The story of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus who meet the resurrected Jesus is a familiar story to us all, maybe to familiar. I found this drawing of Rembrandts and it touched me in a way some finished painting cannot. If you look closely you will see it is not a complete drawing, you have the basic outlines some detail is included but most of the fine detail is missing. In a way that is what the scriptural story is for me, the fine details are left out. For instance Rembrandt portrays a young and an older disciple with Jesus but I don’t remember ages being given. For some reason I always pictured the road they were walking on as being isolated but in the background here you see other travelers, is that possible. Jesus is in deep conversation with the two and I often wondered why these two were they the only ones of his disciples not afraid to go out? I could go on forever but then you wouldn’t have a chance to meditate on this drawing.
So today, I offer this drawing for Visio Divina practice. Gaze at the picture and as you focus on the images place yourself in the role of one of the disciples. Ask yourself the following questions:
The other disciples are afraid of leaving the upper room but you have chosen to travel. If you had been one of these disciples what would you have thought of this stranger interposing himself on you and your companion? Would you have been afraid?
In what ways does this the teaching of the stranger peak your curiosity.
What is it about the stranger that draws you to him? Does he somehow feel familiar?
Given that some of the women in your group have come back from the tomb telling everyone that Jesus was alive, can you entertain the possibility that you are talking to your risen Lord even if you are afraid to say so out loud.
May Christ meet you on the road and offer you comfort.
A mountain moves toward me
white and gray, filled with rain
suddenly a flash of light
one thousand one
one thousand two
one thousand three
one thousand four
one thousand five, Boom, Crash
the storm is five miles away
the air is heavy, the first scent of ozone reaches me
Hurry gather the chickens into their coop
the normally combative rooster runs in first
with clucks and cheeps the hens settle on
their roosts and nests
the now brave rooster hurry’s me out
A flash of light
one thousand one
one thousand two
one thousand three, Boom, Crash
the storm is moving quickly
the light is fading
Run to the barn and open the gate
to the lounging area
the cows already are waiting to be let in
horses move toward the opening
one recalcitrant pony stands in the middle of the pasture
yelling at the storm, “I command you to stay away”
the wind blows his black main and tail back, the storm moves
closer . . . a flash of light, and the brave soul runs for the barn
hooves flashing, neck stretched out and ears flat
as the first big drops of rain fall on his back he darts into the barn
the other animals look at him
“Didn’t work did it”, a flash of light
one thousand one, Boom, Crash,
I climb the steps to the hay loft with the dog and cat
and throw biscuits of hay down to the animals, Flash
one thou…. Boom, Crash
the storm is on me,
too late to reach the house
I settle down into the hay loft
dog and cat curl up beside me
rain pounds the tin roof
in a symphony to put Beethoven to shame
lightening and thunder come together now
flashing light and sound through and around the barn
rain rushes and pours off the roof,
the old pine and maple trees bend and sway in the wind and water
rivulets of water run down into the pasture
making ponds and small streams
the smell of wet earth, rain, and ozone fills the troubled air
the horses and cattle mill around down below
the scent of their warm bodies drift up to me
I hear a rustle in the beams of the barn and
Pigeons and sparrows settle in to share my shelter
in a corner, far from the barn owl, who also lives here
a meadow mouse sits and nibbles a bit of grain
sharing my space in companionable silence
many call this barn home, cattle, horses, owls,
pigeons, sparrows, mice and rabbits
it is a sanctuary, a safe place
a place where all live in harmony
at least until they leave its safe walls
The loft is warm, the hay sweetly scented
Using the dog as a pillow I lay down to wait out the storm
I listen to the horses and cattle talk
the pigeons rustle and coo
slowly the rain and thunder lulls me into a place of calm
time stops and I drift into creation
16But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”
John 14:23 23Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
2 Corinthians 5:6-9 6So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— 7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
Our book group has been reading and discussing Diana Butler Bass’ book, Christianity After Religion, and in Chapter 6 Bass discusses home and identity. I actually had trouble with this section because I’m not sure what is home for me. I mean I have a home; I live in a house, with my husband, one dog, 2 parrots and a seminary student so that isn’t the issue. What is my question is “what does home mean?”
I grew up in Ohio and moved to a farm when I was 5 years old so for the next 19 years of my life my “home” was this wonderland place chock full of discoveries, and sadness. When I was 24 I moved from the farm and began a kind of nomadic life. I moved every couple of years from home to apartment, state to state, city to city, and moving many times within cities. My latest move was in 2000, when I was married, and moved into the house I am now living. When I moved into this house I told John, this was my last move and I would be carried out of here feet first because I wasn’t going to pack up all my “stuff” again! But, given my past history that may be a wish made on sand and someday I will have to, reluctantly, move from this house.
