Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘imagination’

Temptation to Imagination

Luke 4:1-13

Temptation

What does it mean for you to be yourself?

Think about that for a moment.

What does it mean for you to be yourself?

For Christians, the season of Lent began with Ash Wednesday. Lent is a period of 40 days [not counting Sundays]. The forty days of Lent is about one tenth of a year. So observing Lent is like giving one tenth of your year to do something different. Of course, many people assume that Lent is all about giving up something for forty days, like chocolate or TV. But it’s not really about that. You don’t have to give up something for Lent. This period of forty days is supposed to be about self-reflection that leads to personal growth and also to doing good in the world and helping others.

So during Lent, I’ll be asking myself [and you] to use our imaginations. Return to the initial question:

What does it mean for you to be yourself?

The Gospel stories, including Luke, say in their story, that after being baptized by John in the river Jordan, Jesus of Nazareth went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking: what does it mean to be me, Jesus of Nazareth?

And during that process, the stories tell us that Jesus faced temptations. I’ll leave it up to you how you wish to interpret the symbolism in the story. From my perspective, I don’t take it literally, but certainly embrace the symbolic meaning in the text. For example, it’s no secret that the Gospels have Jesus start his ministry in the wilderness and then end it in Jerusalem. The wilderness, in the Hebrew tradition, was a symbolic place where people were challenged and pushed to their limits; but the wilderness was also where people learned and grew as human beings. Jesus starts there, but he eventually makes it to the religious and cultural epicenter of that part of the world—Jerusalem. The Gospels tell the story in this way to remind us that it was necessary for Jesus to have sufficient time in the wilderness before tackling the challenges he would face in Jerusalem.

Also, there is the obvious parallel to the Moses story. Moses and the Israelites left Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Then, eventually they made it to Jerusalem. So you’ll need to embrace the symbolism of the number 40 to dig deeper into the meaning. The 40 days of Lent don’t necessarily have to be a literal 40 days. It’s just symbolism to remind us that at certain times in life we need a time in the wilderness for learning and growth.

wildernessSpecifically, the temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness have their own symbolic meaning. First, Jesus was hungry because he had been fasting, like many other religious ascetics did in his time. After his fast Jesus was tempted by bread. But this was not just about controlling his appetite. Later in the Gospel stories this same Jesus would feed the five thousand and the four thousand. He chose to help them find nourishment because they were in need. This is important to note, because Jesus did NOT choose to feed, heal, or bless people because he was driven by fear or by the voice of someone or something else in his head. He chose to do those things himself because it came naturally to him. So perhaps the first temptation was more about facing the common temptation to act out of fear or desperation. Trusting that bread will be provided enables one to provide bread for others.

The second temptation is also fear-related.

Prove, says the tempter’s voice, that you are God’s Son and jump off the pinnacle of the temple. I think that Jesus was most certainly human in every way, and so I also think that from time to time he feared failure and felt inadequate. Any leader feels this sometimes. So the second temptation was to face the possibility that things would not always go as he hoped—that his followers and friends may not always join with him and that others would criticize and reject him. I mean, who doesn’t fear rejection, right? So by not jumping off the temple roof, Jesus claims a truth that regardless of what people say or do, his real self will not be harmed.

The third and final temptation is all about power. Even good people with good intentions struggle with this. If you know that you want the best for people and the world, shouldn’t the world then conform to your ideas of how things should be? Who better to rule the world than the person who has good intentions, right? I mean, who would blame Jesus for claiming the throne to better spread his message and revolution of love? But that’s the temptation.

Regardless of how good our intentions may be, taking power eventually leads to trampling others.

Perhaps this was the hardest temptation. Would Jesus claim the power that so many wanted him to have? His answer of “no” to that question changed the whole story, didn’t it?

Speaking of the story, the very next thing that happened after Jesus’ time in the wilderness should come as no surprise. Jesus left the wilderness and found people [in this case, Peter, James, and John]. He shared his experience with them and they made connections. You see, Jesus’ personal spiritual experience of 40 days wasn’t just an isolated time of prayer and meditation. It was purposeful. His self-reflection led to deeper connections with other human beings.

That’s what inspires me the most, because often spiritual practices like prayer and meditation and even worship stay in the wilderness or the sanctuary or a building.

Unfortunately, it is tempting in every religion to become isolated from others in the world and to forget that any spiritual practice should not only make you a better person, but it should connect you to others in a meaningful way.

