Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘science’

Come Out & Come Spring Forth

Matthew 28:1-10

butterrain
The season of spring is one that many people point to as their favorite season–at least for those who live in places where winter cold is a reality and the arrival of spring’s warmth and sunshine is a welcome change. Even in other places where the weather doesn’t seem to change, like in Honolulu, Hawai’i where I once lived, one can sense the change. Though on the island of Oahu I never experienced cold weather and grey skies, I did experience a rainy season that eventually gave way to sunshine…and rainbows. I’ve also been to a place called the city of eternal spring or la ciudad de la eternal primavera, Cuernavaca, Mexico.

1280px-Cuernavaca_c274_oCuernavaca is located in a tropical region, but its temperature stays pretty much in the 70s Fahrenheit, because it is situated on the southern slope of the Sierra de Chichinautzin mountains. When you wake up in the morning in Cuernavaca, warm air flows up the mountains from the valley below. When you’re having a coffee in the late afternoon, cooler air flows down from the higher elevations.

Spring as a season, of course, is full of symbolism. Rebirth, new life, flowers blooming, etc, etc. Across religious traditions there is a rich tapestry of spring-like themes and expressions. In the Christian tradition we read a story each springtime about Jesus of Nazareth disappearing from a tomb where a body was supposed to be, and then varied experiences of people seeing or hearing Jesus alive. It’s impossible for me to address all of the nuance and history of the resurrection stories in the four Gospel accounts. For the sake of our conversation, I’ll simply remind us all that each of the four Gospel stories about Jesus’ resurrection are different. The original story, in Mark, is really short and contains no actual appearance of the risen Jesus. Luke and Matthew expand Mark’s story, and John has a different take. The fact that all four stories differ from each other tells us that there was no established narrative about Jesus’ resurrection in the 50-100 years after Jesus’ death.

We are looking at Matthew’s version, a story that includes Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to the tomb, but without spices and ointment. A great stone stood between them and the inside of the tomb. Matthew uses the word “behold” a lot in this version. Behold! A great earthquake! And behold! One lonely angel of the Lord [same wording Matthew uses when Jesus is born]. The angel is like the Incredible Hulk and thus able to move that great stone out of the way, and feeling quite pleased, the angel plops down on that great stone and takes a seat. The angel is wearing shiny, white clothes and looks quite like Jesus did in Matthew’s transfiguration story. A little resurrection bling-bling.

discoJesus

Kudos to the Disco Jesus creator.

Anyway, the Roman guards, symbols of power and strength and the military, are scared out of their minds and are shaken. They become like dead ones. Not so powerful now are ya? The angel, with a play on words, says to the women: Fear not! He is not here, he has been raised.

For the women, this would have been good news for many reasons. First, because they were all still upset about what had happened to Jesus. Also, the fact that Jesus had been raised to life meant that the work and words of Jesus would also not die, i.e. the way of compassion, gender equality, acceptance of the unclean, the sinners, and the marginalized being embraced.  The women are invited by the buff angel to look closer in the tomb to notice where Jesus once lay. But then, they are instructed to go right away and tell the others who followed Jesus. The angel must have a limited vocabulary in ancient Greek, because the angelic hulk keeps saying: Behold! He is going before you into Galilee, Behold! I have told you…and then Matthew adds one more in there: Behold! Jesus met them…

The women aren’t afraid and leave quickly to spread the news. And Behold! Jesus appears to them and greets them with xairete, a common phrase that was an everyday greeting. Funny, isn’t it? In spite of the earthquake, a great stone, an angel, and lots of Beholds! Jesus’ first words to the women are akin to: hey, what’s up, how you doin? The women are smart and go right for the feet of Jesus. And no, that’s not weird. You see, Matthew wants us to understand that this resurrected Jesus is not a ghost.

