A Weighted Return

“There is a desire within each of us,
in the deep center of ourselves
that we call our heart.
We were born with it,
it is never completely satisfied,
and it never dies.
We are often unaware of it,
but it is always awake.

It is the Human desire for Love.
Every person in this Earth yearns to love,
to be loved, to know love.
Our true identity, our reason for being
is to be found in this desire…” 
Gerald May  Living in Love

“A sense of balance within spaciousness remains within such people, like a window between infinity and the world of everyday experience. They are not only wiser and humbler because of their addictions; they are also more available. Through their spaciousness, they are continually invited homeward.” Gerald May  Addiction & Grace

I’ve never gone back.  At least not to that point.  It seemed as if there would never be a new normal.  Yet, when I began this journey, simultaneously, the spiritual journey as well, I weighed in at over 300 pounds.  It makes me cringe to even type that and admit it at this point in my life.  But I’ve also never gone back.  Sure, there have been many plateaus and stumbles over the years, but now I find myself in a place with more than a hundred of it gone, for good.  By the way, to get to this point has been now over twenty years.  Almost half my life.  Even that seems hard to believe.

I think, more than anything, it’s the reasons for doing it that change over time.  There are, of course, health risks that come with obesity, that are beyond my understanding at times.  Yet, like most, I didn’t like to be told I needed to lose the weight because of those reasons nor did it ever seem possible.  Over time, some of those voices did win out and it became one reason to do it, but it was never the best reason to keep it off nor does it deal with the reasons as to why food and eating were so pleasurable or how it was actually feeding me.  The thought of not having that defense mechanism, though, was too daunting.  If there was one way to protect myself it was to put up a physical barrier around myself, preventing not only me but others from coming in.  Health reasons are noble but not necessarily sustainable in the end.

Without a doubt, others, are a good motivating force and another reason for doing it, but like health, not always sustainable as a reason.  The problem with building that defense mechanism is that it necessarily does more harm to me than others.  It became a way to isolate myself, paradoxically, often from myself.  The desire to please, fit in, be liked and noticed, or even attracted to, was a strong driving force for some time.  Any desire around attraction and sexuality run deep.  They are, though, double-edged swords more often than not.  The more I wanted that to be my reason and my driving force only worked against me, wanting to eat all the more when that desire was not satisfied.  What appeared to be as May writes, a desire for love, was never going to be fulfilled in such a way.  It was looking for approval and acceptance from everyone but myself.  I was convinced, an addiction to my own thoughts, that that was the answer.  If I could only find love, in the way I thought, which was more about approval and acceptance, that would somehow solve the missing link in my life.  That was the answer to the deeper hunger that food satiated, leaving the longing to grow even deeper and an endless pit and dump for more food.  The defense mechanism, the exterior wall around myself, only grew sturdier.

That thinking did finally solidify for me and the defense mechanism, as a means for survival.  It will, though, always mark a significant turning point, both physically and spiritually for me, October 2003.  At that point I was six years into this journey and was at my best, up to that point.  I was at my lowest weight in lived memory, and in an instant, it all fell apart.  I quickly realized just how fragile this new-found way was for me when my life was almost cut short following a rafting accident.  Life became much more about survival and questions that had no answers.  It seemed that the only thing certain in my life was food, or least how I saw food.  Those moments, that turned into months, solidified in a way that I never thought possible, how I felt about myself, projecting it all onto God, questioning why I was plucked from the raging river.  It wasn’t as some would think, as to preferring death, but rather why I was pulled from “the belly of the whale”, as to what was being asked of me in this life and would I have it in me to do it!  It all seemed daunting where all I wanted to do in those moments was crawl into a closet and hide, fearing life all the more, eating as a way to protect myself, when in reality, I was simply feeding the voices of shame and guilt.  Yet, I never went back.  It became an endless cycle of eating and exercising to the point of exhaustion, simply to stay where I was, at least knowing on some level that going back was not the answer.  I knew that and know that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

If I could sum up the fifteen years since that moment, I’d say it was one of trying to crawl my way back to where I was and fighting all the way.  I firmly believed that was the answer.  If I could only return to the way life was before that day then all would be well.  I can’t even begin to explain how many times I thought that and said that, thinking somehow I could turn back the clock and erase all that had happened.  What I didn’t know, though, was just how much the “stinkin’ thinkin’” had held its grip on me.  As much as clawing and fighting were the name of the game, there was a gradual process unfolding through it all that was unlearning what had been learned.  It wasn’t, as May points out, the “spaciousness” of what was within that I feared the most, it was that feeling of being trapped, the weight of a raft, an other, atop me, drowning in my own feelings and desires and desiring the dark confines of that enclosed space to that spaciousness.  There wasn’t even space for myself, let alone anyone else, in what I would describe now as some of the roughest seas of my life, often feeling like I was gasping for air.  Fighting it all the way, of course.  Wanting to go back and yet knowing that wasn’t the answer. The weight I carried on the exterior very much symbolized the weight I carried within my own heart and soul, a grief unlike any other.

