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Posts tagged ‘freedom’

Pentecost Inside, Spirit Outside

John 14:8-17; 24-27

 

What is on the inside eventually shows itself on the outside.

emotionsHave you seen the Pixar movie Inside Out? Many have, but just in case you missed it, Inside Out’s story revolves around a young girl named Riley, who is uprooted from her comfortable Minnesota home when she moves to the busy and chaotic San Francisco.

rileyHer emotions—Anger, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Joy—disagree on how to handle this dramatic change.  Their disagreements start to stir up trouble in Headquarters, the central living and working place for the five emotions, and the audience is invited to watch as Riley and her emotions navigate and interact with the world around them. Inside Out illustrates how our minds react in social situations and create, process, and alter memories.

 

In essence, the movie confirms a universal truth of humanity:

For every feeling we have there is a thought, for every thought we have there is an action, and for every action there is a social reaction.
Take a look at the many emotions of Riley.

Inside Out is indeed about our emotions, and additionally, I also think it leads us to think about our spirituality, which is in fact related to our emotions. If you’re wondering what I mean by spirituality, for the sake of this conversation, take it mean: a sense of connection to something bigger, A universal human experience—something that touches us all.

We all feel emotions. We all try to navigate those emotions. We think about our emotions. We all act on those thoughts. And our actions affect those around us.

Are you with me so far? I hope so. Now, stay with me, if you will, as I relate this to this thing called “Pentecost” in the Christian tradition.

 

Pente is a Greek prefix for the number 5 or the number 50—depending on the context, and would have been said by Greek-speaking Jews centuries ago. Later on, in Eastern Christianity, Pentecost was designated as a festival celebrated 50 days after the day when people commemorated the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

But Pentecost as a festival did not originate in Christianity; it comes from the Jews.

It was called the Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot in Hebrew. This festival will begin Saturday, June 11th and end on Monday, June 13th. People will read the Torah, fast, eat special foods [specifically dairy products], and pray.

Shavuot is a celebration of the gift of the covenant—in other words, the giving of the Law [Torah] to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Jews celebrate Shavuot 50 days after the first Seder meal [linked to Passover] to remember the Torah and God’s promises.

Honestly, Pentecost [for most Western Christians] is not much of a consideration. Christmas [although less a spiritual tradition] and Easter are more known and widely observed. Pentecost is less-known, perhaps because it is about something called the spirit, and that in and of itself might seem elusive. Biblically, the tradition of Pentecost is based on the story in the book of Acts in the NT where the Spirit descended on those who were followers of Jesus Christ. Pentecost was historically known as the “birthday” of the Christian church, at least symbolically.

We are looking at John’s Gospel, however, and not Acts. John does not refer to any such event but instead tells the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his understanding of the Spirit.

And I will argue that this Jesus teaching in John is an “inside-out” teaching.

You see, Jesus’ followers, before and after his death, were not sure that they had what they needed to navigate life. It’s the universal idea of scarcity, that our ability to wake up, breathe, and to be alive is not enough. There is something missing.

We can most certainly empathize with the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. No question about it. They wanted concrete answers about the meaning of life. They wanted assurance that they wouldn’t be all alone. They were human.

And Jesus’ message to them reflects that. It is a message of help, comfort, and truth. Jesus promises that the spirit will be with them—no matter what. No wait—the spirit is also IN them. The word for spirit is Paraclete and originates from ancient Latin and ancient Greek. It means mediator or advocate. But if we really want to dig into its original meaning, a Paraclete is a person—someone who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, one who refreshes, and one who literally stands with someone and intercedes on her behalf. This is the Spirit of truth, not like the world promises, not like preachers, churches, religions, or companies try to sell you, but the spirit who lives in you, and she will always be in you.

Jesus wasn’t done. The spirit also leads to peace. Peace is eirene in Greek, which is a translation of the Hebrew shalom. Shalom is more than absence of conflict.  It includes maximal well-being for people and for society. Shalom is characterized by wholeness, healing, abundance, concord, reconciliation, social harmony, and spiritual and physical health.

We must notice here, however, that all this happens within the context of great sadness.

In the story, there is no repression of sadness here. Those who loved Jesus knew he was dead. But the message of John is honest. Sadness is recognized as something vital to our well-being, something to mindfully embrace—rather than to suppress. And the presence of the spirit speaks to this. The spirit is ever-present, even in our sad times. The difficult emotions that we often try to push down are recognized. The disciples felt sadness on the inside and expressed it on the outside. The spirit of wholeness, forgiveness, peace, and balance was also on the inside. How would they express that on the outside?

It is a legitimate question, and one that both Inside Out and John’s Gospel challenge us to ask ourselves. We feel all sorts of emotions inside.