Okay, I get it. Each one of us will have a different take on this story and the whole resurrection thing. Just like the conflicting accounts in the Gospels, we won’t have the same view of it all. And that’s just fine, because the whole point of the resurrection story isn’t to prove something or disprove it, the point is not to claim that one religion is better than all the others because its prophet rose from the dead; the point is to find resurrection ourselves. That’s what each person who followed this Jesus were invited to discover–the resurrection in their own lives. This idea is all around us in nature with caterpillars, seeds, and eggs–going to dark places and seemingly lifeless–only to emerge reborn and beautifully alive. So no matter how you see this story, hear this:

Behold! You and I are invited to come out, to spring forth. It can be scary sometimes to do that, to be our true selves, to emerge just as we are. But we are encouraged to do so. We are encouraged with love and with healing to trade fear for emergence, for new life. Great stones and obstacles are moved to the side and we have room…to come out, to see this day [and every one after it] as a resurrection day, as a new start, as another opportunity to say and live: this is me. This is who I am. And I am loved. I am beautiful as I am. I may have scars and wounds and I may have felt dead on more than once occasion, but right now, in this moment, I am me. It is spring and I’m coming out, I’m blooming again.

And all around us are people with great stones holding them back and all around us are people who have been wounded and mistreated and pushed to the margins, and we have this chance, every day of this life, to say to them: Behold! I love you as you are; I accept you here and now and always; and you can come out and experience love and be who you are. This is resurrection. This is every day. Come on out. Behold! Your are loved, you are beautiful, and you are made to love, and to recognize the beauty in others, and in all life.

P.S. MUST listen to this song. It’s great. It says this better than I can.

 

Are You Sure?

John 20:19-29

yesnomaybeWe are all unique and thus, the ways we see the world vary. There is one thing, however, that we can all probably agree upon. At some point, all of us have had moments when we doubted. You know what I mean—it can even be simple. You are in the grocery store and you’re staring at twenty different kinds milk and you’re just not sure which one you should purchase.

milkchoicesAlmond? Coconut? Soy? Low fat, skim, whole, organic? And which brand? So you stare and stare at the milks and the doubt creeps in. People keep walking by and giving you weird looks, but they just don’t understand. Too many milks! Because of their leering gaze you rush to finally decide on unsweetened almond milk, but as you collapse exhausted in your car you’re honestly not really sure that you made the best choice.

Okay, so that’s a superficial example, but there are obviously many, many examples that are much deeper and important. Have you ever doubted some of the bigger decisions like which school should I attend? Should I quit my job and start fresh? Should I move? Should I make myself vulnerable with this person, not knowing if they will accept my feelings or reject them? Should I date, should I get married, should I have kids? Should I get divorced? Should I come out to my parents and coworkers? Should I ever do any of these things? Doubt is part of life. It is part of our human makeup.

When we doubt, we question things. And people. It’s not about always having a conspiracy theory for everything, though, it’s critical thinking. When we ask how did something come to be or how did I get this idea we are engaging our brains in an active dialogue that leads to growth and perspective. Doubt also helps us see the bigger picture and initiates progress, because when we doubt, we question the current state of things and wonder: can it get better than this? It’s questioning the status quo.

Of course, there is such a thing as healthy and unhealthy doubt. Unhealthy doubt, according to psychologists and behavioral therapists, is driven by anxiety and moods. It’s kneejerk. It demands absolute certainty and is not supported by sense evidence. It is often self-defeating. Feelings are accepted as facts, even if actual facts contradict our feelings. Unhealthy doubt is about “what if” scenarios—most likely imagining the worst-case scenario.

Healthy doubt, on the other hand, asks questions and searches for evidence in a scientific manner, rather than being driven by anxiety or moods. When no solid evidence is found, skepticism ends and there is not an attempt to override it.  Healthy doubt is relaxed and reasonable.

skepticism-is-healthy-doubt-when-faced-with-lack-of-credible-8760996So let’s pause for a moment. Ask yourself: can I think of examples of times when I have doubted in an unhealthy way? Can I think of times when I doubted in a healthy way?

And now, a story all about doubt—both unhealthy and healthy.

The author of the Gospel of John tells us that it was evening, just after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, and all the doors of Jesus’ best friends were locked. They were afraid, anxious, and locked up. They doubted, most likely, all of what they had seen and heard with their teacher Jesus. Would the Roman authorities come for them next?

Unhealthy doubt closed their doors. But Jesus offered them something else—peace. Shalom, wholeness be yours. Then he breathed on them to remind them to forgive each other and move forward. They saw his wounded hands and side. Apparently, they needed to see.

