A spirituality of humility and chutzpah...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for this coming Sunday, June 17, 2012.  As a part of my on-going 7 Top Stories in the Old and New Testaments series, I'm looking at creation part two noting the differences and insights between Genesis 1 and 2.

“Each of us should have two pockets,” the ancient rabbis teach.  In one should be the message:  From dust I came and to dust I shall return; ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  In the other we should have written:  For me was the whole universe made – for I was created just a little lower than the angels says the Lord.” (Chittister, Rule of Benedict, p. 81)

Humility and chutzpah as Parker Palmer puts it:  a balance between forgiveness and festivity – grace and good works – the blessings of the Lord and the brokenness of the human condition.  I’m talking about a polarity between “God’s greatness and our dependence, a sense of God’s grandeur and the fragility of humankind."

For that is what is at the heart of today’s biblical stories about Creation:  a tension between the lofty and the mundane - the sorrows and the celebrations of life – the sacred experience of being of the world but not in the world.  Apparently, creation is tricky business and that is why our Jewish forbearers included two creation stories in the Bible:

The first, which is not the oldest, speaks to us of God creating order out of the chaos:  we spent time with that story last week.  And you may recall that I asked you to carve out some Sabbath rest for yourselves – take a break from your physical and emotional burdens for a bit – so that you might be refreshed. Did anybody actually do that last week:  trust God long enough to leave the worries and cares of the world to the Lord and get some rest?

In our incredibly over-extended, multi-tasking and hyper-stressed era, Sabbath rest is needed by God’s people more than ever.  If we’re ever going to be able to “bear bad things well” – and evil things with humility and patience never mind peace – we need the rest the Sabbath promises.  “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.”

But Sabbath rest and order from above the chaos is only part one of the Creation narrative included in the Bible:  part two tells a vastly different story filled with tension and conflict and uncertainty and sin.  It speaks of being shaped and fashioned by the Holy from the hummus – the mud of the earth - in to human beings who are a combination of both dirt and spirit.

Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground – adham ha adhamah - by breathing into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living soul –nephesh chayah.

h'm'd]a'h -nim r'p'[ ~'d'a'h -t,a ~yih{l/a h'wh.y r,cyiY;w ? ~'d'a'h yih.y;w ~yiY;x t;m.vin wy'P;a.B x;PiY;w ? h'Y;x v,p,n.l
This story, which is much older than the first, is primal:  it comes from the desert, is filled with earthy yearnings and riddled with complex questions born of the time when Israel wandered in the wilderness.  This is nomadic story-telling that has roots in a pre-Palestinian Judaism before God’s people ever conquered and settled in Canaan. 

And it is my hunch that it was included by the wise souls who redacted our texts to both keep us grounded in our roots in the desert, and, to remind us of the tension that always exists in being faithful.  We are both mud and spirit – humility and chutzpah – living souls born of God’s grandeur but burdened by human fragility – and that Bible wants us to hold both in tandem because both are true.

So let me tease out a few insights and observations about what it means for us who follow Jesus to hold these two creation stories in faithful tension.  I have come to trust that our earliest religious shepherds in Judaism were offering us a spirituality for living in the real world with these two stories.

 By spirituality I mean nourishing a robust sensitivity to the things of the spirit – not just the hard, objective facts – but those truths that cannot be directly perceived by our senses but whose effects are real – things like love, peace, compassion and justice.  You might also speak of spiritual disciplines or formation – practices that enrich our capacity to be in communion with God’s Holy Spirit – or as Fred and Mary Ann Brussat like to say: it is cultivating an awareness of sacred in everyday life that allows us to develop new qualities of mind and heart, qualities that open us to the presence of the extraordinary within the ordinary. Things like beauty and enthusiasm, hospitality and gratitude, faith, hope and love:  are you with me?  Spirituality is often a slippery and even sloppy word but I want to be clear, ok?

What’s more, this spirituality is for adults living in the real world – not the convent or the monastery, not the mountain top or a gated community – the real world.  This spirituality is for people who have wandered the desert and been in exile and slavery.  This spirituality is for a community who has been filled with fear and is sometimes uncertain of God’s love.  This spirituality is for people who understand that emptiness is just as real as grace in most of our lives.

I have come to believe that this spirituality, born of two creation stories, seeks to help us grow closer to God’s will by feeding both humility and chutzpah in our individual lives and in our houses of worship, too.  Each story is telling us something essential about ourselves and God.  And each story is giving us clues about how to nourish our connection with the Lord and one another.

