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Easter Vigil: Time Traveling and Tessering

People become priests for different reasons.  Some people crave the power (that is a big let down, let me tell you), some people want to take care of other people.  Me, I wanted to rebuke Jerry Falwell, and also to sing the Exsultet so I could travel through time.

It’s always nice to achieve your childhood dreams.

 

Here’s what I said at the Easter Vigil.

Easter Vigil—Exsultet

When I was a kid, my greatest wish was to be able to tesser.  I had read, and adored the book by Madeleine L’engle, A Wrinkle in Time, and my greatest wish was to be Meg Murray, a stubborn and feisty preteen girl who travels through time and space to save her father from the creeping forces of evil.  She also has the power to ‘wrinkle time’—Madeleine’s way to describe the 5th dimension, or how a person would create a wormhole to instantaneously move through time and space.  (this is an actual quantum physics thing— which is even better.)

THIS BOGGLED MY MIND and I spent hours in my backyard, in vain, focussing all my mental energy, trying to pull off a tesseract.  I didn’t really want to go anywhere in particular, or any time in particular—I just wanted to no longer be limited by time or space—both of which, I was aware, worked to separate me from people and places I loved.  Wouldn’t it be lovely, I thought, if neither of those things limited me?

Of course, my hours in the backyard staring at that one pine tree came to nought.  I cannot, I confess to you, move through the 5th dimension.

But I do have the Easter Vigil.

For those of us non-time travellers, this Vigil is probably as close as we come to moving through time and space.  This is the night, after all, when we sit in the darkness and recount God’s saving deeds throughout history, and then witness again, how God still redeems and saves us today.  This is the night when the light breaks forth from the utter void once again, and we get to see it.

The Exsultet is the ancient prayer sung at the beginning of this service.  It’s the long chant I sang to the Paschal candle about how great it was, and how brightly it shone, and all that.  This is one of the oldest prayers we have, if not THE oldest.  It was written around the 5th century, with major parts coming from even earlier.  St. Augustine makes reference to it in his writings from the early 4th century.  It’s old.

And, quite frankly, it’s odd.  Aside from the oddness of singing to a candle (which….a bit ago we were conjuring a fire and praying over it so it’s relative) listen to the words we’re saying.  “This is the night, when wickedness is put to flight.”  “this is the night when Christ overcame sin and death, and washed away Adam’s sin.”  “This is the night when you led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.” “How holy is this night! When to redeem a slave, you gave a son!”

According to the Exsultet, everything is somehow happening at once:  the deliverance of Israel at Passover, the resurrection of Christ, the defeat of death, and the ultimate triumph of God over the forces of evil and sin which continue to hinder us.  In the context of this unusual prayer, all of time, all of space, is condensed into one, glorious, shining night, as God blazes into the darkness, and saves us.

In this glorious night, God defeats the barriers of time and space, as Christ defeats the barrier of death, and we witness again our redemption.  It’s a reminder that God is not limited by anything—not history, not the ravages of time, not distance, and not even death.  God is god of all of it, and overcomes all of it to be present with us.

Amen, ALLELUIA!

 

Maundy Thursday–the grace of receiving

Maundy Thursday is my favorite service, and has been since I was a wee small child.  The acute juxtaposition of the glory and assurance of the Eucharist, alongside the desolation of the stripping of the altar, and the betrayal in the dark.

The modern, American, suburban church is bad at negative feelings.  We don’t do so great at lament, or expressing a feeling other than Norman Vincent Peale’s power of positive thinking.  If Jesus is the answer, then the thinking is that nothing could be the problem.

But the older I get, the more convinced I am that we need a robust discussion of sin and brokenness in the church, in order to process the reality of suffering that greets us each day as we open the door.  How can we deal adequately with war, famine, poverty, racism, violence, etc, in a compassionate way, unless we also admit to ourselves the brokenness and corporate sin that plagues the world?  How do we stand in solidarity with the victims of these things if we do not also admit the sheer pain and anguish they cause?

Letting the church be stripped and pillaged on Maundy Thursday isn’t much, but it’s a start.

Here’s what I said.