But someone was missing. Thomas. Oft-called doubting Thomas wasn’t locked up. He was out. And he didn’t see Jesus appear, didn’t hear the double shalom, didn’t see the hands and side, didn’t get breathed on and told to forgive. And so, knowing that his colleagues were scared, anxious, and doubtful, Thomas refused to believe them without evidence. Why should he? Prove it.

Then, it was a week later.
Thomas was there with the others and Jesus appears. Shalom again, but directly to Thomas, telling him to reach out and touch the wounded hands and side. And Thomas decided to not touch anything.

In my view, Thomas engaged in healthy doubt, while his friends did not. He used the scientific method to arrive at evidence. He did not accept anxious, fearful conclusions and rationalizations. He asked: How do I know that this is really my teacher Jesus? And by asking that, he opened up to a healthy doubt that led to wholeness and growth.

So let’s ask the questions again: when have you doubted in an unhealthy way? And now, when have you doubted in healthy ways?

Spirit Sightings Inviting Change

John 3:9-17

Spiritdove.jpeg
Identity is theme of the 40 days of Lent. Who am I? Who is Jesus? Who are my neighbors? These identity questions should stay with Christians throughout this season, and lead to growth, connection, and cooperation. The Gospel stories of the New Testament give us an opportunity to ask these questions, and then to embrace a journey towards light and compassion. Though most of Lent we have been looking at Mathew’s Gospel, this time we take a detour and look at John’s Gospel, the last Gospel written, and the Gospel that stands alone much of the time, as it is very different from Matthew, Luke, and Mark.

The story of Nicodemus and Jesus is an intriguing one, and as our Lenten journey is about questions, so is this story. Now I’ve read and examined this story so much that sometimes I feel that there isn’t much left to explore. But for some reason, my reading of the story this time led me to a different take. You see, much of the time we tend to focus on the characters who encounter Jesus [like Nicodemus] as having some sort of problem, or as being in opposition to Jesus. But I don’t think this is the case with Nicodemus. He is a good question-asker, and Jesus loves questions. This type of question-asking was and is prevalent in many religious traditions, including Judaism and is a way that ideologies and spiritual practices develop. A student asks the teacher a question. Often the teacher will not give a concrete answer but rather, another question for the student to consider.

So the student is Nicodemus. The name Nicodemus means “peoples’ victory.” He’s also called a Pharisee and a leader of the Judeans. Pharisees studied scripture intently and prayed a lot. The issue for the Pharisees [and I would argue, for most “religious” people], is that they often got too caught up in the appearance of religious practice. The institution of the temple, for some Pharisees, had become more important than the actual practice of their faith.

The storyteller writes that Nicodemus met Jesus at night. My take on that is that Nicodemus had respect for Jesus. He didn’t wish to make a spectacle of the conversation; he preferred a one-on-one talk. We also must keep in mind that John’s Gospel often uses the light-dark symbolism. This could be one of those cases. Nicodemus came in the dark. He was about to meet the light.

The conversation started off reasonably well. Nicodemus showered Jesus with praise and respect. Jesus wasn’t all that interested, though. Instead, Jesus challenged Nicodemus’ perspective by saying something strange:

No one can see God’s presence without being born from above.

Born from above refers to the new vision for life that Jesus of Nazareth taught his disciples and led them towards, and is not a statement of belief or some superior knowledge.

Nicodemus was curious but confused, as anyone would be. After all, humans are physically born only once, right? But again, Jesus was pushing Nicodemus to think beyond narrow and linear categories. For Jesus, being born from above meant being born of water and spirit.

stillwater
Water. Probably the most essential resource in all of creation. We all need water to survive. But more than that—water is powerful and creative. It goes around, under, and through things. It carves mountains and forges new habitats. It brings life wherever it flows. Pause for a moment. How are we like water? How does that affect the way you see others?

wind
Spirit.
For Jesus of Nazareth, spirit and wind were interchangeable. The spirit/wind is wild—it blows where it wishes and cannot be controlled. You don’t even see it. It is free of and at large in the world. Pause for a moment. How are we like wind? How does that change the way you see others?

I simply want to focus on these two identity images of water and wind.

As we ask: who am I? during this season, how are we like water and like wind?

And, if we consider that the people around us are also born of water and wind, how will that affect the way we interact and treat others?