How often do we suppress those feelings?
Are we honestly thinking about our emotions and where they come from?
Are we aware that our thoughts about our emotions lead to actions?
And, are we aware that our actions affect those around us?

Friends, maybe the religious significance of Pentecost isn’t widely known or observed, and perhaps that is okay. The idea, though, that a spirit lives in each one of us and accepts us as we are, and actually encourages us to be honest about what we feel, moving us to honest and compassionate action with others, is a beautiful and transformative thing. Keep in mind that this spirit of love, wholeness, and peace is poured out on all people; that should be emphasized. This spirit is freedom to be yourself; you don’t have to suppress who you are. This spirit makes all things new—meaning that each day of your life is a new beginning. No matter what happened yesterday, it’s over! This spirit brings life and makes you come alive, realizing that you have all that you need. Scarcity is not the problem; believing that you are not enough is the problem.

The spirit reminds you that if you love yourself as you are and you love others as they are, you keep the commandments that really matter.

Who you are on the inside shows itself on the outside.

So embrace, on the inside, a peace that lives in you—not the false peace that leads to more suffering, but the peace that is wholeness of heart, mind, and body. The peace that says to you: there’s no need to be afraid. Be bold, be strong–be you! This spirit moves you to be your higher self but also moves you to accept when you fail, when you are sad, angry, happy, or joyful. The spirit accepts all your emotions.

This spirit lives in you; now allow it to be evident on the outside in how you live and treat others.

Consumed by Life

John 6:35-44; 48-51

Bienaventurado el que no cambia el sueño de su vida por el pan de cada día.

Blessed are those who do not exchange the dreams of their lives for their daily bread.

Facundo-Cabral―Facundo Cabral, Argentina

Daily bread is the thing we all need to survive.

We need to eat. Sadly, because we’re still not good at sharing, some people don’t always get their daily bread. But even for those of us who do, that daily bread doesn’t last long. The very next day, we’re asking for it again. So it’s important to differentiate between “daily bread” and “living bread.”

To be frank, I’m wondering just how many times we need to talk about bread before we can move on to another metaphor. I get it, though, why the author of John’s Gospel has to have Jesus reiterate it again and again. The crowds in Capernaum or wherever he goes take time to “get” what’s going on. And Jesus’ disciples usually don’t get it either. And we often don’t get it.

So here we go again with bread.

This time, though, John’s Gospel makes sure that we as readers are not confused. He has Jesus say:

Ego Eimi.

Yes, it’s Greek, and it means I AM.

You may be familiar with I AM from the story of the burning bush and Moses encountering G-d. I AM is a “G-d” declaration.

So in essence, Jesus is saying: I AM G-d, and G-d is the bread of life.

The twist is that the divine name of God is now linked to something earthly, i.e. bread.
It’s an inflammatory statement, to be sure. And John wants us to think as much. There’s high drama and conflict here, but not as some paint it, i.e. a battle between “Jews” and “Jesus followers.”

John’s Gospel was reaching out to a variety of people, including Jews, non-Jews, and Jews who were Hellenized or outside of typical Jewish circles. It’s an unfortunate translation to assume that “the Jews” rejected Jesus’ message. It’s better to say that the Temple Authorities of Judea weren’t too happy about it.

Keep in mind that John’s Gospel was most likely written by a Jewish person, about Jewish disciples, and of course, written to promote the message and life of a Jewish Jesus of Nazareth. John was written about the conflicts within Judaism itself and how people saw Jesus. So, yeah—put away the anti-Semitism, please.

Anyhoo….the Judeans, probably overly emotional, got the message wrong. They claimed that Jesus himself said that he was “the bread that came down out of heaven” but actually, Jesus said earlier: “the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven” (6:33), and then: “I am the bread of life” (6:35).

It happens to all of us. Sometimes we let our emotions take over, and we push aside common sense.

sassJesus’ statements were only inflammatory because the temple authorities were looking for something inflammatory. He probably could have said:

I’m Jesus, and I make things out of wood. That’s what carpenters do. How cool is that, Judeans?

And they still would have found fault with it.

Often people [including us] don’t like to wake up to a new reality. We prefer the status quo, even if it’s false. Jesus was trying to help people [including the Judeans] to see a new reality. Jesus uses the phrase “truly, truly” to grab their attention, and what follows is oft-misinterpreted/mistranslated:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever ­­­______ has eternal life.

Yes, believe is inserted in the blank as an English translation for a Greek word that really means faith in or trust.

This isn’t about believing in something [like a doctrine or dogma] in order to obtain eternal life.
This is about reorienting one’s thinking in order to live differently and more fully.

So I thought about that, and what that might mean today.

In this life, with all the distractions and all the things that people tell us we should do or think or believe, it’s easy to feel down about it all sometimes, isn’t it? Depression, fear, and loneliness can soon become our realities.

