In times of disruption, our first reaction is to try and recover what we believe has been lost. Do you think we can resurrect the aluminum and steel mills and automobile plants and somehow get back on track? That argument ends in suggesting we need to open more factories to make buggy whips. There is no going back no matter how comforting nostalgia seems. The same is true for our sense of the sacred.
Gospel Reading for September 6, 2009
24From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Paul and Martha Puckett are visiting Woodland Friends today but last week needed my two wheel dollie to help transfer boxes of coins from their basement to the back of the east bound S.U.V. belonging to the family who acquired Paul’s coin business. I was told that the boxes weighed about 50#. I felt honored to have been a witness to what was a big transition in the lives of Paul and Martha. As I waited in their kitchen until I could do something helpful it struck me how much I have been witness to transitions in other people’s lives. Transitions can be pretty disconcerting. Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah 35: 4-7 comes as pretty good news. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”
5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; ….
As we left on our recent trip, our son-in-law, Erik, was setting up an apartment in Seattle so he could do some translation work for an employer there. This is quite a transition for he and Merideth. And then, on the day we arrived at the home of our grandsons, our other son-in-law, Jim, was offered a new position with his employer in Maine. That’s how Susan and I lengthened our recent travels by a thousand miles, going with Jim, Liz and the boys to scout out the new territory.
On the trip back home we visited Susan’s brother. What a tremendous difference his multiple illnesses have made on him. Susan thinks it highly unlikely she will ever see him again. And on getting back to my desk I found a joyous note from Sue that she had been offered a job by the company for which she has been doing temporary work. And then I saw the Meeting Room and the transition that is going on there. It just seemed that everywhere I looked I was a witness to transition. Yes, some of which was good and just as obvious is that some is regrettable and unavoidable.
Nationally we are in a time of transition. Fewer people than ever who own businesses or who are employed by someone else feel very secure these days. On the trip I visited communities where I saw grass growing in the parking lots of huge manufacturing facilities and where retirement and health savings and long standing contracts and commitments have vanished with corporate bankruptcies. I saw where lots in fully developed residential areas with streets and utilities in place were auctioned off for pennies on the dollar.
While in Maine I was in the surf with our grandsons and trying to stand my ground as the waves were beating in. You can’t stand unmoved while waves beat around you – because the movement of the waves themselves erode the ground from right beneath your feet. Elton Trueblood took for the basis of one his books these words from Archimedes: “Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth”. Practically speaking Archimedes was expounding on the value of a lever and Elton was trying to argue for intellectual honesty – but the importance of a place to stand, especially in times of transition, is unquestionable.
Where do we look for stability when all around us is sinking sand. It calls to mind the chorus to that old hymn “The Solid Rock”. How did it go? “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.” One of the verses says: “when all around my soul gives way he then is all my hope and stay.”
In times of disruption, our first reaction is to try and recover what we believe has been lost. Do you think we can resurrect the aluminum and steel mills and automobile plants and somehow get back on track? That argument ends in suggesting we need to open more factories to make buggy whips. There is no going back no matter how comforting nostalgia seems. The same is true for our sense of the sacred. At our Yearly Meeting sessions this past summer we witnessed a valiant, heartfelt and sincere attempt to restore practices of revivalism which in my life time have been generally abandoned as manipulative, and harmful. What became clear was that spiritual integrity is not about method nor can it be culturally imported. Our times argue that Christian Spirituality, like today’s science, cannot be grounded in demonstrable facts or proofs, rather it is embedded in the context of relationship – our relationship to God and with each other.
From your own experiences in life, how does a loving, caring relationship develop? In the conclusion of the now dated movie, When Harry Met Sally, breathless from running, Harry comes into the ball room and they see each other. Sally tells him he can’t just barge in to her life. “It doesn’t work that way” she says. “Well, how does it work?” he asks and then continues: “When you finally realize who you want to spend the rest of your life with, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible!” When you fall in love with someone it’s not about rules or rituals. Don’t you want to spend time with them, breath the same air they breath, listen intently to their hopes and dreams? In this regard Jesus is still our mentor.
He told us that our God is a loving God who desires to be in relationship with us. That is really good news. It isn’t restrictive to age, race or economics. It isn’t grounded in emotionality, shame, guilt or belief. It isn’t about securing privilege or prosperity. It is a very quiet, internal intention to become engaged with Christ’s spirit. The Quaker take on it is that Christ has come to teach his people himself. The living Christ seeks us out, wanting to know you and wanting to share with you his purpose for your life.
Now that is the picture of what makes sense to me for contemporary Christian spirituality. I’m making a couple of suggestions. The first is a commitment to spend time in solitude and silence, alone with Christ – in a posture of listening – being consciously aware of Christ’s presence. The second episode in our Gospel reading is the story of the man who was handicapped in his ability to speak due to his inability to hear. Spiritually, isn’t that too often the case. We tend to speak or act before first listening. Second, is immersing oneself in the Scriptures, allowing that same spirit who inspired its writers to bring to life the words we find there (and I wouldn’t rule out reading the experiences of others who like yourself have taken this risk to spiritual openness). Third, I think we need to expose to Christ’s wisdom the plans we are making and humbly let those intentions be reshaped to Christ’s design. And finally, as a test of our vision, I’m learning to listen carefully to my own prayers if intercession and petition. Maybe that’s the genius for going into our closet and closing the door – so we can vocalize our prayer. Seriously, it brings you up short to truly hear what you are praying for!
Again, the good news is that Christ wants to be in communion with you. Like the woman in the Gospel reading whose daughter was healed, there are no pre requisites for such a divine encounter, only a willingness to be receptive.