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Mary Magdalene

March 31, 2013

John 20:11 – 18

No Sabbath had ever felt as long as the one after our Lord died.  We waited.  We sat together, all the disciples, and all us women with them, even Mary, his mother.  We could hardly even speak.  The shadows along the wall barely seemed to move, and neither did we.

After a restless night, the women and I rose early to go back out the grave.  We had prepared spices that night, as soon as the sun set after the Holy Day and we were free to work again.  We had watched him pierced, we had heard his last breath, and yet still we wanted to see his body … to reverence him in that small way that we could, with our humble anointing of spices.

When we arrived, dusty and despairing, and then saw that his body was not there, I was overwhelmed.  I don’t think I had really believed it, yet, that he was truly gone, but when I saw that bare stone, the wrinkled linens, it was then I felt that deep, gnawing emptiness in the pit of my stomach.  His tomb was empty.  His body was gone.  Our last chance to look upon him, to anoint and honor him after he had died in dishonor, was gone.

I wept at the tomb, for I do not know how long, feeling despair against despair.  When I looked inside, again, there were two men there, in white — yet I still did not understand it at the time, how they shone with a light that overpowered that dark tomb — and all they did was to ask why I wept.  And then I heard someone else — a man, in the brush behind the tomb — I assumed he was the gardener, out at his work.  He, too, asked why I wept.  I was distraught, and probably too demanding of him — through my tears I asked where the body was, and begged him that if he had moved it, to tell me, that I would come myself and take it away.  Whatever I thought … well, I didn’t think.  I grieved.  I would have gone myself to move the body in that moment, had I but known where it was.

His voice sounded so calm, like that peace in the air just before the dawn as the morning star fades away.  All he said was, “Mary.”  And I saw him, then, and I knew him.  It was the voice of my Teacher, my … Rabbi.

I remember … and with tears streaming down … I embraced him, this man who had just come back to us from the dead, who had … in that moment, conquered death itself.  I remembered when we had seen him call forth Lazarus from out of the ground, how the very air seemed to quiver with the power of his Spirit, and now he had risen … himself.  I did not understand it then, but I was not fearful.  This man was surely our Messiah.  He may not have led the rebellion that some were hoping for, but here he stood outside of what had been his own tomb, his dead body now warm and breathing and radiant with life.

He said, “Do not cling to me,” which was a hard word to hear, for I would have stood there all morning weeping and worshipping him.  But I didn’t.  He sent me, instead, back to the disciples, with a message.  He said to tell them that he was ascending, he said, “to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”  These were words I had not heard before, but I remember them still.  He was telling me that the Father — God, the Adonai — was now our father, as well.  As though he, Jesus, was now our brother.  That was what I told the apostles, through tears of joy.  “He is not in his grave, he is risen!  But he will not stay, he must ascend to heaven.  And he says that God is our father, and he is our brother.  He is out of his tomb, and he is our brother!”

He is risen, and he is ours.

On Desire & Gratitude & Christ

March 24, 2013

Kevin is being brilliant and convicting over at Cruciformation.  A taste:

Perhaps (whether we know it or not), the sinner and the saint are both sustained by a hope for Heaven. We live this way, always grasping at this hope until the day when it is revealed and we find that it is Christ himself! How dreadful it would be to discover that God offered himself to us, but we could not be satisfied in him. What horror to find that we had grown so used to saying “more” that we had forgotten how to say “thank you.”

Let us run to the one who says: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” Let us drink deeply and give thanks. Let us learn to say, “It is enough.”

Kevin Sheehan

Amen.

Who Lets It Dwell In Him Richly

March 24, 2013

The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God’s word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.

-J.I. Packer

Oh, let that be me.

Our bishop visited two weeks ago, and there are perhaps no better words for his visit than that he was a “Christian who has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul.”  His very presence among us radiated love and peace.  Although we unfortunately did not record his sermon, it was the kind of proclamation of truth that hit my core and has seemed to reverberate in my life the past few weeks.  It was about knowing God, and knowing ourselves in relation to God, and grasping God’s immense view of our worth — so much so that he sacrificed his son for the sake of our adoption into his family.  I am paraphrasing poorly … but it was a beautiful time.

One of the things he said to us was about asking the question, regularly and contemplatively, “What is God doing?”  There are echoes of that in what I’ve been gleaning from Richard Rohr’s Everything Belongs … he recently wrote about “sacrifice and gratitude.”  … One of the areas that I’ve grown a lot in the past few years has been learning to sacrifice.  Slowly, methodically, and not without some pain, God & I have worked through those areas in which I still clutched tightly, refusing to relinquish to control.  I’ve been learning to hold life with open hands, an offering.  Because, as my father — a man of few words but very wise ones — once told me, “it’s all God’s, anyways.”

And I began to think that the next step, then, as Rohr says, is gratitude.  And how can we explore the depths of God’s work on this earth without being overwhelmed by gratitude?  To look for where God is working is to release my own perspectives — of selfishness, of control, of bitterness, of regret or fear or grief — and to ask to see through His.  I cannot enter honestly into this question — what is God doing? — without slowly molding my heart towards gratitude.  He is alive, and moving with power and love, in hearts all around me.  He is good to us, and how seldom do we stop and look for the abundant evidence of his goodness.