Now, they are real emotions and I’m not discounting that.

But rather than saying “I am depressed, fearful, or lonely” what if we limit them to what they are?
They are feelings.
And if so, perhaps we might be able to see depression or fear or loneliness as mere distractions from what is real.

You see, so much of what we think and do in this world today is not actually what we WANT to do; or even what we feel is right, healthy, wonderful, and life-giving.

We often feel depressed, fearful, or lonely because our behaviors and our lifestyle don’t bring us any joy or fulfillment. We go about daily routines without blinking, even if those routines are killing us little by little.

We are so distracted away from what is truly life.

If you feel depressed, perhaps it is because of something or someone you feel that you have lost. Consider this, however: can we really lose someone or something? Isn’t it true that everything you have was given to you? How can you lose that which was never yours?

Fernando Cabral wrote:

Life does not subtract things, it liberates you from them. It makes you lighter so that you can fly higher and reach the fullness. From cradle to grave, it is a school, and that is why those predicaments that you call problems are lessons, indeed. You lost nobody; the one who died is just going ahead, because we all are going there. Besides this, the best of him/her, his/her love, is still in your heart. 

If you feel fearful, perhaps this is because the unknown is out of your control and so even the very thought of tomorrow becomes something to be afraid of. And yet, tomorrow does not exist. Only this moment does. You are absolutely able to be aware of the present moment, and entirely capable of embracing it as it is. And in doing so, tomorrow becomes less important, because honestly, none of us can know if we will even wake up tomorrow.

And if you feel lonely, first of all, consider that time by yourself is a treasure. Don’t let others tell you that being by yourself is bad. Many people never experience it, because we’re so conditioned to think that being alone is weird or unhealthy. But there is so much you can learn about yourself and the world by spending time alone! You are the only one who truly knows what you feel and what you think; embrace that. And keep in mind that there are billions of others on this planet—not to mention the billions of living creatures all around you. We are not alone.

For me, reorientation and waking up means recognizing feelings for what they are and then allowing myself to be consumed by life itself. It means doing what we love with reckless abandon. It means letting things come to you naturally, and moving with the flow of the world around you. It means being free of shame, guilt, obligation, and grudges—things which only cause harm and separate us. Reorientation means caring for yourself so that you are freer to be your whole self and freer to love others.

In my view, this is what the metaphor of bread of life is about.

Each one of us chooses whether to see this bread [which is life] as freedom, or as limitation.

I choose freedom, and I hope you will, too.

I choose life and fulfillment, and pursuing the things and the relationships that make me happy, challenge me to be a better person, and encourage me to be fully me.

What will you choose? Friends, every day can be a waking up and reorientation day for you. Each moment you can be consumed by life itself.

wakeupLive

Law Bends to Love

Luke 13:10-17 

Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Clip to Watch…

Les Miserables, the 10th Anniversary performance of the musical adapted from the novel of the same name by Victor Hugo. Jean Valjean, a person from a poor family who gets arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. He spends the next 19 years in prison doing hard labor and becoming a bitter and hardened man. Finally, he is given parole, but is reminded by his arch nemesis [and representation of the law] Inspector Javert, that he will never be free. Valjean will always be a convict, and never free.

So Valjean wanders the country of France with no family or friends. He stumbles across a rectory where the Bishop Charles-François-Bienvenu Myriel lives. In the book, this bishop is referred to as Bishop Myriel or Monseigneur Bienvenu. Bishop Myriel offers Valjean a bed and a hearty meal. For the first time in 19 years, Valjean falls asleep content. But in the middle of the night, Valjean’s horrific past takes hold of him. He gets up from his bed and steals the good silver plates from the bishop’s cabinet. He runs.

The next morning, the French authorities find Valjean and bring him back to bishop Myriel’s house. They are prepared to arrest Valjean for stealing. But when they ask the bishop what they should do with Valjean, something strange happens. Bishop Myriel says to Valjean, “Ah, there you are! I am glad to see you. But I gave you the candlesticks also, which are silver like the rest. Why did you not take them along with your plates?” Valjean, befuddled and frozen, takes the plates from the bishop. Then, as the authorities release their grip of Valjean’s arms, the bishop says one last thing:

Forget not; never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man…. Jean Valjean, my brother: you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God![1]

Valjean’s life changes radically after the bishop shows him this mercy. Valjean becomes mayor of a city in France. He is a well-respected individual in the community. He runs a factory that provides jobs for poor women. He raises a girl, Cosette, to adulthood, one who has lost her mother Fantine to disease. It seems that Valjean is indeed free of this spirit of perdition [punishment]. And yet, even after the passing of so many years, Valjean’s arch nemesis, Inspector Javert, still hunts him all over France. Javert is convinced that Valjean did not deserve to be mayor or to even live as a free man. The law was everything and the law said that Valjean must be punished for violating his parole. All the greater good that Valjean was bringing about with his new life and all the people he was blessing—this did not matter to Javert.