Food, though, like alcohol, drugs, internet, or whatever the pleasure, is merely a symptom of something much deeper.  That spaciousness only seemed to open up within me as I learned to write, page after page, writing to a God that I needed to listen.  I needed someone that could know my deepest thoughts and desires without judgment.  I had done enough of that myself and couldn’t handle a God doing the same.  I was sick, in my own way, and didn’t have the ability to go to where I needed to in life, to the deepest recesses of my heart and soul that held the key to unlocking the secrets to the symptoms that plagued my life.  There was nothing easy about any of it, quite frankly.  At times I feared sharing these writings with anyone; the shame and guilt of who I thought I was ran deep.  All I could imagine was myself hovering over me, stick in hand, ready to pounce.  Eating became the solution.  Eating became an escape from reality.  It allowed me to create my own reality, one that would protect me from the pains of the world.  Little did I know that it merely fed the deepest pains of my own life.  The desire, as May points out, is to love and to be loved.  I didn’t know what that meant, at least in my own life.  I hadn’t even learned to love myself.  How could I possibly love another?

Page after page and sentence after sentence, it seemed as if God was finally listening.  I was falling less and less into eating.  The more I became with the spaciousness as a new way of life, the more I had room “in the inn” for others who were hurting, and sometimes in similar ways. I learned to let go of unrealistic expectations, that somehow losing weight was the answer to all my problems.  I’ve had to tell myself that one many times over.  I could never quite understand what the deeper hunger was that was driving me to eat all the more.  It was a hunger that never seemed to be satisfied.  It was a hunger for connection.  It was a hunger for intimacy.  It was a hunger for love and to be loved.  It felt, at times, like a freefall into the unknown, and with each fall God seemed to hoist me up all the quicker or I became more aware of the fall each time.

I’m not convinced that it ever goes away.  I suppose that’s why addicts continue to claim that with each passing day.  Yeah, it gets easier.  I get that.  But as much as I don’t like to admit it, I also believe that the fall is the key over and over again.  It seems that with each fall it’s not into spaciousness at first.  Rather, it leads me to that trapped space, the confines of the closet, that becomes the passage way each and every time.  Every time I’m asked to give up a little more, surrender this way of thinking, because my thinking seems to be almost chameleon-like, changing with me and finding new ways to seduce me into believing that acceptance and approval are found beyond myself.  As much as I try to turn it off myself, I know it’s only in the moment of surrender, when I stop clawing and fighting, when something bigger than myself takes hold.

Losing weight, or dealing with any addictive behavior or thinking, is never easy, but it holds the key to the life we desire and the deeper hungers that remind us of our humanity.  At times I’ve said I’d rather be an alcoholic for at least I don’t need alcohol to live.  I’ve learned to live without a great deal in the process and with that I am ok.  All forms of addictive behavior or thinking was designed to protect us from hurt.  We all have some tendencies.  It’s manipulated in a consumer world convincing us that our deeper hungers, which are very much connected with our deepest hurts, can somehow be “taken care of” by something, whether it be food, alcohol, drugs, etc.  Although in the past month or so I have surpassed that point of October 2003, finally, there were mixed emotions through that process of crossing a threshold I had placed for fifteen years.

The very fact that I sit here writing this now has taken a lot of coaxing because it’s very personal to me.  It has been the loss of a great deal of who I thought I was over the years, and now, at times, as I step out of the confines, I’m left often wondering how to live my life.  It’s no longer the question of survival, but about what truly feeds the deepest hungers in my life and how does that love manifest itself in the life God has given me.  I’m left with trying to make sense out of what it all means in the days and months ahead.  There is, if I am honest with myself, a sense of grief and dying that is taking place within myself that I myself am not even able to yet comprehend or even put into words.  That’s not easy to admit.  Everyone wants to assume I feel better and have more energy, and on a physical level that is very true.  I have never been more active in my life.  However, the certainty has vanished and the defense mechanism is no longer standing in the way of the mystery of life and relationship.  I find myself looking for deeper meaning in my own life and in friendships.  It’s caused me to pause and question who is in my life and are they in the realm of that space.

I guess the bottom line is, like the rafting accident, I find myself asking questions that there aren’t really answers to, or not as quickly as I’d like.  But it’s different this time and the questions are open to possibility rather than shutting myself off, vulnerability rather than superficial, free rather than confining.  You see, at some point I finally began to see that it wasn’t about health and it wasn’t about others, as much as I’m still driven to think so at times.  Rather, it’s about me and the life entrusted to me by God.  I needed to learn acceptance.  I needed to learn love.  I needed to learn to feel and express.  I needed to be vulnerable.  I needed to step out of my own box.  I needed more than I could express and thankfully there have been people, friends, along the way who believed in me in that way.  I needed to believe in myself.

