the cure of the falls

fallsphoto

Take a look at the people in this photo. How do they strike you? What can you tell from the expression on their faces?

This photo was taken at Niagara Falls just last week. It was a strange place to be! It was crowded, people were, well, not exactly shoving, but “close,” moving quickly, not bothered about each other, impatient to get on with their sightseeing. Not only was the atmosphere thick with people, but there were also many languages and nationalities represented. I heard more Japanese, Korean and Chinese than I think I’ve heard anywhere but San Francisco’s Chinatown. I heard Arabic, German and (much lower down on the list) Spanish. The diversity of nationalities were as dense as the people. It wasn’t a melting pot so much as a chafing dish and chock full of different “ingredients.” How could this mass of people and breadth of language be appealing to anyone? How did it become a positive description of what it means to be a United States citizen?

As John & I rode the Maid of the Mist–the cruise near the falls–all of us on the ship were united in awe, looking first at the American Falls, then riding into the center of the Horseshoe Falls, pointing, taking pictures, fleeing the sudden spray when the wind changed, laughing.

This was nothing compared to the Cave of the Winds tour. We got up close and personal with the Bridal Veil Falls, trudging up and down the stairs, admiring the little falls and protected areas beneath the rubble and then at last reaching the Hurricane Deck where, in the top
corner of the deck, the Bridal Veil Falls lash out at you with the force only tons of falling water can have…and you feel exhilarated by the forces of nature, amazed by the feel, the smell, the sight, the taste. You laugh out loud. You feel joy.

Take a look at the photo again. This was taken just to the side of the Hurricane Deck. Do these people appear full of cares? Disturbed? Worried? They aren’t. These are the faces of people who have tasted joy due to awe-inspiring and fully experienced beauty.

If I had any doubts about the ability of all humans to be able to worship God with their entire beings, it was cured by a day at Niagara Falls.

Transcript 1.b: Mary M. con’t

Things were getting tense. The Pharisees were obviously pooling their mental resources and coming out to ask Teacher questions merely to trip him up. How he managed to keep his cool through all that, I’ll never know. Especially when they brought the woman they’d caught in adultery to him! I was so angry and appalled and felt shamed for her. I wanted so much to go out there and just stand with her, but I was so scared. [Pause.] I wish I could have done that. Maybe I could, now. [Clears throat.] Well, in the end the Teacher had the last word. “Let anyone who’s never sinner throw the first stone.” How do you respond to that? You don’t, you can’t. What they did was really all they could do, really. They just left, all of them. And then the teacher asked the woman “where are your accusers?” And she responded “no where around here.” She was in shock. Teacher said, “I don’t accuse you either. Go and don’t sin this way again.” She left quickly, but just like someone who’s been staring down a knife. She didn’t quite understand how it was her life was spared. I don’t think any of us really understood except the Teacher.

That’s just an example of how bad things were getting before the Passover, as we were pushing towards Jerusalem.

Then the Teacher sent some of the men out to find a colt and we all thought “this is it.” What it was, I’m not sure, although I think most of us still thought it was going to be a political overthrow. Kingdoms are about governments, right? That’s what we thought would happen–I figured it would be a bloodless coup, since none of us could really fight, but I think many of the men thought Teacher would just turn them into warriors, like he healed people, with a word.

It was amazing and glorious and tense, that entry. All those people, waving palm branches, putting coats in the road, shouting “Hosanna!” In the end, we didn’t even stay in the city overnight–it was so crowded because of the Passover and I think Teacher knew things would come to a head too quickly if we stayed. So we’d spend the night in Bethany and go into Jerusalem during the day so the Teacher could preach and teach again. And cleanse the temple one last time!

I was there at the Passover meal–his last meal. I made myself useful by helping to cook and serve the meal. It was worth it to be near the Teacher. And then he did the thing that shocked us all. Have you heard about it? That he wrapped a towel around his waist and washed the disciples’ feet? It was shocking. It still takes my breath away. Here was the man we were looking forward to crowning as King, washing our feet, lower than the lowest servant.

