Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Muddy Waters

An Ash Wednesday Meditation - tea_time
Some say that Psalm 51 is connected with King David.  They say it was his lament sung after his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba.  It was not right for David to lie with another man’s wife, impregnate her and then conspire to murder Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband.  Oh, this was not right at all for the King of Israel.

So the Lord sent Natan, Nathan to tell David a parable which sounded eerily similar to David’s circumstances.  But David didn’t recognize himself in the story; he only grew angry at the injustice of what had happened.  The Lord was, of course, not happy with David.  But Natan opened David’s eyes.  David understood his mistake, he realized the gravity of his sin and he repented.  Such, they say, is the occasion of Psalm 51.

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin”. (v. 2)   David had dirtied the chambers of his heart with his indiscretion that ultimately destroyed lives. “Wash me, purge me with hyssop and I will be clean”. David begged for cleansing, to be free from the filth that he had generated that hurt not only himself but Uriah, Bathsheba and David’s kingdom.  “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence and do not take your holy spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with your free spirit.”

Aren’t clean hearts and open loving relationships what we all yearn for?  Isn’t it what we strive for each day of our living?  A heart that is unencumbered by sorrow and pain, by brokenness and deceit.  Don’t we wish for relationships built upon honesty and trust, and a willingness to open ourselves up to the vulnerabilities of life knowing that we will be protected?  This too is what our God wants for us.  But it’s hard.  Really hard.

Having clean hearts is dependent heavily upon our ability to get into the ‘muddy waters’ of our lives.  Getting in touch with the source of our pain, the ways in which we have hurt others, ourselves, the ways in which we have been hurt are dank, murky, muddy waters to wade into.  However submerging ourselves in these places that we don’t want to go though will make us free.

I learned a lot about ritual that occurs every 12 years in India.  The Kumbh Mela (kuumb MAY luh) is the largest gathering of humans in history and while it was not a twelfth year when I was there it was the midpoint, Ardh Kumbh Mela (aard kuumb MAY luh).  Hindu pilgrims come to a very holy spot where the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers converge.  Why there?  Because ancient Hindu scriptures say a drop of nectar of immortality landed thereafter as 12 day celestial war.  Hindu’s come to the river for ritual cleansing, bathing believing that they sins can effect and infect their entire body.  After cleansing in the waters of the Ganges they are liberated.
Photo by Tewfic el-Sawy
If our heart and soul are not aligned with then neither can our body be.  A total cleansing is called for so the Hindu’s put their spiritual and physical needs together in this one act of what we would call repentance and forgiveness.  It’s about washing out the old to prepare for the new.

We know that we do not have to wait every 12 years for God’s forgiveness.  It’s available for the asking.  We are forgiven because God forgives.  But if we want to live, really live, we have to jump into that muddy water so that we can understand the depth of our sinfulness and the poignancy of God’s forgiveness.  It’s not pleasant; many would rather not and do not.

One of my tour guides in India was named Sanjay.  He was fascinated with the fact that I was a Pastor.  Specifically he wanted to know all about confession and if I ever listened to confessions.  I said yes and then tried to explain the difference between ‘corporate’ confession like we do in the Protestant church and ‘individual’ confession that is done in the Catholic church.  Sanjay’s eyes glazed over.  I realized then that this was way too much and this was not what he was asking.  So I stopped.

I finally said, “Yes, sometimes people do come to me and confess their sins.”  He shook his head and was silent.  Then he said, “Tomorrow I will confess to you”.  “Yes, I will be ready” I said, and then we rode to my hotel in silence.  As I was getting out of the car he asked, “What should I do to prepare?”  “Just come with an open heart and a willingness to be honest”.  We made the gesture of NAMASTE (which means the God in me acknowledges the God in you) to one another and parted.

It was early the next morning that he was driving me to the airport.  We were silent.  I had been with him for four days and as he showed me the sights we talked about arranged marriages and love marriages, the culture of India, the Hinduism and Christianity.  He was becoming like a friend.  But now we were silent.  I decided not to bring up the conversation about confession but to let him start it.  When it didn’t happen I figured he had forgotten about it or was just pulling my leg.

We pulled up at the Deli International Airport and as I was about to get out of the car he said, “I decided not to confess to you.”  I smiled at him and said, “That’s ok, another time perhaps, NAMASTE my friend”.

I’ll never know why he chose not to confess.  Somehow though I think there was something heavy in his heart that needed to come out.  I hope that he was able to get to the Ganges to cleanse himself in the muddy waters.

To confess is to let go of the past; to lighten your load and to forge ahead in the confidence of God’s love.  The opportunity for transformation is here and it is now.  Lent provides a space and time for you to just that.  Jump into the muddy water of your life, God will be there to lift you up, to give you fresh air to breathe. 