The journey “homeward” is never an easy one.  As a matter of fact, each time it appears you’re “getting there” new obstacles appear that open the door for deeper opportunity.  Deep down I have always wanted to do this for myself.  I believe that desire has always been there, that somehow I knew there was more to me than what I carried with me day in and day out.  I was never satisfied, and quite frankly, not sure I will ever be satisfied.  It’s in my DNA to question and to go deeper, either with others or within myself.  With every bite I took I knew there was something that was trying to be revealed.  The more I became aware, the more it was revealed.  I’ve never gone back and never plan on going back, to that place, at least.  When “home” is finally found nothing else satisfies the hunger.  Food, eating, addiction, has something very profound to teach if we’re willing to believe, to unlearn the learned, and to be open to the pain of others to enter in and teach.  The reasons change with age but so does what gives meaning and purpose.  What doesn’t change, though, is that hunger to love and to be loved.  When we recognize it as the eternal addiction we finally learn that nothing else satisfies and nothing will ever be enough except the utter abandonment of it all and a total trust in God as we fall into the mystery of our lives, broken and redeemed.  For “God does not love us if we change; God loves us so we can change.”

 

 

 

The Promise Realized

Micah 5: 1-4; Hebrews 10: 5-10; Luke 1: 39-45

I’ve been reading this book, God is Young, which is basically an interview that Pope Francis had done with an Italian journalist as a preliminary conversation before the Synod held in October on young people. The basic premise surrounds the question, “How do we move forward?” It seems that we’re rather stuck, not only in the Church world, but certainly as a country and even city, where it seems that we just can’t seem to move beyond this point of separateness. The gist of what Francis tells the journalist is that we have to connect the two generations that often get tossed aside in our world; obviously young people as to whom the synod was dealing with as well as the elderly. The young tend to get disregarded as being naïve and the elderly we don’t have time for or don’t want to deal with the reality of aging. He says, the answer forward is in those two. The young people are the dreamers, the visionaries, the prophetic voices where as the elderly have the lived experience and the wisdom to temper the energy but combined a way forward evolves and unfolds. He pretty much says anyone in between the two have a tendency to become too attached to the systems, whether in terms or religion, politics, or economically, that they don’t want to change and can’t see the necessity and so they try to silence the two that have the necessary vision.

It is, on some level, what unfolds in this dramatic scene in today’s gospel from Luke in the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth. It is the reconciling of the past and future, in the one that is barren with the one who is full of life, the old and the new. Neither has any idea what the other has been through following the announcement of the birth of their children until they have this encounter with one another. In that very moment, two worlds collide with one another and a semblance of peace comes to their hearts, confirming that God has fulfilled the promise of long ago through their very lives. Here are two women at opposite ends of their lives and yet facing similar situations. Mary, in her teens, now faces with trepidation the shaming of a society, casting her aside for having this child under such circumstances and Elizabeth who has lived with the same reality in remaining childless her entire life and now beyond child-bearing age. In this moment, the Christ reconciles these two worlds and a vision unfolds, a vision that Luke has already began to spell out in the telling of these miraculous stories.

As the promise is fulfilled, Mary will go on and proclaim a vision for who this child is to be and a radical image of a God who has delivered the two of them. Mary’s Magnificat will turn the patriarchal God of the past on its head and a fresher and newer understanding of God who becomes incarnate as we will celebrate on Christmas. Luke already begins to point us in that very direction with these two women as the prophetic voices announcing this God of vision. The one would be seen as the prophetic voice, Zechariah, the head of the house, the man, is silenced in the announcement of their pregnancy and the voice of the women are raised in their consistent faith and trust in God, not separated from their lived experience of shame and being voiceless. Before the Christ is born, Luke already begins to point us to a new reality of God of giving voice to the ones who had been cast aside announcing the fulfillment of the promise made from the beginning of time.

You would think that Israel would have greater faith and trust in such a God, certainly symbolized through these two women, knowing their own heritage of a God who has seen the people through exile. Here two woman, one full of life and the other barren, learn to trust not only through their experience, but the experience of their ancestors of past that regardless of their own circumstances, God will see them through, even if not experienced first-hand. They obviously knew that Moses never did, and yet the dream, the promise, the prophetic voice continued to break through reconciling past with a present all in the name of Christ, God’s will.  Israel, to this day, stands as a microcosm of a separated world. The place of life and birth, as Micah proclaims, in Bethlehem, still remains separated from the barren city of Jerusalem by a wall. When we separate the two rather than reconciling we become what we are, a stuck people, clinging to dysfunction rather than trusting a new vision and hope for the human race, for the Church, our country and world.

