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Be Opened

Mark 7:24-37 is one of the least Jesu-like stories I know of. I guess I'm just not used to him being hard-hearted and yet that is exactly what he is toward the Syro-Phoenician woman who begs him to help her daughter.

This desperate woman is a Greek, a Gentile, a non-Jew; therefore, she’s not one of the "children" of Israel, as Jesus points out. Then Jesus has the audacity to suggest that spending his time and energy on her would be like throwing the children’s food to the dogs. Ouch. That’s pretty harsh from a spiritual leader I’ve usually thought of as being compassionate and inclusive.

It’s her quick thinking – “Yes, Rabbi, but even the dogs under the table eat the family’s scraps” - that gives him pause, earns his respect, and changes his mind. He heals her daughter.

Immediately following this encounter is a story about Jesus healing a person who is deaf and mute with his touch, his saliva, and the words “Be opened.”

It seems to me that these two stories are connected in a deeper than literal meaning. Living within the scripture, both stories speak to me of being opened. In the first story Jesus allows himself to be opened by the woman’s plea and argument. He is willing to be wrong, to graciously admit that and move forward. In the second story, Jesus physically enables someone to hear and speak again, but metaphorically he opens their ears. “Let those who have ears to hear, listen,” Jesus says this, or something similar, quite often. It implores one to be open to what he is saying, to be willing to change and grow. 

Being closed is easy. It doesn’t take much to refuse to try to understand an opposing point of view. It doesn’t take much to stick to routines and traditions. It doesn’t take much to choose not to explore new places, why bother when you like all the old places – to travel, to eat, to walk, to shop. It doesn’t take much to decide you’ve never done it that way and don’t plan to start now. It doesn’t take much to refuse to learn something new – a new hobby, a new recipe, a new spiritual experience.

Again, being closed is easy.

Being open is another story all together. Being open requires curiosity, risk, time and energy, willingness to grow and change, a desire to understand instead of judge, being okay with uncerainty, and the ability to be humble.  

I’ll admit, some days I would rather be closed and not expend the energy to be open, but then, as David Felten and Jeff Procter-Murphy have said, "When we're not open to ambiguity and different ways of looking at things, we risk becoming stagnant, stuck in a cul-de-sac rather than being out on the adventure and open to the mystery of the Divine."  Neither image sounds great. I don’t want to be stagnant, unmoving, growing algae, mold and slime and starting to stink. Nor do I want to go around and around in the small enclosure of my own little dead-end street. So, I try to remind myself that that isn’t the person I want to be. I want to be the person who truly listens to another’s perspective, even if I don’t agree. I want to be curious and non-judgmental. I want to be open to new ideas, and new experiences. But it takes effort.

For years we’ve been talking about the polarity that exists in this country around politics and religion and now around COVID and mask wearing. Bring up the topic of a mask with some folks and you get an almost violent response. We’ve lost the ability to have respectful dialog. We’ve lost the ability to say, “you’re right.” People don’t like being wrong or being challenged. Too many folks lead with knee jerk reactions, with eyes and ears closed to compassion and possibilities. We get an idea in our head, and we go with it, whether it is substantiated or not.

Jack Kornfield, in  his book, No Time Like the Present, tells this story:

A young army officer who had a hot temper and a history of anger and stress-related problems was ordered by is colonel to attend an eight-week mindfulness training to reduce his level of stress. One day, after attending classes for several weeks, he stopped for groceries on his way home. He was in a hurry and a bit irritated, as he often was. When he took his cart to check out, there were long lines. He notices the woman in front of him had only one item but wasn’t in the express line. She was caring a baby, and as she got to the cashier, they stopped to talk. He became irritated. She was in the wrong line, talking, and holding everyone up. How selfish, he thought. Then she passed the baby to the cashier and the cashier spent a moment cooing over the child. He could feel his anger rising. But because he’d been practicing mindfulness, he started to become aware of the hat and tightness in his body, and he could feel the pain. He breathed and relaxed. When he looked up again he saw the little boy smiling. As he reached the cashier, he said, “That was a cute little boy.” She responded, “Oh, did you like him? That’s my baby. His father was in the Air Force, but he was killed last winter. Now I have to work full-time. My mom tries to bring my boy in once or twice a day so I can see him.

Thank God our young army officer had had some mindfulness training, teaching him to be open without judgment, to pay attention to what was going on within him, or that could have ended up much differently.

Being open is important whether we are embracing the moment, dealing with someone with a different viewpoint, learning to love again, or embracing the movement of the Spirit in our lives.

I’d have to guess that being spiritually open would have been on the top of Jesus’ list. He wanted the common folk, not to mention his disciples, to love God with their mind, to dig into the mysteries of the universe, to be moved by awe and wonder, to embrace the possibility of a loving Essence within and around all things. To ask questions, to develop a relationship with God, to allow their hearts to be changed.

But just as folks have become stuck in their opinions and beliefs and judgments, so too have folks become spiritually stuck. And this stuckness has been encouraged by the church.

Here are a few lines from a poem by Cynthia Langston Kirk that nails how stagnant the church has become and how threatened with learning. Perhaps Jesus was experiencing the same thing with the Jewish hierarchy of his time.

Graduated from theology
In the sixth grade
No need for Sunday School again...
Others finished with biblical studies
Just after clergy words and hands confirmed the journey...
As school encouraged wrestling with Plato and heavy weights
Church promoted “simply believe.”
No one would conceive of youth departing
Chemistry, government, orchestra and basketball
Because knowledge and skills sufficient.
No memo to sit this one out
Concerning race relations and global affairs...
No teacher would convey the theory
That the universe would crack,
All knowledge shatter
If questioned, tugged, and manipulated
This way and that...
Journey with Creator deemed complete
In an “all I need to know I learned by sixth grade” approach.

Open your mind and your heart to what I have to say, Jesus cries over and over again. There is so much to learn. It is a never-ending journey that isn’t a burden, but freedom. It may not be easy, but it brings peace and a deep-down joy. It’s our personal challenge every day to be opened to life, to God, to mystery, to opportunities, to forgiveness, to grace, to love and compassion… how open are you?

Love & Light!

Kaye