Pastor Kaye's Blog

The Post-Easter Jesus

Almost 20 years ago my then-father-in-law passed away of lung cancer. We went to the funeral and afterwards my then-husband turned to me and said, “That was a great message for a really amazing man, it’s too bad I don’t recognize him.” While his dad was a brilliant engineer, a faithful Catholic, and basically a good guy, he still had some serious personal issues that had a detrimental effect on the family, and that part was simply ignored. Perhaps this is simply a common practice with funeral sermons that we wax poetic about the person who died and just pretend all their faults and foibles never existed. The end result is a pre-death view of the person which includes all their faults, failings, idiosyncrasies and baggage, and a post-death view of the person in which they are essentially perfect.

(For the full video version, click here.)

I think the same thing essentially happened to Jesus. Sometimes I wonder if Jesus knew what’s been said and written about him in the last 2,000 years, if he wouldn’t just shake his head and wonder who everyone is really talking about.

One of the things we’re taught in seminary is that there is a difference between the person of Jesus who walked this earth for about 30 years and the Jesus as he has come to be known in the decades and centuries after his death and resurrection.

Many scholars have worked diligently to try and recreate the human Jesus of history by asking difficult questions:

  • Who was the man from Nazareth? What did he look like? Who was his family?
  • What was he really like? What did he really say?
  • Why did he do what he did?
  • How did he come to draw such crowds?
  • What was it about him that created a movement that wouldn’t die when he did?

Theologian and scholar Marcus Borg calls him the pre-Easter Jesus. He was flesh and blood, a Jew through and through who lived for a finite period of time. He had a profession before his ministry, he had a family, he put his shoes on one at a time like everyone else. He ate, drank, felt love, frustration, laughed, and wept. In addition, this pre-Easter Jesus was a very spiritual person and had a deep, mystical connection with the Divine. He was also a social prophet and a wisdom teacher.

In his book Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Borg states, “Beginning with Easter, the early movement continued to experience Jesus as a living reality after his death, but in a radically new way.”  After his death, they experienced Jesus as not bound by time and space but infinite and eternal, and as a spiritual reality who was one with God and who had all of the powers and qualities of God. After his death, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other women, to the disciples and even to a crowd of 500, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians. He talked with people without being recognized, passed through closed and locked doors, and ascended into the sky.

This new image and experience of Jesus has been called the Christ of faith, or as Borg calls him, the post-Easter Jesus. This post-Easter Jesus is who Jesus came to be in the developost-easter Jesus 3ping Christian tradition. This post-Easter Jesus was developed through the end of the first century as the gospels were written (aka the Canonical Jesus), and continued to be developed even through the 4th and 5th centuries when the creeds were written (aka the Creedal Jesus).

In the Nicene Creed, composed in 325 CE, Jesus became fully divine and fully human (“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God… was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.”)

In essence, the pre-Easter Jesus was not divine and the post-Easter Jesus was experienced as divine. However, the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus were merged together in the scriptures, and, over the years, were also merged together in our prayers, hymns, and doctrine.

Borg uses the example of archaeology. When one excavates an archaeological site, one documents what is found in each layer of soil, knowing that the deeper one goes, the older the things that are found. Similarly, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all contain stories about Jesus from different times and different understandings. Some of the material in the gospels goes back to “Jesus as a figure of history, and some is the product of the communities themselves in the decades after Easter. They contain early layers and later layers.” Borg, in his book, The God We Never Knew, explains that it is the community’s memory of the historical Jesus over-layered with their experience of, and testimony to, the post-Easter Jesus.

Without even knowing it, most of us have just mushed all the images together. In the same way we merge the two different birth narratives (wise men, stars, and Egypt of Matthew, merged with shepherds and angel choirs of Luke).

Personally, I am apt to want to separate the pre- and post-Easter Jesus, but that task becomes next to impossible as they are as well mixed as spaghetti and sauce. At the end of the day, the Christian tradition includes both the pre- and post-Easter Jesus. Both are a disclosure of God.

The pre-Easter Jesus discloses a compassionate God who can be known outside of the religious institution. Relationship with this God is not dependent upon meeting requirements or following laws. And this God was concerned with the poor and the outcast.

Since the post-Easter Jesus understanding was that God and Jesus were one, we now have a story of God with humanity… God with us. The disclosure of the post-Easter Jesus was that the compassion of Jesus was the compassion of God, the forgiveness of Jesus was the forgiveness of God, and Jesus’ desire for liberation from oppression was truly God’s desire for humanity.

There is actually no need to choose between them. And, in fact, if we can affirm both of them our understanding of the significance of Jesus will be richer. God can be known through the historical and the post-Easter Jesus, as both reveal the nature of God. Both point to the Divine.

I find that I fall out much in the same place as Borg. I believe in a Spiritual Essence/Energy at the heart of all things. I believe that our spiritual journey has nothing to do with believing in a certain understanding of God, or believing in the Bible, or believing in the Christian tradition. Borg says “…the Christian life is about entering into a relationship with that to which the Christian tradition points, which may be spoken of as God, the risen living Christ, or the Spirit.”

Love & Light!

Kaye

The Day Love Wins

(An Easter message – for the full video version, click here.)

Friday, the day the world won, we mourned the death of Jesus.

But it is two days later, and what the world didn’t count on was that killing one person would not kill the movement.

They killed Jesus; executed him as a threat, a seditionist against Rome. They probably celebrated that night. He was out of their hair. The Jewish hierarchy and the Roman government could rest easy for a little bit.

But death could not contain love.

Believe what you want about the resurrection (did it really happen, did his body come back to life, was it his spirit, was it a vision?) – I don’t really care – what I know is that a number of those remaining had such a hugely significant experience of Jesus after his death that they believed he was risen in some way, shape or form, and they continued to preach, heal, baptize, and teach in his name. Even when people didn’t believe them, even when families disowned them, even when death threatened them, even when Rome and the Jews persecuted them, even when some of them were killed for their beliefs, they did not give in. It’s possible I have a really weak constitution, but I’d have to experience something really, really significant to go to my death for it.

Ultimately, I believe that his physical death could not kill the power of his love. The love of God.

The Romans and the Jewish hierarchy didn’t count on that.

While Friday we mourned, today we celebrate the power of love to continue even after death so that the movement Jesus began did not die. And so today is the day that Love wins. It is the day that hope blooms again.

Truly, love has won many days.

Friday, we contemplated the many times the systems of power and greed in this world have won. Over and over again throughout history, and no less today, we’ve seen the world squash the underdog, the different, the marginalized, the lower economic brackets. Over and over we’ve seen people of faith and people of compassion imprisoned and killed for living their faith and their convictions, and standing prophetically against the powers that be.