What is the last thing you want to do?  The last thing before you leave, the most important?  These are the most important, the things that shape us.  The way we end relationships.  “How would you spend your last day on earth?”  Think of those folks in Hawaii during that false alarm missile test.

This is the last thing Jesus does with his friends—this most uncomfortable, humiliating ritual.  So much so that It hasn’t gotten any more comfortable after these 2,000 years!

The lowest servants washed feet.  Feet went everywhere, got covered with dirt, and animal waste and Lord knew what else.  They were nasty and smelly and look, many of us are self-conscious about our feet now, what with pedicures and whatnot, imagine how bad it would be without podiatry and callus removers.  And also walking around Galilee all your life.

And Jesus is asking his disciples to let him wash their feet.

Sometimes we miss how hard it is to let someone see your vulnerability.  We talk a lot in church about the importance of serving others—and that is incredibly important in our lives as Christians.

But there are times when service is actually the easier path.  Because serving others means we do not need to dwell in our own humanity and our own brokenness.  We get to concentrate on how broken others are.  And hey, that’s way more comfortable!  I can dwell on the imperfections of other people all day!!!

Yet here, in the final moments of his time on earth, Christ asks his friends to sit for a moment in their own vulnerability.  And of course, Peter immediately chokes.  Peter, patron saint of Speaking-First-Thinking-Later, says “I CANT DO THAT, OMG ABSOLUTELY NOT” And Jesus calmly tells him to pipe down.  So Peter switches gears; “OK LORD, THEN I MUST BE ABSOLUTE GARBAGE, SO PLEASE JUST WASH ALL OF ME OMG IM AWFUL.”  Poor Peter.  Icon of humanity, that guy.  Because we all tend to bounce from these two extremes, when called upon to confront our weaknesses. Either I AM FINE, NOTHING IS WRONG.  Or EVERYTHING IS AWFUL, I AM IRREDEEMABLE, PLEASE DO NOT LOOK AT ME.

But the truth is—neither is true.  We are none of us perfect.  We are all broken and weak.  We have all been trudging in the dirt and mud of our various struggles for far too long. We participate in systems of human construction that make us complicit in the oppression and degradation of other people.

And yet.  And yet, on this night, in this holy week, Christ still comes to us, and wants to be with us in our brokenness and to wash us clean.  Christ wants to cleanse us from all that weighs us down, and keeps us from the unbreakable love of God that created us.  Even with all our mistakes, all our cruelty, all the seemingly-inescapable mud of our sin, Christ still sits at our very feet and is with us.

 

In the days to come, Christ will be betrayed, judged, abandoned, and murdered at the hands of a broken and sinful human world.  And yet tonight, he assures us through his presence in the Eucharist, and in his presence with us now, that not anything we can conjure nor commit, and no amount of terrifying feet, will make him abandon us.

There was no donkey

Confession time: In the run-up to my first Sunday at St. John’s, I was feeling pretty good.  I had finished my sermon, I had begun to unpack my mountain of boxes, I had figured out where Wegman’s was–life looked great.

When I arrived at church on Sunday morning, I could not get my sermon to print (for complicated, uninteresting reasons having to do with the cloud).  Could not do it.

“Huh.” I thought. “This may be interesting.”

So I wrote a page of notes on what I thought I had written, and preached on that.

Of course, several people came up to me later in great excitement, that I had preached entirely without notes!  Such talent!

I am sorry to disappoint you, St. John’s, especially so early on in our relationship, but that was entirely unintentional.  🙂

Here’s what I said (or wanted to say, or meant to say, or something.)

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday, Year B

Passion According to Mark

Hi, St. John’s! It is so good to finally see you all in person.  It is so good to finally be here with you, and it is so very good to finally begin our journey together in ministry.

Now, I want to tell you up front—this sermon will not be about me—there will be plenty of time for that later, and goodness knows, I’m not all that interesting anyway.  So if you came to church today expecting a break from the bipolar nature of Palm Sunday because the new rector was appearing—sorry, I can’t get you out of that one.  As my liturgics professor said, the liturgy always wins.  Don’t fight it.

