Rhythmic Jesus: Lenten Reflection (32)

Scripture for Today: Feeding the Thousands

My friend Julian and I recently had a conversation about how thinking about time as rhythm rather than structure loosens our adherence to the clock and deepens our connection to the needs of the moment.

For me, this means letting go of a schedule that siphons activities into thirty-minute blocks and instead remaining mindful of how I fit prioritized activities into the day. It requires an attention to my energy level, the needs of those around me, and the ever-changing context of the world.

Perhaps because of my conversation with Julian, I was particularly drawn to the way Jesus intuits his way through the feeding of the thousands in every Gospel account. He knows that he and his disciples are tired so he plans on them spending time alone and, according to some of the versions of the story, he gets a little quiet time but it is soon interrupted by a crowd who has come to be with him.

Rather than sending them away because “it’s not time for that sort of ministry,” Jesus’ open-hearted nature conjures up compassion within him. This attention to the needs of the situation rather than to the confines of a schedule is the same impulse that motivates Jesus to feed the crowd when it was time to eat.

I am inspired by Jesus’ prioritization of moment over fixed structure, whole over parts, and relationship over preference. His choice illustrates not only his deep identification with people but also his disregard for the proper structures of time that we “should” adhere to in our world. Those are structures that, when unexamined, support dominant ways of being. One example might be choosing to arrive on time rather than having a valuable conversation with someone or ignoring the needs of someone living on the street to get to a work meeting.

On the other hand, the rhythmic way of living invites us into a deeper sense of what brings about right-relationship with ourselves, one another, and the world around us.

Prayer: May I have the wisdom to follow God’s rhythm.

Reflection: When have I allowed structure prevent me from being present with myself or others? How might I loosen my connection to a schedule to deepen my connection to current needs?

Art: Eric Feather, from Growing in Grace

AttributionOur conversation about time as rhythm was inspired by the Mystic Soul Project rule of life.

 

 

Sermon on the Mount by Laura James - https://society6.com/laurajamesartshop/s?q=popular+sermon-on-the-mount_print#1=45

Heart of Relationship: Lenten Reflection (31)

Scripture for Today: Matthew 5-7

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.” Dr. Martin Luther King

We tend to define relationship as an interpersonal object that begins and ends at our will. In reality, relationship is more of a principle than a noun: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. We are constantly in relationship with one another. Our choices, ideas, and attitudes impact those around us, and in some cases, those thousands of miles away. The question is not whether we want to be in relationship with one another, but how will we be in relationship with one another?

Jesus’ entire ministry was to foster right-relationship with people: Relationships that honored God’s dream for equity and justice. Relationships that tore down structures of oppression. Relationships that lifted up the disenfranchised and challenged the powerful. Relationships that fostered our ability to know, claim, and own that we are the Beloved of God. Relationships that invited us into liberating love.

Knowing this, it makes sense that Jesus would begin his ministry by speaking to how, in all types of relationships (marriages, disagreements, keeping oaths, public prayer, and judgement of others), we are to be mindful of the mutuality that exists between us all. If our sibling is hurting, we hurt too, so we need to try and heal the situation. If we respond to hatred with hatred, we only perpetuate hatred. Therefore, we are instructed to address the situation non-violently in a way that exposes the pain others inflict upon the world.

By addressing injustice and exposing pain, we end cycles of violence and indifference and develop a heart of compassion that causes us to mourn with those who mourn, hunger for justice, and suffer with those who are persecuted. We become those Jesus honored in the Beatitudes — we enter the heart of relationship.

Prayer: Increase my hunger for righteousness.

Reflect: Consider one or two particular relationships. How are you honoring the belovedness of people in how you treat them? What might you change to further acknowledge their belovedness through your relationship?

Art: Sermon on the Mount by Laura James

Baptism of Jesus Proof by He Qi https://www.heqiart.com/store/p59/17a_Baptism-of-Jesus_Artist_Proof.html

With God’s Help: Lenten Reflection (30)

Scripture for Today: Luke 3:21 – 4:13

The first time I set foot in an Episcopal Church service was for the baptism of my friend Kristen’s child, Ryder. I was immediately struck by the communal and collective rhythm of the service. Prior to attending the service I had been on a year hiatus from church — I left a more conservative branch which had an individualistic bent to their spiritual practice. In that church, were all trying to out-Jesus one another by praying more, knowing more scripture, or singing the loudest during worship.

The communal nature of this new Episcopal church was especially present in its collective commitment to uphold Ryder and to live the Way of God alongside him. Towards the end of the service the congregation articulated their commitment through the words of the Baptismal Covenant:

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help. 

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

I was struck by how much the commitment depended on God rather than self — no one was expected to do it alone. This blanket claim of our humanity is one of the reasons I’ve stayed part of the Episcopal community. There are certainly those who stray from this generalization, but the majority of the Episcopalian community maintains their commitment to God while living very human lives.