But, while many civil rights activists have been killed over the years, their movements have not died, someone else has picked up the mantle of love – love for the poor, the marginalized, the environment, the children, the women, the refugee, LGBTQIA folks, the animals, the land.

Killing HAS NOT STOPPED LOVE from seeking justice and equality.

Once upon a time, some disciples begged their old and ailing master not to die.

“But if I do not go, how will you ever see?” the Master said to them. 100_1448“But what is it we can possibly see when you are gone?” With a twinkle in his eye, the Master answered, “All I ever did in my entire life was to sit on the riverbank handing out river water. After I’m gone, I trust that you will notice the river.”

The river water that Jesus handed out was LOVE. Here have some love, have some God. God is love. Notice love. Take love inside you, share it with others. Be love. This is the resurrection over and over again, the appearance of love in our world. Love that will not let greed, anger, hatred, or power win.

Joan Chittester has said, “We must become the love that God is.”

When children are shot in our schools… we must become the love that God is.

When violence leaves millions of people homeless…we must become the love that God is.

When despair and depression turn people to drugs and alcohol… we must become the love that God is.

When the city we live in is the fourth worst city in the nation for black people to live in… we must become the love that God is.

When over 55% of the students in Racine Unified receive free lunches… we must become the love that God is.

When we take up the mantle of love, when we become the love that God is… then resurrection happens.  Then  every day is the day love wins.

Love & Light!

Kaye

The Day the World Won

I often get frustrated, if not downright angry, when I read the signs outside churches.  One here in town recently read: “Jesus died to offer the gift of salvation… have you accepted it yet?”

The worst part of this message is the suggestion that God asks for, maybe even demands, a human death to make right again the relationship between humans and God, to “offer us the gift of salvation,” “to save us” from our sins and make us fit for heaven.

And there is a stipulation. Not only did Jesus HAVE to die, but we humans have to ACCEPT that he died to save us from our sins in order for it to work. Really?

The other piece of this that really fries my bacon… is that if you read any history of the time, you know that insurrectionists, seditionists, and rebels against the government were the ones who were sentenced to crucifixion. Thousands of them. The only reason Jesus would have been crucified was because he was a threat to the Roman regime. If it had just been blasphemy against God, then the Jews would have simply stoned him to death like they did to the disciple Stephen in Acts 7.

Jesus was a good guy, a compassionate guy. He broke the rules that seemedcross unfair or unreasonable. He cared about the poor, the outcast, the lost. He had little patience with the BS from the temple hierarchy who cared more about their money and standing than they did the people. He treated women with respect. And so much more.

So, here’s this good guy taking on two giant institutional systems – Rome and the Temple – to try to make life better for his people because his belief or relationship with God meant he could not divorce himself from what was happening in the world and to the people around him. Because we see the manifestation of the Divine in his actions we, and the people who lined the streets on Palm Sunday, believed he had God on his side. But they killed him. On this day some two thousand-ish years ago the world and its systems of greed and power won.

And we mourn. Not just the loss of a prophet, revolutionary, visionary, and amazing human being. We mourn the loss of hope for the people – hope for a fair system of governance, hope for more inclusion and equality in life and in religion, hope for a religion filled not just with rules to follow, but spiritual sustenance and a connection to the Divine within.

The other thing we mourn is that this cycle continues to happen. Over and over again in history we watch the world win. We see the systems of power and greed trounce on the underdog, the different, the marginalized, the lower economic brackets. Over and over we’ve seen people of faith and people of compassion imprisoned and killed for living their faith and their convictions, and standing prophetically against the powers that be.

The world won the day Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.

The world won the day Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

The world won when Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

The world won when Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were arrested.

The world won when Harvey Milk was killed.

The world won when Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated.

As I started to look into this a bit more, I discovered that the” crucified” people are still there, in great numbers. Sometimes we see them on TV, but in reality they don’t get much attention. I’m sad to say I was shocked at the number of people who have been killed recently for their advocacy for civil rights and the environment. People we never hear about.

  • According to Global Witness, between 2002 and 2013 an incredible 908 people in 35 countries were murdered for trying to defend the environment.
  • A record number of 200 environmental activists were killed in 2016 while protesting against companies’ mining, logging and agribusiness activities, a report by Global Witness has found.
  • The Association for Women’s Rights in Development has compiled a list of over 350 women human rights defenders in over 80 countries who have been killed since 2012 because they stood up for a multitude of causes. They were community leaders, journalists, mothers and victims who spoke out for land rights for people, for women’s rights, to save the environment, against human trafficking, for LGBT rights, against huge scale mining and so much more.

And I’m sure there are many more.

Over and over again the world has won.

And we mourn, because with each death a beautiful human being, with a beautiful vision for our world dies.

We mourn tonight for Jesus, for his disciples, for their pain and lost hopes and vision.

We mourn tonight for all the prophets, leaders, and visionaries who have been silenced by violence.

We mourn for everything our world has lost in the name of money and power and religion.

And we ask ourselves… where will we choose to stand?  Will we risk to stand for love? Will we risk to stand for peace? Will we risk to stand for life, in all its variety and diversity?

Shalom,

Kaye

Palm Sunday Prophecy

NOTE: In an attempt to convey the oppressive nature of the times, as well as the incredible hope that blossoms (albeit briefly) when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, I chose to preach in character, as the next door neighbor to Jesus and his family. Below is the draft of what I hoped to say! Preaching from memory means it always turns out differently, so I encourage you to watch the video to get the full impact: 

 

My name is Miriam Ruth… Miriam for my mother’s mother and Ruth for my father’s mother. I’ve seen a lot in my 48 years, and much of it hasn’t been so good, but my hopes are high today! Perhaps before I die I’ll see a new day dawn here in Jerusalem for my people. I can hope anyway.

You’re not from around here though, are you? So a lot of this probably doesn’t make any sense. Do you have a few minutes? Let me tell you how we got here and what happened today, and maybe you’ll see why I’m so hopeful.

I was born in a little tiny village called Nazareth, which is about 100 miles north of here (it took us about 7 days to travel here for this Passover festival!) Anyway, Nazareth is one of those towns where everyone knows everyone because there are only about 100 families living there. And none of us are wealthy, we don’t have a school, and the closest thing we come to a synagogue is a small room in Rebe’s house. All of our homes are small and made of stone, none of the rest of us had any room, but he lost his wife and his kids moved away so there you have it. “Peasant class” they call us, which makes us sound stupid and lazy, but we’re anything but. We work hard. My parents were farmers and so are my husband and I, my sister makes bread, my brother does some stone work, my other brother is a shepherd outside of town.  We struggle to make ends meet and pay our taxes (they call it tribute – ha! – to Rome) so they don’t take what little land we have.