I may still be trying to find all the light switches, but it’s still the first day in Holy Week, and Jesus has entered Jerusalem in triumph, by cheering crowds.  He has asked the disciples to basically steal a donkey for him (which is pretty great, if you think about it.  Not too often the Lord tells someone to swipe livestock) and he enters the city.

To the first hearers of the gospel, this would have sounded somewhat familiar.  Jesus coming on a donkey being greeted like this would have sounded like the messianic prophecies from Micah and the other Hebrew scripture prophets—where the true king arrives in quiet fashion, not in a military parade with troops and arms, but by himself, accompanied only by the flimsiest of weapons—some palm leaves.  Not imposing at all.  To them, it would have sounded like Jesus was coming into Jerusalem to be the true king, the true leader—one so beloved by the people he didn’t need the military might that Rome’s occupation depended on.

But then something happens.  It’s not clear precisely what—but somehow the authorities of Jerusalem become alarmed at this unassuming rabbi.  The temple leaders, already anxious about their own tenuous hold on power, see in Jesus someone who could sway the people’s loyalty, and Rome sees yet another upstart traitor to the emperor.  So, in they come with their own story, and their own crowd to challenge the story Jesus tells: “This is not a king,” they say.  “A king has power, and might, and rules in triumph.  We have no king but Caesar.”

It’s easy to assume that the crowd that greets Jesus upon his entry to Jerusalem is the same crowd that condemns him at his trial—that’s the way we’ve told the story for many years—sort of the way we tell the Christmas story with wise men showing up with shepherds.  But there’s nothing in the text that suggests that’s the case.  In fact, they were probably two entirely different groups of people.  The crowd that greeted Jesus when he entered was probably his followers—Jewish folks from all over Galilee and Judea coming in for the festival. But at the trial before Pilate, remember that Rome feared a Jewish uprising above all things (because they happened about every twenty minutes) so the likelihood that Pilate would have allowed a group of random Galileans into his fortress to watch a trail seems….small.  This crowd is probably a small, vetted group of Roman-friendly authorities.  No wonder they seem so fond of Caesar all of a sudden!

So there are two crowds in this story, each with their own view of who Jesus is, and with their own view of what should happen to him.  Two crowds, two versions of the story.  Jesus is either the true King of Israel or a threat to Rome.  He is either the messiah, or a dangerous blasphemer.  And it all depends on whose story you listen to—which crowd you join.

That’s the thing about stories.  As humans, we make meaning by telling stories, and particularly as people of faith, we find our relationship with God tracked through the stories of the scriptures.  And yet, the brilliant thing about stories is also what makes them tricky—they are never unequivocal.  They contain multitudes, they never give you just one answer—and so it is up to us to tell them wisely and for good purpose.

For example, the passion story.  For us, it is our most beloved story.  It is the record of Jesus Christ’s last days on earth, his suffering and death.  The culmination of his earthly life, and his glorification and death at the hands of an oppressive empire.  We see in this story the record of a God who loved us so much that he became one of us and endured some of the worst we could do to each other to prove that nothing could separate us from God’s presence and love.  And so this story is uniquely powerful and moving.

Yet, for many, many years, beginning in the Middle Ages, this story of the Passion was told as a way to stir up anger and hatred towards our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Preachers in medieval Europe would hold passion plays, rife with anti-semitic stereotypes, and then send the furious crowd out to commit violence against the local Jewish population.  This story, so precious to us, was also the flashpoint for some heinous crimes.  This story which speaks to us of life and love so amazing speaks to others of pain and suffering.

Yet, we know that this history of misuse does not mean that the story of Christ’s passion is-itself-bad.  Only that it has been abused.  That there were times when we, in our brokenness, have told the wrong story.

We joined the wrong crowd.

That choice is always before us, whenever we recount the stories of our faith, the stories of our relationship with the Divine.  Are we telling the stories in such a way as to give life or to repress it?  Are we telling our stories to reflect the truth we know about God?  To accurately reflect the God that loves us and loves the whole world so much as to come to be one of us?  Because that is the story that needs to be told.  That is the story that is so powerful.  Right now, so many other stories are flying around out there—stories of hatred and division and oppression.  Stories that use the Christ we love as an excuse for bias and discrimination and persecution.  So we have to tell our story, and we have to tell it well.  Because when we tell it, that is the story that gives life to the world.  That is the story sets it alight.