Monday, February 20, 2012

After the Dazzle

Mark 9: 2-9
Transfiguration at
We are eight weeks into the New Year and the liturgical season of Epiphany is coming to an end.  It began with a bright star in the sky leading the magi to Jesus and the epiphany of who this tiny little guy was, and then we hear stories of healing and hope during Jesus’ ministry.  Epiphany ends with the transfiguration, another revelation about Jesus. Hear now the transfiguration story from the Gospel of Mark, the 9th chapter.      

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

Peter, James and John follow Jesus up a mountain, apart, by themselves.  We often see this when Jesus wants to get a little R & R or some think time or to be in prayer.  But this time was clearly different than the other times. No sooner had they reached the top than something really very unusual happened.

Transfiguration by Susan Tilt
Jesus transfigured; his appearance changed right before their very eyes with dazzling white clothes, whiter than and white possible.  And with Jesus were the prophets Elijah and Moses from of old.  Peter tries to engage Jesus in conversation, Jesus didn’t answer.  Peter just didn’t know what to do, how to act, what to say, he and the others were very afraid.  We would be unnerved too, perhaps even rendered speechless, if such a vision happened to us.

They had never had this sort of out of the ordinary experience before where God so boldly broke open the heavens.  Some scholars equate this to the revelation of the commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai.  God cared enough to come into the lives of the people who remained at the base of the mountain, this band of folks in the desert thirsting for direction, and God gives them a way to live decently and ethically in the middle of a monotheistic world.  They are not forgotten they are redeemed through Torah.

God spoke also to Peter, James and John.  God breaks into the world of human existence and reveals to them what had been hidden from them, or what they failed to understand about Jesus.  Jesus is God’s beloved son and that we must listen to him if we are to find a way to live. 

When this is revealed God is, in essence, saying, Jesus will also give us commands on how to live, and then he will take up the way of the cross, he will be crucified and will be resurrected.  He is the messianic promise coming to fruition for the Gentiles and indeed for anyone who chooses to listen.  Jesus’ transfiguration leads to our transformation and the ways in which we can look at life.  If we so choose.  If we have learned anything from on top of that mountain.

I think for many of us who have been to the mountain top and have seen or experienced something beyond our wildest imagination, like our friend Peter, we just don’t know what to say.  Reasoned thought takes a vacation and speech goes on hiatus.  We just know that we have been dazzled by the diving light and things are different.  We’ve had a ‘God moment’, a ‘Come to Jesus’ moment. 

But it comes to an end and the light dims.  Coming down the mountain is rough terrain.  Then you realized that life is not lived in the highlands but is really carefully played out in the wadi.

It is here in the valley that the babies cry, the bills pile up, the dishes remain dirty in the sink, the homeless sleep in cardboard boxes under I 95 and the aged are forgotten.  It is here that we feel we are in dead end jobs, or stuck in a game of boredom that takes up way to much of your waking day.  We know these all too well because it is here where our tents are pitched most of the time.  God doesn’t appear to us in spectacular ways; in fact God is not in sight at all.

When we are in the valley we are not void of light, we need not suffocate from the lack of spiritual air.  We have access to that light of Christ within us that is the gift of the dazzling white of the transfiguration.  The key is to live into your faith, that is to live mindfully in the knowledge of God’s mercy and love amidst the disappointments and quotidian moments of our days.  To live mindfully is to each moment open the gift of Christ revealed.

Just because we cannot feel that ‘Rocky Mountain High’ does not mean that we must stop from trying.  Trying is essential, it is what our faith is all about and we do that by living each moment intentionally so that we can remember the light that dazzled from before and the peace and assurance that was revealed to us.

To live mindfully is to live with the transfiguration idea and message in your heart with the light guiding you step by step.  It is awareness of all that you are doing and for what and who’s purpose.  It is purposefully engaging each moment.  It is noticing the crocus’ pop their yellow and purple heads out; it is hearing an elementary age child sound out a word and the seeing the joy of victory on the face.  It is taking note of the seemingly small moments.

Intentional living grants us freedom and in that freedom we can discover joy.

I leave you with a story about Greg who lived a very ordinary life.  Those of us looking from the outside in would call his life uneventful.  His 35 years at a banking firm in Manhattan were steady and successful and he transitioned to retirement pretty effortlessly.  He did well.

Of course there were disappointments in his life, he divorced once and the loss of one of his children was a critical juncture.  It would be for any of us.  Yet, he appeared to be a calm and peaceful, joy filled man.  When asked, ‘What gives?’, ‘What helps you to see the proverbial glass half filled?’, he said, ‘Each morning before I get out of bed I pray simply, ‘I surrender.  Meet me at every step and open my eyes.’  Greg understood how to negotiate life when the mountain top experiences were few and far between.  Greg knew that life, incredible, abundant life, God filled, Christ centered life was really lived in the valley.  And so he did.