His arrest. No, I wasn’t there. Isn’t that crazy? As someone who worked so hard to stay as close as possible to the Teacher…I wasn’t there. In a way, I’m glad. I don’t know how I would have responded. Would I have tried to grab a sword, like Peter? Actually, I suspect I would have screamed and tried to in front of him–the mothering instinct, I guess. I heard what had happened while he was being “tried” at the Sanhedrin, if you can call it there. I couldn’t get too close, it was so crowded–and to be honest, we were frightened. [Question.] Oh, me and the other two Marys. We had seen Peter, but he acted like he didn’t know us–he was really struggling…

Anyway, we followed from the Sanhedrin to Herod’s palace. We’d hardly arrived when Herod shunted Teacher off to the Roman authorities. It was awful. Pilate kept coming out…it was clear he didn’t know what to do with the Teacher. He’d try and release him, but the Pharisees convinced the crowd to agitate for the death penalty. When Mary (Teacher’s mother) first heard this, she almost fainted. We all protested, but we were shouted down by the crowd. That was the closest I have ever been to a riot. [Makes a shuddering sound.] After a while it was like the crowd had become a single entity, a beast, just out to consume Teacher Jesus.

That’s when Pilate attempted to release Jesus. By then it was too la175px-Eccehomo2te, the Pharisees had incited the crowd to the point that they’d settle for nothing less than death for the teacher. That was where John joined us, about the time Herod had sent the teacher out to be flogged. It was excruciating. He received the maximum number of lashes allowed under Roman law, you know. I don’t see how anyone could endure that kind of treatment and remain alive, let alone standing. I don’t know how the Teacher did it…

Then Pilate released Teacher to the solders to be crucified.

 

Transcript 1.a: Mary M.

Pietro Perugino's Mary Magdalene, c. 1500.

Pietro Perugino’s Mary Magdalene, c. 1500.

Hi, it’s nice to finally meet you. Oh, are you recording all of this? Wow, that’s impressive–and actually I really appreciate it. I’ve heard so many oddball stories about the Teacher floating around. I’m glad you’re taking the time to get things right.

My name? Mary. There are so many of us “Marys” around the teacher most every called me Mary Magdaline. Occupation? Really? OK, well, let’s just say “disciple.” How did I meet him. Mmmm. There’s a lot there….let’s just say I was as desperate as anyone who came to him. I had 7 demons cast out of me, you know. There are plenty of people happy to bend your ear with stories of my past–and most of them are true! [Laughs.] But it’s not good for me to dwell on those. That’s all I want to say about that.

[Out of range question.]

Right. Sure. Well, I can only really give you my own story. If you want particulars on his teaching you’ll need to track down Matthew–he’s more the record-keeping type. Me, I’m more about relationships. I just wanted to be around Teacher, that’s all I wanted. I can tell you why that’s true, if you like.

After he removed the demons from me, I felt such freedom! I’d never experienced anything like that before. You’d think someone like me, who didn’t care a fig for anything anyone said about them would know what freedom is, but that just not true. Demons are not about freedom–it’s like being in a cage that’s slightly to small for you with 7 tigers added in…only worse. [Shudders visibly.] Sorry, I need to leave that alone. [Pause.] Yes, freedom. But it was more than freedom. I felt clean. That wasn’t even something I was looking for. It’s like what the prophet Ezekiel said, about being sprinkled with clean water and being cleansed of all your impurities and idols. That actually makes sense to me now. [Trails off.]

Pardon? Sorry, I miss him a lot. Yes, I followed him from that point on. I just couldn’t get enough! The freedom that I experienced in the moment those demons left me, the cleanness, the sense of rightness of all that–I only found that in the Teacher. So I just didn’t leave. I followed him everywhere. I pushed to the front of the crowds, I sat at his feet, quite literally. I gave money to support him. And when he’d go off to be with the Twelve–and understand, I don’t begrudge a man his male friends–I would find any way I could to stay close. I’d serve dinner, I’d sit outside the door…whatever.

[Out of range question.]

You’re right, that is a delicate question. Or perhaps it would be more proper to say an “indelicate” question. Trust a Roman to ask it. Look, the Teacher was the embodiment of our Law. I’ve never seen someone so single-minded, so put together. As far as I can tell, he never fell short of the Law. There were things that he did that looked like law-breaking to others, like the time when he cleaned out moneylenders and sacrifice vendors from the temple–but when he explained that he was cleansing the temple, how these vendors were leaving no place for the Gentiles to worship, it made perfect sense. And he told us that the Law was made for man and not man for the Law. I’m still unpacking THAT one! But whenever one of the Pharisees would point out some niggly way in which he was law-breaking, he’d turn it on its head and show them how they were law-breaking. His law-breaking got closer to the heart of the Law, the Decalogue you know. Then he even boiled that down further and said the essence of the Law was to love the Father with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. He was always turning things to show you a way of thinking of it that you’d never done before.

