Sunday, April 24, 2011

How do you know?

April 24, 2011

Dear friends,

There was certainly enough for the two travelers to talk about on that long walk home from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Everybody had been talking, and, in fact, everyone was still talking. The apparent ignorance of the stranger who joined them mid-way on the journey seemed odd to say the least. How could he not know?

But obligingly, Cleopas and his companion reviewed the events—the man, Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet mighty in word and deed, had been delivered by the priests and Pharisees into Roman hands; he had been condemned, crucified, and buried; their hopes of a coming triumphant Messiah had died with him.

It was now three days since this had happened, they said sadly.

Then they added: But today there’s another twist to the story. Some of the women followers of Jesus went early to the tomb this morning. They came back reporting that the guarded tomb was open and empty and that an angel who was sitting there told them Jesus was risen. Some of the men went to see what had happened, and found things just like the women had said, but they didn’t see Jesus himself.

Then, carefully, the stranger began to teach them from Moses and the prophets about the Messiah whose suffering as well as his triumph had been foretold. The stranger was teaching about himself, of course, for it was Jesus, who, unrecognized, had joined them on the road home to Emmaus.

It was evening when they arrived at the village. When he acted as though he were going to travel further, Cleopas and his companion encouraged the stranger to eat and stay with them. He accepted their invitation. And it was when, at the table, that the stranger broke the bread and blessed it that their eyes were opened. They recognized Him—This is Jesus!!—and then He vanished from their sight.

The failure of Cleopas and his companion to recognize Jesus earlier on the road was not simply human ignorance or lack of faith. Luke says specifically that they were initially kept from recognizing Him (Luke 24:16). I think there is a vital reason for this.

Think of what the Risen Christ did—He walked incognito, an anonymous stranger traveling down that dusty road, teaching every step of the way from the Word, making clear the design and purpose of God, revealing Himself from the scriptures. It was through the scriptures and then through the blessed and broken bread that they were permitted to see Him as He was—the Risen Messiah who had done what He had promised to do, and more.

Humanly, I am comforted. Like those followers on the road to Emmaus, I too may know Him. I know that on my life journey He may join me in a form I may not initially recognize. However, when I search for Him through scripture and join Him at His table in the breaking and the blessing of the bread, my eyes too can be opened. There I can see our Risen Lord.

I am grateful with those who met Him on the Emmaus Road that Jesus meets me where I am, and permits me through scripture and the mystery of the broken bread to recognize Him.

He is risen! He is risen,indeed!

See you next week.



Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday lemonade?

April 17, 2011

Hello, Friends,

Frankly, it will always be too soon for me to hear (again) the old bromide about making lemonade out of lemons. In the interests of full disclosure, I caution all readers regarding the dangers of thinking—let alone saying—that old cliché where I may hear you. Mind carefully all metaphors, similes, and clichés regarding lemons; you are hereby warned.

It is not that I reject the kernel of truth wrapped in this plastic phrase. I understand all too well that the challenge of growing in and through the crises of life requires us to deal constructively with a great many sour and bitter things, and at times with numbing despair. What I reject vehemently is the Mary Poppins sounding simplicity of the implied process—just squeeze and add some sugar-water and all will be well. A little bit of sugar makes the medicine go down?—well, not so much for most of us when our worlds crash down.

On that day we call Palm Sunday the crowd was delirious with joy—their King had come, one of their own, and now, they believed, this King would make all things well. But by the end of that following terrible Friday, their joy had vanished in hard confrontation with bitter reality—that tortured figure dying with agonizing slowness on a Roman cross, his kingship marked only by the irony of the sign jerry-rigged over his thorn-crowned head.

Lemons into lemonade, indeed—the phrase is near-blasphemy in the face of such brutal savagery and injustice. Indeed, the terrible silence of that black Saturday has continued over the centuries to remind us that pain—human and divine—can lie beyond the reach of language.

Still, there is something that can be said to the defeated, frightened ones, those who tremble in the silent dark. This word is not a magic phrase that transforms the loss and destruction around us. It is not even a welcome word of encouragement or consolation; it is a word of terrible pragmatism. We are asked to do the only thing we can do: wait. Wait.

It is this terrible waiting that makes the ending of Psalm 88 echo ultimate despair. Humanly, we cannot change the destruction or the loss. We cannot make “good” come. Nevertheless, there is a paradoxical place for hope in this waiting. It is a hope that is rooted in the place we are in rather than any action we can take.