So may your forty days be a time for self-reflection, asking the question: what does it mean for you to truly be yourself, and may you discover not only who you are but what you are becoming. This process truly is worthwhile.

I close with an excerpt from Edwina Gateley’s poem, Called to Become from There Was No Path So I Trod One (1996, 2013):

You are called to become a perfect creation.
No one is called to become who you are called to be.
This becoming may be gentle or harsh.
Subtle or violent.
But it never ceases.
Never pauses or hesitates.
Only is—Creative force—Calling you.

Calling you to become a perfect creation.

 

The Lighthouse

Luke 21:25-28   NRSV

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

The New Testament Gospels often quote Hebrew prophets like Isaiah, or at least, they paraphrase. Jesus of Nazareth, at various points in the Gospel stories, uses the words of Hebrew prophets to speak to the context in which people were living. In this Luke passage, Jesus refers to the chaos and confusion in the world, but also a breaking through of a new kind of era.

This is what is called apocalyptic literature, i.e. a writing that imagines the end of an era. It’s not necessarily the “end times” as some often refer to it. The end of the world is not a literal end like the earth exploding or a mass extinction or the planet disappearing or something like that. Save that for Hollywood and maybe The Leftovers.

the-leftovers-season-2dApocalyptic literature, however, is more about symbolism—that the sun, moon, stars, oceans, and land all reflect what people are feeling inside.

In this case, people are scared and worried. So nature reflects that. But Luke’s writer encourages the reader to not hide or give up. Why? Because the Son of Man [literally human one] is coming. This is a direct reference to another Hebrew scripture book, Daniel. Instead of hiding in fear, people are encouraged to stand up and raise their heads.

Luke’s apocalyptic writing is imaginative just like Isaiah. The Gospel is imagining this current moment as hopeful, redemptive, healing, and character-building—in spite of the external things all around that seem so daunting.

But in order for us to personalize this, we’ll have to do some imagining of our own. So let’s try this simple yet effective activity. It’s called lighthouse.

Visualize this: You are lost at sea on a stormy night, far, far away from the shore, in a rowboat. But off in the distance you notice a glimmer of light, leading you to land. If you row hard, you can make it. You reach the shore only to find someone waiting for you with a warm meal, dry clothes, and a place to rest.
lighthouse.jpeg

Take a moment to draw, color, or paint an image of a lighthouse on a piece of paper or any sort of medium. Depict yourself in the image, either in the boat on the water, in the lighthouse, or wherever you choose.

Who are the people who greet you there? They are the ones who fill you with love, encouragement, and peace. They accept you as you are; they help you become a better person.

What kind of food will you eat there? How does it smell and taste? Who do you share the food with?

How soft is the bed waiting for you inside the lighthouse? How does it feel to put on warm and dry clothes after such a long, wet, and cold journey?

This lighthouse is the source of guidance in your life—a place to stand up and raise your head and look for—especially when things are confusing, tense, worrisome, or fearful. This place of rest, peace, and strength is always there; you can always return to it.

We are at our most human when we admit that things are not perfect, when we admit that sometimes we feel broken or lost. We fully embrace our humanity when we put aside all the superficial things and false appearances that we maintain to look good for others.

Everyone deserves a lighthouse within themselves. Everyone deserves to feel loved and cared for and accepted. That lighthouse exists in all of us. We don’t have to wait for it or allow others to build it for us, because each one of us is enough. We have inside of us the capacity to love and care for ourselves. When we do, we are able to weather any storm and to find that flicker of light off in the distance.

Put your lighthouse drawing somewhere in your house or apartment or room where you can easily find it. Throughout this season, return to it. Remember that imagining wholeness and hope in this moment will lead you to wisdom and strength.

 

Hope on the Journey

Isaiah 60:1-5 (NRSV)

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice…

rekindle
How do you define hope?

This could be a trick question, but thinking about it will lead you to some wisdom. How do you define hope?

For many people [myself included], hope can seem like an insufficient thing. After all, look at the world. It’s easy for someone to tell another to hope when she is suffering or being discriminated against, or if she is stuck in a terrible situation. What do you tell Syrian refugees who are torn from their homes, only to be turned away by others? Should they have hope? Really?

Seems insufficient to me.

What do you tell the mother of the child who is gunned down randomly, for no reason, other than the fact that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Do you tell her to hope?

What about the young woman who is dying of cancer. She knows she’s terminal; the doctors say so. Do you tell her to hope?

