thinking theology

Weeds and Wisdom

In reading Matthew 13, one parable of a sower, we hear about wisdom, judgement, but it is difficult to know what to make of it. Here are some of my thoughts. In the first place, we learn that the best intentions can have at their root, a less desirable companion, impossible to discern until the crop is revealed. I think we all have this experience of planning an event perhaps, but discovering a problem at the last minute: I forgot about gluten free wafers, I didn’t know you were allergic to cats, or lilies, or whatever; I recommended that person without knowing the stresses would be bad for them. And so on. In Romans, Paul speaks of this existential dilemma. To act, to speak necessitates risk and a willingness to wait for the maturity of a plan before chopping it.

The “devil” in Job and in the story of Jesus’ temptation is just this principle of uncertainty, of a need for the “right” rather than the evolving answer. The devil is a test of our willingness not to be uncertain. Faith is not about knowing what is right, so much as a trust that we are meant to learn and grow, naturally shedding the “weeds” of our nature as we develop. Faith means trusting that what is good will not be lost, but we will not know until the denouement, the harvest. And at that time, we will see clearly, and all that has tried to get in the way of joy will be cast away, all that has potential to harm, will be destroyed.

 

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Summer garden at Kipling Avenue, Guelph.

I do not really think this parable is about the denouement, however. I think it is about how “disciples” trust that everything resides within the divine, as we hear in the Wisdom of Solomon. Disciples know that change and growth takes time and tending, patience and forbearance. We are invited to share in the process, with faith that the seed is good, the time of testing is limited, and what we feared could ruin everything, has no final substance.

This parable has relevance as we meet new people, and as they bring ideas that challenge us. We tend to be quick to defend the status quo, without considering that it may be flawed by what has grown up around it. Again, new things must be nurtured until they reach maturity. Then we will see that there are some ideas and actions that need to evaluated and discarded.

The church has had varying degrees of faithfulness in this. We have not defended women, or children; we have been complicit in the colonization and enslavement of other nations. We have been unwilling to release our hold of rigid definitions of gender, and have imposed our blindness on generations. We persecuted or ignored the prophets in our midst. We separated ourselves from Jesus’ own people.

And yet I feel and witness the possibility of change, of a willingness to let go of the “weeds” that grew with the good news of Jesus, a Jew of incredible insight. Jesus the Jew, with his rich heritage of oppression and liberation, of personal poverty and the wealth of community, that person has the power to define a more faithful way of engaging in the struggle to lift up the vulnerable, while refusing to be trapped by the roots of prejudice and ignorance. After this time of disease, we may discover that the healthy roots of our faith may look very different, our objectives may have clarified, that prayer and action may be indistinguishable from each other. Jesus did not tell us to weed the garden, but to grow it with our tears of both joy and suffering, with the compost of history and repentance, and with the sunshine that relaxes our souls and caresses us with a vision of the holiness in life, that great gift that inspires us.

Footnotes:
In fact, the editors of the Biblical Archaeology Society have painstakingly curated a brand new Special Collection, Satan, to help you delve into the topic. It includes all of the scholarly points noted above, and all of these articles are from Bible Review:

An Embodied Prayer

I hope you enjoy this prayer, originally meant for walking, but really demanding only that you find a way to get “into” your body! (You can download it here: anembodiedprayer)

anembodiedprayer

Posted here, you will find links to my Morning and Evening, Inclusive Language, Prayer.

Inclusive Language Morning Prayer is found here…

 

Inclusive Language Evening Prayer is found here…

Maundy Thursday
In our sacred story, we move from the crowds of Palm Sunday to the intimacy of family MaundyThursdayand friends at table, a table that for many of us this year, will have empty places. The miracle of the internet reminds us that the communion of the saints is not dependent on geography, on proximity, or even on which side of death we are inhabiting. We do not even have to be acquainted with each other or know the names of our ancestors, to know that we are one: connected by a tensile, unbreakable cord of love and faith. 

We remember the actions Jesus left for us as not only as a memorial, but also as a practice. One story we tell is of the woman who anointed Jesus, who understood the nobility and power of sacrifice that is chosen but not sought, that is offered… but with sorrow and doubt. The woman “sees” Jesus and the inevitability of his choices in a way that is too frightening for many. The enormous cost of love in action still troubles us and we would like to think that we can fix things without being willing to sacrifice ourselves. It is not the frivolity of her act that alarms the others, but the way it makes them look mean and cheap. For us this year, we reflect on our brothers and sisters doing essential work that both endangers and isolates them and their families. We want to share in that work, each in our own ways, even if the most we can do is to isolate ourselves in prayer for each other and the world. We know that we are not alone, ever; nor will the holy one ever release the bonds of love.