As we gather for this Fourth Week or day of Advent, we gather mindful that these two women are more than just a story; they are each of us. God has planted within all of us a vision, a dream, a prophetic voice that can get out of control if not tempered by the voice of wisdom gently moving us along, teaching us to trust and let go. As much as it needs to happen in our Church and world in bringing together the ones without a voice, it’s a challenge to each of us individually as well. Their story remains are story as well. Israel, despite it’s own inability to get out of its own way, raises us these two radical women today while silencing the powerful ones of the world, leading us to a place of trust, that the promise given from the beginning of time continues to unfold and be fulfilled in our very lives. Sure we often prefer begin stuck in what we know, but Mary and Elizabeth remind us just how unsatisfying life is lived in that way. The more we keep ourselves open to the unknown, to mystery, to a God of great surprises, that same God will continue to give birth to us through the very same Spirit that has always stood as the great reconciler of dreams and wisdom. The promise given from the beginning is our promise, to have faith and trust and God will see us through. We may not know what it all looks like, but that’s why these two are about trust and the courage to say yes, not just once, but over the course of their lives, gradually opened to the birth of a new God, a new reality, rooted in Mystery.

Suffering Silence

Isaiah 50: 5-9; Mark 8: 27-35

If you follow Church politics, and it’s really hard not to at the moment, then you know there’s been this debate about Pope Francis being silent on the accusations brought against him, and many others for that matter, except the guy making the accusations.  Now I’m not here to judge whether it’s right or wrong.  I don’t know it all nor all the facts so it’s hard to make such a judgment in the first place.  However, in the age we live we demand answers and justice.  We somehow think we deserve to know it all.  We want to react and overreact to everything without ever taking the time to step back and allow things to sink into the silence.

All that said, it’s important to keep in mind that both have been silent on it, both Pope Francis and the former diplomat who made the accusations.  There is, though, a difference in their silence.  The former diplomat is in hiding, not unlike the disciples on that first Easter when they were locked in the upper room out of fear.  Quite frankly, it’s easy to throw a lot of dirt and then run, but that is a silence rooted in fear.  It leads to secrecy and shame, a silence we’re all too familiar with in our own lives and from the Church for that matter.

There is, though, a silence that accompanies suffering.  It’s a silence we’re often less familiar with because we do everything in our power to avoid it.  It’s a silence that creates space for uncomfortableness, rather than fear and anxiety.  It’s a silence that moves us to deeper places in our own hearts, to a place of freedom, a place where the truth can be revealed.  It’s a silence that requires patience, quite frankly, to simply be in our suffering rather than reacting demanding truth, because, quite frankly, for us, it’s a truth that will never satisfy our own restlessness, other than maybe a few days or so, it’s thinking as humans does rather than as God, as Jesus points out today.

It’s this type of silence that Mark writes about throughout his gospel including what we hear today where he warns them not to tell anyone.  However, it doesn’t take long for Peter, and the others, to start doing the inevitable.  With each passing story there is a small bit of information and fact that is revealed, just as it is today, and they immediately think they know it all.  They think they have all the truth and will begin to abuse it.  They know what they know but they don’t know why and certainly don’t know what they don’t know.  The rest of Mark’s gospel will begin to reveal that mystery until it’s ultimate climax in the paradox of the Cross, the crossing of life and death that will reveal the deeper truth that they desire.  So when Jesus warns Peter today about shooting off his mouth, Mark tells us he looks at all of them to do it, warning the crew about their inevitable sin of not being able to sit with what is revealed and allow the deeper truth to continue to be revealed.  The next scene is the transfiguration in Mark’s Gospel and following that they will begin to argue about who’s the greatest, who’s has higher stature in the group, and so on, unable to allow the pieces of the puzzle to be revealed, step by step, and learning to live into that mystery, into that silence.  It’s painful, and like us, they want nothing to do with any of it.  Yet, it’s the only way for truth to be revealed, a truth that goes beyond facts and knowledge.  That forces us to stay on the surface and never delve into the deeper problems of a broken humanity.

It is also Isaiah’s struggle in the first reading today.  This is a reading we normally hear on Palm Sunday so it accompanies the passion and death of Jesus.  He reveals elements of the suffering servant.  He too, learns to sit in the silence and allow the deeper truth to be revealed in and through him.  Quite honestly, people have had enough with Isaiah at this point.  They’re tired of hearing what he has to say.  Not unlike us, they’re bombarded with it all.  They’re quick to judge, demand stuff, feel abandoned, and getting swallowed up in their own suffering.  Isaiah, though, today tells them that God has given him an ear to hear.  Sure, there is that physical ear he has like the rest of us, but that’s not what he speaks of here.  He speaks of the eyes and ears of his heart.  Our physical ears and eyes are too quick to judge.  They want proof.  They want answers.  They demand justice.  All Isaiah can do, though, is sit with it.  He’s aware they don’t want to hear it.  He learns to sit with the suffering and allow that silence to deepen they mystery and allow that truth to be revealed.

