Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘path’

A Fragile Peace

Isaiah 11:1-4a

stump_jesse21
It is December. It’s colder. The leaves are on the ground. Winter has come. Animals know it. They sense it—they go about their business getting ready for colder nights, gathering food and making more stable shelters. There is so much movement in nature at this time of year if you pay attention to it. Scurrying and gathering and preparing. Animals know a lot; they are obviously so much more connected to this good earth than we are. They understand instinctively that winter will come, but it’s not so bad. It’s necessary. Good stuff happens in nature during winter. There is a dormant period for plants and other living beings. But…in just a few months, just when all the humans like you and I are more than ready for winter to just GET IT OVER WITH PLEASE!….something happens. It starts with a bud—small and inconspicuous. It starts with tiny plants peeking out and then animals, both small and large, emerging earlier and later to drink water and find food. They know it’s coming. Spring is coming. The roots of the earth are strong; they will soon emerge and all of life will…be replenished, renewed, and delightful.

preparing-for-winterThe images of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah are indeed beautiful if you just embrace the metaphors of nature and life itself. Keep in mind the historical context of Isaiah and it becomes even richer, if you ask me. As I always say, if you identify as a Christian, do not be so quick as to jump to conclusions when you read Isaiah. Don’t make quick and easy connections between what Isaiah wrote so long before Jesus of Nazareth was born and the stories of the New Testament. Instead, embrace the beauty of Isaiah’s message and then understand why the New Testament Gospel writers [and even Jesus himself] borrowed from Isaiah.

This prophet, though writing during an incredibly difficult and bleak time for the ancient Israelites, Isaiah planted seeds of hope, of peace, of renewal. Too long had the Israelites experienced war, famine, and isolation. The stump is injured. But a root now grows out of it, then a branch. Of course, Isaiah was referring to a new leader of the Israelite people. Notice, though, the great disparity between Isaiah’s leader who comes out of a stump and what we typically would assume a “leader” would look like. This branch is wise and delights in knowledge, has understanding. This branch looks to the poor, the marginalized, and not to the rich, powerful, and privileged. This branch out of a stump seeks peace for all living beings.

I don’t know about you, but honestly, I don’t see this branch as being Jesus of Nazareth. Otherwise, the lion and lamb would be hanging out together with no Ultimate Fighting going on and our nations would stop killing each other and our communities would stop hating and targeting certain people.

Evil still exists in the world, poor people struggle more than ever, predators prey on the weak.

In this time where peace can seem incredibly far off; when LGBTQ beautiful people feel afraid and are targeted, when Latinx kids and youth are made fun of and told to “go home” and when Native Americans are sprayed with tear gas and hoses in the freezing cold as they seek to protect their lands, what do we say about Isaiah’s image of a peaceful world? Well, we say that it’s not yet here. We tell the truth. We say what is happening in our communities—what is not right or good or peaceful or loving and we say that this is not the Divine’s desire for the world.

We say that, but then we have to do something, too.

For while Jews waited for [and still wait for] this Messiah, Christians do, too. We wait for the same thing, for the world to change. To be a loving, accepting, and beautiful place as we believe it is meant to be.

So then, buds and branches of a broken stump we call the world, how will you bring peace to the world around you? How will you love people who feel unloved? How will you stand up for those who are bullied and marginalized? How will you be a part of Divine intervention, considering that we are all connected to this desire, to create and live in a world of peace, of understanding, and of love.

How will we create this together?

Matthew 3:1-6
Turning Around to Face the Light & the Dark

I’ve mentioned this before, but just as a reminder, the word repent in the Gospels is not a word telling you to get on your knees and say: “Please, Jesus, forgive me!” It’s not a formulaic faith affirmation either. Repent means turn around. Reorient your life path.

What a great message for all of us this season. So, here’s the thing–John the Baptist was craaaaazy. Yep. People thought he was nuts. He probably was. A little bit. But he quoted Isaiah, so at least people thought he might know something. The voice in the wilderness is important to note, because the wilderness was a metaphor for a time of introspection and a bit of wandering. You’ve had those times, right? When you weren’t sure where you were in life or where you were going? Maybe you are there now. The wilderness. A voice literally cries out and says: PREPARE! Make paths straight! Okay, so…what? Go back to Isaiah and the idea of a peaceful world. Remember that John’s Gospel was written long after Isaiah…people, we are talking more than 800 years, okay? Yeah. So the peaceful world that Isaiah envisioned didn’t happen in Jesus’ time, and it didn’t happen after Jesus’ death, and it didn’t happen after the Gospels like John were written. Get the picture? John wasn’t so crazy after all. He understood, right, that the world was still in need of more love, and peace, and connection? He said to anyone who would listen: turn around, it’s never too late.

Change your life path if you need to.

Yeah, I don’t know where you’re at today, but I’m realizing the need to face myself as I am. It’s not just the recent Presidential election, though that’s part of it. It’s everything. I’ve been asking myself: What am I really doing? Who am I? Who do I want to be? I’m trying my best, and failing a lot of the time, but I’m trying to face myself. I’m facing the darkness in me, my desire to give up sometimes, my fears, my heaviness. And I’m also facing the light within me: my desire to keep standing up for justice and peace and love, the creative imagination that lives within and the freedom to let go of the things that hold me back. I want to turn around, to reorient myself every day. I don’t always make it. But this is the path.