When we discussed what was home in our book group I realized I was the only one who had no clear sense of home. In fact I have no sense of a home town, or place of origin at all. All of the places I have lived are really far in the past and clouded with time. Does that sound strange to you? It didn’t to me until I began to listen to the stories of home from others. For instance my husband can identify one spot as his hometown, St. Charles Iowa. That is where he was born and grew up and despite not living there for 50 some years he still calls it home.
I can’t do that; there is no one place I would call home. Heck, there are times when I drive up my own driveway that I have to remind myself this is my “home” and I belong here. For me where I am is home. As long as I have my friends, companion critters and now the family I married into I’m home. I don’t have relatives to speak of. My parents have passed on; I haven’t seen any of my family of origin in 40 some years. The family I have is the family I have created around me, a group of individuals, couples, and families I feel strong connections with. Not one of them is a blood relative and that is fine with me. Yet I feel closer to this group than I ever did to my blood relations.
It is not that they all think like I do because they don’t. In fact, my guess is we have become friends because we think differently. But they share something with me that my “own family” never did and that is themselves. If I need a shoulder to cry on I can count on one of them showing up at my door saying, “Ruth, I had a feeling you needed a friend today.” Even when great distance separates us I can sense when a good friend needs me to call and talk. The conversation may be nothing important at all but it means something to my friend and me. I can’t say my own family would ever feel that connected to me.
For me home is where I am, right now, in this place, at this time. It means for me being with God, family, companions, friends, creation in whatever place or time I am in. If I had to suddenly leave the place I currently shelter in I can do it. I would grab what is important: my husband, my companion critters, my backpack throw in my bible and a change of clothes (my vanity wouldn’t let me wear the same underwear two days in a row, I’d add soap as well for cleanliness is next to Godliness),and walk out closing the door behind me. The stuff in the building is just stuff and can be replaced, none of it is important. As long as I have those that I love (and a change of underwear) I’m good to go. Were I end up I’d be HOME.
So I guess I am saying I am “home” wherever I am, I don’t need a specific location to call “home” I just need to feel close to what is important and what is important is love and companionship with those who I love and who love me. God will not abandon me, where I am God is because I experience God in the love I give and receive. What else is needed? Someone once said “home is where your heart is” and maybe what that means is my heart is my home, the ultimate shelter, the ultimate place I meet and live with Love. I am Home.
Revelation 3:20- “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door; I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.”
For the last four months I have been on an inward journey. I don’t know where this journey will lead me, although I am hoping it will help me come to some conclusions about ministry. Beginning in September I did mostly silent prayer or, depending on the day and moment, contemplative prayer. I would sit for 30 minutes to an hour in silence up to three times a day. I discovered that I was developing a very quiet place somewhere inside and all of the stress and disappointment of the last year were beginning to slip away. As I felt the need I started adding other practices, a bible study, a new interplay class, and a book study.
Through all of this I wrote in my Journal and added to my blog and one of the repeating themes is I am looking at scripture and readings from a very different perspective and the above scripture from Revelation is a good example.
I am fairly confident that all of you have seen the iconic picture of Jesus standing at a door knocking. Have you looked closely there is no door handle; the door must be opened from the inside. This passage from Revelation has been bugging me lately so I started taking it apart and trying to visualize it from a different angle. The one perspective that seems to intrigue me is what if the door is the one into my heart and the person standing on the outside is me, not Jesus. The door is ajar but I have to make the effort to push it open and walk in and in my meditations I seem to be standing at the entrance unable to move toward the door. Sort of like the rodent in one of Rudyard Kipling books where it won’t go into the center of the room but always creeps around the edges.
The reason this perspective seems to be so important is 1) I have always believed part of the creator already resides within me, and for that matter within all of creation; 2) the place behind the door to my heart, or hearts door, represents for me my deepest level of spirituality. It is the place that knows me best, the good and the bad, and offers forgiveness and grace even when I do not acknowledge it. So, to me, it makes perfect sense that in the room behind the hearts door I will find G-d because G-d is the root, or grounding, of my very being and where I want to be. But I am afraid to cross the threshold.