In an age when we are bombarded with noise, silence becomes all the more necessary.  We have politicians that are constantly throwing stuff at us and more often than not out of fear.  They try to manipulate and deceive with perceived facts and truths and all the rest and more often than not because we can’t sit in our own suffering.  We want to share it with the world rather than learning to sit in silence with it.  It’s the only way to transformation and the only way to move to the deeper places in our own hearts in order to experience the real truth.  We can demand and expect all we want, as human beings always do, but only leads to greater dissatisfaction and it’s never enough.  We end up acting upon our fear, our anxiety, our own uncomfortableness in life rather than allowing truth to be revealed.  It is only in the paradox of the cross where the deeper truth is revealed, not in facts or figures, but in Christ crucified.  It’s the piece of knowledge that Peter and the others didn’t want to hear and we often don’t want to hear either.  It really is easier to judge, invoke fear, accuse, demand, react and overreact, but it’s a whole other thing when we can simply sit in the uncomfortableness of the suffering that comes with the silence Jesus demands, for, in playing the long game, it is the only way in which the real truth will rise up and be revealed.

Family Lies

Genesis 3: 9-15; 2Cor 4: 13–5: 1; Mark 3: 20-35

When we hear this gospel and the question of family, it’s important to remember that we’re not reading Matthew or Luke where we hear the narratives of the Holy Family that we have become accustomed to during the Christmas season.  In Mark, who we hear from this weekend, they are nonexistent and so when family is spoken of today it’s a much larger context, we can define them as the human family that sets out with the accusation of him “being out of his mind”.  That said, when it comes to family, it’s not so much as to whether there is dysfunction it’s a matter of the degree of dysfunction within the human family.  Every family has secrets and things they don’t talk about.  No family even wants to give the perception that they are far from perfect all while believing “out there” someone has it better than ourselves, creating a sense of shame and guilt that runs deep where no one can ever speak of the elephant in the room.

We also know, from the nuclear family, that it’s often an outsider who reveals our own insanity to us.  When someone brings home a boyfriend, girlfriend, or just anyone who didn’t grow up within that family, they see things differently.  Now our immediate reaction is to typically judge that person and cast them aside as being “out of his mind” but that’s our own way of avoiding the dysfunction.  What we can do, though, is allow these things to surface and not to judge them or others but rather to allow them to be healed and redeemed.  That’s what God desires of and for the human family.  We can take that a step further also to this city or certainly as a country.  We live in denial of our own history so often.  We prefer not to look at it and avoid it all while the rest of the world already knows.  It’s why we feel so threatened by outsiders.  They have a way of revealing what we don’t like about ourselves and we’ll do anything to destroy, by word or action.  We continue to see it today with families being torn apart, refugees being shunned, anyone that is seen as a threat to our own way of life is disposable.

Jesus, though, becomes the archetypal outsider, living on the edge of the inside.  How quickly people, those in power in particular, feel threatened by his very existence.  Today, it’s the human family.  It’s a very simple question that is asked as to “who is my brother and mother”.  We can come up with obvious answers to those questions but it seems to get clouded by Jesus.  They want to immediately react and say he’s crazy, in the same way we do with people who do heinous acts, to somehow save them from themselves.  But Jesus isn’t simply referring to his immediate family as I said.  He becomes a perceived threat to the way of life for the human family.  So their response to him is to label him crazy.  They don’t want to associate with him or have any parts of him in that sense.  As soon as he begins to threaten the status quo of their lives things are turned upside down.  The very people who thought they were insiders now find themselves on the outside looking in because they don’t feel the need for redemption and refuse to look at their own sin.  It’s a fascinating play on words and turning things upside down, allowing all to surface in order to be redeemed through a God how continues to look out at humanity with great love.

It takes us to one of the most famous passages of Genesis with Adam and Eve doing what they do in the Garden.  They buy into the big lie just as we do.  They are convinced, rather easily, that if they eat from that particular tree in the middle of the garden they can be God.  There would no longer need to God and they can become self-sufficient, just as we often try.  There is, in some sense from God today a level of disappointment with the human family for what they had done and the lie they so easily believed.  God continues to look lovingly upon them as their own sin surfaces to be redeemed and reconciled.  Whereas the human family wants to quickly label God as “out of his mind” God in turn looks lovingly.  It’s not until they realize that they have become lost that they can be sought out and found by Love.  It’s not about becoming God.  Rather, it’s about seeing as God sees and to look at a hurting human family in that same way, in need of love, forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation. 

