Inspiration 2018-11-18

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. — John 17:17 (NIV)

Author: wecadmin

His Most Distressing Disguise

His Most Distressing Disguise

It was, of course, Mother Teresa who said it.

“Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

What it means to be contemplative. I want to be contemplative. I think contemplation holds some of the things that are absent in the shallowness we sometimes call worship. We are trying to practice contemplation in our services, at the expense of what has been known as “praise and worship”.

Can I adore Jesus in the lowly appearance of bread? Is that part of making communion holy again? And, if I manage to do it, can that go outside of my experience in a church service and teach me to adore him in other common things? In even distressing things.

Needy people can be distressing. (And I have taken my fair share of other people’s time being needy.)

Right now, I am, we are (woodsEnd) in a phase of having to say “silver and gold have I none”–even though that “none” is pretty comfortable compared to world standards! What I mean is, when someone in need calls, I can’t ‘make it go away’ by throwing money at it. I don’t have that luxury. So, when they called the other night–this family of three–wanting to not sleep in their car on another cold night, I had no way to get a room for them. But I have a building that sits empty a lot of the time. Surely even sleeping in there on the floor is better than in the car.

So they did for a couple of nights. Until they could think a little more clearly and move on to the next stage of their plan.

But my “real work” got disrupted. I needed to send email updates to at least four Committees, trying to remember what happened in those meetings from a week ago. I hadn’t had time to write out the meeting notes. I have been burning the candle at both ends trying to set something up to continue to make my own house payments. It felt like I was being pulled away from very important stuff to tend to things I didn’t have time for. Then, just as this family was getting packed up and on their way, another guy showed up needing somewhere to lay his head. He has a job here starting this afternoon, and won’t get paid for a few weeks. He is sleeping on the concrete floor in our youth room. I have more comfortable spaces at my house, but I also have kids. What do you do? “Whatever you do to the least of these…” echoes in the back of my mind. I’m not sure I want to hear Jesus say that I made him sleep on the concrete floor that night. To his credit, the guy is really grateful, and told me that he won’t even use the heat in the building.

It is distressing in all kinds of ways.

But he insists that he is there. That opportunity to serve Jesus presents itself continually. Jesus in the lowly bread. Jesus in the lowly people.

And, hopefully, Jesus in me.

 

Advent and Hope

Advent and Hope

Each year at this time we have the opportunity to build hope, to spread hope, to share hope.

I was surprised to see this week, as I prepared a message for this past Sunday, that the cries of earnest expectation and hope, which were provided as Scripture selections in the Revised Common Lectionary (https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//), came from a place of desolation, despair.

I have contact with people for whom the holidays are anything but hopeful. There is profound sadness in many lives that is stirred up at holiday time. You may be one of them. Almost certainly you know and love somebody for whom this is the case.

So, it was encouraging to see that these cries for God to “come down and make the mountains shake” did not come from the same place that some of the more shallow expressions of “triumph” in today’s evangelical climate seem to originate. They rather come from a place of shared humanity in despair and desolation. Tears are the seeds of joy.

So, when I am stuck in my own despair over this particular holiday season, and I happen to run in to a woman who buried her son 10 Christmases ago (I did the service), and she says that this is the first holiday season since in which she has found any hope, I not only realize that there are people suffering far more than I am (though my pain is seen by God too), but that hope really does spring eternal. Life just keeps pushing up through death.

People who sat in darkness have seen a great light. Happy Advent. Feel it, share it. If you can’t do that, I hope you receive it from someone.

Love,

B

Powerless, by Bryan Hackett

Powerless, by Bryan Hackett

I grew up in a church environment that emphasized power. “You shall receive power when the Holy Ghost comes upon you.” Even “the violent take it by force” was touted as a good thing, the way to get hold of the Kingdom of God. So, needless to say, powerlessness just seemed like something negative, despite Jesus’ encouragement to follow him because he was “lowly and gentle”.

Powerlessness seems to be a fundamental step for us though, as spiritual, emotional, and intellectual beings. It seems that if a person like me does not experience deep powerlessness, the ego will continue to dominate and can really mess things up.

I know that this is dangerous material, and I want to say to anyone who has experienced powerlessness in terrible, hurtful ways, this message is not directed at you. Women in general have experienced powerlessness regularly, and Jesus always assured women of their power. (Richard Rohr)

But for a pretty privileged, almost white male ego, powerlessness is needed. It seemed so for Paul, and maybe that thorn in the flesh thing was all about powerlessness and what it could do for him spiritually. “When I am weak, then I am strong.” Have we learned this lesson? Have I learned this lesson?

Perhaps you have experienced being powerless in a very negative way. Almost certainly you have been through this! Powerless to stop an injustice being perpetrated against you or someone you loved. Powerless to stop the lies and gossip being told about you. Powerless to recover money taken from you by a scam. So when I start to talk about being powerless, there can be some good resistance.

But have you ever felt powerlessness in a positive way? I think the fundamental feeling is awe, probably what the phrase “the fear of the Lord” is trying to get at. To stand on the rim of a vast canyon (I think of the Mogollon Rim in Pinetop, AZ, where millions of Ponderosa Pines can be seen all at once!) and just realize your own smallness and even insignificance is liberating, freeing. I am powerless in the face of this vast expanse of creation, which itself is insignificantly small in comparison to the planet, which, in turn, is just a Pale Blue Dot, to borrow from Carl Sagan. Yet when I walk away from an experience like this, I am alive and sustained and breathing and part of it all. It seems to give me a “proper significance” aware of its own smallness rather than the bloated, mostly empty, and pretended significance of my ego.

I am also insignificant and powerless in the face of the world’s injustice. Sometimes it seems as vast as that mighty forest, or the great oceans. I am small in the face of it all. I am limited and ineffective and powerless to do anything that will change it in any meaningful way. Is it possible to take a lesson from the awe-filled experiences of nature and apply it here? Can I walk away from a much-needed look into the face of darkness knowing that I am alive and sustained and breathing…and part of it all? Might I find a “proper significance”, aware of its own smallness, yet capable of giving a cup of cold water today, or a coat or some shoes? My kind word, small and seemingly meaningless–can it find proper significance even in, and possibly because of, its smallness.

The creator is insanely attentive to detail. It seems to me that the divine is aware of the proper significance of the smallest of things. There seems to be no notice of my over-inflated displays of egotistical significance, but the moment I get small–a broken heart, confession of inability–THAT gets the attention of the holy one. A phone call comes through in my distress, and a familiar voice says “why is God letting me read your mail?” I wish that God would not, but at the same time I am glad.

You have experienced powerlessness in cruel and unfair ways. You may have experienced that even with me–after all, I have a pulpit to speak from. The powerlessness that I am talking about here has the ability to heal those things. In small, slow, but steady ways most of the time. The way the creator seems to do most of his miracles. And you are one of them.

Cleaning Up and Starting Fresh

Cleaning Up and Starting Fresh

How many new beginnings are there?

The website is the next step in creating a new woodsEnd. I (Bryan) am going to pay more attention here and add fresh content. We want to link to places and blogs online that might be helpful for you in your spiritual growth. We want the body to be informed, and the pastor and other leaders to be accessible.

We want to know what you think, what you desire in your pursuit of God!