+ Last night, responding to a question about why there is so much violence and fear between people of different religions, the Sufi imam answered with a unique insight (at least for me as a Christian it was unique.) First, he asked if we had ever seen photographs from the Hubble telescope? "What do you notice most about the pictures of our Earth? Or even from other planets and stars throughout space? Chaos, right? Gas clouds exploding, meteors colliding, zombie stars, mystery and so much more." He paused and then said,"So when I am asked questions about pain and violence, confusion and destruction, I can only reply: what do you expect? What is going out there in space is going on inside you, too. It is how creation works."
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
The only portion of my sacred text that I know consciously shares this wild and creative assessment of the inherent chaos of creation is Job. After the destruction of Job's family, his business, his friendships and finally his health, Job cries out to the Holy for an explanation. The Lord's reply starts in chapter 38 and continues like this for four more chapters:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
Finally God is silent and Job responds - but his response has no linear quality to it - because the words of the Creator are not ordered nor do they explain anything in a way that evokes comfort. Rather, God reminds Job that there is a power more chaotic and creative at work in the universe that is beyond Job's comprehension. And only when Job surrenders to this awesome truth is their serenity in his soul.
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.
The reality of chaos - and mystery - needs a greater hearing in my own heart as well as my own tradition. Such wisdom does not negate the order that is a part of creation, it simply brings balance much as the Serenity Prayer links inner peace with acceptance of what is real.
+ Another floating thought: after 30+ years of struggling with the challenge of how best to be in ministry with narcissistic people I am still no farther along than when I left seminary. To apply the imam's insight, I guess I just have to accept them as a fact of life because it would seem that only God can change them. I know I certainly can't. Over the years, I've tried but nothing makes any difference, right? They still run over people with harsh words, they more often than not think all of Christ's teachings are for somebody else and they ambush their allies in cruel ways that spread hurt and fury in their wake. For the most part I simply hold them in prayer and try to get out of their way. For anyone who takes congregational life seriously, this cadre of broken souls are a troublesome enigma.
+ Another random notion: last night I learned that for the most part Muslims do not observe a Sabbath. They pray at least five times a day - and this is done to reconnect with the holy - and tradition has it that on Friday's the wider Islamic community will gather together at noon for prayers and sermon. But then most folk return to work, because there is no Sabbath requirement or tradition in Islam. To be sure, many Muslims take a day off from work, but it is not part of their spiritual discipline because the Qur'an teaches that God never sleeps but is always at work.
This made me uncomfortable. It is another perspective on the divine and so I want to honor it in my heart. And yet I believe that one of the sacred gifts I have inherited from Judaism is the invitation to Sabbath rest. We become like the image of the Lord because ours is a God who rests. Walter Brueggemann's text, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying NO to a Culture of NOW, has been instructive and challenging for me. For fundamentally he says that the way of the Lord begins with trust and rest rather than restlessness. This is a significant difference. One I will have to ponder in my heart like Mary the mother of my Lord because right now I am just perplexed.
+ And finally this odd notion: over the past month I've had the chance to spend some wonderful time in conversation with a variety of teens and young adults. It has been an unexpected joy! In both encounters there have been times for me to question these young people about their deepest hopes and dreams and then sit back and listen carefully. More than I anticipated, I sense that there is an important place for such old guy and young people conversations is our polarized and segregated culture. As four different students said to me after our Interfaith Youth Summit last night: I don't come from a religious background - and don't know very much about this stuff - but what you said about tenderness and peace, listening carefully and paying it forward really spoke to something deep within me.
I continue to believe in my heart - and experience in my life from time to time - a deep hunger for compassion in our society. There is a loneliness that is palpable and a thirst for spiritual depth that is dissatisfied by harsh fundamentalism of any hue. Again, I don't know where these thoughts are heading so I guess I will spend some more Sabbath time letting them swim around. (BTW this tune is one I am practicing today - love Ron Carter's groove and enormous hands. We'll be playing it on the 17th of this month at the BEAT gig.)
SABBATH NOTES REDUX...
Well wouldn't you just know it: give yourself a little space and exercise - and a little good food, too - and things start to come together. Di and I ate waffles later this morning, sipped tea and read the NY Times to start the day. Then we spent the afternoon pruning and caring for our front yard. As she was getting ready to head off to physical therapy for her healing back, I read a little Richard Rohr and what do you know? He challenged me to deal with my own shit and pain because we all carry it.
He also tenderly invited me to get out of the way of those really wounded souls I fret about most and give them lots of space. (NOTE: this does not mean being a doormat!) Deal with what is yours and leave the rest to the Lord. Here's what he wrote on this blessed Sabbath:
To keep the mind space open, we need some form of contemplative or meditative practice. This has been the most neglected in recent centuries, substituting the mere reciting and “saying” of prayers, which is not the same as a contemplative mind and often merely confirms us in our superior or fear-based system. One could say that authentic spirituality is invariably a matter of emptying the mind and filling the heart at the same time.
To keep the heart space open, we almost all need some healing in regard to our carried hurts from the past. It also helps to be in right relationship with people, so that other people can love us and touch us at deeper levels, and so we can touch them. In addition, I think the heart space is opened by “right brain” activities such as music, art, dance, nature, fasting, poetry, games, life-affirming sexuality, and, of course, the art of relationship itself. And to be fully honest, I think your heart needs to be broken and broken open at least once to have a heart at all or to have a heart for others.
To keep our bodies less defended, to live in our body right now, to be present to others in a cellular way, is also the work of healing of past hurts and the many memories that seem to store themselves in the body. It is very telling that Jesus often physically touched people when he healed them; he knew where the memory and hurt was lodged, and it was in the body itself. Eckhart Tolle rightly speaks of most people carrying a “pain body.” Sometimes I fear that most of humanity has suffered from some form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when you read the history of war, torture, abandonment, and abuse.