So what does it mean if I am the one outside of my hearts door? First of all it means that
G-d/Jesus/Holy Spirit is waiting for me to acknowledge the Divine Presence and that that recognition means I am giving up some of the control of my life over to the true being within. The acknowledging part is fairly easy, but, crossing the threshold and entering into full communion with the Divine is a lot harder. There are risks to crossing into that sacred place, for one thing I would have to let go of my ego, and many of my desires, such asto always be at the top of everything. Sometimes the Holy Spirit wants me to be second, third or even last at some task because it challenges me to look deeper at who I am and who I want to be. Because of my unwillingness to let go of my ego, I have spent most of my 65 years standing outside the chamber behind my hearts door and it has resulted in a life where hard lessons are learned and travels on rocky roads are my only choices. I had to hit rock bottom before I could accept that I could not live this life alone, I needed help; I needed love, grace, and forgiveness in order to become who I am.
Fourteen years ago I was at that rock bottom place and my path choices weren’t looking all that appealing. I have always wondered why we have to be at the worst possible crossroad in order to recognize the grace and forgiveness of G-d, but it does and I am no exception. Just like John of the Cross I was having my own “dark night of the soul.” It wasn’t until all light in my life had disappeared that I called out to G-d, crossed the threshold and entered into the arms of the Divine.
One result of my turning this scripture around so I stand at the door instead of Jesus is that I become the one to initiate contact with G-d. G-d, Holy Spirit, Jesus becomes the force that waits for me to decide how, and when I will respond to their call. I choose to cross the threshold or walk away. Granted I have had a great deal of preparation for that moment in my life but a willingness to risk everything on an invisible (and to some non-existent) entity does not make the choice any easier. Maybe that is why it takes those “dark nights” for us to make the choice to let our lives be lead by the Divine. Unless we have only two choices, life or death, before us we won’t choose life. We will continue to walk without the guidance of G‑d because that path seems easier to walk than the one G-d and there are so of those distractions to choose from. But that is an illusion.
I must admit to a lot of darting out the door only to return with bowed head asking for forgiveness. I am always amazed at the joy the Divine exhibits at the return of this wayward child. I know I am blessed by grace because I can fail G-ds expectations over and over again and return over and over again and I will be welcomed home just as the prodigal son was, with fatted calf and celebration.
See G-d wants us to be inside that sacred room and whenever we leave, the Divine keeps the fires burning for our return. I like to think that hot chocolate and double chocolate chip cookies are waiting for me to communion with the ground of my being. All I have to do is cross the threshold.
Advent has begun, it is the time of expectations. This is a time when small children excitedly wait for that magical moment on Christmas morning when they discover the gifts left by Santa Clause. Yet there is more to Advent than shopping trips to the mall or preparing a big family dinner. I wrote the above poem at the close of a class that went through the scriptural history of our Judeo, Christian and Islamic traditions and as a result discovered just how much alike we three sibling religious traditions are. I think it is because we share so much history that we continue to fight over details just as any family of brothers and sisters do.
Did you know that Hannah’s story is much like the story of the birth of Mary as told in the Infancy Gospel of James written in the 2nd century? Did you also know that The Qur’an also retells the birth of Mary with a story very close to what is said in James’ Infancy Gospel? Hannah, Mary from the Christian tradition and Mary from the Islamic tradition are sisters, or maybe mothers and daughters, of our shared faith. Mary is the most honored woman in The Qur’an, even more so than in our own Christian traditions.
We three faiths are related as People of the Book, of the Bible. Our shared history is more than simply battles fought to get the attention of the Creator, we are family. The scriptural blood that flows through my spiritual veins and pushed around by my spiritual heart is the same blood and same heart as my Judaic and Islamic brothers and sisters. Christians are the middle spiritual child and our older spiritual brothers and sisters have much to teach us about God’s commitment to all of creation, just as we have much to teach our younger spiritual brothers and sisters about the love and compassion of God.
My heart aches because each of us spiritual children seems to only want to compete with the others. So every Advent I offer prayers that we three family members will sit down and share a cup of tea and take the time to offer apologies and forgiveness. Because we three siblings have much to teach and offer the whole world, not as the only right paths to God but rather as models of cooperation in showing all paths lead to God no matter what path we take. All paths are sacred.
I have a pot of tea brewing and a plate of shortbread cookies. So I invite you to a time of tea in the fog uncertainty. Let’s begin a conversation that could just change the world.