It’s Paul’s continuous point to the people of Corinth as well, whom we hear from in the second reading.  He reminds them that we have “the same spirit of faith” and that as a community which also had become reliant upon itself and self-sufficient, that it was still God who was working in and through them.  They community was becoming its own judge and determining who was in and who was out, excluding people from the table, mistreating others, and simply seeing with their own eyes rather than the eyes of God.  Paul, of course, knows this better than anyone.  He was the one who judged and deemed who was in and out until his own conversion experience.  Paul had to first find himself lost in order to be found by this God who loved and redeemed him for his own sin, sin which we’d find hard to forgive at times.  Yet, that same God who looked lovingly upon Adam and Eve looked upon Paul and his vision had been restored and he began to look at the human family in a very different way.  Paul sought a more just society, especially for those who were excluded.  Like Jesus, he learned to live on the edge of the inside and never forgetting what it’s like to be the outsider.

The human family can be quite dysfunctional; and is quite often.  It should not surprise us that our government is the same as family and also the Church.  When the human family is involved there will always be problems.  The question is do we live in denial of our own storied history or do we allow it to surface with purpose and meaning, revealing the great lies that we become attached to in order to be redeemed and reconciled, leading to a more just society.  The ones who gather around Jesus in today’s gospel always has space for new faces.  There are no walls, no divisions, nothing that separates, otherwise it’s not God.  We put ourselves on the outside looking in when we make the mistake from the Garden, of thinking we know as God knows, of thinking we can be the judge.  It becomes easier to blame and be victims rather than allow ourselves to be changed when our own sin surfaces.  The Good News, as it always is, just as in the beginning, God still looks lovingly upon us, awaiting our own desire in our lostness to be found.

Resurrection Is

John 20: 1-16

If you were in this church either Thursday or Friday you know that it looks much different this morning than it did then, when we began the Easter celebration. One of the things that struck me here, more than any other place I’ve been, in those days, was the empty tabernacle because it’s unlike any other I’ve seen. We’re kind of used to the golden tabernacle that when it’s opened you can see pretty much all that’s there. But on Thursday night as I sat in the front pew, spending a little time reflecting, I was mesmerized by this one because it’s dark inside and from where I was sitting almost seemed endless. It was like looking into the night sky and if I were to put my hand in there it would just go on forever.

As I was preparing for these days and trying to read and listen to as much as I could about John, looking for new ways to preach these gospels, some of his images in the story of Mary Magdala, in its fullness, began to surface when I saw that empty tabernacle. For John, the Resurrection narratives, the first of which is Mary Magdala who goes onto witness the resurrected Christ by herself, become the fullness of the promise at the beginning of the gospel, the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. It culminates at this narrative in particular, but not limited to Jesus nor Mary Magdala, nor ourselves for that matter.

The first image John will go on to use is that of the garden. This all takes place in the garden. Mary will mistake Jesus as the gardner and gardens appear several times in John’s gospel, just as it does in the front of our altar today, and with good reason for John. Even the garden in the passion is different than in the other gospels, but now, even creation partakes in the resurrection narrative. What John tries to create in this image and symbol is a restored Garden of Eden. That this eternal Christ, now resurrected, restores all of God’s creation to it’s fullness and wholeness. For John, creation too has something to teach us and even goes through it’s own gradual conversion from the changing of seasons, if we can allow ourselves to listen to it and reverence it in the way John displays in this resurrection narrative.

But there’s still that empty tomb, and even for us the few previous days, the empty tabernacle. If you know anything about Israel’s history, you got to know that the Temple was destroyed and rebuilt probably more times that we can count. In that temple, beyond the garden, was the holy of holies, which it’s sacredness was only seen by particular people. There was something beyond the veil that was to be seen by those with sight. Think about what many see when they visit a grave like Mary, Peter, and the other disciple do. We often see death, we see end, we are often caught up in our grief, shame, loneliness, like that endless interior of that tabernacle on the days leading up to today, but today is something different, at least for Mary. For Peter and the other disciple, who are so caught up in their grief and shame, mourning the loss of Jesus, they flee the scene and return to the locked upper room out of fear. But Mary will stay behind and through her tears begins to see something very different and things begin to change very quickly for her as the scene progresses.