The Gratefulness Factor

Luke 17:11-19 [NRSV]

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus* was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers* approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’* feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

gratefulThe adjective grateful means “thankful.” Gratefulness is an abstract noun formed by adding the suffix -ness to grateful and therefore means the state of being thankful.

Being grateful is a practice that all of us should take seriously. Why? Because gratefulness positively affects our brain function, according to a variety of studies out of the University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.[1] 

When you are grateful, your brain floods with reward chemicals. When your brain is experiencing gratitude focused on a specific person, i.e. thanking someone for how they have treated you, your brain fills with pleasure chemicals. It’s like eating chocolate—your reward center is activated and so your brain learns to crave that feeling again and again.

Secondly, when you are grateful, your anxiety and depression symptoms may lessen. Research shows that even something simple like keeping a daily gratitude journal has interesting effects on people suffering from anxiety and depression. Those who are anxious sleep better; those who are depressed experience more positive changes; their depressive symptoms rate better on regular mood tests. Gratefulness challenges and upsets the negative thought cycle that can send us into anxiety and depression.

Third, a grateful brain means that your hypothalamus is working better. Gratitude activates the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating all sorts of bodily functions, including hunger, sleep, body temperature, metabolism, and how the body grows. In 2009 studies using MRIs of brains showed that the limbic system [of which the hypothalamus is a part] is activated when we feel gratitude. Gratefulness actually makes our metabolism, hunger and other natural bodily functions work more smoothly.

Furthermore, when you’re grateful, you are more resistant to stress. Your body and brain, in a state of gratefulness, have the ability to bounce back from stressful events like trauma, homelessness, grief, or job loss.

I mentioned earlier that gratefulness helps you sleep better, and this factor contributes to you experiencing more positive emotions overall. When you are grateful, suggest some psychologists, your prefrontal cortex where memories are formed is being trained to retain positive information and reject negative info over time. Makes me think that practicing gratitude just might lead to increased happiness, right?

Absolutely, says David Steindl-Rast, a monk and interfaith scholar who gave a Ted Talk all about the link between gratitude and happiness.

Since 1953, Brother David has been a monk of Mount Saviour Benedictine monastery in New York, dividing his time between hermitic contemplation, writing and lecturing. He’s the co-founder of gratefulness.org, supporting ANG*L (A Network for Grateful Living). I invite you to listen to his Ted Talk or to check out his webpage. Some really good stuff there. To sum up some of his Ted Talk, Mr. Steindl-Rast says that “there are many things for which we cannot be grateful, but there is no moment for which we cannot be grateful, because in every moment, even difficult ones, we have the opportunity to do something.” He makes it clear that gratitude is not realizing that people are worse off than you. So pointing to be people going through tough times or those in horrific situations and feeling lucky or better off is NOT gratefulness. Instead, being grateful requires an appreciation of the positive aspects of your life—not comparing your life to another’s. So you can be grateful by appreciating even the simplest things in your life. And you can be grateful when you show appreciation for another person, which is openly expressing gratitude. Finally, Steindl-Rast says that being grateful occurs when something valuable to us is freely given. We do not earn it; rather, it is a gift.

davidgratefulGratefulness is the theme of the Luke story about a Samaritan leper giving thanks. I absolutely love this story, because I think it speaks to people on a universal level and you don’t even have to be a religious person to be blessed by it. There are obvious clues in this story as to how this thankful person was seen by others. He was a leper, so he was untouchable and lived on the margins of society. And, he was a Samaritan, so he was hated for his nationality, ethnicity, and religious tradition. But Jesus of Nazareth didn’t care about those things. Jesus chose to heal this Samaritan leper; he made him clean, along with nine others. The now-healed Samaritan leper realized his new situation. He shouted out with joy. He turned back, approached Jesus, got on his knees, and he said thank you. And then Jesus sent him out—on a new path of gratefulness, a new life.

I think the story speaks for itself. Practicing gratefulness can change our lives for the better. So to close, how can we be grateful like the Samaritan leper?