So let’s tell it together.

Amen.

Easter Week catch-up

Whew.

At some point, when talking to St. John’s, I said that I would begin my official ministry on Palm Sunday.  In the middle of moving cross-country at the end of Lent, I realized that this may not have been the best idea that I ever had.

But aside from the whirlwind nature of blowing into town, having a huge stack of bulletins land on your desk, and then getting to wade through the busiest liturgical week in the Christian year–there are a lot of good things about starting a new ministry in Holy Week.

(I’m not kidding.)

You get to see all your parishioners right away, and several times in one week, so you can learn people’s names faster.  You get several liturgies right in a row, so you get the nuances of a new place under your feet faster.  And also, you get all the big, scary traditions out of the way right up front, when you are presumably too new to know better, so if/when you mess up, well, you’re new!  You can figure it out next year.

And most of all, it is probably the greatest teacher that you are not in charge that there is.  For all of us clergy-types inclined to believe that it is only through our overwork that Christ is crucified and resurrected, moving across the country in the days before will blow that supposition right out of the water.  Truly, if you’re brand new–you cannot do it all, because you haven’t a clue what needs doing.  You have to rely on the Altar Guild, the musicians, the administrator, the sexton–all the tried and true people who work along side you–and on the power of the liturgy to do the heavy lifting.

Because God shows up, regardless of how frantic and chaotic we choose to be.

(Along those same lines, I am regrettably behind in posting sermons.  Today, I hope to get all the Holy Week ones up and running.)

Just World Heresy

So here was my conundrum, coming into this Sunday.  The “Get behind me, Satan” story is only half of a story–the other half is Peter figuring out that Jesus is the Messiah, and to my mind, you actually need both for it to make sense.  Also, I felt like most of the national conversation had been taken up by two things: the awesome high school students in Florida who are pushing for gun control in the wake of surviving another shooting, and the nearly-daily march of indictments coming from the Special Counsel.  Neither one jumped out and suggested itself to me as a good match for Peter’s flub here–though, in a way, they both seemed to fit.

So I decided to go slightly meta, and talk about the just-world fallacy.  Here’s what I said.

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

February 25, 2018

Lent 2, Year B

Mark 8:31-38

 

I was listening to NPR a few months ago, as is required of all Episcopal clergy.  In a story about the rapid growth of the #MeToo movement, the reporter mentioned something called the Just World Fallacy.  

The Just World Fallacy is an idea from psychology.  Basically, it’s the persistent belief shared by nearly all humans to some degree that the world is a just place, and people fundamentally get what they deserve.  Good people are rewarded  with good things, and bad people are punished.  We hear echoes of it all the time.  So, when someone says, “What goes around, comes around” they’re echoing this idea.  When Job’s friends tell him he must have done something to provoke God’s wrath and judgment, they’re tapping into this.  All of us do it, to some extent.

The problem is–it’s not true.  Good people suffer irrational tragedies all the time, and people who lie, cheat, and steal get away with stuff.  And when we hold onto the fallacy too tightly, we end up denigrating people who suffer, by insinuating that they might have done something to deserve it.  Sometimes, the just world fallacy comes out as victim-blaming.  Or victim-silencing.  If I cannot believe in a world where harassment and assault are so widespread, because the world is just, so what you say happened to you cannot possibly be true.  

The just-world fallacy is hard to kill, and it creeps in to every crack and crevice of our brains.  Because it’s comforting, to think that the world is understandable, and somewhat controllable.  If I believe there are rules the world runs by, then I can avoid suffering, and if not, then at least know why it happened. 

So think of that, as we read this gospel passage.  Peter is the patron saint of speaking his mind, as we’ve established.  And so he says what everyone is thinking–Lord, this awful death can never happen to you.  You can’t be powerless, you can’t be hurt, you can’t be weak.  That’s not the way the Messiah behaves.  The world is just, so the Messiah cannot die.

