Monday, April 28, 2014

Marks of Recognition

When Jesus appears to his disciples after the resurrection, he shows them his hands and his side so they will know it is really is him whom they are seeing. It is his wounds that make him recognizable to his closest friends. I wonder if they would have believed if Jesus had had a perfect body, with no marks of his crucifixion visible.

If Jesus’ wounds, a part of his resurrected body, are that important to his being recognized, then why do we so often live in denial of our own wounds? We are shaped to a large degree by the acts that have hurt us either physically or emotionally, yet we live in a culture that encourages us to cover up anything that causes us to appear less than perfect.

When we deny our wounds, when we hide them from others and ourselves, we become hard, bitter and intolerant of others. Language of such denial and intolerance includes some of these phrases: stiff upper lip, cowboy up, put on your big girl panties, get over it.

There is a difference between acknowledging our wounds and being defined by them. If you are familiar with the tales of Winnie the Pooh, you know that Eeyore the donkey was defined by his wounds. He saw all of life through a negative lens and his dismal outlook defined who he was. His wounds caused him to be stuck in a place of hopelessness and despair. Wounds sometimes do that to people.

But wounds can transform us. Wounds precede resurrection. When we acknowledge our woundedness instead of denying it, we open ourselves up to the opportunity for transformation and rebirth. Such rebirth cannot happen as long as we fail to accept that we bear the marks of pain on our souls or bodies.

Silence and self-reflection open us up to acknowledge that we do in fact have wounds, and to allow those wounds to be tools to our transformation. Imagine how the world could be transformed if we tenderly acknowledged not only our wounds but those of others, and loved each other into new lives where our wounds allowed others to recognize us for who we really are—broken and beloved children of a broken and beloved Christ.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Package Deal

The fourth stanza of Christ the Lord is Risen Today, a hymn that many of us likely sang on Easter Sunday, has this last line: Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! I’ve sung it year after year, but never really thought about what it is saying until this past Sunday.

We relish Easter Sunday. To know that resurrection means that death no longer has the final word, that we can follow Christ into eternal life, is not a message we hesitate to embrace. But Charles Wesley’s hymn reminds us that we cannot claim Easter Sunday without also claiming the cross and the grave. For resurrection to happen, death had to precede it.

But even that should give us cause for celebration because we worship a God who suffered and who suffers with us. We live in a world where death is a part of life. People suffer. The cross looms large in places where war creates refugees, where children are sold into slavery, where people die for lack of clean water, where sick and elderly are forgotten by society. We see suffering across the planet and experience our own suffering. Because Christ did not avoid the cross we know our God understands suffering from first-hand experience.

Yet we worship a God who also put death to death. The package deal of cross and grave also comes with skies—open skies, limitless hope, boundless love, infinite joy. Christ is risen and we who follow him to the grave, giving ourselves over to follow his path of discipleship, also follow him to new life, resurrection life. Alleluia!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Absorbing vs. Resisting

I have a Tibetan singing bowl. When I strike its exterior, it has a soothing, long lasting tone that helps me focus my mind for centering prayer. I have discovered that if the bowl is sitting on a table the tone does not last as long as when the bowl is sitting on the sofa. That discovery surprised me because I would have thought the hard surface would have transmitted the tone for a longer time than when the bowl is on a padded surface.

As I considered the difference, I realize that the soft surface absorbs the vibrations of the bowl while the hard surface resists them. I’m no physicist so there is likely some scientific explanation of what I’ve experienced, but I see a spiritual lesson in this observation, a lesson that Holy Week brings into clear focus.

Jesus absorbed our sin. In Daybreaks: Daily Reflections for Lent and Easter Week, Ron Rolheiser, OMI  says that Jesus took away sin by absorbing and transforming sin, much in the way a filter purifies water. “The filter takes in impure water, holds the impurities inside itself, and gives back only pure water. It transforms rather than transmits. . . [Jesus] takes in hatred, holds it, transforms it, and gives back love; he takes in chaos, holds it, transforms it, and gives back order; he takes in fear, holds it, transforms it, and gives back freedom; he takes in jealousy, holds it, transforms it, and gives back affirmation; he takes in Satan and murder, holds them, transforms them, and gives back only God and forgiveness.”

Like my singing bowl, which has a clearer and longer tone when sitting on a surface that absorbs the vibrations rather than resisting them, following Jesus means that I too am called to absorb when I am struck, literally or figuratively. When I absorb the pain, it is transformed, and gives back the enduring true tone of love. When I resist, striking back when I’ve been struck, I am failing to follow the example of Jesus, and the tone I transmit is one of discord, not the pure and lasting sweetness of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Freedom of Mystery

Silence has many benefits. Because silence involves surrendering our need for words to control ourselves and others, it opens us to welcome mystery, to embrace the ability to say “I don’t know” without embarrassment.

Kitchen Table Wisdom, a wonderfully insightful book by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, says “An answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering.” Yet most of us are more desirous of answers than we are of mystery. We are heirs of the age of reason, where knowledge was elevated over mystery, and skepticism was a prized trait.

We see it within the Church when people attempt to turn the creation story into a science lesson, instead of reading it as the story of God’s generous love for us. We seek to prove it literally instead of embracing the truth of what it says for us—that God created us to be in relationship with God. Our desire for proof causes us to miss the wonder of the story.

I recently had the delight of attending a Jars of Clay concert. As they shared about their most recent album, they commented that it reflected their own growing willingness to live with mystery. The ability to be content with mystery is a sign of spiritual growth. To be comfortable with uncertainty requires faith. When believers have all the answers, they are no longer believers, but knowers. And if you know something, you don’t need faith.

If we lose the ability to wonder, we cannot experience awe. If we are certain, growth stops. And if growth stops, then death is not far behind. When there is nothing left to learn, there is nothing left. Life is gone. The boundaries are set, and one is imprisoned by certainty.

Maybe the church, and we who are part of the church, should focus less on providing answers and instead should invite wondering. Embracing mystery frees us to grow, to wonder and to be in love with the one who loves us and who craves our relationship.