Tuesday, March 27, 2018

a seed must die...

For Holy Week 2018, Di has suggested I start a journal entitled "The Road to L'Arche." It won't be for publication - even in blogging form - but rather a written reflection on thoughts, insights, events, quotes, pictures and essays that speak to my journey into pastoral ministry 40 years ago - and out. Having read Henri Nouwen's journal, The Road to Daybreak: a Spiritual Journey for Lent, I am going to start later today. I will have 5+ hours to ponder all of this yet another time as I drive to Ottawa for a few days with Mountainview House. 

In addition to Holy Week liturgies, I will share some extended time with my friends being a part of their ordinary life rituals of house cleaning and preparing supper. Kathleen Norris wisely calls these "the quotidian mysteries: laundry, liturgy and women's work." she writes, "The ordinary activities I find most compatible with contemplation are walking, baking bread, and doing laundry."

The Bible is full of evidence that God's attention is indeed fixed on the little things. But this is not because God is a great cosmic cop, eager to catch us in minor transgressions, but simply because God loves us--loves us so much that we the divine presence is revealed even in the meaningless workings of daily life. It is in the ordinary, the here-and-now, that God asks us to recognize that the creation is indeed refreshed like dew-laden grass that is "renewed in the morning" or to put it in more personal and also theological terms, "our inner nature is being renewed everyday". Seen in this light, what strikes many modern readers as the ludicrous details in Leviticus involving God in the minutiae of daily life might be revisioned
as the very love of God.

Having recently posted a brief reflection on synchronicity, it will be enough to observe that yesterday's music-making with Hal was grounded in a new song he calls "Little Things." What's more, one of the readings for Tuesday in Holy Week comes from the upside-down experiences of St. Paul and the community of Corinth who writes:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart." Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. (Some) demand signs and (others) desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block and foolishness to those (addicted to the contours of our culture.) But to those who are the called, from every tradition, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But 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, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. The Lord is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." (I Corinthians 1: 18-31)

What's more, today's gospel likewise cuts to the chase when St. John notes that close to his end Jesus told his disciples: "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12: 24-25)

My take away, to be developed more thoroughly and vigorously at a later date, is that there has been a consistent downward mobility to my calling. A growing attraction to the little things, the wounded ones, learning to trust my weakness albeit imperfectly so that God's grace and peace might increase. In Peterson's reworking of the Sermon on the Mount in The Message Jesus teaches: "You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought." (Matthew 5: 3-5) 

That's what these early days of retirement feel like to me: a journey into the still to be revealed little blessings of the quotidian mysteries. Not having to be involved in the soul-sucking aspects of pastoral ministry has freed me from being exhausted. And hurt. And angry. It has also given me the space to sense that I still have a "pastoral" role to play in whatever time remains in my life. But not as a leader. Not as one in charge. And not as one who is boldly engaged in a public life. Rather, as Nouwen writes in his own journal, now is a time following Jesus in the little things. His description of Good Friday at L'Arche Trosly is brilliant. It has shaped my prayers throughout Lent and will guide my heart as I head to Ottawa in a few hours.

Pere Thomas and Pere Gilbert... took a huge cross that hangs behind the altar from the wall and held it so that the whole community could come and kiss the dead body of Christ. They all came, more than four hundred people - handicapped men and women and their assistants and friends. Everybody seemed to know very well what they were doing: expressing their love and gratitude for him who gave his life for them. As they were crowding around the cross and kissing the feet and the head of Jesus, I closed my eyes and could see his sacred body stretched out and crucified upon our planet earth. I saw the immense suffering of humanity during the centuries: people killing each other; people dying from starvation and epidemics; people driven from their homes; people sleeping on the streets of large cities; people clinging to each other in desperation; people flagellated, tortured, burned and mutilated; people alone in locked flats, in prison dungeons, in labor camps; people craving a gentle word, a friendly letter, a consoling embrace, people - children, teenagers, adults, middle-aged, and elderly - all crying out with an anguished voice "My God, my God, why have you forsaking us?

Imaging the naked, lacerated body of Christ stretched out over our globe. I was filled with horror. But as I opened my eyes I saw Jacques, who bears the marks of suffering in his face, kiss the body with passion and tears in his eyes. I saw Ivan carried on Michael's back. I saw Edith coming in her wheelchair. As they came - walking or limping, seeing or blind, hearing or deaf - I saw the endless procession of humanity gathering around the sacred body of Jesus, covering it with their tears and their kisses, and slowly moving away from it comforted and consoled by such great love. There were signs of relief; there were smiles breaking through tear-filled eyes; there were hands in hands and arms in arms. With my mind's eye I saw the huge crowds of isolated, agonizing individuals walking away from the cross together, bound by the love they had seen with their own eyes and touched with their own lips. The cross of horror became the cross of hope, the tortured body became the body that gives new life; the gaping wounds became the source of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. 

A new chapter is opening, a new journey is beginning - and now it is time to pack.

photo credits: dianne de mott

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