Law over mercy.  

It is a great story, Les Miserables. Timeless. Why? Because even though we like to identify with such heroic characters like Jean Valjean—even though we like to think that mercy will triumph over judgment and law—often it does not. And even you and I struggle with showing mercy to certain people. We can act like Javert.

We can be Javert.

We are capable of holding on to law and forgetting mercy.

And that is just what this Luke Gospel story is all about:
Law vs. mercy; judgment vs. love.

It was a Sabbath day—Saturday as we know it.

A woman appears “with a spirit” that “bent her over” for 18 years.

What did she have? Perhaps some kind of spinal disorder? The story does not tell us specifically, but that isn’t really the point, is it? The point is that on the Sabbath day, there are certain procedures to follow, traditions and rules to observe, and so this woman entering the synagogue all “bent over” doesn’t fit into the way things have always been.

The woman doesn’t cause trouble or even ask for help. After 18 years it seems that she has accepted that this is going to be her life. But Jesus sees her. And he calls her over.

You are set free.

He touches her with his own hands. She stands straight up and begins thanking God.

Of course, this kind of incident cannot go unnoticed. It is the Sabbath, remember.

So a leader of the synagogue is ticked off, says Luke’s author. Jesus [or anyone else, for that matter] was not supposed to touch an unclean person and heal on the Sabbath. Six days are reserved for work. Why couldn’t this woman wait one more day and then come to the temple to be cured? Seemingly not a bad question, if we are just thinking about the letter of the law. After 18 years, what difference would one more day make?

Couldn’t she be straightened out tomorrow?

No, says Jesus. You Hypocrites is how he refers to the religious elites of the temple. And then he uses simple examples to remind everyone that try as they might, everybody still does some kind of work on the Sabbath. It is unavoidable. No Sabbath can be completely work-free. So why in the world would they not choose to heal this woman who happened to wander into the temple on the Sabbath?

Now before we criticize the leaders in the temple just as we would criticize Javere from Les Miserables, we must remember to put ourselves in their shoes. The concept of Sabbath was not at all a bad thing. In fact, Sabbath was a time of renewal. Sabbath was a peaceful rest from the grind of life. My colleague who is an Orthodox Jew observes her Sabbath faithfully each week. She will not answer her phone; she will not do any type of work, use the computer, watch television, etc. But Sabbath is not a restriction for her. It is FREEDOM. For the ancient Israelites, they were moving from a time of being slaves in Egypt. They were forced to work constantly; no time off. This idea of Sabbath was a blessing. And for those who still practice Sabbath [Jews, Christians, Muslims—anyone], this day of rest is refreshing and wonderful.

Maybe that’s what we need to keep in mind about the leaders of the temple. They were protecting Sabbath because of its great worth. I honestly think, though, that like any religious tradition, law or practice—something really wonderful and refreshing can become awfully rigid and harmful. Why? Because we can become obsessed with the “rule” of the law and forget about the “spirit” of the law.

This word spirit appears in this story. The bent-over woman had a spirit in her that was causing this ailment. I think we all can have this type of “spirit” when we obsess over rules and forget mercy. We can all become bent over, limited, trapped, and judgmental. It is indeed a sickness.

But the woman was freed of this spirit of ailment when Jesus chose to “break” Sabbath rules and touch her with his own two hands.

So can we be freed of our obsession over laws and rules.

We can all be freed if we remember and live by the mercy rule.

You see, I would argue that the spirit of the law of Sabbath is indeed rest, but rest for everyone.

So if someone cannot rest because she is bent over, ignored, forgotten, shunned, untouchable—then you and I have a responsibility to pay attention, recognize his/her humanity, and to reach out with our own two hands–to heal. The spirit of the law is based on God’s love and mercy.

The moment any of our religious practice becomes more rule and less love, we have lost our entire purpose for being.

Friends, in all religious traditions, we find wonderful and refreshing ways of living that can benefit our body, mind, and soul. But like with any religious tradition, we must be very careful so as to not forget the spirit of these traditions. Any time our religious practices are more about rules and law and less about mercy and love, we have completely lost our way. For the way of Jesus is this:

Law always bends to love.

The spirit of the law is always more important than the ritual.

Mercy sets ALL people free!

In your own spiritual practice, keep this in mind always. Don’t be obsessed with law. Instead, let love bend the rules. Focus on the spirit of your religious practice more than the rituals themselves. And in your interactions with other people, no matter which day it is or who they are, be merciful.

This will set you and all who you touch…free.

Amen.


[1] Les Misérables, Victor Hugo, 1862.1992 Modern Library Edition copyright Random House Inc.

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