But then, Shane touched on something else today about this idea of looking for what God is doing.  He read another J.I. Packer quote — I don’t have it all — about how contemporary Christians don’t often talk about our experience of God, about what we see him doing.  It is one thing to look around, contemplate, meditate, and be grateful.  But it shouldn’t end there — our answer to that question, what is God doing?, should so ground us and live in us that it overflows, and we are free to talk about it, and ask about it, and draw one another deeper into that authentic community that comes from being the adopted children of God.  It’s one thing to merely learn about the Bible:  to do the Bible study, read the book, exegete the text.  It is entirely another matter to let the Word transform us.  And then to live out of the joy and gratitude of that transformation, so much so that we can’t help but share it.

Oh, let that be me.

Holding My Right Hand

March 1, 2013

Because I, your God,
have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go.
I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic.
I’m right here to help you.’
-Isaiah 41:13, The Message

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’
-Isaiah 41:13, ESV

There was something that struck deep to my core last night as a friend read those words out loud about the God who, metaphorically, holds my right hand, stands next to me and says “I am the one who helps you.”  That the Message translates this, “Don’t panic” is amusingly all too true … that God knows, in our creaturely simplicity, that our first and default response is that fight-or-flight panic mentality.  The part of us that runs and hides when life gets rough.  And that He is a God who stands next to us and holds our hand and calmly tells us not to panic.

In the last few weeks, it was officially announced that my school (work) will be closed at the end of this year, and my car got broken into … in my driveway.  Plus the myriad other small daily burdens.  At times, I feel like I have to fight to keep trusting in the goodness and steadfast love of God.  And some days I just don’t have the energy.  Like tonight, when walking around my neighborhood, trying as best I could to offer up the events of the day to God in silent internal prayer, asking counsel, and seeking forgiveness, and wanting peace.

And I kept hearing that relentless refrain, with each passing thought:  Do you trust me?  Do you trust me?  Are you willing to trust me in this?

Honestly?  I’m really just kind of tired, Father.

Do you trust me?

I’m trying.  And I want to.

And that’s the best it gets some days.  I’m trying to trust.  And I want to trust.  And I believe, somewhere in the back of my mind even if I cannot affirm it with every ounce of my being in the moment, that God is for me and His will is perfect.  And He gently reminds me of the moments and days, strewn (and not coincidentally) throughout this past season, where life seemed remarkably sweet and peaceful and full of hope, like a taste of the goodness of God.

Yea, though I walk through the valleys.

I was talking with a dear friend from college recently, and she mentioned a letter she’d written to herself when she was younger, and what a surprise it was to go back and read it again.  She had something beautiful and insightful (as she usually does) to say about it:  “There is as much hope, and hard work, and love in my life now as I wanted there to be.”

Hope, and hard work, and love.  What a beautiful prayer for life.  And in mulling over that phrase in the past few days, and hearing hope, hard work, love, hope, hope, hope I keep thinking about how to hope is to live fully confident, fully trusting, in the goodness and faithfulness of God.

Do you trust me? 

I’m trying to.  Just keep holding my hand.

In the Listening

February 24, 2013

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
for he has anointed me
to bring good news to the afflicted.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to
captives, sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord.
(Luke 4:18-19)

After having read these words, Jesus said, “This text is being fulfilled today even while you are listening.” Suddenly, it becomes clear that the afflicted, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed are not people somewhere outside of the synagogue who, someday, will be liberated; they are the people who are listening. And it is in the listening that God becomes present and heals.

The Word of God is not a word to apply in our daily lives at some later date; it is a word to heal us through, and in, our listening here and now.

The questions therefore are: How does God come to me as I listen to the word? Where do I discern the healing hand of God touching me through the word? How are my sadness, my grief, and my mourning being transformed at this very moment? Do I sense the fire of God’s love purifying my heart and giving me new life? These questions lead me to the sacrament of the word, the sacred place of God’s real presence.

-Henri Nouwen, from With Burning Hearts:  A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life

Desert in the Oasis

February 19, 2013

That’s the thing about pain … it demands to be felt.
-John Green, The Fault in our Stars

In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of the pain before we have learned what it has to teach us. … We can’t leap over our grief work.  Nor can we skip over our despair work.  We have to feel it.
-Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

I glanced at the rearview mirror on my way home from our Ash Wednesday service, and for a brief moment I experienced what Richard Rohr is talking about in his book Everything Belongs when he talks about truly seeing reality for what it is — the Great Mystery, the kingdom of God, the foundation which is love.

I saw myself as a person covered with the cross of Christ.  An ashy cross, to be sure, but one which still contained wrapped up in it those disparate and paradoxical ideas that we embrace when we claim the cross of Christ — sacrifice and victory, death and life, emptiness and abundance.  No matter what I was, underneath, the cross was ever before me.  I was irrevocably marked by it.

Oh, that I could always see myself, and every soul I meet, with those eyes.