My parents, struggled their entire lives, as I have, and my children have, and my grandchildren will unless something changes – oh, how I pray for a better world for them.

About the time my parents were born, Rome appointed a client-king by the name of Herod to take the city of Jerusalem back, as it had fallen into rebel and Parsian hands. So, King Herod (they called him Herod the Great, but they should have called him Herod the Horrible), marched to Jerusalem with a massive Roman army, took over the city, and pretty much wiped out any remaining Jewish resisters against Rome.

Still, it wasn’t enough for Herod to have political power, so he massacred nearly every member of the Sanhedrin (which is our Jewish high council – priests and elders) and replaced the temple priests with admirers who purchased their seats from him. From that time on our religious leaders have all been in the coin purse of Rome (so-to-speak). They claim to serve the people, but they take part of our offerings (which are required by Jewish law to atone for our sins and support the Temple) and give a good portion to Rome, and then keep a good portion for themselves. All you have to do is look at the houses they live in – big and fancy with servants. They care nothing at all that the rest of their people are practically starving.

With the priests sold-out we have no political power, no one to stand up for us. If we can’t trust them to be our political leaders, how can we trust them to be our religious leaders? This temple now is like a hideout for crooks who rob from their own people! And what can we do? To try to stop them would bring the power of Rome down upon us. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In some ways Herod wasn’t all bad. He did usher in an era of stability, but he did it on the backs of the people. He initiated huge public works projects that employed tens of thousands of people to build markets, theaters, palaces and ports (all modeled after the classic Greek style). I can remember my father and older brothers traveling to the nearby city of Sepphoris to work, or deliver what little food we had raised. I saw Sepphoris once when I was a child. It was amazing – roads of polished stone, huge homes, beautiful aqueducts for large public baths and latrines. There were colorful mosaics painted on the walls, and a theater. Of course, to pay for all this he imposed crushing taxes upon all of us, and sent a hefty part of that to Rome to keep his position. We hardly had any money to survive on.

One thing we thought would be wonderful was when Herod, who was a Jew (if you can really call him that because he actually converted to Judaism) rebuilt our Temple in Jerusalem. But then he crowned it with a golden eagle – a sign of Roman dominion – and forced his handpicked high priest to offer two sacrifices a day for Caesar Augustus, the so-called “Son of God.” It was infuriating, but again, what could we do?

I was 18 when Herod died. In some ways we were grateful that his oppressive reign was over, but the uprisings that began were terrifying. Many Jews who had felt so angry and oppressed during his kingship began to take out their anger on the wealthy who had benefited from their “relationship” with Rome. A few rebels called themselves the messiah, and we hoped that they would usher in a time of peace and abundance. One was a huge man named Simon who crowned himself messiah and rallied a group of bandits to plunder the royal palaces at Jericho… but he was beheaded. Then there was a poor shepherd boy named Athronges, who put a crown upon his head and gathered a small group to attack the Roman troops (fool)… he was executed, too. Those are the only ones I remember, but there were many people who rose up, and much bloodshed. That in and of itself was awful, but with Herod gone, so were his massive building projects and unemployment escalated to a point of desperation for many.

So, life continued to get worse with the death of Herod, and this was about the time I was trying to raise my four children and keep them safe! It seemed that every day there were new and scarier groups of bandits roaming Galilee. Not only did they want political freedom from Rome, but these men were filled with religious fervor… they believed they were facing down Rome as a religious obligation and they wanted everyone else to do the same.

Eventually the emperor sent in troops who squashed the rebellion, destroyed the city of Sepphoris as retribution for the rebellions, auctioned the women and children off as slaves and crucified more than two thousand rebels and sympathizers. And we were only four miles away! People were fleeing through our town and Roman soldiers followed hunting them down. I was so afraid they would take us as well. We often hid with Mary and her husband Joseph, who lived next door, with their children. Their son Jesus was the same age as my Samuel… 10. A few years more and they would be drawn into the fighting. I hoped and prayed it would end.

Well, long story short, Herod’s son, Antipas, took over the area and decided to rebuild Sepphoris better than it was. The timing was good as Jesus and Samuel were able to travel there during the week to work. But, truly, Antipas was his father’s son, and not much changed. The rich got richer, and us poor got poorer. The priests have remained under the thumb of Rome. We’ve had no voice. And every time some young man has tried to bring about change, he has been crucified as soon as it appeared that he might be a threat to Rome.

Today I don’t know whether to be scared to death, or excited beyond belief.

A few years back, Jesus – Mary & Joesph’s son – started preaching. I always knew he was a smart boy and very interested in religion. Not all young boys like to sit for hours to listen to the men debate and argue the scriptures. But Jesus had been like that.

Anyway, as the stories of his preaching got back to us, we started to wonder if he wasn’t going a bit too far. Did you know that he healed someone on the Sabbath? That is against the law!  And he forgave someone else’s sins? And only the high priest can forgive sin… after you’ve presented an offering and said the right prayers! He has preached that the poor will be blessed, the meek will inherit the earth, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. And they’ve been calling him the messiah, and Son of God (that’s what they call Caesar!), and Son of Man (like they did with Ezekiel and Daniel). His mother and I have been so worried, but what could we do?

You know, we haven’t been able to come to Jerusalem palmsfor Passover in a few years (it is just too expensive). We sent the men, of course, but Mary and I stayed home with our daughters and granddaughters. But this year we heard that Jesus would be entering the city on a donkey! Oh, how we wanted to see this. That meant he really is anointed by God and our new king. He really was the messiah we’ve been waiting for! When we got here there were thousands and thousands of people. And when Jesus started down from the Mt. of Olives on a baby donkey, just like King Jehu did in the scriptures, they all started cheering, waving palm branches and laying their cloaks on the road. It brought tears to my eyes. “Hosanna! Save us! Hosanna to the King!” we shouted.

The Roman soldiers were there, but what could they do? There were too many of us!

Jesus rode into Jerusalem and directly into the Temple and turned over the tables of the money-changers!  You know there is really nothing wrong with them being there, but I think Jesus did what all of us have wanted to do for so long… let them know that we’re tired of them robbing from us! We’re tired of the priests hiding behind their holy masks and pretending to care for us when all they really care about is their money and their homes and their standing with Rome. They don’t care about God or us at all! The Temple is exactly what Jesus said… it is a den, a hideout, for robbers!

I don’t know what happens now. The whole city is talking about it. But I’m sure the high priests are angry. And I’m sure Pilate  – the Jew hating, cold-hearted Roman governor – is angry.