Now don’t be foolish into thinking that somehow this event takes away the suffering of the world. We all know it doesn’t. But that also isn’t John’s point and why he is the Easter gospel. For John, it’s all about the process of conversion and moving to a life of joy. For John that path was in stark contrast with the Pharisees and Sadducees as we heard during Lent. For them, they had reduced God to an intellectual construct, just as we often have for centuries as well. Think about our own experience of God and faith. We want scientific proof, we want facts, we want it all proven for us. But that’s the thing, as Mary teaches us here, I can’t and I know nothing I say could change someone’s mind. How Mary stands in contrast has nothing to do with intellect. For Mary, she shows us the way to a lived experience of the Christ must come through the heart. She will weep and then she will hear her name said by the Risen Christ, Mary. From that moment on her life is changed forever. She doesn’t need the other disciples to tell of what they have known or anyone else for that matter, for Mary her heart was moved to tears and her eyes were opened, no longer an endless abyss in the tomb, but a resurrected Christ and an invitation to a new life for Mary. Even the fact that it comes not just with tears but in the hearing of her name is a lesson John tries to teach. Think about how he speaks to his mother at the beginning of the gospel where he calls her woman. It’s not being nasty to her. Rather, she too is invited into the same process. When Lazarus hears his name, he comes out. When Mary Magdala hears her name, she comes out and is changed forever.

For John, as we heard in the weeks of Lent and will now hear for the next fifty days, our lives are about the invitation to conversion, to a change of heart so that we too have an experience of the promise that he gives of the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Like many of the characters in his stories, we know it happens over time and gradually. It’s sometimes much easier to live with the grief, guilt, shame, and absence that we experience in our lives than to allow ourselves to be opened to something new and a lived experience of the eternal Christ, who has been, is, and always will be. Just as the garden, the tomb, Mary, and others are transformed, so can we. It’s the Easter promise. Just as I said on Good Friday that we must look at that day through the lens of Easter, today is no different. Resurrection is and we must look at Easter through the lens of Easter otherwise it loses its power.

We pray for that conversion in our own lives and to notice the moments when Christ is inviting us into the lived experience of our faith. Just as it was for Mary, it’s change our lives forever. A lived experience of the Christ, who was, and is, and always will be, changes us in ways like none other. If this Christ can do what has been done in and through others, just imagine what this same Christ is trying to do to us at this very moment. We, all too often, have pushed the whole experience of resurrection to some life after this one, but what John reminds us is that Resurrection is. And at this very moment, God calls our names and is preparing our hearts to be changed once again and forever.

Unfinished Business

Acts 5: 27-32, 40-41; John 21: 1-19

After listening to the gospels for these first three weeks of Easter, it’s hard not to sit, scratching my head, wondering what’s going on with these disciples. They never quite seem to get it, despite the fact that John tells us that it’s now the third time the Lord appears! There seems to be this continuous gap for them in that their hearts are being led in a new direction through their experience of the risen Lord and then their lives. I suppose it’s a gap we all deal with in our own lives, that faith is something we do here on Sunday and then go about our business. But with the disciples, it’s supposed to be something different. They have followed and watched and rather than seeking out and following their hearts, they return to what they know; they return to fishing.

But something is different this time around. They come to the Sea of Tiberias with a lot of unfinished business in their lives, they gather with questions, and even continue to gather with fear, maybe not knowing what all of it means. This time, quite frankly, their hearts just aren’t in it. Their hearts have already moved on and yet they remain in what now seems like old hat for the disciples. But even this is different. The gospel tells us that they caught nothing; it seems as if they’ve even lost their touch with fishing, going the whole night and not catching even a single fish, leaving them, I’m sure, with more questions and simply gazing off in the darkened sky, their hearts elsewhere, and now another encounter with the Lord. Before they can embrace the freedom that we hear from them in Acts today, they must first have another encounter with the Lord and begin to grapple with and be freed from, this unfinished business of theirs.

And so there they are. No one questions who’s on the shore because they already know it’s the Lord. The gap between them and him seems immeasurable as they sit on the boat in the water. Here they are aware of the choices that they have made over these days that have led them to this place. They’ve watched all that he has done these years but their hearts never moved until now. They’ve abandoned, they’ve rejected, the’ve fled in fear, they grieve, and now they stand before the Lord once again. Peter remains with his unfinished business of denying the Lord but given the chance to be restored and freed from his own blindness, yet probably still feels the fear of judgment.

It’s amazing how much they change by the time we get to Acts. They’re like new people where their lives have seemed to have caught up with where their hearts had been leading them. They now stand before the very people that feared Jesus and wanted to see him gone. The power of Christ crucified, now raised from the dead, has spread far and wide and so the threat to the Sanhedrin is even greater. All their self-acclaimed power and authority is once again being challenged by these men that now appear fearless, free from all that has held them back in the gospel. They know their lives are at stake but they also know that they have found something greater than the Sanhedrin and anything they try to impose upon the people. But they don’t judge the Sanhedrin because they’ve been there. All they can do is walk away with joy-filled hearts. They knew they had everything to lose at that point, if they didn’t confront their own fear. They would have given into their heads rather than being led by their hearts. The disciples have been changed for good and they can no longer return. Fishing, for them, will take on new meaning.