 

Jesus rebukes him.  Get behind me, Satan.  Your mind is on the things of earth, and not the things of heaven.  

 

Because sure, that isn’t what would happen in a just world.  A just and fair world doesn’t kill the Son of God at the hands of the empire.  A righteous world doesn’t let the innocent suffer, the poor be oppressed and the weak starve.  But then again, a just world doesn’t need a Messiah.  And this isn’t a just world.   

 

But what’s fascinating about this interchange is the lengths Peter is willing to go to to hold onto his vision of the world as a whole place.  He’s working so hard to still believe in the world as essentially fair, that he ends up calling Jesus–Jesus! Whom he just proclaimed as God Incarnate–wrong, and incorrect.  Peter so wants his world to stay right, that he calls Jesus wrong.

 

We want, so badly, to be comfortable and at home in this world that we bend what we know God wants from us to fit what the world wants of us.  Less discomfort that way.  Less upset.  Less confrontation with the world’s brokenness.  We bend God to fit into the world as it is, because that feels easier in the moment than the alternative.

 

Peter is angry because he doesn’t want to confront the sorrow and pain of losing his friend.  We don’t want to believe that the world is so broken, so out of step with what God wants, because that is a hard thing to face  Who can live in a world so unjust?  So full of chaos?

 

And so, he tells Jesus that, no, the Messiah can’t die.  He wants Jesus to fit into the way the world works.  

 

So often, we want Jesus to conform to the routine of the world that we know.  The power structures we are familiar with.  The Messiah that wields power like an earthly king–because that’s easier to deal with than rather than the suffering savior who dies in an unjust system to call out the injustice.  

 

We want the Christian life to respond to those same rhythms, to confirm our just world beliefs–sometimes so much so that we occasionally just stamp a cross on the status quo and call it good.  In ancient times, we’d say: Is one guy in power?  God must have done it, because this is a just world!  And now the emperor is an instrument of God, and we had the divine right of kings.  Later on in history, we’d ask: Did we win that war?  God must have wanted to give us that land.  And now God is tasked with distributing land to victorious armies–and a whole lot of suffering to the losers.  

And nowadays, there are people asking: Are there more guns in America than any country outside of a warzone?  Then owning a gun must be a person’s God-given right.  And now we have saddled God with unspeakable tragedies.  

 

The problem is–none of these things actually have much to do with God–they have to do with us–and when we lean too far into the just world theory, it leads us into some frightening and deadly places.  

 

When you go back and read scripture, you discover that God doesn’t install kings.  (God was pretty against Saul, if you recall in the Old Testament.) God doesn’t distribute land (again, private ownership of land is not a concept God is a fan of in Leviticus and Deuteronomy–land is supposed to revert back to the original owner after 7 years.) And God really doesn’t distribute weapons of war.  Jesus had some hard words for Peter once he starts waving a sword around in Gethsemane.  

 

That is not a thing God does.  Once God creates the world, calls it good, and sets us loose in it, God really doesn’t spend much time congratulating us for what we’ve done, so much as God keeps trying to get us to do things better, and differently.  The constant theme through Scripture is that the world is not, in fact, as it should be.  Lots of things are going wrong, and God wants us to fix it with God’s help.  God wants us to try again.  

 

But before we can do that, we first have to recognize that the way things are is not the way things should be.  This is not a just world.  This is not the world as God intended.  God did not intend for parents to send their children off to school and never see them again.  God did not intend for children to beg politicians for their right to live without fear.  God did not want for teachers to have to worry about somehow teaching students and also keeping them alive.  God did not intend for us to live like this–because God did not intend for anyone to live like this.  

 

The task before us is to recognize that this is not the world God wants, and work with God to transform it.  When Jesus asks us to pick up our cross, he is asking us to acknowledge the current brokenness of the world and not turn away.  But the good news here is that Christ has already begun carrying this cross.  Christ has already begun to set the world aright. And all we have to do is join in.  Christ stands right beside us, asking for our help, asking for our hands, in the effort to fix a broken world and we just have to acknowledge the problem in the first place. 

So the question before us is:  will we help?