May you see yourself as you are; may you find ways to love yourself and be at peace with yourself; if you need to turn around from things or relationships that hurt you or isolate you, do it; and be free to love, be free embrace all of your darkness and light. In doing so, I tell you this—you will encounter other people doing the same. You will connect to them and it will be marvelous. You will find love, acceptance, and peace with them. And then we create this reality together.

Love that Gets its Hands Dirty

Luke 13:31-35

rumiSelections from Jalal al-Din Rumi:

This being human is a guest house.
Every mornin
g a new arrival.

A joy, A depression, A meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.
First to let go of life.
Finally, to take a step without feet.

We continue to focus on being and self-discovery these 40 days of Lent, focusing on Jesus of Nazareth’s own journey to self-realization—his path to Jerusalem and the end of his life. Each week, please consider this question:

How do you know when you are truly yourself?

The Gospel of Luke is keen on the theme of the journey. In fact, journeying occurs 88 times in Luke and in Acts, the NT book that the same author of Luke wrote. In this particular part of Luke’s story, the Pharisees [a sect of Judaism] try to convince Jesus to journey elsewhere; Jesus then tells them to journey back to Herod; and then finally, it becomes necessary for Jesus to journey to Jerusalem.

Jesus and Herod Antipas.

Jesus calls Herod a fox. Thus, Herod was clever, but small. This is the same Herod, remember, who killed John the Baptist; but he was not even close to as powerful as the leaders in Jerusalem.So in spite of the danger, Jesus does not alter his journey or timetable nor give in to Herod’s supposed threats.

During this journey, Jesus expresses his sadness for the situation in Jerusalem. It resembles the laments of the Hebrew prophets. In this short rant, Jesus expresses his frustration and sadness over the Jerusalem people’s stubbornness and close-mindedness.

And yet, Jesus at the same time expresses his great love and compassion for them.

He wished to gather the people of Jerusalem just like a hen would gather her chicks under her wing. There is a play on words here. Thelo, a Greek word, appears three times. It means will, desire, want, or wish. First, Herod wishes to kill Jesus; then Jesus wished to gather the children of Jerusalem under his wing; finally the children did not desire it. These three wishes are in conflict with one another. And there’s no genie involved.

Genie

Returning again to the theme of journey, notice again that Jesus did not deviate from his course or the timing of it, even if there were obstacles or people trying to convince him to go another way. This is important.

How many times do we change directions, even when we know we are on the right path, because of external circumstances or because people convince us to? Often, we are tossed and turned by the latest trends, what our peers do, or what we see on TV or in other media. Essentially, we just start copying each other. A friend gets married, has kids, and buys a house? Well, we better do the same, even that is not our path. Someone gets a certain job, buys a big car, dresses a certain way? Well, we ought to follow suit. Why is that?

I think it’s because we start to believe that we don’t actually have our own journey, or that we are not worthy to have one. This is an unhealthy mistake and can rob us of opportunities, moments of grace, wholeness, and healing.

We all have our own path.

Internally, we need to journey on it. Even when things get tough or when others try to misdirect us, we need to stay the course.

Furthermore, I notice in this story the great vulnerability that Jesus showed to people, out of compassion. I’ve mentioned before the researcher Brené Brown and her work on shame and vulnerability. She gave a recent Ted Talk that I think speaks to the heart of the matter and relates to what Jesus expressed on the way to Jerusalem. Watch the whole talk here, or if you wish, watch from 17:30 to the end, for the purposes of this discussion.

 

Ms. Brown, after six years and thousands of interviews and case studies with a variety of people, has come to the conclusion that the people who are the most whole, the happiest, the most themselves—are the ones who practice vulnerability.

Look at Jesus of Nazareth’s treatment of other people. He wasn’t afraid to hang out with those who were considered dirty, unclean, outsiders. He didn’t take the easy road when others told him to, because he walked a path that led him to people in need of acceptance and healing. In spite of what some think, Jesus of Nazareth was not a meek, nice guy who glowed with some holy halo when we walked the earth. He was a troublemaker; he was an instigator and an annoying presence; he told the truth when it hurt; he chose to be with people who were difficult and who lacked power and authority; he did not hesitate to touch or to say a kind word to those who were pushed the margins of society. He put himself out there; he was authentic and vulnerable.

And his journey to Jerusalem was vulnerable—the whole way. Eventually, when he got there, he was as vulnerable as one could be. He didn’t do it to be a martyr or a ruler or to leave a legacy. He did it out of compassion for others. And he was only able to do that because he was true to himself.

So as your journey continues, remember that you’re imperfect but worthy of love and belonging.

And it is our job to say that and to show that to others and to ourselves. Vulnerability. It’s the other way, the journey, the path. To let yourself be seen as you are. To love with all your whole hearts without any guarantee. To practice gratitude and joy, even in difficult moments. To believe that you are enough.