I’m just being honest. I think sometimes we use the word and concept of hope to try to answer questions we cannot answer or to try to make us feel better about horrible situations.

So, that being said, here is what comes to my mind when I ask myself the same question:

How do I define hope?

I define hope as imagination.

Maybe that makes sense to you, maybe it doesn’t.
I define hope as imagination.

Because I’ve seen people in horrific situations exhibit an incredibly creative and healing form of imagination. They don’t just hope things will get better. They imagine what good could possibly come out of a horrific situation. They imagine whether or not anything good at all could happen.

But they are not just imagining about the future; they are imagining about this very moment. Can it be possible for the Syrian refugee to find a new life, or safety, or community? Can it be possible for the grieving mother to find joy and purpose again? Can it be possible for the terminal cancer patient to enjoy her life and positively impact others?

These kinds of questions are not superficial. Neither are they cop-outs like hope statements are sometimes. These questions are honest, messy, and real. It takes time to ask them and the process can be long and even painful. But when people ask themselves individually what they can imagine about their current situation, they are building within themselves the capacity to move forward.

The Hebrew prophets were doing the same thing, you see. Prophets like Isaiah weren’t really predicting the future, as some might claim. Neither were they sharing history or documenting what was happening in their time. Prophets were imagining what things could be like in the world. None of what they imagined was realized. Isaiah, for example, most likely written by a variety of Israelite priests, was put together over a span of years, some of them during the Babylonian exile.

In other words, we’re talking about war, and people being ripped from their homes and exiled to a foreign country. Mmmmm……

So it’s not a “hopeful” book, really. Isaiah IS an imagining book, though. The authors imagine what good could possibly come of this situation. They imagine what their reality would be like if people actually loved G-d in the way they said they did and loved others also. They imagined if justice reigned over injustice. They imagined if poor people were actually lifted up and encouraged and given food and shelter. They imagined if wars would cease and people would stop killing each other over religion, land, and power.

Yes, go ahead. Insert your John Lennon reference here.

Imagine.

And so, have you reflected on how you answer the question?

How do you define hope?

I encourage you to use your imagination. Don’t be superficial or seek easy answers. Let the question hang there for a while. Let your imagination go crazy. In this current moment, in your life, what can you imagine? How can things be joyful, peaceful, and fulfilling?

It’s Good to be a Kid!

Mark 9:30-37

kid1.jpegFear.

It is a feeling that all of us have. Fear is programmed into us. That’s okay, though, because fear is actually meant to protect us. We are born with a sense of fear so we can react to things or situations that could be dangerous or harmful to our emotional or physical health.

kid2.jpeg

Obviously, babies cry when they’re afraid, even if they are startled by a loud noise that is completely harmless—like an older sibling banging drums or something. Babies also experience stranger anxiety and will cling to their parents when confronted by people they don’t recognize.

Or maybe strange people like me who make scary faces at them.

As babies become toddlers, around 10-18 months old, they start to experience separation anxiety, becoming emotionally distressed when one or both caregivers/parents leave.

4-6 year old kids start to fear things that aren’t based in reality, like monsters or ghosts.

kid3.jpeg

…Or Great Aunt Martha’s sloppy kisses and awful casseroles.

Okay, maybe that last fear is a real one.

Anyway, once kids are 7-12 years old, their fears can reflect real things that could actually happen to them—like getting hurt physically or a natural disaster, like a tornado or something.[1]

It’s clear that what kids fear is different than what adults fear.

This is due to the many facets of mind development. Children have an incredible imaginative capacity, can repress reason, and also exhibit the condition of innocence. This is played out when a mom is scared of the next medical bill, while her five-year-old isn’t scared of that at all, as long as the medical bill isn’t delivered by the abominable snowman.

But as Tim Lott states, in his article “Children used to be scared of the dark – now they fear failure,” fear in children is starting to look more and more like the fear of adults. A recent survey from Johns Hopkins University found that the top five fears of kids thirty years ago were of animals, being in a dark room, high places, strangers and loud noises. But currently, in the updated survey, kids are now afraid of divorce, nuclear war, cancer, pollution, and being mugged.

Further, in another poll from the UK, researchers found that some traditional fears like spiders and bugs, witches, the dark, and clowns [eww yes, clowns] are still prevalent among children. But, today the fear of being bullied, being approached by strangers and the fear of failure in school performance are major players.[2]

In a society driven by achievement in school that leads to finding a high-paying job, children’s fears are starting to look less innocent and imaginative.