  1. We have to stop and give full attention to the moment we are in. This means letting go of those future and past-focused thoughts.
  2. We need to look at our lives right now and ask: What am I grateful for in this moment? What opportunity is life presenting me, for which I can be grateful? Keep it simple. Consider your senses, the weather, your ability to learn something, a pet, food, a friend, your body, or nature. Think of each of these things as a gift as opposed to a given.
  3. Practice this gratefulness thinking especially in times of transition or when you feel particularly vulnerable to stress.
  4. For some, keeping a record of gratefulness is a very meaningful and powerful thing. Consider writing down your gratefulness in a gratitude journal.
  5. Lastly, express your gratitude to others. There are many ways to do that: short FB messages, a kind email, a phone call, even a text! Taking a risk to acknowledge someone’s kindness, patience, or character is powerful.

So find ways to start or to keep practicing gratefulness. Make grateful living your way. Become aware that every moment is a gift—you have not earned it or bought it. You don’t know if there will be another moment given to you. So this very moment is an opportunity and gift. What are you grateful for?

[1] Alex Korb Ph.D. PreFrontal Nudity: The Grateful Brain, The neuroscience of giving thanks, Posted Nov 20, 2012.

What Do Our Tears Mean?

Luke 7:36 – 8:3

Frederick Buechner[1] wrote:
You never know what may cause tears. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not… God is speaking to you through them—of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you, to where you should go to next.

Do you cry easily and often? Or do you struggle to cry?

What do our tears mean?

cryingAccording to Michael Trimble, British professor at the Institute of Neurology in London, and author of Why Humans Like to Cry, tears are necessary to keep the eyeball moist, and contain proteins and other substances which maintain the eye healthy and to combat infection. Trimble writes: “Humans cry for many reasons, but crying for emotional reasons and crying in response to aesthetic experiences are unique to us.”[2] He goes on to say that tears of joy or sorrow, in other words, the tears that are highly emotional, tell us a lot about ourselves. Emotional crying can help us highlight what’s important and what we need to focus on, says Dr. Lauren Bylsma[3], at the University of Pittsburgh, someone who has conducted various studies about tears and crying.

Tears
I’m sure you probably already knew that there are different types of tears. According to Dr. Bylsma and her co-author Ad J.J.M. Vingerhoets, of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, the first type of tears is basal tears. Basically, we cry to lubricate, nourish, and protect our eyes. This can happen involuntarily, of course. The second type of tears is reflex tears. You cut an onion or if you are allergic to things like smoke, pollen, or ragweed, and well, you tear up. Lastly, the third tear type: the tears that we shed after fighting with someone close to us, getting treated badly, empathizing with someone who is suffering, or crying for help. These are emotional tears.

Truthfully, researchers haven’t quite figured out why we cry. They have theories, of course. Some scientists, according to Vassar psychologist Randy Cornelius,[4] say that emotional tears were [and are] ways to signal distress without making noise. You can make others know you are vulnerable by crying, even if you cannot speak a word. Thus, over time, according Dr. Bylsma, humans have developed a purpose for emotional tears, which is to signal that there is a problem or to ask for comfort or support from another.

vulnerableAnd the research shows that crying can be valuable in a cathartic way. If someone cries in a social situation in which the people are accepting, that person is more likely to feel better after crying. In fact, we will feel better than other social situations in which we held back tears, because we felt unsafe, in danger, or embarrassed. Furthermore, other researchers suggest that emotional tears contain stress hormones that the body can physically push out while we are crying, therefore making us feel calmer. And finally, the difference between happy and sad tears is not very big. Dr. Bylsma states that after crying the body returns to “a state of homeostasis after being aroused—whether positively or negatively.”[5]

I’m fascinated by this. I myself do not cry a lot, but when I do, I can say that the majority of the time I feel better afterwards. And, I can also say that if I cry with people who care about me and accept me, the feeling is not unlike euphoria. So what of the crying woman in Luke’s story?