I’m sorry? Right, yes, fine. The answer is NO, I never saw the Teacher deal any woman–or man for that matter, Roman–in any way that was inappropriate within the Law. I won’t say there weren’t women among us who wanted a more intimate relationship with him. But if you got to thinking that way you’d have some encounter with him where he made you feel so honored and respected, even loved–you’d suddenly feel like it was possible to live your life without a husband, just to be close to him. That’s how satisfying it was just to be with him. We gave up the comforts of home and the protection and love of family just to be with him.

So for a while, things were great. We all traveled together from place to place, listening to the Teacher, marveling at his healings, looking out for each other. We never lacked for food. Sometimes we’d end up sleeping on the ground outside, but no one ever had to do that alone, and I don’t think anyone begrudged it. We all wanted to be there, you see, and we all supported each other–just like Teacher wanted it.

[Next segment: 1.b: On Jesus Christ's death & resurrection]

The answer to Jesus’ question

You say:cathedralupper
“Knock and I’ll answer. Seek and find me.”

I can’t rise from my chair to reach the door.
Seeking sounds like work.

You say:
“Come to me when you’re weary and worn out.
You’ll find real rest with me.”

I roll from this lazy-boy into a loveseat with you.
You take my troubles, you calm my fevered thinking.
Is this what an easy yoke is?

You say:
“I’m standing at your door. I’m knocking.
I’m calling your name. Won’t you come?”

I will answer the door, but I’m not sure I can leave the house.
Are you wooing or cajoling me?

You say:
“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
Watch and pray with me.”

I say:
“Lord, your disciples couldn’t stay awake for a single hour!
What makes you think I can?”

You say:
“Parents on this planet know how to give good gifts to their children.”

I interrupt:
“We’re talking fish and bread here.”

You finish:
“How much more will our Father in Heaven give
the Holy Spirit
to those that ask?”

…How much more…

I will ask, I will seek, I will knock, I will pray.
Come Holy Spirit.

Relationships need reconcilation

This is a post I wrote for Light of Christ Anglican Church in Kenosha, WI as part of a Lenten call to prayer for our church. Click here to read the original.

Today I found myself dwelling on this point on our prayer card:

“Ask [God] to help all our elders follow the example of Christ in wisdom, knowledge, compassion, reconciliation and servant leadership.”

Though we’re praying this for our leadership, reconciliation is something we all need, because what matters most in our lives is our relationships–be they with the Lord or with our human family and friends. There’s our relationship and integration into Christ’s bride, the Church, which can also be fractured. These are key relationships, and reconciliation is the mechanism we need to reconnect when we have turned from them in some way. Reconciliation isn’t just about confession of blatant sins, it is attending to what is strained, stressed, fatigued or broken in our relationships.

Let’s look at this first from a positive angle: Any improvement we make in a close relationship makes an improvement in our other relationships. For example, when John scrapes the frost off my car window on Sunday morning, I come to church feeling loved. When I feel loved, I enter more easily into praise and worship of God. Conversely, if after walking the dog, pulling all my Sunday School materials together and heaving them into the car, I still need to scrape my windows, I may or may not feel anything against John, but I may feel “burdened” by this long winter…and that may translate to how I’m feeling about God. Is this fair to either John or God? No, but if John had not expressed his love for me in scraping my car window, I would have had greater difficultly entering in to worship. (It goes without saying that the reverse is true as well–when I’ve felt “met” by God in prayer or worship, I have more patience, love, compassion, etc. available to John.)

Reconciliation comes in where something we have done or not done strains a relationship. Let’s say that John had not scraped my car window, but rather buried my Sunday School materials under a pile of sound equipment that I had to dig through, making me late. Maybe he did this because he was running late himself and was digging for a specific cable needed that morning and unintentionally buried my materials. It doesn’t matter to me if he had a good reason or not–I am hurt by his actions and must talk to him to clear the air and potentially extend forgiveness to him. After we are reconciled, there is restoration of the trust in the relationship and love can flow unobstructed again.