And while we could spend a lot of time discussing why this is the case, we’re going to move onto a story in Mark’s Gospel that all about fear and children. Perhaps this story will give us some insights.

So here’s the deal: Jesus of Nazareth is traveling with his followers from Galilee to Capernaum. Jesus doesn’t want anyone to know this is happening, because he is afraid [yes, that’s right, I said Jesus is afraid] of how the people might react if they knew he was passing through. He didn’t want to become a king or a religious leader, or a spiritual rockstar. It wasn’t just a fear of the crowds in Northern Galilee, though. Jesus was also concerned about his small band of followers on the road with him to Capernaum. He tells them that he’s going to die and introduces also the possibility of life after death [however you want to define that]. And yet, Jesus knows that his closest friends are afraid of such a possibility. They are confused and fearful of the unknown; so they don’t ask any questions. Instead, their fear leads them to arguing. As they walked to Capernaum, they bickered over who was the best disciple. Who had the most faith? Who did the best work? Who was the most loyal?

So when they get to Capernaum, Jesus tweaks them with a question:

And…what were you discussing on the road?

Uh-oh, he heard.

And the disciples, now afraid what Jesus would think of them, stay silent. Fear is driving this whole story!

So finally, Jesus sits down with them, in somebody’s house, maybe his own. And it’s a teaching moment. His disciples still saw the world as a hierarchical structure of kings and queens, religious elites, and then all those below who struggled to survive. And so they sought to move up in the world.

But this was not what Jesus called the “kingdom” or “reign” of G-d. This “kingdom” was not top-down. The most venerated politician or religious leader was no different than the no-name beggar on the street.

Or the smallest child.

Mark’s Gospel writer gives us a rare symbolic detail to supplement the teaching. Jesus picks up a kid and says:

Those of you who receive any of these children like this one receive me. And those of you who receive me receive not me but the one who sent me.

The child is a symbol—not necessarily that the disciples should physically receive children and honor them, but that they should receive and welcome the child inside themselves.

You see, we say that we value children in society. In the 1st and 2nd century in Israel and Palestine, people said the same things. But children were property and they were cared for by women, who were also considered property. They were bought and sold. And children, for the most part, were not to speak unless spoken to; they were to be seen and not heard.

Sounds familiar.

Jesus’ teaching is significant in many ways, but here’s what I’m hearing.

First, we need to admit that we are often hypocritical when we talk about children. We say that we love them, we appreciate their cuteness, and we encourage [and sometimes pressure] people to have more babies.

And yet, so, so many children are not cared for, not loved, not mentored. Far too many children are born into households of violence, neglect, and abuse. And some children, forced from their homes in Syria, or Honduras, or West Africa, are left to starve and are turned away by governments, religious institutions, and whole countries. These children have done nothing wrong. And yet, as a society we are ignoring them.

And secondly, we need to learn to embrace the inner child in us in order to face our fears in a healthy way. There is no reason for us to lose our imaginations.

kid4.jpeg

There’s no reason for us to stop laughing at silly things, or to cease exploring or to halt our curiosity.

Though as stubborn adults we don’t want to admit it, our fears for the most part are useless. Our fears do nothing to protect us from the things we are anxious about

Aung San Suu Kyi, Noble Peace Prize winner and Burmese [Myanmar] political leader, once said: “The only real prison is fear and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”

kid5.jpegFriends, ask yourselves these questions:

Are your life stories often driven by fear?

Are your decisions based out of fear?

Do you behave in certain ways simply because you are afraid?

From time to time, we may all answer yes to these questions.
But we have an opportunity to seek and follow a simpler way, to accept that which we don’t understand or know, and not fear the unknown.

To embrace the child in each one of us is to think imaginatively like a child, to move away from fear to trust, love, and wholeness.

It is kicking up your feet on an Amsterdam bicycle, just because.

kid6.jpeg

All are invited to embrace the inner child, the child who knows that faith is not about certainty, but about wonder; not about answers, but questions.

—————————————————————————————————————————————

[1] http://kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?dn=KidsHealth&lic=1&article_set=21758&cat_id=145&&ps=105
KidsHealth®, © 1995- 2015 . The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth®. All rights reserved.

[2] Lott, Tim, “Children used to be scared of the dark – now they fear failure,” The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/may/29/children-used-to-be-scared-of-the-dark-now-they-fear-failure

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