Another story that we read tells of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, an action done to their great discomfort and embarrassment. It continues to provoke discomfort in modern re-enactments, partly because it is culturally disconnected and partly because we still have to learn about mutual service. Henri Nouwen writes about how loving action necessarily leads to repentance. Nobody likes to receive a gift unless they have a means of reciprocating. Nobody wants to be healed by someone who has no idea of what it feels like to be wounded. We cannot earn grace; we can only receive it. We can, however, share the experience of being healed, the experience of being surprised by love, the discovery of our worth, when we thought we had wandered too far. Before we perform service in the world, service untainted by our own ego’s agendas, we have to say, “Wash me of my delusions; wash away my fear of being known for who I am.” In this so terrifying a year, we beg for God to wash our world, but I hope not just of a virus, but also of greed, of economic injustice, of the assumptions that form barriers between us. 

The third story is the supper of community in which Jesus binds his family and friends to him and to his mission. He tells them that just like bread, many grains have to be gathered together to make a changing, flexible, nutritious community — food for the world. Like wine, grapes are crushed together, their skins broken so that juice can be released. Jesus says that these humble foods are like his life: differences held together, lives broken open and changed. The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. And thanksgiving it is, for others to share the journey, for stories of bread that keep us going from generation to generation, for sacrifice so that all may have hope and all may taste being loved just as they are. Every time we remember Jesus in this way we give thanks that he is present with us, absorbing our pain into his suffering, and blessing our joy with his vision for us. And as this has been done for us, so we must do it for others, by recommitting to the work of peace and justice for everyone: the ones we like, the ones we have feared, the ones we have despised. At the table of the world, in the garden of our round earth, may we be blinded by the tears of grace that make all people one family, one tribe of life.

Finally, we remember the story of the garden in which the disciples, sleepy from food and wine, miss the point and miss the moment. Jesus alone in the garden struggles as every human must with the need for survival balanced against witness to the power of love. Jesus lived with uncertainty, with doubt about his own capacity for courage, with disappointment in his friends and followers. So must we accept these emotions, these reactions, this living reality. As we move to the future this year, our holy places will be empty, waiting to be filled with new life, new vision. What else can a person really offer accept our own lives, our questions, our fear, our sorrow, our hopes and dreams?

GoodFriday

Good Friday
The story of Good Friday is the story of two competing drives in human nature. These drives are expressed by the need to dominate and the need to liberate. The trial and crucifixion of Jesus differs only in the power of Jesus’ love to leave a mark on human history that no domestication by institutions can ever fully erase. The cry from the cross continues to reverberate throughout the corridors of power, no matter how much insulation is employed to drown it out. And that cry is mirrored in every faith group, every humanist group, every atheist group.

On Palm Sunday we remembered how the forces of domination began to swarm around Jesus, trying to drown out the cries of the poor, even the cries of the very stones in the earth: “Save us, save us.” We have heard this week how Jesus’ friends could not hold the course, how impatient they became, how easily they turned to the brokers of power, or were intimidated by them.

Today, we remember the answer. The answer is found in the refusal to retaliate and the refusal to submit. It is the hard and long road. Resolution does not come quickly or efficiently. It costs. It requires sacrifice, holy work. It requires everything we have because it is not only about acting in compassion but also about not acting with violence of any sort. That includes the violence and hate and rage we have seen on the internet, in grocery stores, in borders that refuse entry, in better care for the affluent than the poor. We must learn compassion if we would save our world as it could be, and let the world as it has been wither away. The more we each have, the more will be expected and the greater sacrifice that we should want to offer. The revolution that we need is of the human heart. We need to re-learn compassion as a life skill that is as important as survival. We need to learn resistance to complicity with the lies of domination.

Liberation from fear allows us a freedom to experience how precious we are to the Holy One who did not count Jesus’ death on the cross as a failure. Rather Jesus’ death led his disciples up to this present day to have a vision of the peaceful kingdom, a dream of realized life, the truth that we are all part of the transformational life of matter and spirit. Liberation from fear teaches us how to embrace the deep laughter of the one who is making all things new and leading us more fully into awareness of the light within and around us.