Our leaders have been working hard to be reconciled and keep short accounts with each other so that God’s love can make its mark between us. Are you doing the same? Are you feeling dissatisfied or distant from someone who should be close to you? Are there any relationships that intrude when you sit down to pray? Do you feel disgruntled with God? These are all signs that something may need mending in your relationships. Pray this prayer and include yourself in it. Look for things you can do that will make love increase between you and others. Where there is a broken relationship, pray and seek God’s healing that love can flow unobstructed again.

Inspired

Last night at my house group we got into a discussion on hope. Hope is a difficult virtue for me to understand. I am naturally wired for faith, I have been coming to a greater understanding of love, but hope is still tricky. I can describe its characteristics–buoyant, bright, anticipating, open, wondering–but its essence eludes me. Perhaps bright and buoyant things can’t be grasped so much as entered into….and I am a world-class grasper and grappler.

I have been wondering lately why it is I find goals de-motivating. Did I fall short so often as a child? Were my goals unreasonable? I spend a great deal of my life plodding, moving from one thing to the next, completing tasks but taking no great joy from them.

Then there is this blog. I haven’t written for some time. I’ve wondering about switching focus with it, wondering if I just have too much to do to make time for it, if it really does anything other than make me feel momentarily better about my life. I want to write, but I get stuck in the day-to-day plodding, burrowing my head so far into my “To Do” list that I never lift it to reorient myself.

Today I discovered WordPress’ ebook on 365 topics for bloggers. That’s a topic a day, by date. I downloaded it and started paging through: “Start your blog with the first sentence of your favorite book,” “write about how you respond in a crisis,” “your house is on fire–what five items do you grab?” The topics aren’t me, but something inside me stirred and prompted: “This is possible.”

What is possible? To write every day for a year? To set a goal and keep it? To think and write outside of the “To Do” list? To feel something kindling within that’s related to an aspect of my life? I’m not sure what is lighting up inside me, but it’s bright and open and anticipating….and hopeful.

Lord, let me find my way to hope in you through whatever channel you provide. Let me see and be inspired by the brightness, the light, the joy, the Presence you saturate this world in. Amen.

Christmas Quiet, Christmas Celebration

"The Adoration of the Shepherds," by Gerard van Honthorst.

“The Adoration of the Shepherds,” by Gerard van Honthorst.

From Luke 2 (NLT):

…And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people….Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

This short passage is marked by two very different responses to the same event, the birth of Christ. The first is the very normal, perhaps even mundane reaction to the birth of a baby to poor parents: to clothe him in comforting cloth and find a bed for him in whatever is handy–an animal’s feeding trough. Mary and Joesph, probably deeply disappointed that they could not have their child at home in Nazareth, adapt and improvise as best they can. Despite the mean circumstances, this child of God lacks for nothing: Jesus has clothing, a bed, food a roof over his head, loving human parents. God has provided every good thing for Jesus.

Contrast this with what the shepherds get to witness–the breaking open of heaven itself! Hundreds, perhaps thousands of angels singing in celebration! There is a party going on in heaven and the shepherds have been invited to participate. They are filled with wonder and awe and it is that practically disbelieving wonder and awe that cause them to act on the “instructions” given to them–to seek out the child wrapped in bands of cloth lying in the manger.

The shepherds bridge the gap between the celebration in heaven (too deafening for a baby’s ears) and the quiet, unfamiliar strangeness of the barn, reconciling both at the manger where God’s Son lay. The celebration quiets but the awe continues as they see that exactly what the angels said is true. As they marvel, they bring the encouragement of God with them–Mary and Joesph are not forgotten, God has not cast out his Son. Everything is as it should be, Jesus, born to be humble, yet still inspiring awe and wonder.

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, what is your perspective on the event? Are you weighed down by your circumstances, discouraged, wishing you could do better for your family? Or are you excited, rejoicing in with the angels, brimming with love and good old-fashioned Christmas cheer?

I pray as we enter Christmastide we minister to each other: encouraging the discouraged in their needed quiet, ministering joy to those working hard, or joining in the excited celebration of heaven. May we all meet together around the manager in whatever state we’re in and share in the love God’s Son, Jesus.