But I don’t.  And the first, resonant lesson that Lent has brought is a very opposite one.  As I walk deeper into Rohr’s book on contemplative prayer, and as I offer to my Father, with as open hands as I can manage, the hurts and the bitterness of the last year, there are no easy answers or quick fixes. (Although nothing about Lent is really a quick spiritual fix, is it?  Forgive me of ever treating it that way, Lord.)

Sit with the pain, He says.  Walk into it.  It is but a season, and has its purpose, and to wish it quickly away is to neglect that purpose.

Everything belongs and everything can be received.  We don’t have to deny, dismiss, defy, or ignore.  What is, is okay.  What is, is the great teacher.  I have always seen this as the deep significance of Jesus’ refusal of the drugged wine on the cross (Matt. 27:34).
-Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

There is a small comfort in this … as though the Father, whom I have long thought to have been mute in the face of my deep sorrow, is saying, “I see you.  I have heard you.  And this is my will for you.”  If it is, let me embrace it.  Whatever the pain is meant to teach me in this season, let me walk in to it, and dwell in the present with it, and learn from the One who has borne all sorrows on my behalf.

This learning, and dwelling, and whole practice of contemplative prayer that Rohr beautifully depicts, reminds me of words I read earlier this year from Peter Rollins.

For too long the church has been seen as an oasis in the desert – offering water to those who are thirsty. In contrast, the emerging community appears more as a desert in the oasis of life, offering silence, space and desolation amidst the sickly nourishment of Western capitalism. It is in this desert, as we wander together as nomads, that God is to be found. For it is here that we are nourished by our hunger.
-Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God

I am hungry, and empty, and desolate, and yet I trust God, and I am tired of the “sickly nourishment” of easy answers.  I suspect that there may in fact be no answers, but that the wrestling with the questions is itself the only answer I will ever receive.  I think that I need this desert.  I think that Lent is intended, in some ways, to be the desert of silence, space, and desolation.

Help me to receive it, Lord, with open hands, and with a humble heart.  To your glory.

The Excited-Patience of Advent

December 8, 2012

I had dinner with a dear friend recently and I asked her − in the candid and prying way that good friends do − if her recent nannying job was inspiring her & her husband to start having kids.  She laughed.  “It makes me excited-patient,” she said, which is the perfect descriptor for that situation:  excited, of course, about the joys of parenting and shepherding a new life in this world; yet patient, after experiencing first-hand the exhaustive, consuming responsibilities of doing so.  Excited-patient … enthused, but not yet ready; actively getting ready, all the while sensing that the time is not quite right yet.

Her impromptu phrasing reminded me a little of Advent, and how this season in the church calendar continues to be one of the most difficult for me to observe faithfully.  I love the “excited” part of Christmas:  the decorating, the gift-buying, the gathering of loved ones.  I love the season of anticipation and joy and merriment.  I love peppermint-flavored-anything, and most of all, Christmas caroling.  The excited part, I’ve got down.

But patient.  Patience is much more difficult to wrangle.  I hardly have the patience to wait for the coffeemaker to finish brewing in the morning, much less wait a month during this season of the liturgical year before I can begin celebrating with gusto.  And yet, I feel very keenly what this season calls us to:  a reminder that, like the Hebrew people waited hundreds of years for their Messiah, their savior, we too wait … nearly two thousand years, and counting … for his return.  For the time when he will restore all things, fully and wholly, to himself; for the appearance of our Lord in all his glory.  For all that we teach and believe and hope for to be finally manifest.

But waiting is hard, especially in an age of instant gratification, where we’ve come to expect and demand the ability to satisfy our desires immediately.  And, thankfully, many Christians understand that, and preach it, and recognize that the truth of our dependency on and satisfaction in Christ is inherently incongruous with a life of instantaneous indulgence.  But there’s more than — our culture’s implicit messaging runs far deeper than the readily-apparent urges to indulge ourselves.

There’s another message that society preaches, one which tells us that sitting around and waiting for something to happen is a sign of the weak.  The strong and the wise go out and make their future themselves, take charge of their fate.  Only the lazy and the unmotivated “wait” for life to happen to them.  You want a new job, a better you, a different life for yourself?  Go out and make it happen!

For me, in this particular season, this is the underlying message of Advent that I need to drink in.  I feel it; the pressure to go out and do more and be more.  It makes me question my career, my time, my talents, myself.  Am I waiting too much?  Should I be doing more?  Have I succumbed to the ease of passivity?  Should I be accomplishing more with my youth?

I find these words from Henri Nouwen to be challenging and comforting in this season:

A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb.

Henri Nouwen, “Eternal Seasons”

” … in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”  When I pause, and consider my life, I hear the voice that whispers beneath the blaring message of our culture to go out and take hold of my future.  Beyond all that distraction, the truth affirms to me that God is faithful.  Sometimes it takes months, or years, but there comes a moment when He reminds me:  Do you see it now?  Do you understand?  This is why you are here.  This is why you have been called to be present in this place.  I am teaching you, I am shaping you, I am using you.  Wait, daughter, and trust.

I pray for the grace, and for that holy excited-patience, to be able to sit in this season and in all seasons of life and nurture the moment, trusting completely in the goodness of God and all that He has.