Holy Saturday
In the dark, a candle is lit and a voice rises in the night calling us from death to life. Jesus says that our God is the god of the living so — leave death for the dead. We affirm that death is a means of passage, but life is the nature of existence.

eastercandle

Death is the absence of transformation, a mausoleum of the imagination. It is through our imaginations that scientific discoveries are achieved, facts become mutable, a life of spirit is possible. Our response to our paschal celebrations is to throw off the intellectual shackles that tell us we are separate, finite, limited. We are invited to understand our minds as fuelled by endless possibility for change, growth, renewable life. We yield the security of naive faith, for the mature faith that recognizes the Holy Spirit in science, in study, in the transformation of old metaphors for the explosive light of new insight.

We give thanks for the body of Jesus that reminds us that we, with all the created order, are precious and unique expressions of the divine. In our relationships, we remember that Jesus taught us that the linking of vulnerability leads to resilience and power not over, but with.

With our souls, we engage in the awareness that we know so much less than the wealth of our experience can name. The life of the spirit is always beckoning us on, to new knowledge, to a deeper sense of connection.

One day, we will heal the planet. One day we will heal ourselves.

One day we will be at peace.

One day we will know the joy of abiding within the goodness and love of the divine.

One day we will cast away the torn shroud of uncertainty for the baptismal gown of hope.

One day, we will all be anointed by and for love in the household and tribe of love.

Palm Sunday

Hosanna! Save us! Oh, save us! 

The folks of the lower town — the people not welcome or not well enough, not affluent01dandelion enough, even without enough status — called to Jesus, greeting him with their rags, with the weedy palms along the road, hailing him as their hope for a better life. They missed the point… and we still do! Jesus came to show us that salvation was present from the beginning. Within the garden of earth grows everything we need for sustenance and for healing. Within community, there can be strength and love and safety. We have what we need. In every religion and philosophy, there are even instruction manuals.

But do we really want to be saved? Or rather, are we willing to pay for our salvation with how we live and with a value system that is egalitarian and inclusive? I am not sure. The holy books offer conflicting ideas about all of this, but if we look to the models we see in holy people, we will recognize generosity, forgiveness, learning, change, kindness.  

This Palm Sunday sees the powers and principalities of our world, paralyzed by a virus, but still working on nuclear proliferation, on grasping at supremacy, or destroying eco systems. Power cannot acknowledge salvation.

03pussywillowWho came to Jesus’ parade? The ones who recognized that Rome would not save and would ultimately fail. Jesus offered a different hope that did not rely on the politics of the moment, a trust in what could happen when people came together as one, that miracles would be the norm, and blessings would abound.

I recognize the spirit of Jesus in much of the outpouring of compassion and communal cooperation in this health crisis. I wonder what will change because of it. I suspect lots of people just want to get back to their lives BTP(before the plague) but I hope that something has changed in our values and in our communal goals. I hope that we have learned something useful for future generations.  

Some people have suggested putting signs of spring in our daytime windows and candles at night to remind us of better days ahead, of a break in the loneliness around us that we can usually ignore. At the end of this week, we will remember that Jesus died alone, a hope seemingly defeated. If we want to take resurrection seriously, we have to begin with a dream that either resists death and oppression, or we will give in to the version of reality that facilitates oppression and denies healing and community. May weeds become cherished, May weedy people become family, may Jesus’ ancient path become our 02dandelionembrace of his vision for our broken world.

Prayers

Loving Maker,
you reveal the stars from which we are formed.
You greet us in the greening of the earth, in the creatures that leap in joy.
You who are within and around, help us to delight in our lives.
Provoke us to acts of compassion and generosity.
May we all fall to our knees in adoration of all your works,
and especially in the life of Jesus,
who showed us that fear cannot control us,
and even death must give way to the life that is you.
In all things we praise your holiness and love.
Amen.

Gracious God,
you cradle us in life and encourage us to grow into hope and new life.
In this time of violence and disease,
we also see the green shoots of generosity and sacrifice.
Help us to value these human gifts that provide food and healing,
hope and faith, to a desperate people in a desperate time.
May we who have more appreciate the struggle of those who have less,
and may we be stirred to compassion today.
May our hearts be transformed for tomorrow.
Amen.