This may sound a little silly, but remember I’ve known Jesus since he was born… all I want to do right now is find him and tell him how proud I am of him. He is a true prophet who doesn’t just reassure us of God’s presence, but calls us to stand up against what is wrong, to stand up against oppression, to seek liberation not just for our souls, but for our lives, and for our children and our children’s children.

Oh, there is his mother, Mary, waving to me to come, perhaps she has found him. I must go, but pray for him and pray for all of us. Hosanna!

 

 

Prayer: Words or Heart?

As far as I’m concerned, prayer is one of the hardest topics to discuss. Before I begin, let me be clear that I honor wherever you are with prayer, as I’ve probably been there myself. Having said that, I am in a different place with prayer than I’ve ever been before and it is not easy to share because it flies in the face of much of what traditional Christianity has said about prayer. So, this is where I am in my journey with prayer today. If it doesn’t make sense or fit for you, just ignore me.

(For the full video version, click here.)

I have a confession to make… I’ve always wanted to be someoneprayer1 who prays well and diligently, but I’m not. Whenever I’ve been with a family that diligently prays before every meal, I’d inwardly cringe at myself and feel shame that I didn’t institute prayers at mealtime with the family. Nor have I ever said prayers with my kids before bed. Two black marks against the pastor right there.

Professionally I’ve tried to be the praying pastor I was supposed to be. I’ve led hundreds of prayers over the last 20 or so years, participated in prayer vigils, sat in sanctuaries and talked to God, prayed at bedsides, blessed babies, animals, homes, motorcycles, and communion elements. But the traditional form of prayer as supplication or intercession has always felt awkward and not quite right…

I’ve tried, but I’ve had many experiences with prayer over the years that have caused me to question and doubt. Let me share just a few.

At 17 when my mom was dying of breast cancer, I prayed for God to take her, just let her die, because she was in so much pain. She passed away later that day. Because I prayed it, or just because it was time?

At the young age of 24 my then-brother-in-law got very ill and went into respiratory failure. I sat in the waiting room of a hospital praying the rosary out loud with my former Catholic in-laws for Pat to live and be healed. But Pat had severe brain damage and lived the rest of his life, another 20 years, in a basically vegetative state. Was that God keeping him alive because of the prayers? Did we condemn him to that? Or was God not answering? Or was that just how things happened?

Fast forward a number of years when I was asked to lead a small, private prayer service for a young mother who was dying of cancer. I wanted to give her all the support and care that I could, and so of course I agreed. But part of me felt like this was setting her up for disappointment and I felt like a fraud doing it… I didn’t have healing powers, nor a magic wand, and the God I knew wasn’t a magic genie granting wishes. However I hoped and prayed I was wrong, perhaps God could be swayed by words and touch, and a miracle would happen. But she died anyway.  Was it because I didn’t have enough faith? Did I fail? As far as I could tell she was a good woman who did everything right…where was God?

Bishop John Shelby Spong tells a story in his book, Why Christianity Should Change or Die, about how his wife Joan was diagnosed with cancer in 1981. It was mostly likely to be fatal. Because he was such a public figure the news spread to all the churches in the diocese, as well as to the media. People everywhere began to pray for her in prayer circles and in worship services. Care and concern and love were given to them through these actions. Remission was achieved for a time and she lived 6 and a half years before she died. As that prolonged remission became evident people began to take credit. “Our prayers are working.” Spong said that despite the gratitude he felt for the caring that people showed, he struggled with their explanations. What if, he wondered to himself, a sanitation working in Newark, NJ, had a wife with the same diagnosis? And because he was not a high-profile person, with a large social network of people, socially prominent or covered by the press, his wife never comes to the public’s attention. Perhaps he’s not religiously oriented, or is quiet about his faith, and her illness never comes to the attention of hundreds of petitions and churches? Would she live a shorter time? Endure more pain? Would God be responsible for this because of God’s capricious nature to only help those well-connected, socially elite, high status folks? Was that the type of behavior he wanted to attribute to God? The answer was “no.”

In Matthew 6:5-15, Jesus instructed the people on how to pray, and a slightly altered version of this prayer has become the standard, go-to prayer for millions of Christians throughout the centuries. But the world, science, and theology have evolved and we’re not those people. For me and perhaps for many of us, the words to this prayer (while familiar and maybe even comfortable) don’t really fit our understanding of God anymore, especially if we’ve moved beyond a theistic God – a being that resides apart from us watching over everything.

The Lord’s Prayer hearkens back to a time when God was male residing in the clouds (heaven) far removed from humanity. This God delighted in hearing how sacred “his” name was, and “he” judged who would be worthy of having their prayers answered based on their sacrificial offerings, their adherence to the religious law, and the quality of their prayers.

Basically, none of these things work for me.

Do I want God to be a magic genie in the sky granting my every wish? Absolutely.

Do I want God to give me preferential treatment for being a pastor ? Heck yes!

Have I found it to work that way? Nope.

Now, the other thing I notice about this passage on prayer, as well as the passage preceding it about charity, and the passage following it about fasting, is that Jesus is very clear that it isn’t about making sure everyone else knows you’re giving, or praying, or fasting. He says all those folks who did those things in public already got their reward… they received recognition and a boost to their ego. But for those of you who aren’t trying to prove how pious you are, but are simply giving out of the goodness of your heart, or praying a simple prayer of connection, or fasting as a spiritual discipline, you will receive an internal reward. Your souls will know a deeper connection to all of life.

Joan Chittester, in her book In the Heart of the Temple, says “When we are young religious, we “say” our prayers. When we get older in the religious life, we “go to prayer.” But when we begin to see prayer as the undergirding of life, the pulse of the universe in the center of the soul, we become a prayer. First, as Gandhi says, we have words and no heart; finally, we grow into a heart without words.”

I believe that the intention of prayer is to connect to the flow of energy we know of as God, the Divine, Ground of Being, Essence, Spirit, Goddess (whatever you want to call it). Jesus seemed to be intimately connected to God on a fairly consistent basis. And that connection manifested in his teaching, his compassion, his love, the way he included and brought hope to the outcast and marginalized, the way he confronted the religious and political powers-that-be in bring freedom from oppression. If prayer is connection with God and we see his connection in all these ways, then prayer is much more than words. Prayer is how we live.