It all took place in Simon the Pharisee’s house, which should tell us something. The Pharisees were mostly in opposition to Jesus of Nazareth’s teaching, and were certainly not happy with Jesus hanging out with the so-called unclean, marginalized, and sinful. Keep in mind, though, that we cannot make the Pharisees out to be the “bad people” because many times in the Gospel stories, the readers [you and I] are supposed to put ourselves in their shoes. Anyway, the story is not about Pharisees as much as it is about a brave woman who was already shunned and who came into the house [she was completely unwelcome] and brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She came from the city, but it is not said that she was a prostitute, as some interpreters say. Clearly, though, in the eyes of Simon, she was a category and not a person. She stood behind Jesus crying her eyes out, and then she covered his feet with tears and tried to dry them with her hair. She then kissed his feet and anointed him with the ointment. Of course, the host Pharisee mumbled under his breath: If this guy really were a prophet, he would have known what kind of woman this is. She’s a sinner.

Jesus then addressed Simon by name and told him a parable. That was, after all, the purpose of such a meeting at the house—debate and discussion. The parable of the two debtors is pretty clear. Both people owed a lot to a money lender; both were forgiven. Who would be more grateful? Logically, the one who owed the most. Simon got it. Would he get that this woman was a human being, capable of love and not just a category?

Once again, in Luke, Jesus turned. Big deal! He turned toward the woman. Then, he said to Simon: do you SEE her? Yes, that’s the climax, folks. Her tears, her love, her expression of sorrow, were all accepted and embraced. She showed hospitality. She had no more debt. She was forgiven. And her tears told that story. What do you think?

Teaser for next week: Luke 8:26-39: what binds you? In other words, what are the things that keep you from being your whole self? What would it feel like to be unbound, free?

[1] Originally published in Whistling in the Dark and later in Beyond Words
[2] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-humans-like-to-cry/
[3]
http://www.pitt.edu/~bylsmal/
[4]
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129329054
[5]
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/10/tear-facts_n_4570879.html

Water, Wine, Love

John 2:1-11

Have you ever wanted to tantalize an audience with an amazing magic trick?
How about showing off your miracle skills in front of a bunch of people?
Would you like to turn water into wine?

waterTowine

Yes, even you can be a miracle worker! Thanks, science!

catscientist

The Science of water into wine and wine into water:[1]
1. Place a small amount of sodium hydroxide in the first glass and a little phenolphthalein in the second. In the third, add a weak acid, such as vinegar. Using differently shaped glasses ensures that you will not get them confused.

2. Fill a jug with water when you are demonstrating this experiment to others. As this is plain water, you can let your audience taste it.

3. Pour water into the first glass and stir. This is now no longer pure water but a mildly alkaline solution.

4. Pour the contents of the first glass into the second and stir. Watch as the mixture changes color, because phenolphthalein is a pH indicator that turns red in alkaline solutions.

5. Pour the red liquid into the third glass and stir once more. The acid neutralizes the solution, which should now become clear again.

So wait…was Jesus a mad scientist or fake peddler of miracles?

Cartoon Sale man selling his wares outside his car

Probably neither.
I think we obsess [a lot] over Jesus’ miracles in the Gospel stories, and that leads us to obsessing over “miracle cures” that make it to our email inbox or redirect us to another link via Facebook or other social media. Personally, I don’t think that the Gospel stories intend for us to focus on miraculous things so as to prove Jesus was great.

I love the stories and try my best to respect them. And each Gospel IS a story; John is no different. So no, the whole “water to wine” thing was not all about Jesus being some sort of magician/mad scientist back in the day. It’s a story loaded with metaphors and symbols. So here is some background:

Cana is the setting–a village in Galilee, about 9 miles north of Nazareth. And it’s a wedding! Keep in mind that at the time of John’s Gospel stories about Jesus [i.e. the end of the 1st/beginning of 2nd Century], in Israel and Palestine, weddings were a big deal. They typically lasted a week.

So you can imagine just how much wine was needed. So it goes that the hosts of the wedding would serve the best wine at the beginning of the wedding celebration, when everyone could taste and enjoy. And then, after a few days of partying, the hosts would break out the cheaper stuff, because by that time, nobody noticed.

Morewine

That is the setting in this John story, and it’s quite the story. Apparently, the wedding hosts ran out of wine–at least Jesus’ mom thinks so. That’s right–an appearance from Jesus’ mom! Mary [Miriam] appears suddenly in Luke and Matthew’s birth story that we read at Christmastime, but after that, she pretty much disappears. In John’s Gospel, however, Miriam/Mary appears twice–here at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry [first miracle story], and then at his death. But in this case, at a wedding, we get an actual conversation between Mary and her son, Jesus. Mary notes that the wedding hosts have run out our wine. Jesus’ response is that they should have hired a better wedding planner. Mary then tells the servants to do whatever Jesus says.

