Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘presence’

A Refuge Inside, A Refuge Abides

Psalm 84:1-4; 10

TAKE-REFUGE-12Friends, what comes to mind when you hear the word refuge?

What sorts of images fill your head? Feelings you have?
Feel free to write them in the comments section.

The Book of Psalms, Hebrew תְּהִלִּים‬ or תהילים‬, or Tehillim (praises), is the first book of the Ketuvim [Writings), in the 3rd section of the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament by Christians. The Psalms, as you probably know, are poetic expressions of doubt, faith, human emotion, and many of them were written as music.

This particular Psalm illustrates a world view that Yahweh [the divine/God] is associated with a building, and that space is a refuge.

People love their buildings, don’t they? Especially in religions. Think about the grand structures humans have built over the years–great cathedrals, mosques, synagogues, temples, etc. Often we venerate them, and for many religious people, these buildings house the very presence of the Divine.

But buildings fall, and they don’t last forever. This was the case with Jerusalem’s temple.

So then what? If God is the City of refuge and this God is contained in the temple [the city of God], what happens when this city is destroyed? Where is God?

This of course is institutional, establishment thinking. I argue that it’s one of the major pitfall of all religions. This idea of the Divine being established in a place or institution leads to misuse of power and marginalization of people. It also limits who has access to the Divine. The idolatry of a building or a religious institution only leads us down a dangerous and unhealthy path.

So what if the Divine “abides” but not in a building, but in us and all creation? How does that contradict the idea of institutional religion?

Some thoughts:

God/the Divine can be looked at as the embodiment of love and truth. God is the source of love and truth. So when we are “at home” in God we are “at home” in love and truth. This is the idea of a sanctuary or a refuge, but not one contained in a building, a place, or even in a religion. The safe haven of love and truth travels with us throughout life, wherever we are. It is an abiding refuge and we can always go back to it.

In essence, God is with you when you roam through dry deserts with no end in sight; when you’re drowning in your tears; when you’re lost in the forest; when you feel overwhelmed; God is with you when you’re finally able to celebrate something; when you make a positive change in your life; when you discover love.

God is at home in you when you are most at home in yourself, most able to be wholly you. Our lives and all of nature are sacred spaces. No need for temples or spires or crosses or gold domes or ancient halls or stained glass. Wherever we are on our journey we are at home in God.

But I also recognize that for some, their inner thoughts are not a refuge. People who have suffered great trauma or who have been abused or neglected–the inner voices within may not be comforting. It can feel very isolating. So with love, I hope that if you feel this way, you’ll be close to a friend or someone who feels like a refuge for you. Someone who accepts and loves you as you are.

May you find refuge within yourself; may you find refuge in others who accept you; may you be refuge for those who need it.

 

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Bread Is Us, Is Them, Is Life

John 6:35-37; 48-51

So here’s the thing—bread is a universal food.

Image result for breads of the world

Now it varies, of course. Some people eat wheat-based bread of all shapes and sizes. You’ve probably tried that at some point in your life—a flaky croissant, a baguette, an Italian loaf, even a doughnut. And even if you’re gluten intolerant, you have options. In some cultures, like that of Mexico, the staple “bread” is made out of corn masa.

Image result for tortillas de mexico

Any way you look at it, bread is a staple. It is often the thing that we associate having enough to eat with. If someone is going hungry, that person is without bread.

So on this level, bread is universally about filling our stomachs, satisfying our hunger, fulfilling our need to survive physically. And bread is a symbol of our diverse cultures and our uniqueness.

As usual, Jesus of Nazareth would take universal symbols like bread and then use them to illustrate something, to make a point, to bring people to a realization, a transformation.

So Jesus, in John’s Gospel, says that bread is life. He says that he is the bread of life, and this is John’s Gospel, and so remember that any I AM statement [ego eimi in Greek] means “divine presence.”

So in essence, Jesus is saying that the divine is present in him, and this presence provides sustenance to all who embrace it in themselves.