Genesis 1 says that as the crown of creation – after God had finished bringing order out of the chaos and separating life into categories that might help or hinder God’s will – the Lord God created male and female at the same time in God’s image.  Here is a story about equality – about the unique role women and men play in assisting the Lord in keeping chaos in check – it is a story about big and bold concerns that some have called being co-creators with God.  In my mind this is clearly a story about nourishing… chutzpah.  We have been ordained by the Lord to do some big things, so let’s get out there and do them!

Now Genesis 2 doesn’t negate the chutzpah of the first account, but it does ask us to be a whole lot more circumspect with our creativity because we were born into humility:  by nature, it tells us we are creatures fashioned out of dust – hummus –that means dirt and dung.  To be sure, the Spirit of the Lord was also breathed into us to make us special, but we must never forget that we started out in the muck.  This isn’t a story of equality in any way:  a mysterious God is in charge, picking up desert soil and filling it with Spirit, creating woman from man’s rib and man from the dirt.  Not a lot of chutzpah here – this is all about humility and mystery.

So the first ingredient in an authentically faithful spirituality that embraces both stories has to do with balance:  in the beginning there was order AND there was chaos – there was dirt AND there was spirit – there was a terrifying void AND there was the grace-filled will of God.  Are you with me?  There was chutzpah AND there was humility and living into God’s will for us involves both.  So let me ask you:

What gets you out of balance?  What makes you wiggy or snarky? What makes you feel ashamed or dirty?  Or inspires you to say stupid or even cruel things to those you love?  And what makes you feel good about yourself – confident – like you matter?  What gives you a boost or brings you a sense of inner peace and grace?

Humility and chutzpah – nourishing a healthy sense of both – seems to be part of what God’s creativity and will is for our lives.

I think the second ingredient of an authentic spirituality born of these creation stories has something to do community.  While it is clear that human community only becomes possible through the Lord, it is equally clear that we are called to go forth and multiply that sacred community.  That is our charge whether you like one story better than the other:  we’re in this together.

And whether you tilt more towards the chutzpah or the humility axis both stories say that we share one flesh.  By God’s will he have much more in common than any of our differences – and this is true whether we are male or female, young or old, Republican or Democrat or Green or any other difference you can name.

The other night, at our Monday evening book study and discussion, a story was told about an inner city congregation in the Midwest that in spite of the poverty, crime, fear and lack of money stood out in its neighborhood as a beacon of community and hospitality.  And when the pastor was asked his secret, he smiled and said:  POTLUCK SUPPERS.  The secret to community is breaking bread with one another – and the more you break bread – the more you want to welcome others to the table.

So that got us thinking:  maybe what God is calling us to do next year as part of our compassion and justice ministry has something to do with a whole lot of potluck suppers?  Let’s face it:  everybody likes to eat – and everybody is an equal at a potluck because everyone shares the work.  There is more to say about this but think about how that would change how the wider community thought of us?  To be done as the church of the open table who joyfully welcomes everyone?  A spirituality born of community building is a blessing to all creation.
And that leads me to the third ingredient in a spirituality nourished by the chutzpah and humility of these two stories:  namely, the importance of a generous imagination.  Rabbi Burton Visotzky, the Professor of Midrash at Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, teased out one insight born of a generous imagination when he wrote:

This story suggests something about how we read God – that is, God can’t simply be seen as a “He” because… if humanity reflects God, we have to understand that God has both male and female aspects in some miraculous way.

That is, God is bigger than our traditional words – bigger than He – bigger than Father – bigger than even our imaginations.  And we know this to be true because we are made in God’s image – and we are clearly male and female and bi and gay and straight – and so much more beyond all our limiting categories.

Do you see how simultaneously bold as well as practical a spirituality of chutzpah and humility can be?  It challenges gender bias and sexual discrimination – it advocates radical social equality – it practices a generous imagination that is eager to find a place at the table for EVERY person in creation because… we are all of the same flesh.

So don’t ever buy the hooey that religion and politics don’t mix:  they’ve been embracing and dancing and mixing since before the beginning of time. Not in an ugly, mean-spirited or partisan way – but if this spirituality of chutzpah and humility is true – then more often than not we put too many limits and restrictions on the Lord who is way out there ahead of us bringing people together, loving them and encouraging them to love one another beyond any and all boundaries.

Balance, community and a generous imagination that breaks down barriers:  three spiritual practices that connect us more deeply to the will of God in our ordinary lives.

In our tradition, of course, Jesus is the one who shows us how to best live into this spirituality, right? In one pocket he carries chutzpah – bringing healing and humor and hope to humanity without counting the costs.  In the other pocket is humility – for he came and comes to us as a servant – saying:  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’



Steve Finnell said…
you are invited to follow my blog

Popular Posts