 Holy One,
you lavish us with possibilities and creativity.
May we not hide from injustice and harm,
but stand on the side of the crucified.
May we follow him at the expense of our peace of mind,
and our personal security.
May those who have, act with generosity.
May those who have less, accept help as we also learn
the lessons of transformation of and within community.
May the name of Jesus bless all those who are the sacrifice,
the Holy offering of their lives for others.
May we revere the holiness within all life for that life is You.
Amen.

This Sunday, I have added an update of an ancient liturgy that is not priestly, but communal. In these challenging times, together yet apart, we may want to look to the simplicity and hope in our origins and in the good news as understood by Jesus, the faithful Jewish prophet, martyred by the imperialistic regime of Rome.

Collect
Beloved and Holy God,
the bones of this age — disease and famine, war and deceit — fill our hearts with fear and despair. Help us to turn these bones into the compost of new beginnings. May we step out of the valley of death into your assurance of eternal life. Let us believe that we will leave the depths to see the morning of a fresh, new world. In the name of the Jesus who died with us so that we might believe in your Life.
Amen.

Prayer over the Gifts
Maker of all,
our feet feel the soft blue clay of spring, our eyes greet the green shoots budding on the trees, our hands yearn to sprinkle seeds. And yet we are mired in a time of contagion and paralysis. Help us to remember that we are the Body of Christ, connected by water and blood, in your womb of life. As we offer our souls and bodies, let us hold each other in hope and in love.
Amen.

Prayer after Communion
Generous God,
you have made creation so that we must share in the struggle and could share in the blessings of life. May this time of pausing help us all to give thanks for the glory and complexity of this world. May we find new ways to be your church, to be a just and healing presence in your church, to be your Christ in hope, sacrifice, and resurrection.
Amen.

The following resource is downloadable and free for use as you join in prayer with friends or family, whether in person or virtually.

Apart and Together in Virtual Prayer

Another kind of prayer that is the same, but different: sitting at a window perhaps, begin by remembering what gifts life and awareness of being are. For me, the trees hold my gratitude and remind me that my roots are deep in the earth and my branches reach out in love and joy. Then I think about those I love and cradle them in my heart. Then, I reach out into the world, to the places of hurt and I imagine them being healed or comforted, imagine connecting them to the winds of the sky and the burrowing under the earth. Finally, I reach out to the Maker of all, the One who connects and is connected to all, and I let myself be healed and loved too. I let the rain of compassion wash my face and the clouds of healing carry away what is spent so that new life may begin in me and in all that is. Blessed be The Holy One who is apart and yet inside us all.

Lent 4: Chaos into Order

Collect
Loving and forgiving God,
we bring you our fears and doubts. Help us to see these truths that you have placed before us: change is required for some kinds of institutional healing; this holy earth holds everything necessary for abundant living; compassion, generosity, hospitality, forgiveness all have the power to create safety and peace for all. As we meditate on your word and on the way of life to which Jesus leads us, may we find renewed purpose, and grace in living. Amen.

Prayer over the Gifts
Gracious God,
you have provided for us in abundance and you cradle all the earth in your loving embrace. Receive our work, and our faith, as a holy offering of appreciation for your grace and healing. Amen.

Prayer after Communion
Holy Maker,
who weaves chaos into order, who forms new life from that which is spent, we give you thanks. As we consider your handiwork, may our humility stir us in service to each other and to a renewed way of life. May we trust our vision when it is centred on the loving Way of Christ. Amen.

Lent 3: By Every Well

Collect
Holy and loving God,
to you we bring our doubt and fear. We hesitate because we forget that you travel in our midst. Your spirit opens doors of possibility. Your Beloved teaches us courage in the face of adversity. In all things, we praise the sustaining hope that you have provided for us through your Word in story and in the person of Jesus, our Anointed One. In his name we pray. Amen.

Prayer over the Gifts
Gracious God,
we offer you these gifts that you provide for us to share. Bless them and bless the work that we do in your name so that you will know us in every wilderness and by every well of insight. May we be safe haven and a community where all may find a place to belong. Amen.

Prayer after Communion
Holy One,
we give you thanks that you have called us into the household of faith. May we ensure that the door is open for all, and that there is always another place at the table. In humble gratitude and trust in you, we travel into the world in the community of your Holy Spirit. Amen.