But Jesus, [and John’s writers] were addressing an audience much different than us. It was a different time and culture, and this audience was made up of Jews, Greeks, and others. But they would have known the story about the Israelites wandering around in the wilderness. They would have known the story about manna [bread] being provided but not being enough. Their ancestors couldn’t just live by this type of bread alone. Bread runs out; people get hungry. All you have to do is keep your eyes open to see that in our communities and around the world, people go hungry. We don’t share enough of our bread and so, people are hungry. And even those of us lucky enough to have enough bread to eat, the satisfied feeling doesn’t last.

Eventually, we get hungry again.

So Jesus was taking bread to another level. Eat this new idea of bread, live forever. Eat this new bread, be truly alive.

And yes, it may sound a little weird the way John’s Gospel spells it out. Jesus is the living bread and the bread Jesus gives for the world is flesh. Flesh? Huh? Okay, now these theories about Christians being cannibals don’t sound so crazy, right?

Image result for eat flesh

Of course, some have taken this idea to an extreme. In some religious traditions, the bread used in Communion services becomes Jesus’ flesh. At least, that’s what some people believe. This is also why historically, there were people of other faith traditions [and the original followers of Jesus] who saw this as weird, this whole Jesus-flesh-eating-thing.

I think we’ve overblown this. In fact, I think John’s Gospel is pretty clear. Jesus’ flesh isn’t actual flesh, though Jesus’ presence with people was most certainly real, down to earth. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is logos—word, presence. Jesus is vine, good shepherd, life, love.

Jesus is presence.

So it’s not about some mystical meal where bread turns into human flesh. The metaphor is: Christ is life-bread, this life-bread is in us, and it is freely given to us to share with others.

This Bread reanimates us, shows us our inner beauty. And if we apply this in life, we will also see this bread in others. They will be our family. And if anyone lacks this bread, we will be sure to share it with them, remind them of their beauty, help them to discover the life inside them. In turn, we become the living bread and spread the life all around.

Thrice Love

Matthew 28:16-20  NRSV
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Creator and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”[a]

[based on I Corinthians 13]
Finally, my friends, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with sacred embraces. Jesus is grace for you; God is love for you; and the Spirit is community for you.

thricelove
Let’s start with three questions we all ask:

  1. Am I loved?

  2. Do I have a purpose in this world?

  3. How am I connected to others?

And now imagine your are on a mountain, but not really. A “mountain” experience is a spiritual one. It doesn’t have to be a literal mountain; it is a spiritual space where you learn something important.

For Jesus’ followers, their mountain experience included being told to “go” and make disciples. What does that mean? To baptize in a threefold concept of Creator, Son, and Spirit? And then, they were to obey the command. Which command? The greatest command–love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Then, a letter from Paul of Tarsus, to the people of Corinth, echoing this same idea. We are to go and strive for restoration in our relationships with each other, in our communities. We are to be better together, to live in peace. And then, we will experience peace. We are to greet one another with sacred embraces.

This whole “discipling” and “Trinity” thing. It’s not just a Christian idea. Many, many traditions hold to it, teach it, seek to live it out. It is a threefold mantra of God/the Divine Light living in us and calling us to live out this identity.

Keeping in mind the wisdom of many, many years and the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh:

First, God says:

I am here for you.

You are not alone. Love as availability, accessibility. A great gift we can give to each other is our true presence. I am here for you. I am present with you, in this moment.

Second, God says:

I know you are here, and I am very happy.

Our lives matter. What a gift we can give to each other if we acknowledge their existence, that their lives matter to us. That we’re glad they are alive.

Third, God says, through Jesus,

I know and acknowledge that you suffer.

The most difficult thing for us to do, I think, to admit that people suffer, to accept it, and to not try to fix it, but to acknowledge that it is true. Many of us want to move quickly past the suffering, because it hurts to hear. But what if we acknowledge the suffering of another? Sit with that person? Stand with them?

The identity piece in all this, friends, is that the Trinity is not about a doctrine or a religious belief system. It is about living. God is here for us, loves us, as we are. God is happy that we are here, alive, as we are. Jesus knows and acknowledges suffering. This is the threefold love we are called to be for each other, and it is important, and purposeful, and powerful.

Make this a part of your everyday life.

  1. Be present with others.
  2. Be glad that others are alive.
  3. Acknowledge when people suffer.

Go and do likewise.

 

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