Becoming prayer… being a heart with no words… is about being a living prayer. When we show compassion to another we are connected to God and are a living prayer. When we bring the light of hope and positive thinking into someone’s life, we are connected to God and are a living prayer. When we stand up for the underdog, the bullied, the outcast, the rejected, we experience God and are a living prayer. And when we open ourselves to receiving love, compassion, generosity from others we participate are a living prayer. Perhaps this is what to “Pray without ceasing” means in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

Spong says, “We are to live as if everything we say and do is a prayer, calling others to life, to love, and to being.”

So, I haven’t stopped praying, instead I’m trying to live prayer… and I’m better at it sometimes than others. Sometimes I fail miserably. Sometimes I’m humbled by the prayer that others live.

Know that I still trust in a mysterious flow in the universe that connects us, and brings what we consider to be synchronicities into our lives. And, yes, I pray for many people, I just do it a little different than may be expected. When I pray I simply open my heart and without words hold others in light and love.

Love & Light!

Kaye

Work: sanctity or suffering?

work guyThe Bible seems to have two conflicting viewpoints on work. In Genesis 3:16-19 God punishes Adam and Eve because of their little transgression in the Garden of Eden. God tells Eve that her pain in childbirth would be greatly increased and that she would be subjugated by men. And God tells Adam that he was now destined to painstakingly labor on the land which would yield thistles and thorns. Only through hard labor and toil would there be bread to eat. Work would merely be suffering and punishment for their disobedience.

(For the full video version, click here.)

Then Paul, in his letter to the Colossians 3:22-23, puts a new spin on work. He says, “Do whatever you do from the heart. You are working for Christ, not for people.” It makes work sound like a holy enterprise.

That’s an interesting dichotomy. Work as suffering or sanctity… which is it?

Think for a moment about the work you do (and if you are retired then this includes volunteer work, taking care of the house, or caring for grandkids, or hobbies – however you define it for yourself). Now, do you feel that there a sanctity to that work – a sacredness, a holiness – or not? What is it about the job that brings a sense of the sacredness to the work? Perhaps it is one of the following:

  • Gives value to life
  • Gives meaning to life
  • Help others
  • Grow self
  • A way to give ourselves to the world
  • Fulfilling
  • A place to feel connected, a place to belong and build community
  • Empowering to support oneself, to be responsible
  • A gift to the future.

According to a survey of the Center for Ethics and Corporate Policy, most Americans believe “that their work is very important to their spirituality…”And Joan Chittester, in her book The Heart of the Temple, also concurs that “work is holy,” we’ve just lost sight of that in a culture and society where the worker is valued less and less, wages don’t keep up with inflation and the cost of living, there is no company loyalty, age and experience are no longer valued, more and more jobs are shipped overseas, and the worker is a commodity, not a human being. It appears that the corporation certainly doesn’t see work as a holy endeavor.

But can we?

We’ve often heard that you need to follow your passion in order to feel a spiritual connection in what you do, but that probably leaves out the majority of workers and denies them any spiritual value in working.

What if what we do has less to do with our feeling of the sanctity of work than how we do the job and how we think about the job?

If the Divine continues to work and create in and through us in this world, then we are co-creators with God in whatever we do. And then, in just about every job, it is possible to see the bigger picture of how we are co-creators, how what we do serves a higher purpose and has spiritual value.

When John F. Kennedy’s visited NASA and saw a janitor mopping up the floor, JFK asked him what his job was at NASA and the gentleman said, “I’m helping send a man to the moon.”

In another story, a traveler came upon three men working. He asked the first man what he was doing and the man said he was laying bricks. He asked the second man the same question and he said he was putting up a wall. When he got to the third man and asked him what he was doing he said he was building a cathedral.

Seeing our jobs as creative endeavors that serve humanity can change how we look at them, and consequently bring even more purpose and value to them.

So if you are a truck driver hauling salt… you are working to keep people safe on the roads.

If you are a teacher… you are shaping future generations.

If you keep a home that is beautiful, well-cared for… you are nourishing the people who live and gather there.

If you are a realtor… you are helping people fulfill dreams and build families

If you are a healthcare professional… you are keeping people healthy.

If you are an artist… you challenge humanity with new perspectives and/or lift people up with art that is aesthetically pleasing.

I could go on and on…

My point is, if we begin to acknowledge our work as sacred – in the sense that we are co-creators with God to help humanity – then I think that changes how we feel about work, the energy we put into work, and the way we treat people we work with. Work is not simply a means to make money, it connects us to other human beings, is an exercise in love, and feeds our souls.

There is a story about a master woodcarver who was commissioned by a Prince to carve a bell stand, a task that probably carried the weight of his life should he fail. The stand he carves is so beautiful that people claim it was made by the spirits. But the woodcarver insists that he is merely a workman with no secret to what he did. But we can see in his approach that he treats his task as a holy task.

You see, as the woodcarver pondered his task, he deliberately kept his spirit from getting caught up in the storms and temptations that surrounded the task. His process was to fast to quiet his heart and soul. It took three days of fasting to forget about gain and success. Five days of fasting to forget about praise and criticism. Seven days of fasting to forget about his body and move into the mind of the soul. By then all thought of the Prince had vanished.

Only then, in a place of connection with his heart and true self, and therefore in connection with the Divine, did he seek the right tree for the bell stand knowing that he would know it when he saw it. With eyes to see, the right tree appeared, and the bell stand appeared within it. He seemed, at a spiritual level to become one with the wood and then he used his skill to draw forth the bell stand that was ascribed to the spirits.

In some ways this story may feel out of reach. Who of us has the luxury to take 7 days to get our hearts right before starting a task? And clearly the heart and soul is very unruly for it to take that long! He seemed pretty disciplined, I think it might take me a month!

Still, I think the message is important. For us to work at a level of true self, in connection with “the truth as it is” (God) we need to forget a whole bunch of things:

  • Pleasing others
  • What we’ll get out of it
  • Fear of failing
  • Being praised or criticized

My sermons come easiest when my heart has moved beyond these things. When I’ve become one with the process and the flow of thought.

Gardening, or painting, or working through a problem all goes better when my heart has forgotten the distractions that can trap us. Teaching or helping others or designing things or working with animals… they all got better when we move into a clean space of being, uncluttered by the things that distract the mind.

I think this is what Paul was getting at: “Workers, work diligently in everything you do – not only to win favor, but wholeheartedly and reverently, out of respect for Christ. Do whatever you do from the heart. You are working for Christ, not for people.

Christ is an energy, a presence within each of us… work for that, work from your heart, because all work is holy.

Lenten Blessings,

Kaye

Complexity or Simplicity?

What do you think of when you think of a day to live simply? Perhaps it involves relaxing on the beach, coffee and a good book, no work, a glass of wine and a good friend, or a walk in the woods with your dog. Whatever it is, it probably evokes peaceful, relaxing, calm joyful feelings.