May you continue to get to know yourself, to keep on journeying on your unique path, and may you be real, authentic, and vulnerable along the way.

Inner Peace and a Path

Isaiah 40:4-8, Psalm 85: 8, 10, 11, 13  

This time of year, a second candle is lit and people speak an elusive word:

 Peace.

 PeaceUnfortunately, I’m not sure we are all that honest about this word.

Do we really believe in peace?

I mean, it certainly doesn’t seem like we believe in it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be fighting wars and starting new ones. We wouldn’t have tons of weapons; we wouldn’t separate communities of people from each other–if we really believed in peace. We wouldn’t be shouting or posting racial slurs; we wouldn’t be apathetic about building bridges across lines of difference.

So I would like to go in a different direction, taking another path, this Advent season. What if the prophetic passages of Isaiah, the Psalms, and the NT Gospels didn’t really talk about peace the way we think they did?

What if real and honest peace is not about lighting candles and singing songs and observing a holiday season and religious traditions, just like we do every year? What if peace isn’t even about most of the things associated with Christmas?

Now before you start throwing things at me, allow me to explain.

The typical “Advent” scripture passages [and also the typical Christmas Eve passages] talk about peace, but not as an absence of conflict, a nice, warm feeling, or comfort.

Take Isaiah 40, for example. The prophet Isaiah speaks of a path of preparation. Something new is about to happen, something that will change everything, and the way for God needs to be prepared. The highways and byways are metaphors of the spiritual pathways in people that need to be ready to receive such a change.

path

Isaiah the prophet tries to convince people that beyond all the destruction and loss in the world there is comfort and recovery. The earth itself will proclaim God’s reign of healing and transformation.

And then there are Psalms like Psalm 85 that echoes the Isaiah proclamation of healing and change. People [and whole nations] are forgiven and justice becomes healing. People are transformed and become free and joyful, and they commune with God.

And finally, in the Gospels, what does John the Baptizer do? He quotes Isaiah [and so does Jesus], and tells people to “turn around” to change, and he tells them to prepare the way for God.

But…none of this change, justice, and peace happens without real, honest human change on an individual basis.

People are exhorted to look deeply and honestly at themselves.

They are challenged to deal with the fears, the anxieties, the prejudices, and the apathy within themselves.
And they are encouraged that if they commit to that path, they will find something within themselves.

A highway.
A vessel.
A space where the divine can live and act.

And the encountering of peace…inside ourselves.
Inner peace.

Of course, it’s impossible to define what inner peace is, because it is and will be different for every person.
But, the path to inner peace is less relative.

Not just in Christian or other religious traditions and scriptures is this true, but in real life it’s true.

Inner peace is about accepting yourself.

But how do people discover acceptance?

Usually the first, and the hardest step, is in recognizing that the past is just…the past. Letting go of the past is critical, because the past is something that we cannot change.

And then it is in recognizing that the future is not here yet. We cannot turn the hands on a clock to make a day skip forward. We cannot turn the pages of a calendar to move ahead to future months.

Peace/Wholeness within yourself comes when you realize that the past and the future are not yours to hold in your hands.

Instead, the one thing you do hold in your hands is the here and now.

If you live firmly in the moment and then move fluidly from moment to moment, life seems to have a rhythm.
You will spend more time actually living, and you will see and experience the here and now in an honest and healthy way. You’ll spend less time regretting or dwelling on the past and less time worrying about the future.

And in the embracing of the here and now you actually embrace yourself.
You realize that you are alive. You are present.
Right now.

One particular theologian and philosopher who doesn’t exactly get mainstream love, and who certainly wouldn’t be on most people’s Christmas list, is one Paul Tillich.

tillichTillich looked at the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament Gospels with an alternative lens. He saw in the scripture stories a particular dynamic in what many Biblical scholars call Kairos time—in other words, when the divine breaks into the moment-by-moment existences of human beings.

In Tillich’s work, The Courage to be, he states:

…the reality of God’s moment by moment coming – the Kairos of this very moment – calls us to be self-aware and mindful and to be people who already live “on earth as it is in heaven.”[1]

But in order to live on this earth as we expect things are in heaven, we will need to have the courage to look at ourselves. We will need to honestly accept who we are—in spite of all that happens around us that might seek to distract us from such a pursuit.

It’s common for us to look out at the world and to become apathetic, depressed, and overwhelmed by all the suffering, injustices, violence, and pain.

It would be easy to just do things as we’ve always done them and to neglect looking intently inside ourselves.
But this is the path of Advent, the path of waiting, the path of real change.

For when we look deeply at ourselves and learn to accept ourselves as we are, we start to see others differently.

We even participate in that Kairos time—that intersection of the divine and us.

But don’t think that finding inner peace is just some isolated act for each individual. It’s more than that. Because when you commit to the path of accepting yourself, you participate in the divine act of God affirming all the good creation, all the beauty of the animals, and the plants, and the humans.

And you become aware of justice and the need to participate in it.
And peace is more than a dove or a word or an idea.
Peace is real because it lives in you.

[1] The Courage to Be. By Paul Tillich. Second Edition. New Haven, Yale University, 2000 (1st ed. 1952).

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