Archive | March 2014

No Parking!

no-parking

Three times, in a very short space in Matthew’s gospel, Matthew tells us that “Jesus left” wherever he was and moved on to another place. As I read these passages recently, I began to wonder if perhaps this repetition of “Jesus left” might mean something for me, for us, beyond the simple movement of Jesus from one place to another. Decided to brush off my Greek a bit and “listen” to what was going on in these passages.

“Jesus left that place” (Matthew 15:21 exelthōn—went out, came out, went away). Here Jesus is leaving a difficult experience, an unpleasant dispute with the religious leaders of his day. The Pharisees and scribes have taken offense, as usual, and it’s clear that nothing Jesus says or does will change their minds. So Jesus leaves. He doesn’t stay around to brood over his failure to change the hearts and the thinking of those Pharisees. Jesus says what he has to say and then simply leaves and moves on.

Again, “after Jesus had left that place” (Matthew 15:29 metabas—departed, passed over, moved, or changed place of residence). This leaving follows the healing of the daughter of a Canaanite woman who had exhibited an astonishing faith in Jesus’ ability to heal. An exhilarating affirmation of Jesus’ life and ministry. A success story. But again, Jesus doesn’t park here, doesn’t linger to bask in the joy and glory of something so meaningful and positive. He changes his place of residence, as it were, choosing to leave and move on to the next challenge in his life.

That comes soon. The Pharisees and Sadducees again, this time looking for a sign from Jesus that he was truly the Messiah they were awaiting. Another unpleasant encounter. Once again, after talking with them, Jesus “left them and went away” (Matthew 16:4 katalipōn—left behind). The verb Matthew chooses here is a strong one—not just to leave, but to leave behind. Jesus once again lets go of the disagreeable conversation, leaves the scene and sets his face to move forward.

Seems to me there’s something important for us in Matthew’s repetitive “Jesus left…” It’s so easy for us to hold on to difficult things that happen in our lives. Easy to hold on to painful memories, to old grudges and hurts. To re-live them and nurse them, squeezing out every last drop of bitterness and gall. Easy to hold on to our failures, turning them over and over in our minds, berating ourselves or the world or God or fate or whatever for all that went so wrong.  

Easy, too, for us to hold on to our achievements and our joys. To bask in what we’ve attained, in what we’ve accomplished. Not that that’s all bad. A healthy sense of gratitude for all the good in our lives, whether it’s been something we’ve done or something that was simply given to us, can be deeply satisfying and healthy. But holding on too tightly to our successes can keep us from experiencing fresh challenges. May actually shrink our souls and keep us from discovering new gifts and resources within ourselves.

Whenever, it seems to me, whenever we hold anything too tightly—happy things or painful, difficult things—we tend to lose perspective and often close ourselves down to possibilities that await in the future. We narrow our lives, as it were. So it may be good for us to take heed to Matthew’s repetitive “Jesus left.” Take time, yes, take time to relish the good. Take time, yes, take time to lament the not so good. But DON’T PARK in either space!  

Jesus left (exelthōn); he went away.  Jesus left (metabas); he changed his place of residence.  Jesus left (katalipōn); he left behind.

“Jesus left.” Simple words. Filled with wisdom.

Leprechauns and Lent

leprechaun-2

          St. Patrick’s Day, and  today my little leprechaun smiles benignly and rests comfortably in my inner warmth.  A gentle sprite, content to let me be.  Today he even breathes some of his lively spirit into my spirit and lends me a bit of his tireless energy, seeming to delight in the small tasks I can manage.  Today my little “Irish friend” is all charm and spreads his magic through me to let me feel an almost-wholeness, while he quietly hums and twiddles his tiny thumbs.

          But tomorrow may be a very different story!  Tomorrow this little fellow may awaken to a feistiness that will bode trouble for me.  Tomorrow his eye may gleam maliciously as he runs riotously through my system, wreaking havoc wherever his tiny toes touch down.  Tomorrow he may, in the words of Yeats, “leap on to a wall and spin, balancing himself on the point of the hat with his heels in the air.”  And all that mischievous leaping and spinning will set my teeth on edge and send weakening shivers through my system, while he will simply grin with glee.

          Sigh.  The little leprechaun who has taken up residence in my body is the CFS/ME (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) that’s been with me for years.  God knows I have tried taming this little fellow!  With alternative medicines.  With special diets.  With rest and rest and more rest.  With stress management systems.  With exercise plans.  With prayer and meditation.  But all to only little effect.  My little leprechaun has nested himself in my body, and he is not the least bit interested in leaving or in being tamed!

          Many of us, I suspect, have similar little leprechauns bedeviling us in some way—physically, emotionally, or mentally—and there seems to be no way to rid our lives of these feisty little creatures.  And much of the time—thankfully, with modern medical advances, not all the time!—these imps are only slightly tamable!  So what to do?

          Part of the discipline of Lent, it seems to me, is learning to live with the mischievous, pesky, untamable leprechauns in our lives:

  • learning to live with them one day at a time;
  • learning to accept with some measure of grace whatever challenges these annoying little creatures present to us each day;
  • learning to recognize that accompanying us in our difficulties is the One who walked his own difficult road, a road that led to the cross;
  • learning even to experience a certain hallowedness in the limitations our leprechauns impose on us—limitations which can draw us into a deeper awareness of who we are and of who God intends for us to be.

          Not an easy discipline.  But an important one.  And as we work on learning to live with our difficulties, it’s possible that our little leprechauns themselves, with a twinkle in their beady little eyes, just might be able to help us:

  • help us to learn a certain playfulness in response to the arbitrary mischief they spin in our lives; 
  • help us learn to discover paths of wonder and delight, even if we can’t do all we’d like to be able to do, to be all we’d like to be able to be; 
  • help us learn to take their little leprechaun hands and imagine ourselves dancing with them in gratitude for life, life that’s rich and full even though it’s been diminished by their unpredictable mischief.

Ashy Hope

ashes

“Remember that you are dust…” my

bones, my muscles—dust? my

sinews, veins—all dust?

“…and to dust you will return”; words that

sting and push me to a charnel space  

dark with endings, loss, and ash; words

intoned incessantly as friends and

strangers kneel to feel the print of

cross upon our brows; feel with

sinners near and far the weight of who we

truly are—fragile, errant souls with

muddied lives, distorted dreams, and now the

black of ashes marking this, our too, too brief

mortality.

*

A cheerless mark, this dismal smudge that

signifies my dust; why, then, this

sprig of joy that’s rooting in these

ashes and insists on pushing up?  And

why this quiet hope persistent at the

edges of this gray?  Perhaps it is the

deep that calls to Deep, this real in me,

unmasked, that hears the Real

beyond, the Real who stirs my ashes,

calls my name, and tells me I am

loved in all my ashiness, that I will be made

clean and whole because of one who

scooped up all our dust and from his open

tomb sculpts from our cinders timeless works of

love beyond the ashes of this too, too brief

mortality.  

“Accomplish in us, O God, the work of your salvation.”