While we dream of these scenarios, we’re resigned to the fact that most of the time, life is not simple, life is complex. Here are three simple things to prove my point: cell phones, television remotes and health insurance. Any one of those things is just about as bad, if not worse, than untangling the dreaded Christmas lights. And that is just the tip of the iceberg in the category of “life is complex.”  Add relationships, jobs, feelings, and personalities to the mix and it’s like untangling a whole box of Christmas lights every day!

(For the full video version, click here.)

Mark 7:1-8 is a good example of how complex and complicated the Jews had made their religion. There are 613 laws that Orthodox Jews are required to follow including: wash your hands (in a certain way) before you eat, only eat certain things prepared certain ways, sprinkle your food before you eat it, wash your dishes a particular way, and on and on.  When the Pharisee started in on Jesus because his disciples hadn’t ritually washed their hands before they ate, Jesus pretty much replied, “Seriously, that’s what you’re going to nit-pick about? Whether they follow a man-made precept? Don’t you really think God is keeping track of who washes their hands and who doesn’t? What God really cares about is what is in your hearts.”

In the same way, Joan Chittester, in her book, In the Heart of the Temple, also urges us to focus on what is in our hearts:

If we lack simplicity, if we fret at every delay, become miserable at every change of plans, become miffed at every imagined slight, become irritated at every lapse of deference, become despondent over every lack of gadget, then God has been replaced in us by a god of our own making. Then the simple life, the sanctity of the present moment, the contemplation of the divine in the mundane, the “purity of heart” that centers us on the eternal that is in the now, disappears into oblivion.

She goes on to say that no matter what we try to DO to make our lives simpler, it’s a false sense of simplicity if our heart isn’t in on the deal. So, how do we foster a simplicity of heart? Chittester gives us four things to work on that she says are essential in cultivating a simplicity within:

  • Honesty
  • Being unencumbered
  • Opening to a consciousness greater than ourselves
  • Serenity in the midst of chaos

HONESTY

She says honesty is the foundation of all of it. And that doesn’t mean not telling lies, it means not pretending to be something we aren’t. It means living with integrity and authenticity. We can’t have simplicity within if we’re dealing with the complexity of trying to be what everyone else wants us to be, trying to please everyone, putting on masks so people only see what we want them to see, or being self-centered and believing that having what we want, when we want it is the goal of life.

BEING UNENCUMBERED

Chittester shares an Arab proverb that says, “We own only what cannot be lost in a shipwreck.” Whatever we own, all those things we cling to and put value on, are truly only temporary. Anyone who has had to clean out someone else’s house when they’ve passed away or gone into a nursing home intimately understands this. Yet, we acquire more and more stuff without getting rid of anything.

Let me be clear here… it is not the things that are the problem. They are a neutral party in all of this. The problem is our clinging, our attachment, our fear of letting go, our need for things to fulfill our needs and desires. Instead we need to cultivate an appreciation of the beauty in each moment regardless of what we perceive our lack to be.

Simplicity of heart understands and accepts that there is NO thing that can give us value, truly fulfill us or make us whole. So, we can take things, but we have no problem leaving them either.

OPENING TO A CONSCIOUSNESS GREATER THAN OUR OWN

Living with a simple heart means learning to walk through life aware of the Divine Presence, in and around us and then root ourselves deeply in the Ground of our Being so we walk gently, with kindness and compassion, unperturbed by the “clutter of the commonplace.”

SERENITY

Do you remember going to the park as a kid to play on the merry-go-round? merry-go-round1If you sat in the middle, someone could spin you as fast as they could and you wouldn’t move. But, if you left the middle, the force of being spun gradually pulled you to the outside until you were handing on for dear life. Serenity is like sitting in the middle of the merry-go-round despite the way the world spins around you. Achieving true simplicity of heart, Chittester says, requires the ability to cultivate serenity despite the aggravations and agitations of life.


Mark Nepo, in his book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, has a slightly different take on this:

I’ve been listening way inside, where the Universe rushes through me like wind through a hole in an old door in a hut near the edge of a cliff. I’ve been going there and listening, on the inner edge of everything. There, I’ve heard two irrevocable truths: the truth of life, the very fact of it, how it comes out of nowhere like a strong breeze to lift our faces, how it goes on its way; and the truth of how life like a storm can rough up our hearts, how we have no choice but to feel that wind move through us and around us. Trying to give words to this is difficult. But the first truth can be offered as the truth of things as they are, and the second as the experience of being human.

We live in this challenging place between “the truth of how things are” and “the experience of being human.” Simplicity of heart is the “truth of how things are” – that God, the Universe, the Ground of our Being is intimately connected to our souls and that is the eternal, foundational truth. And the complexity of life is “the experience of being human” – where we’re faced with the storms of life, large and small, the agitations, the irritations, the fears, the dramas, the tragedies, the life-altering decisions.

He suggests that perhaps the path to dealing with this is not to run from the storms or try to shut them out (because truly even acceptance of the storm does not necessarily stop the destruction or the pain), but to learn to be a container for the peace that comes from simplicity of the heart and groundedness in the Divine, AND for the storms. To be a container for both simplicity and complexity. What happens then, I think, is that we sit in the center of our merry-go-round of life, bringing love, peace, patience and compassion to the chaos, until the spinning slows down.

So… live authentically, learn to let go, be consciously aware of and open to the Divine in the NOW (whatever that now may be), and strive for serenity, so that we develop a simplicity of heart that we bring to meet the storms in life.

Lenten blessings,

Kaye

Sabbath

During this Lenten season, as we’re encouraged to go within, I want to talk about Sabbath time, because I think it is a concept our society has either lost or is losing quickly. Now, there are some things I’d be happy with society losing (like world wrestling, or reality TV, or who-can-eat-the-most contests)… but I believe the loss of Sabbath time is actually detrimental, not just to our spiritual lives, but to our lives in general.

(For the full video version, click here.)Shabbat-768x513

There seems to be no historical basis for a Sabbath day prior to the Israelites of ancient times. Genesis 2:1-3 gives us the mythological context in which this practice began – God created the world and everything in it in six days and then rested on the seventh. This wasn’t because the Holy One was tired, but to model a day to rest and revel in the goodness of the world.

The Sabbath has been a cornerstone of Israelite religious practice from earliest times and there is frequent mention of the Sabbath throughout the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament). But what exactly is Sabbath about? And is it even applicable or practical for our lives today?

I originally entitled this message Sabbath: rest or vegetation? Because I think some folks would say that vegging in front of the television counts as Sabbath time, but that comes from a misconstrued understanding of rest and Sabbath.