 

Amen

Peter’s Super Power

In case you haven’t seen it elsewhere on this here Series of Tubes, I will be moving to Ithaca, New York in a few weeks to become the rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

I am really excited and happy about this–St. John’s is amazing and I’m so thrilled to be able to work with them.  But this also means leaving KCMO, and St.Paul’s–and that is hard.  I love this place and this parish so much, and I am so proud of the ministry we have done together.  God is doing such amazing things here, and I have been lucky to participate.

But that departure is not today, and never fear–this blog will continue as it has before.  And this blog knows I owe you at least 2 sermons.  So here’s one of them–from the Last Sunday after Epiphany, in which we discuss Peter’s super power.

 

Rev. Megan L. Castellan

February 11, 2018

Transfiguration, Last Sunday of Epiphany

Year B

 

–I have a tradition of watching the Opening Ceremony of each Olympics.  And livetweeting them.  A group of us have formed over the years–I think the first time I did this was 2012 or so.  

–It’s the only rational response, I feel, to watching such a momentous occasion under the circumstances NBC gives us, which are less than ideal,  At least for me–it’s frustrating to have parts of the show edited out, random trivia spouted by talking heads, and so much attention placed on the American athletes, when maybe this is a great time to pay attention to people who exist outside this country?  And often, as it was this year, the whole thing is time-delayed with plenty of commercials.

-So, loving mockery it is.  Because how else can one digest the dichotomy that occurs onscreen?  The designers of the Opening Ceremony were tasked with a near-impossible task:  tell the story of Korean life and culture over thousands of years through a show–use everything at your disposal.  So, they have 5 children ‘wandering’ through the history of Korea, meeting with mythical creatures, giant puppets, dancers, war torn refugees, drumming choirs, mountains made of calligraphy, and a technological future.  It’s all pretty great, actually.  And it’s all hard to explain in mere words.  

–So, perhaps that’s why the commentators ended up offering tidbits like “Asians are not afraid of tigers!” and “Korea has more tech rehab centers than any place except China!” ….Ok.  

 

–the need to explain is not always helpful.  And often counterproductive.  In fact, NBC had to offer an apology to South Korea just this morning for some of their commentary, when one of the on-air folks said that Korea had always looked to post-war Japan as their economic ideal.  If you know your history, you know that NO.  Koreans definitely did NOT have those warm feelings for post-war Japan.  

 

So, when looking at the gospel for today, maybe sub in Katie Couric for Peter?  Because really, it’s the same problem.  

 

Jesus, after a year or so of teaching, preaching, miracle-working, takes a few of the disciples up a mountain by themselves.  These are his inner circle, his most trusted friends.  And the disciples, Peter, James, and John, have a mystical experience.  There’s no other name for it.  Before their eyes, the truth of Jesus is revealed.  

 

Now, the text gives an image of what this is, but it’s important to keep in mind that the specifics are less important than the thing to which they point.  So Jesus suddenly becomes transfigured, his clothing whiter than the sun, shining with light.  For Mark’s readers, this would have sounded to them like the divine Son of Man figure in Ezekiel, who seems to be made of shining light, all shimmering and brilliant.  So they would have gotten the notion that Jesus is being revealed to be like that figure–divine!  Otherworldly!  Mystical!  

And then Elijah and Moses appear and talk with Jesus.  Mark doesn’t tell us what they talked about because that’s not what he wants the audience to get here.  The audience would have grasped that Elijah was the sum of the prophets, and Moses was the carrier of the Law.  Their friendliness with Jesus indicate that he is literally conversant with the Law and the Prophets, he’s on their side, they approve–and Jesus, as established by the shining,  is clearly divine.  And then, if that weren’t enough, God speaks, and reminds the disciples to LISTEN TO HIM.  

There’s also thunder, and mist, and sleepiness

There’s a lot happening here.  Whatever exactly happened, it must have been overwhelming.  

 

Because the first thing Peter does is open his mouth and panic.  “IT IS GOOD FOR US TO BE HERE.  LET’S BUILD BOOTHS.  OR SOMETHING.”  I have decided that Peter’s chief spiritual gift is being the first person to open his mouth, and utter what everyone else is thinking.  He’s basically biblical cannon fodder, who takes the rebuke when Jesus explains why that, too, is wrong.  But someone has to do it, and Peter cheerfully takes the set down time after time.  

