who’s Cross

Mark 8:34 And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

I love the Gospel of Mark, it encourages me to ask questions and this verse in his gospel is one of those that drives me crazy with questions.  The reason is I’m not sure whose cross I’m supposed to carry.  If I take it literally, which is how it is most often interpreted, then I am to bear “my” cross and follow Jesus.  But If I look at this scripture from the way Jesus responded to all of those who did follow him and surrounded him as he taught, then, this verse takes on new meaning for me.

What if, just what if, Jesus is telling us to carry the cross of someone who is suffering and not our own cross.  Yes I know that flies in the face of orthodox interpretation but then I’m not orthodox.  Those in my ecclesial tradition of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) read and interpret scripture and Holy Writings for ourselves.  We do have to defend our interpretation and in that defense we either modify or enlarge our understanding of what scripture has to say.  So here is my defense of my interpretation Mark 8:34 that “the cross Jesus is asking us to pick up is not ours but the cross of my neighbor and both of us then follow Jesus.”

First of all these words of Jesus are recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels, but not in John.  Now it could be that Matthew and Luke simply copied Mark, after all they used Mark as their blueprint for their own Gospels.  But, the fact that it appears almost word for word in each of three synoptic Gospels leads me to believe this was something Jesus did say or could have said.  Jesus also never said anything that would contradict what he “did” throughout his life of a servant to the disadvantaged, displaced, ill, elderly and disabled. Jesus’ life as it was recorded in the synoptic Gospels was less about what he said and all about what he did.

It is also one of the verses that is almost always misused or misquoted to, or by, those who are having a difficult time.  How often have you heard the words “well that is my (your) cross to bear.”   Something about that phrase has always bothered me.  It’s used to trivialize suffering or difficult times for people and I think that is wrong.  I don’t believe that Jesus would have ever told anyone that and I believe the “traditional” interpretation of this verse of carrying my own cross  may not be what Jesus had in mind when he called to his disciples and the multitude.

Jesus always cared for those who could not care for themselves.  His ministry was to those who had been discarded by society, bringing them back into relationship with their communities and with God.  We often see him tired and totally worn out from giving of himself to those who needed him.  And my question is; is that not carrying the cross of the other long?  In fact we see death in so many ways in the ministry of Jesus, and not just Lazarus (John 11:41-43), a widow’s son (Luke 7:14), or Jairus’ little girl (Matthew 9:25, Mark 5:41, Luke 8:54).  We see those who are dead and buried simply because they don’t fit society’s profile of “normal,” the blind, the infirm, and the mentally disabled and we see them resurrected from their death to life by Jesus who returns them to their communities.  Every story of healing is a story of death and resurrection and it is Jesus who takes the burdens, i.e. their crosses, of those who have died to life restoring them to family and community. Jesus was teaching a Way of Life, and, one in which we as his followers were to emulate.  That means caring for those who have died to society, bringing them back to life by restoring them to God, their families, and their communities.  If we are going to be followers of Jesus then it is not our salvation that we are to be concerned with.  No, it is the resurrection and life of those who have been pushed outside of society and left to die to life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe the way I reach God is the only way.  I believe there are many paths to God and each person will find their own path in their own good way and time.  But If I am carrying the cross of those who are disadvantaged than I do it in the name of my faith in Jesus and give the space for those who are in my care to find the best way forward in their own way.  To relieve the suffering of others, carrying their cross, is enough for my task. I can’t make the decisions as to how the move forward for them that is their choice.  It could be that they choose to refuse my help and that is OK, they then have chosen to remain where they are in their spiritual lives.

Jesus never forced his pathway on anyone so why should I.  Remember the story of the 10 Lepers (Luke 17:12-19)? Jesus healed ten but only one returned to thank him.  Jesus asks where the other nine were but that’s as far as it goes. He doesn’t take revenge on them by making them lepers again just because they didn’t return to follow him. He let them choose their own path so that is what we are to do as well.  (Here is a side note from this former statistician: actually 10% isn’t a bad response, in most instances you can expect only a 10% to 20% return on anything you put forward.)

So carrying the cross of someone else means opening a door for them, or clearing a pathway that allows them to return to a right relationship with God, no matter what that may look like for any particular individual.  It means walking along side someone supporting their burdens while they sort out their lives and relationship with God no matter how they worship, or name God.  Not an easy task for sure.  We can see the effects on Jesus throughout scripture in his perpetual fatigue.  Yet Jesus never complained and that too is a goal we are to reach for and it too is very difficult.

Now the next question is, if I am carrying someone else’s cross who is carrying mine.  And that’s a tricky question.  Do you remember that during the trip to Golgotha Simon of Cyrene (Matthew 27: 32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26) was conscripted into carrying Jesus cross?  This, for means me, Simon supported Jesus’ burdens and Jesus was now the one who was in need of life. Jesus find life in his own resurrection, a resurrection had had given to so many others throughout his lifetime.

My lesson of the scripture is someone else is walking with me and supporting my burdens while I support the burdens of those who are disadvantaged.  The person supporting my burdens is Jesus and I am supporting Jesus’ burdens in my walking in the way He taught.  Now that is a big cross to carry! I am not sure I know how to fulfill this task, but I do know that I’m not alone; in fact I am never alone.  I have others on the same pathway and I always have the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit to hold me up and cheer me on.  I am not perfect at following the teaching of Jesus but grateful that He’s not too picky and forgives me my all too often mistakes and stumbles.  While I strive to be Jesus like I often miss the mark and that means I’m not always helpful.  All I am asked to do is to keep trying and moving forward on the path.  I mean after all he taught those 12 male disciples and they never got it right so I figure I’m in good company.