The practice of Sabbath for Jews begins on sundown on Friday with a ritual to light the Shabbot candles, recite prayers and share a meal. The following 24 hours is time for socializing with family and friends, studying the Torah, sharing meals and family time, perhaps making love if you were a married couple, and worship on Saturday morning. Most types of “work” are prohibited on the Sabbath including cooking, starting fires, any sort of business, traveling and much more.The Sabbath ends at sundown on Saturday, again with a ritual of candles and prayers.

Joan Chittester, in her book In the Heart of the Temple,  suggests that the purpose and intent of these practices is “to enrich life, to measure life, to bring reflection to life, to engender life with soul. Sabbath is for resting in the God of life and bringing more to life ourselves as a result… Sabbath [is] designed to be used to determine the meaning and substance, the purpose and direction of our lives. Sabbath should be those time-out days when we allow ourselves to look at life in fresh and penetrating ways….”

Jesus said that “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath.”  In other words, this kind of time is important to our health and well-being.  Why?

A friend tipped me off to this great book called Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport. Yes, it is basically a business book, but I believe the concepts it proposes make a strong case for Sabbath time.

Newport begins by talking about the difference between shallow work and deep work.  Shallow work does not require much concentration or focus. Falling into this category are things like emailing, paying bills, filing, meetings, phone calls, anything Internet related, watching television, video/computer games.

Deep work, on the other hand, is anything that takes intense amounts of concentration and thinking. Writing, problem solving, brainstorming, art, study, practicing an instrument, and craftsmanship are examples of deep work. Newport suggests that “Any pursuit – be it physical or cognitive – that supports high levels of skill can also generate a sense of sacredness.”

I believe that true Sabbath time is deep work. But, as Newport points out, deep work is hard and shallow work is easier, so as human beings we gravitate toward the easy work. It is the Principle of Least Resistance. But the shallow work is not particularly rewarding or meaningful (other than you can check it off your to-do list), whereas deep work is.

Newport shares the story of science writer Winifred Gallagher who “stumbled onto a connection between attention and happiness after an unexpected and terrifying event, a cancer diagnosis.” In her book, Rapt, she talks about how the disease wanted to monopolize her time and attention, but as much as possible she would focus on what was good in her life instead – “movies, walks and a 6:30 martini.” Because she found that, instead of having a life mired in fear and trepidation, she found that it was often quite pleasant, this led her to investigate the role of attention in one’s life. What she discovered is that there is much research out there supporting the fact that it is not our circumstances that determine how we feel, but where we place our attention. If she had focused on her cancer diagnosis, her life would have become fearful, anxiety-ridden, and depressing. Whereas focusing on the good things made her life more pleasant. Basically she says, “Who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love – is the sum of what you focus on.”

So, if we spend our lives paying attention mostly to the shallow things that draw our attention, how we feel about our lives and ourselves will be shaped by that. But, if we spend more time on deep work, things that inherently carry a sense of impact and importance, then how we feel about our lives and ourselves, who we are, will be shaped by that. It is the deeper work that will give greater meaning and purpose to our lives.

So, here’s the rub… humans are easily distracted, which means deep work is hard to maintain.

At the time of writing this sermon, I turned off my phone and checked out of email and the internet. I gave myself two hours of concentrated deep work time to write. But I found I often had to fight the urge to check email or my phone. This discovery was sort of unsettling.

Newport suggest that, “The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.”

As I read this it sounded a lot like the creation of a Sabbath day with routines and rituals. A day that was created for the benefit of people because it would not just give them a break from work, but a break that was meaningful and purposeful as it involved the deep work of spirituality, the deep work of developing relationships, the deep work of worship and prayer, and the deep work of study.

I’ll grant you, that with our society the way it is, this model is probably not practical for most of us. So, I’m not suggesting that we attempt an entire day of Sabbath… but I do wonder if we could be more intentional about at having least SOME Sabbath (deep work) time during the week.

I also want to be clear that Sabbath time does not have to be solitary. Other people, with their thoughts, ideas and questions, help us to learn and grow so we delve deeper into our own thought processes.

You may consider worship to be Sabbath time, but worship is only ONE hour once a week. It’s a good start, but I believe that more Sabbath time will enrich our lives even more. How can we begin to schedule the deep work of Sabbath time, to focus our attention on the sacred in our lives?

I think Newport’s suggestions for deep work in business apply fairly well for Sabbath deep work:

  • Schedule time for deep work
  • Don’t always do deep work alone
  • Learn to disconnect… go off the grid
  • The mind also has limits to deep work… learn yours and temper it with downtime

Jesus was clear that Sabbath was not just about adhering to a set of rules for a holy day, it was a practice to help bring us meaning, fulfillment, and life in abundance.

Lenten blessings,

Kaye

Discipleship

Last week we found ourselves with Jesus in the wilderness in the gospel of Mark. I’m fascinated by what happens after that, so follow along in the book of Mark for a moment. After Jesus’ time in the wilderness getting grounded in the Spirit and, I believe, understanding himself and his path a bit better, he returns to begin his ministry, preaching and teaching the “Good News.” In the very next story in Mark, Jesus starts gathering disciples beginning with the brothers Simon and Andrew, and the brothers James and John.

Then there are five stories of Jesus’ healing people:Discipleship-Blog-Banner

  • Person with an “unclean spirit” (1:25)
  • Simon’s mother-in-law who was ill with a fever (1:31)
  • Many people who were sick with diseases, and cast out many demons (1:34)
  • Person with leprosy (1:41)
  • Paralyzed person (2:11)

(For the full video version, click here.)

Which brings us to our reading for today in which Jesus is walking by the lake, presumably in Capernaum, sees Levi sitting in his tax office, and says to him, “follow me.” The next thing you know, Jesus is reclining to eat at Levi’s house with a crowd of tax collectors, notorious “sinners,” his disciples, and even some of the religious leaders of the Pharisee sect.

The Pharisee is a little put off by eating dinner with a bunch of lowlifes and turns to one of Jesus’ disciples and asks, “Why does the Teacher eat with these people?”

Overhearing the question, Jesus declares, “People who are healthy don’t need a doctor; sick ones do. I have come to call sinners, not the righteous.”

I have two thoughts on his response. First, I suppose it could be taken as a compliment to the Pharisee, who might then think he’s the healthy, righteous one who doesn’t need Jesus. OR, Jesus is really saying this sort of tongue-in-cheek: “I’m not here for those of you who think you are healthy and righteous, because you think you’ve got it all figured out already and won’t be able to hear a word I’m saying. You may not think much of these other folks, but they will be open to my teaching.”