 

Here is no exception.  Peter says this truly dumb thing about booths, made all the more inane by the beatific vision unfolding before them, and I’m sure Jesus just sort of looks at him.  And everything disappears, and Jesus tells them not to talk about it.  

 

One of the commentaries I read this week pointed out that literally everything Peter does is undone by God in this story.  He talks, Jesus tells him not to.  He wants to build booths, Jesus has them leave.  He wants to tell people, God reminds him to listen.  

 

It would seem that there’s an impulse for Peter, perhaps for all of us, in the face of what we cannot understand to shrink it into digestible parts as fast as we can.  Especially when it comes to God.  We take these experiences of transcendence in our lives, and rather than letting them exist in their complexity, to slowly unfold and reveal themselves, we sometimes try to jump to explain them–or worse, we try to explain them away.  

 

But the reality is, that while words can do a lot to convey what we know of God, they cannot do everything.  Much of the divine remains beyond us.  Part of what makes God divine is that inability to be fully comprehended.

 

Our instinct to shrink those experiences that challenge us comes from fear, that most primal of failings.  Our fear that God is, in fact, beyond us.  Our fear that God might want us to change.  Our fear that the great unknowable Divine is uncontrollable, and therefore will wreck us.  

 

Yet, in the face of that primal fear, is it not striking that the one thing God says on that mountain, in the middle of all that shining light, all that mist, and fog, and appearing prophets, in the middle of all that theophany—is “Here is my Son.  My Beloved.”?  The one thing God says is an assurance of love.  In fact, if you look through the gospels, everytime there’s a terrifying voice from heaven, the ONE THING God always says is that affirmation of Love.  That’s it.  

 

Not “I’m coming for you!” or “Pray hard and beat the flu” or “Here are the lotto numbers”.  Each and every time, God says My Beloved.  Each and every time, God speaks of love for us.  And love, as scripture tells us, casts out fear.  

 

If we hold on to one thing, let us hold on to that perfect love of God, and not be too anxious to shrink all of God down to easy words.  The main thing God reveals of Godself is this love–this love for us throughout history, and in the person of Jesus.  

Blanche et Noire, parte deux

(cross-posted to Facebook)

So here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week.
When I was in Haiti, visiting Ravine a l’Anse with a team from St. Paul’s, we were in the marketplace of Les Cayes. (Whenever you’re in a foreign country, go to a grocery store or the marketplace–it’s the best.)

As we were strolling along, a woman approached me, and announced to me, in a loud voice, “Tu es blanche!” (trans. You are white.) Drawing on my six years of French, I responded, “Oui” for indeed, this was so. She repeated herself, pronouncing the words like the ruling of a monarch setting forth a new law: “TU ES BLANCHE!” Again, I agreed, “Ouais.” I am never more casper-like than in Haiti.
She drew herself up to her fullest height, fluttered her hand in a sweeping motion down in front of her, as if encompassing her entire being, her essence, the soul of her humanity in all its glory, and pronounced her final verdict to me, in a voice smooth with dignity: “Moi, je suis noire!” And turned and sauntered away, as if she had established, once and for all, her infinite claim to truth in the world. 


I think about her this week, this ordinary Haitian woman who literally proclaimed her pride in existence to me in the public square. I think of the faces of the children who pestered me, in ever more creative ways, to give them a ball. I think of the man who tied a rope around his waist, and lowered himself into a hole in the ground to dig a well for the village–by hand. So they would have water. And I think of the faces of the vestry of the church we work with, who patiently sat with us for hours, as they explained how they wanted to improve the lives of their people.

Haiti (and South Sudan, and Kenya, and Togo, and the other places the president slandered) aren’t notable because occasionally a great person emerged from there. They are notable because ordinary people live there, with the miraculous yet commonplace human capacity to live and thrive and be human. That nameless Haitian woman in the marketplace wears her pride with ease for she is the living image of God, and she knows it.

May we all know it too.