Life is what I want, for me and for all that I meet.  It’s not my job or task to determine what that life will look like for someone else, I only need to worry about what mine looks like.  That is sufficient unto the day.  All Christ, God, and Holy Spirit want is for me to try, that’s all, and I am forgive my wanderings from the path and am welcomed back when I find it again.  That is all I can do, that is all any of us can do.

May your journey be a joyful one, but if it’s not then I pray that you let someone support you and help you back into life.

©Ruth Jewell, July 3, 2013

SURRENDER

Evening Over Puget Sound

Mark 14:36 36He said, ‘Abba,* Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’

I know Advent is only a few weeks away (have you done your Christmas shopping yet?) but it is this verse from Mark that has played over and over in my mind for weeks now.  Jesus is in the garden and asking that he be spared but he surrenders to what will happen and for that reason we have the resurrection and our Faith Tradition. 

Now I am not one who believes that G-d incarnated Himself just to be hung on a cross for my sins or anyones sins.  My belief is that G-d had hoped, we, his most recalcitrant creation would listen to the Word of Jesus and transform our lives and the world.  I believe that for two reasons: first, Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples and anyone who was listening that the Kingdom of G-d was now, not in some future date, but now.  And, I believe today the Kingdom is now if only we open eyes and ears to see and listen as G-d intends.  But we don’t because, well, we don’t. 

The second reason is the G-d I know and love would never deliberately send a beloved child to their death.  Yes I know we have lots of stories in the Bible of G-d using violence but we have even more stories and words that express how much G-d loves and cares for us, especially those who are marginalized.  So Jesus was hung on the cross because of the blindness and deafness of the people he only wanted to transform.  We today are still pounding those nails into Jesus hands and feet because we are still blind and deaf.  We have yet to transform and recognize the Kingdom all around us.

And, that brings me to my latest meditation.  First of all the imagery of the cup has been an important one for me for over a year.  I have wrestled with the cup placed before me and realized how bitter that can be.  I also know just how sweet the cup is. I was devastated when a small minded official denied me a temporary visa to study in Switzerland and that was a bitter cup to swallow.  But I have discovered how sweet the cup has been in the last number of  week’s as I have come to new insights about who I am as a spiritual being, and what my future ministry will be with God.

But the primary image is of Jesus’ surrender to the path laid before him, saying not my will but yours.  Surrender, that word is loaded with many images.  There is the image of a soldier standing in front of his company waving a white flag as they surrender to an enemy.  Or, picture a child being held down by a bully and crying “uncle” in order to get away from their tormentor.  But it also has some wonderful positive images.  Surrendering can also mean release from suffering.  I have been with the elderly who have surrendered to the inevitable and come to a time of peace about the end of their lives.  I was with my father in the last days of his life as he lay dying from cancer and I watched his face as it became peaceful and accepting of his discovery he wasn’t going to overcome the illness, but instead was headed toward something sweet, even if he didn’t know what that was. 

But it is the image of an individual who has reached rock bottom in their lives from substance abuse or something they have done or has been done to them when the ultimate surrender happens that has the most importance for me.  It is the image of someone who has nowhere else to go but up that holds my attention.  I have been in that place partly of my own doing and partly of the worlds.  I know what it means to be at the bottom of a well and yelling at G-d, “I give up; you fix it because I can’t.”  It took a great deal of faith and trust for me to let go and let G-d take over.  I am a control freak, at least over my own life, and always want, and still do, to take the reins and run with them.  I want to tell G-d what I will do rather than wait and listen for what G‑d wants.

But there is a liberating feeling to that surrender to G-d’s plan.  While I have to keep reminding myself that I surrendered remembering it opens me to the possibilities of seeing and hearing in a totally new way. I see everything around me differently, everything becomes new.  It is as if I have put on a new pair of glasses and now I see clearly for the first time in many years. Does that analogy sound familiar to you? It should.

In each of the Gospels we have stories of Jesus healing the blind and opening the ears of the deaf.  These may or may not have been factual healings.  Jesus was known as a healer and I have no doubt that he was an exceptional one.  But these may also have been metaphorical stories about people who are spiritually blind and deaf who reconnect with G-d and creation.  They find the path that lead back to G-d and life. 

I want to say I have again found the path, but I must admit I seem to keep losing it.  Mostly because of my own ego and arrogance that tells me I can do better by myself.  But I am blessed that G-d has had so much patience with me. Letting me stray and then return with a bruised and humbled ego, kissing my wounds and saying “welcome home.”   This prodigal daughter must constantly pray, ‘I surrender,” because otherwise I forget. 

I am currently in a period of discernment about what direction my life and ministry will take.  It is hard waiting for G-d to speak, but I am praying over and over again, “I surrender, let not my will but yours be my life.”  I am beginning to see a path again and it is in the feeling of being surrounded by loving arms that is keeping me pointed towards that path.  I don’t know if I am ‘seeing’ correctly yet but I have time to figure that out.  There will be a cup at the path I will have to drink from, sweet or bitter, I don’t know which it will be, but if I have true faith.  If I am committed, loyal, hold my allegiance to, and grow my relationship with, G-d I know I will be Ok; more than Ok, sweetly happy. 

“I surrender to you Oh Holy One,
in you I put my trust,
in you I give my loyalty and allegiance,
my life is in your hands.

If I should stray from your arms
guide me back with your love.
Open my eyes to see your light,
open my ears to hear your voice.

Love holds the key,
life is the door,
surrender turns the handle.
You oh Beloved wait on the other side.

Ruth Jewell, ©November 13, 2012

NOTE: I did not request the highlighted words, they just appeared.  I am trying to find out how to remove them, but if I can’t please know that Wordpress added them not me.