And so it comes down for us as it does for Peter in today’s gospel about his own commitment to the Lord and this deeper love that he is called to in life. Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me? It’s so easy to answer in the affirmative, but again, Peter understands the unfinished business he believes he has with the Lord and yet it’s not Jesus’ approach. He never interrogates or questions in that way. Rather, he asks him if he loves him more than these, whatever “these” is. Was it these disciples? Or this old way of life? What are the “these” in our own lives that we tend to love more, if we can really call it that. It’s not usually love but rather a fear that so often disguises itself as love. Whether it’s our career, our wealth, our reputation, our fear, our own way of living, or whatever it may be, we all have “these” things in our lives that prevents us from turning our hearts over to the Lord fully. Yeah, the disciples eventually do and it changes them forever. But fear is hard to break in our lives because it so often is all we know. The disciples could try to imitate all that Jesus had done in healing, curing, feeding, and all the rest, but now he’s asking for more.

At this moment, we probably find ourselves somewhere in between the gospel and Acts. We may have the desire for that freedom that they experience in Acts and yet fear continues to hold. It leaves us, like them, with this unfinished business in our own lives. But Jesus is asking more and is leading us to more to a place where it’s not just imitating actions, but rather, having a heart like his. That’s what makes the question to Peter to pivotal and important for him and us. The gospel provides the image for us to sit with in our own lives and allow the Lord to ask us the same. You have to believe Peter came with guilt and shame at what he had done, but the Lord meets him there and invites him to that deeper place, that place of authentic love that will change him forever and that will change us forever as well!

What Do You Want me to do For You?

It seems rather ridiculous that Jesus would ask blind Bartimaeus, “what do you want me to do for you” in light of the fact that we are all aware and know his condition, he’s blind. Wouldn’t that be the obvious answer for Bartimaeus or for any of us, for that matter, that I’d want to see? But maybe it isn’t that obvious. What makes this encounter different, knowing that this section of Mark’s gospel began with a healing of another blind guy, where the same question was never posed to him?

I have used that question many times in hearing confessions with people and we often have no idea just how hard it is to answer. I dare say that it carries with it a lot of our baggage, at least what I have been able to tell in talking with people. Our automatic reply is that God already knows what we want. Another response is a thinking that we’re not worthy enough to be asked such a question, holding not a great deal of guilt and shame that prevents us from even hearing the question. It’s not easy to identity the deepest longings of the heart and soul, especially when we really believe that there is something wrong with us, not even recognizing that it’s not only the healing but also a restoration of our dignity in God’s infinite creation.

However, before we even get to the question in today’s gospel there is first a call that takes place. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus and in turn Jesus calls him. Remember some of the other stories we’ve heard these past weeks. It wasn’t that long ago that we heard the call of the rich man and we know how that ends; he walks away sad, unable to give up his riches. Although the disciples are directly called, they were fighting over who was the greatest, brothers bickering about who will sit on the left and right, unable to give up there thirst for power. And then the call today, from Bartimaeus and to Bartimaeus. Maybe this takes us to that deeper place of the question asked by Jesus, leading to an authentic call and response from the one who has given it all up and then follows the Lord. The one who is powerless in the life of the community, seeks the Lord in his own desperation, humbled and primed for this encounter.

The irony for all of us, though, is we often are not aware of our own blindness and blindspots that we have. The more the Lord calls out, we can continue to get stuck in that question of worthiness, believing the shame and guilt we’ve lived with our entire lives, thinking that’s the way, believing that voice when it calls. Yet, that voice of the Lord will continue to call out and penetrate through the blindness of our lives until the call from within is in union with the call from beyond, an encounter with the living Lord as it is with Bartimaeus.

As we know it was never an easy response for Israel either. They often found themselves being asked that question from within and beyond and seemingly lost over and over again, whether in the Exodus or in exile as many of the prophets write, such as Jeremiah today. Yet, that voice never stops calling them forward. But like Bartimaeus, they too often have to reach the point of desperation and humility, letting go of their own pride and shame before they can respond to the call to return to the land of life. Just at that moment when you think you can’t go any further, the mercy and love of God unfolds, eyes are opened, and we follow on the way.

In the end, the call and response is one and the same, coming from and to that voice of God that calls us out like Bartimaeus. How often do we not have time to even listen to it or get stuck in the worthiness question that prevents us from the free response to the Lord. Bartimaeus provides us the opportunity to sit with your imagination in prayer and to begin to hear the voice of Jesus speak to us, “what do you want me to do for you,” but rather than shying away, allow yourself even to be moved to tears, knowing, like Batimaues, God’s mercy and love has begun to penetrate our blindness and we can be restored to wholeness and holiness. Once penetrated, we too will pick up and follow on the way and our lives will be forever changed.