It is the small things in life that delight me the most. This morning we took one of our pumpkin pies to a friend and then went to Third Place Books to sell some old books and maybe pick up a new one. The rain was coming down hard and it was so dreary, yet, I had, have, this amazing sense of delight in just being here in this world, at this moment in time. I want to feel guilty because I don’t have anything really pressing me right now, but, I don’t. I enjoyed sharing a cup of tea with John as we each ate a cookie while waiting to find out how many books the store would buy. It was so much fun just sitting across from him and laughing at something he said. I can’t remember how long it has been since I’ve done that. I took particular delight in discovering that the store credit the books bought me was enough to buy a brand new one for 92 cents. And, it wasn’t a book I had to read for a class either, YEAH.
My life in the last number of years has been filled with tasks to do either at home, for family, for Church, or for school and I have often felt overwhelmed. Suddenly I have time to be just here and I am feeling quite blessed and graced by the Divines permission to be silly if I want to be. I have taken this space to just be me; to wait on and listen for some WORD from the Holy Spirit as to what direction my life will take now. I know at some point I will grow weary with this much time for myself and I will become anxious for G-d to speak to me. But, I am not ready yet, I am having way too much fun waking up each morning and telling John “I don’t know what my day will be like, but it will unfold before me and I will be amazed.”
Today is the day after Thanksgiving and John is in the living room watching 2 football games at a time (I’m not sure how he keeps them straight) and I have just finished a Dune novel. The rain continues but I feel the Sun behind the soggy clouds and know that my day is really filled with light. I have begun packing for my graduation gift trip in December and I am filled with joy at the thought of spending time alone with John. I am in a sunny bubble even with all the clouds.
The last time I felt this way was just before my wedding in 2000. I felt then that I was particularly blessed by the Spirit because I couldn’t stop smiling or laughing. I kept giving things away just because I wanted everyone to share in my good fortune and happiness. As I prepared for that big day I felt filled by Spirit and light and that is how I feel right now. Kind of giddy, and silly, and confused in a happy way, and … well you get the idea.
It is not as if I don’t have things to do, because I do. I am writing a proposal for an advisor concerning my future ministry, I’ve begun writing my thoughts for my ordination paper and I am discovering some things I would like to do the first of the year at church. But right now I am free. Like a butterfly in a garden I can flit from flower to flower, or just sit and admire the view. Yes, responsibilities will return but right now I am happy, and free of worry. Those other things will take care of themselves for a little while more or at least until I hear that WORD from G-d who says “Now go forth.” I can wait.
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.
I was preparing to leave for class when I suddenly remembered I had the homily for the 8:30 am Morning Prayers, and I hadn’t written anything yet. As I stood in my office, panic setting in, I grabbed my notebook, and a book on the interpretation of scripture and ran out the door. I am fortunate, blessed even, in that I ride a bus from my home to the University of Seattle and that was all the time I had to write the homily, a 30 minute ride, but somehow a door opened for me as I rode in that day. Here is what I offered November 8th at Morning Prayers.
A STORY OF OPENINGS
Matthew 15:21-28 The Canaanite Woman’s Faith
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the
children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
This is a story opening doors not a story of how rude Jesus could be. We can compare Matthew to the other three Gospels and Paul all we want but Matthew could care less about the other four writer’s audiences. Matthew is talking to, writing to, a Jewish community and one more than likely in crisis. And, because of the makeup of his community (we could say his social analysis) we need to ask what door he is opening.
In Matthew’s community the salvation Jesus offered came first and foremost to the Jew, but something is happening in this community that causes him (or her, we don’t know the author of this Gospel), in this story, to open the door to the Gentiles. We do not know what that was, we can speculate but that is all it would be. What I find interesting is how the cracked door may speak to us, today, in the 21st century.
So we have this woman doubly, maybe triply, taboo for Jesus, a Rabbi, to speak to in public. Rabbis didn’t speak to women, most certainly not to Gentile a woman and probably not to a married woman. But this woman, a Gentile, approaches in an attitude of prayer and Jesus relents, telling her she
has “great faith.” “Snick,” the door of salvation just opened to the “other.”
Two thousand years have passed since Matthew wrote those words and in all those years many still haven’t opened wide the door to the other. Matthew is telling us today, just as he told his community that faith without action, without social justice is an unfulfilled faith. We all have individuals we would avoid, after all Jesus was avoiding the religious authorities by going into Gentile territory. But Matthew was telling his community, and us, that Jesus and God have a plan for the “others” in our lives, just as God has one for us.
How much will it take to open wide the door? How much will it take to let the
others in not just into our presence, but into our hearts?