So the servants filled the water pots, six of them, with water, and then they brought the pots to the governor of the feast, the head planner of the event. Upon tasting the so-called water, the governor was shocked to taste good wine. Thus ends a fun and interesting story complete with a magic trick/miracle.

But….

There’s more to the story

As you can probably guess. John’s authors are not just telling us a nice fairy-tale to remember something magical Jesus did. So let’s look at just a few of the symbols in John’s wedding tale.

First, the story begins with this phrase: And on the third day…a marriage…

Marriages and banquets are eschatological images, or in other words, symbolic events referring to what will happen in the future. Often the Hebrew prophets and the NT Gospels [as well as the NT book of Revelation] use the image of a wedding feast to symbolize paradise, the afterlife, or in general, some good ending for humanity, and the world. And I’m guessing that “on the third day” triggers your Spidey senses. Indeed, three of the Gospels explicitly go out of their way to state that Jesus’ resurrection took place on the third day. So what we have here is a pleasant, joyful, symbol of grace, community and abundance, as well as the idea of new life, even after death.

Also, are you wondering about what Jesus said to his mom?
“What to me and you, woman? 

RavenOhSnap

Sounds a bit harsh in English, I’ll admit, and Raven thinks so, too.

Simply put, though, in Greek [and considering the culture and time], how Jesus addresses his mom is actually very, very respectful. He didn’t call her mother, but woman. This is expressing equality. Mary, in Jesus ‘eyes, is not just a mother, but a full human being with purpose that extends well beyond society’s conventions.

Also, notice these words of Jesus: My hour is not yet come.

Another reference to Jesus’ death, and because John’s author wrote this Gospel well after Jesus’ death, of course Jesus in the story can refer to something that has not yet happened. So John is reminding all of us that the wedding at Cana is the beginning of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and eventually, to the cross. John’s Gospel calls this the first of the signs–seven in total.

Some notable details
First, there were six stone water jars. Six being one less than seven [according to my mathematical genius], which you probably know is a good number, no wait–a VERY good number in Biblical literature. So seven means completeness or wholeness. Only having six water jars means that you’re so close, but so painfully far from wholeness!

Further, the jars were also set “according to the Judean cleansing” which is a reference to the Mosaic Law of the Jewish tradition. Even weddings were set up in such a way as to follow the Jewish rituals. But having six jars means that the rituals and laws weren’t enough to bring the people wholeness. So everyone was missing something.

Next, the governor of the feast is juxtaposed with the servants. The governor, when he is served the now wine-filled jars, is shocked at the good taste but also has no idea where the wine came from.

The story clearly tells us that the servants are not shocked and also know where the wine came from, because they were direct participants in its making. So once again, the powerful, the heads of society, the so-called elites, or celebrities don’t know what’s going on, and the so-called servants and lower-class people totally know what’s up, cuz they are making it happen!

And finally, the governor’s words of every person gives the good wine first, and when they were drunk, the lesser (wine). You have kept the good wine until now shows that Jesus and co. don’t care much for conventions or social rules. The good wine, the good life, should be available at any time, for anyone.

The details speak for themselves
Thus, you should be able to draw your own wonderful conclusions from this story. I hope you do.

My final thoughts:

Miracles, whatever that word means to you, don’t happen unless it’s a collective effort.

Miracles, to me, are surprising occurrences in everyday life. They could be explained by science, or maybe not. Either way, they are still miracles to me. But they happen in everyday life, and they happen because people make then happen, together.

Secondly, we should stop relying so much on social and religious customs and traditions. They just don’t cut it and leave us feeling a bit empty. Why should we only serve the best wine at a certain time? Who says so? Why do we have to have a certain number of jars, prepared in a certain way? Who says? Why should the rich and powerful always get to make decisions while others don’t? Why do we have to have all these social levels and categories of people? Who says so?

The good wine at the great feast is and should be accessible for everyone. And that good wine fills everyone’s cup to the brim, and the cup is full now.
[1] http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryhowtoguide/ht/waterwine.htm

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