Douglas Schuurman has a wonderful phrase: “providentially situated.” While Schuurman does not use this phrase in reference to Good Friday events, nevertheless it expresses something of the wordless root of human hope that vibrates through Good Friday despair. Good Friday events did not place those disillusioned followers of Jesus in a position where they could roll the stone away from the tomb; these events did not place those followers politically in a place to replace this failed Messiah with a new more viable candidate. Friday did NOT “providentially situate” the defeated followers of Jesus to do anything to change the deadly consequences played out on Golgotha’s hill. But the progression from public triumph through Friday’s defeat did “providentially situate” them in exactly the right place to see and experience God’s Sunday morning answer to their despair.

Mary was among those pragmatic despairing women who in their grief sought on the first day of the week to prepare his dead body properly for burial. It was despairing realism that led Mary with these women on that Sunday morning to His tomb. They had no plans to construct a lemonade stand.

But there, in Sunday’s dawn light, Mary saw Him walking in the garden. Then Saturday’s terrible silence was broken--Mary heard His voice and, turning, knew Him when He called her name.

Trusting in the tsunamis of life that God will “providentially situate” me to see our Risen Lord, and hear Him call my name.

See you next week.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

What is a bargain?

April 10, 2011

Dear Friends,

Does change that comes easily have greater significance than change that is resisted?

In spiritual formation or in therapy, can change be assessed according to difficulty—i.e., do I know I am moving in a desirable direction if the journey is difficult? Or, conversely, if the journey is easy?

Hafiz wrote:

Manic Screaming

We shall make all spiritual talk
Simple today:

God is trying to sell you something,
But you don’t want to buy.

That is what your suffering is:

Your fantastic haggling,
Your manic screaming over the price!!

-From collection of Hafiz poetry,
I Heard God Laughing, Translated by David Ladinsky

Difficulty, per se, seems to me to be a quite unreliable measure of the value of given change. I think direction of goal rather than ease or difficulty of attainment is a more valid point for assessment of change. Hafiz argues that any change that God proposes for us is always a bargain, whatever the price, and in this context attempting to change the price tag is an exercise in both absurdity and futility.

Is there something in your life at this time about which you are haggling with yourself—or with God? What is the deal breaker?

I find it helpful to remind myself that in this consumer culture, I may not always recognize a good bargain for my soul.

See you next week.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

How did that become?

April 3, 2011

Dear friends,

In a recent visit to the Kansas farmstead where I grew up, I was given a photo of the old farmhouse in which I lived from birth to young adulthood.

The picture showed a decaying wooden structure that echoed the stark reality of a Wyeth landscape. Wind and weather had obliterated all evidences of paint; windows were uneven; some panes were broken. The doors were crooked and the roof was patched. There were no trees and no grass—just the hard, barren ground that in summer was sun-baked too hot for bare feet and in winter was swept by snow and wind and frozen iron hard.

I could trace a portion of the path worn smooth by feet carrying water from the well to the kitchen. The corner of the porch was hidden by shadow in the photo, but I remembered that a can of kerosene was kept there. One of my assigned chores was to fill the oil lamps with kerosene each evening before dark.

At the edge of the picture I could identify the patch of cement that served as a roof for the storm cave. On hot summer nights my sister and I would lie on the cement (it felt cooler than any place in the house) and watch the stars in the summer sky.

At first glance the photo triggered a sense of shock. The picture recorded accurately both that house as it was, and the world in which that house stood as it too had been. I remembered both with an immediate awareness that powerfully merged past and present.

The shock did not lie in the revisited reality of the “then,” or in the reality of the “now” with which that “then” connected. The shock lay in a sudden sense of the length of the journey between that then and the present now, and the infinite incremental changes through which “then” (who I was) has become “now” (who I am).

Change whether in therapy or in spiritual formation confronts us inevitably with the enigma of choice. We choose—indeed we must choose—and change flows from those choices. But choice as we make it is not all the story.

Change comes too through the world around us and its resulting impact. This change comes in ways that sometimes shapes our lives without registering in our conscious awareness.

On those quiet summer nights, lying on the cooling cement slab I looked up into the vast starry universe of the galaxies that stretched beyond my knowledge and my reach. I did not choose those stars, the measureless distances of the Milky Way, or the eerie flickering mystery of the Northern Lights.


And yet---.

Remembering today things that without my choice have none-the-less shaped my life and the person I have become.

What in your world today is shaping the person you are becoming?

See you next week.