Regardless, I find the progression of events in Mark interesting. Jesus performed a series of healings then compares himself to a doctor coming to help the sick. But the people sitting around the table aren’t ill, in this case it is a sickness where one has lost their way in life. Their attitudes, behaviors and treatment of others has led them down a dark road. They have lost themselves.

From my viewpoint the crux of the matter is that Jesus came to heal – emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

Joan Chittester, in her book In the Heart of the Temple, tells the story of a teacher who traveled with great difficulty to a faraway monastery because there was an old monastic there who had a reputation for asking very piercing spiritual questions. “Holy One,” the teacher said. “Give me a question that will renew my soul.” “Ah, yes, then,” the old monastic said, “your question is, What do they need?”

The teacher wrestled with the question for days but then, depressed, gave up and went back to the old monastic in disgust. “Holy One,” the teacher said, “I came here because I’m tired and depressed and dry. I didn’t come here to talk about my ministry. I came here to talk about y spiritual life. Please give me another question.” “Ah, well, of course. Now I see,” the old monastic said, “in that case, the right question for you is not, What do they need? The right question for you is, What do they really need?”

If Jesus were answering that question, “What do people REALLY need?” what would be his response? What was he teaching his disciples?

Chittester comments that discipleship often requires some sort of “academic or ascetic exercise.” In other words, learn something or refrain from doing something. In addition, it seems like (for many people) discipleship also implies blind obedience. But what do people really need for their spiritual lives?

In my humble opinion, it’s not obedience. Discipleship, following Jesus is not about obedience to creeds, laws, religious texts, rituals, traditions, or other formulas designed to get one to heaven. I don’t recall Jesus ever instructing anyone memorize bible passages or the 10 commandments or the 613 Jewish laws.

 

So, what do people really need?

I think people need support in being like Jesus, who was a healing presence in this world.

One day the Buddha was threatened with death by a bandit on the road. “First,” the Buddha said to the bandit, “honor my last with and cut the branch off that tree.” “There,” the bandit said, handing the branch to the Buddha, “whatever good it will do you now.” “Correct,” said the Buddha. “So please put the branch back on the tree again.” “You must be insane,” the bandit said, “to think anyone could do that.” “Oh, on the contrary, my friend,” the Buddha said. “It is you who are insane if you think you are mighty simply because you can wound and destroy. The mighty are those who spend their strength to create and to heal.”

This is what discipleship is about. Not obedience, but about being a creative and healing force in the world – for ourselves, our relationships, our systems and our environment.

What does this look like? Here’s a start…

  • Listening to someone who is hurting
  • Seeking understanding instead of judgment
  • Being inclusive, welcoming and accepting
  • Sincerely apologizing when we’ve done something wrong
  • Offering forgiveness when we’ve been wronged
  • Holding someone when they cry
  • Working for justice
  • Showing kindness and gentleness
  • Being generous
  • Recycling
  • Going to therapy to help heal yourself

I don’t care (and I don’t honestly think Jesus cared) what you specifically believe or what religion you follow, as long as you live your life as a healing presence, walking the path of love, compassion, kindness and justice.

Lenten blessings,

Kaye

Choices

This coming Wednesday is commonly known in the church calendar as Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. From Ash Wednesday until Easter Sunday, minus the Sundays in between (because they are supposed to be “little Easters”) is 40 days, meant to mirror the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness prior to his public ministry.choices

The story of those 40 days in the wilderness is about the mental, physical and spiritual preparation that Jesus goes through in order to be ready to preach and teach the Good News of God.

(For the full video version, click here.)

In Megan McKenna’s book, Lent: The Sunday Readings, she states:

[T]he temptation in the wilderness story is short and powerful. The Spirit sends [or drives] Jesus out toward the desert… The desert in the Jewish tradition is the place of transition between slavery and oppression and the making of a people into the children of God ready to enter into the promised land of their dreams. It is a period of testing, of letting go of what was before so that what is to come can enter into them… It is also a time of privilege, of intimacy with God alone, who leads and teaches them in the deepest recesses of their hearts so that they come to know that home is where God is within them.

But in this wilderness time of learning, growing, and changing, there is a tension that needs to be worked out: the tension between the voices of the world and the voices of the Spirit. The figure of Satan (which in Greek simply means Hinderer) is the characterization of these voices of the world tempting Jesus with the illusory things of the world. Now, it seems to me that for Jesus to have been the deeply centered, grounded, consistent and stable spiritual leader he was, there had, at some point, to have been conscious choices on his part about how he’d live his life, how he’d make decisions, and how he’d treat other people. The story of Jesus in the wilderness offers us one possibility to how he found that center.

Here’s a proposition… what if we each made these 40 days of Lent a conscious walk in the wilderness for each of us? What if we became more conscious of the decisions we make on a daily basis? What if we pay attention to the tension present in those decisions between the ways the world calls us and the ways the spiritual path calls us?

Think about this tension for a minute. What are the things we choose between?

What do the voices of the world sound like?

  • Greed – you need more…
  • Power – you should have control…
  • Judgment – you’re better than them…
  • Sloth – what’s the point in trying…
  • Complaining – life sucks…
  • Elitism – you deserve…
  • Selfishness – you first…
  • Jealousy – they can take away what you have… 
  • Envy – they have something you don’t…
  • Fear – you can’t…
  • Violence – an eye for an eye…
  • Anger – don’t let them get away with that…
  • punishment – you should make them pay for that…
  • Self-loathing – you’re not good enough…

And what do the voices of the Spirit sound like…

  • Love
  • Compassion
  • Generosity
  • Understanding
  • Joy
  • Kindness
  • Forgiveness
  • Patience
  • Helpfulness
  • Hope
  • Trust
  • Equality

So… when we’re in a position to respond to a situation or person, our wilderness time calls us to first to check out which list we’re responding from.  And it is awesome each time we can choose to respond from the Spirit list. But, then things get a little trickier. You see, it is possible for our actions to be spiritual choices, but inside the voices of the world are grumbling. For example, you can give $5 to a homeless person on the street, while inside you’re judging them by condemning their dirty clothes, their laziness and you’re thinking they’ll probably just use the money to buy alcohol. Our generous outsides don’t match our judgmental, complaining insides.

I believe part of the goal of the spiritual life is for our insides to match our outsides the way Jesus’ insides matched his outsides.

I encourage all of us to use this time of Lent to work on being consciously aware of the tension and temptations that confront us daily, then to choose well. Perhaps if we make the spiritual choices long enough, our insides will begin to change to reflect our actions. It’s not easy, and it’s more than a 40 day process, but Lent is a good excuse to start.

Blessings,

Kaye