Tuesday, February 6, 2018

inviting jesus into my home...

In these bewildering and anxious times, these words from Jean Vanier speak to
my heart. In his tender book, Befriending the Stranger, he writes:

In the midst of all the violence and corruption of the world, God invites us today to create new places of belonging, places of sharing, places of peace and of kindness, places where no-one needs to defend himself or herself; places where each one is loved and accepted with one's own fragility, abilities and disabilities. This is my vision for our churches: that they become places of belonging, places of sharing.

Vanier then goes on to articulate one of the "hidden" little mysteries of the way of Jesus: it is born of our weakness, not our strength. It is both the charism of L'Arche for our generation and the unique insight of Vanier for individuals seeking peace. Paraphrasing St. Paul, Vanier puts it like this: First we must "consider our call... God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world..." to show us how we can live in God's peace that passes understanding. Professional development has its place, so does self-esteem, education and hard work. But they alone will not lead us into "the unforced rhythms of grace" Jesus promises in Matthew 11: 28-30. Rather, using Peterson's reworking of this ancient text, Jesus asks us: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Our calling is to recover our lives - to live within the balance of joy and sorrow with a peace-filled heart - at rest within the unforced rhythms of grace. This is one of the places where the prophetic prophet of ancient Israel, Isaiah, nails it by observing that "God's ways are not our ways and God's choices are not the choices of our society or culture. For God chooses the poor, the weak the needy and all who recognize (and honor) their poverty." (Vanier, p. 16)

... and not just a material poverty but our inability to cope with life, a feeling of powerlessness and not knowing what to do. A mother who has just lost a child is "poor" - a woman whose (beloved) has left her is "poor" - (same is true for a man) - a worker who has lost a job is "poor" just like the girl who learns she has cancer is "poor." The man who senses his body growing older and weaker is "poor" - people who are faced with difficult family situations are "poor." And the problem is that we refuse to admit our weakness, our needs, our poverty because we are frightened of rejection. We have been taught to be strong, to be the best, to win in order to be someone. And since our society tends to marginalize those who are weak, we thing that weakness means rejection... and we try to hide our poverty for as long as we can.

That is why Vanier encourages us to ask Jesus about our calling rather than those who are paid to keep the status quo humming. "Let us ask Jesus to help us discover our poverty, not be be frightened or ashamed of it, but to become more aware of it for this is our call and mission" in the world.

I suspect that there are degrees of honoring both the loss and blessing of living into the calling of our poverty. I know for me it has been incremental. Clearly, I did not go into ministry thinking God was inviting me into this type of poverty. No, my calling was to upset the powerful and advance the cause of social justice through organized people power. I still affirm the urgency of radical social transformation. What I came to realize, however, was that my part in this work had a limited shelf life. Others seem to have more stamina for the push and pull of politics and compromise than I: living in that world was simply exhausting. It also fueled my already inflated sense of self-worth. 

What feeds my soul, refreshes my body, and empowers me to honor the upside-down kingdom of Jesus these days is something much simpler: hospitality. Kind-ness. Being present with another with no other agenda than being alive. I am not very good at this. I am still learning to let go of my expectations and just "be" in any given moment. And I still resist the calling of my brokenness. So I am listening now for how to welcome Jesus into my home - my personal space - my most intimate self. Vanier writes:

When we welcome Jesus into our "home" he transforms us and he transforms our way of living. We know that people can be together in the same house, existing but not sharing. This is a kind of modus vivendi which in fact helps them not to meet but instead to avoid one another... so Jesus tells the good homemaker to stop putting every-thing in order, to sit down and listen...

Listen - for our first call, our first love - our invitation to move within the unforced rhythms of grace. Such is one of the reasons I cherish the Eucharist: it gives me time to quietly listen to Jesus and welcome him back into my home. It also does so in community.  I was talking with my dearest Sunday School teacher a few days ago, a man who is 86, and an active Quaker. He said that he has never really appreciated Eucharist.  "I don't get what is so special about this ritual." As I listened it occurred to me that he hadn't considered the horizontal aspect of the feast. I know that I had not really, being raised in the liberal Reformed tradition, where Holy Communion is more of a rite than an encounter with the sacred. Further, the liberal Protestant realm is profoundly personal - often more a head trip than anything sacramental - where ideas not incarnation rule the day.

Still, I can recall a time when I was 15 sitting in worship with a little cube of Peppridge Farm white bread in my hand when I sensed the mystical presence of Jesus with me. Eucharist has never been an abstract concept or religious ritual since that moment. I have used the intervening 50+ years to both read more deeply various Eucharistic theologies; and, practice meditative contemplation in adoration of the body of Christ in the host. So, as my beloved mentor shared his experience, I replied, "I love Eucharist - celebrating it or receiving it - for in addition to the mystical truths I have experienced, the meal also puts me in relationship to sisters and brothers that Jesus calls me to love. The horizontal connection of communion is part of the blessing. In a word, I experience that its not all about me at the table." We sat with that together for a few minutes of silence before he said, "I never knew that. That makes a big difference ... hmmmm."

This is a demanding call, There is nothing romantic about it. There is loss and grief and times of agonizing ambiguity.  Simultaneously, "we experience the love of God (in our call) a love shared for all of us and a whole new world opens up inside us...Grief and loss are inseparable from the call. If we accept the call but not the loss, we will live in a contradiction... where (we) constantly feel sorry for ourselves, sorry that we don't have a higher salary or more time for ourselves, etc." That is why the transformation is always a work in progress. Incremental. The "daily letting go" to use Vanier's words: "each day Jesus is calling me to become more loving, more compassionate, more present to people, more fully a child of God, more free from fear." And much more grounded in the unforced rhythms of grace.

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