And, for a faith tradition looking to follow Jesus, this isn’t too far off the mark.

Today’s gospels emphasize the human nature of Jesus. In his baptism at the River Jordan we meet Jesus as a companion on the Way who, like us, made a commitment to turn from the ways of the world and follow God. In the wilderness we see Jesus tempted by the human desires for comfort, power, and wealth, yet he remains committed to God.

Stories of Jesus’ humanity fill the gospels: his friendships, his hunger, his frustrations, his sadness, his anger, his longing for God’s favor, etc. These stories give us a way of meeting God that is not wrapped up in perfection or in theology, but in the vulnerabilities and practicalities of human life. In Jesus we can claim a new human identity. This identity  is rooted not in the fleeting nature of this world but in the eternal way of God. This identity  restores us to right-relationship with God and one another, through the Christ.

This identity inspires us to follow the way of Jesus, with God’s help.

Prayer: Open me to your help.

Reflection: Where can you connect to Jesus’ humanity? Why does it matter to you that he was human?

Art: Baptism of Jesus Proof by He Qi

Additional Reading:  Unedited version of the Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant.

Holy Night by Kimberly Greeno https://www.etsy.com/listing/259600138/holy-night-christmas-nativity-scene

True God from True God: Lenten Reflection (29)

Scripture for Today: Matthew 1 – 2:12, Luke 1 – 2:26, John 1:1-18

The Gospel of Luke begins with this reason for its writing, “So that you may know the truth about those things which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:4). At least seventy years have passed since the death of Jesus. The young Church is growing to include more people who never met Jesus, and the Gospels serve as written testaments to his life. Following my preceding blog posts, I will explore the stories that align with the claims of the Epistles, the letters written to help form the ideas and behaviors of the people of the Way.

In effect, Luke writes that these are the stories you must know to understand why we believe what we believe and why we do what we do. Using this lens, we will be reflecting on the Gospel passages this week through two questions: What do these stories reveal about the nature of Jesus? Why might the authors have included them in their Gospels?

The birth narratives we read today reveal to us the truth that Jesus is of God. Jesus’ birth is foretold by messengers of the Divine in the form of angels. His name Emmanuel signifies that now God is with us, and he is born under miraculous conditions.

Not only is Jesus Divine — he is of the same God that the Hebrew people worshiped in the Hebrew Bible. The use of the prophetic texts to describe Jesus connect him to the stories we read in the Hebrew Bible, which express a longing for a ruler to come restore Israel. This is their king.

Why was it so important to make clear that Jesus was and is of God?

One, it is vital that the earliest followers, and likewise we today, recognize Jesus as part of the eternal story of God. He is not a new fad: he is The Very God who, from all eternity, has been calling us into right-relationship with God, one another, and creation.

In this light, we can understand the life of Jesus as the incarnate of right-relationship on Earth. His eternal relationship with God, as John’s Gospel names, qualifies him to illuminate the way of God for those of us who have not seen God. Jesus knows intimately the grace written in the letters to the Ephesians, and his life gives us an example of what it might look like if we embodied that grace here on earth.

Prayer: Jesus, may I know you as God.

Reflection: What about the birth narratives struck you? Why might you be drawn to those aspects today?

Art: Holy Night by Kimberly Greeno

More: If I had another reflection, I would share on the power of the story of Mary. If you’re interested in reading a radical sermon on her bravery, I recommend this piece.

Bermuda and You: Photos From Our Trip

Rain has drops
Sun has shine
Moon has beams
That make you mine

Rivers have banks
Sands for shores
Hearts have heartbeats
That make me yours

Needles have eyes
Though pins may prick
Elmer has glue
To make things stick

Winter has Spring
Stockings feet
Pepper has mint
To make it sweet

Teachers have lessons
Soup du jour
Lawyers sue bad folks
Doctors cure

All and all
This much is true
You have me
And I have you
by Nikki Giovanni

Unknown Artist - Referenced http://www.asianchristianart.org/

Heavenly Rest: Lenten Reflection (28)

Scripture for Today: Hebrews 4-5, 10-11

“We spend our lives waiting for our parents to apologize. They spend theirs waiting for a thank you.”

For a long time, my relationship with my father illustrated this quote from the TV show Casual. Although I never doubted my dad’s love, there were times when I didn’t feel it or receive it in the way I needed. This experience of frustration motivated me to create a healthy distance between the two of us. This distance prevented me (and possibly him) from knowing the reciprocal love between us.

When I was in my mid 20s I invited my father to come with me to a Maundy Thursday service during Holy Week. As we knelt at the rail for communion I experienced my dad in a new light. Instead of seeing a man who had failed me, sitting next to me was a man receiving the same grace and gift as me. My heart broke and I wept at that communion rail as I realized in my bones how far the grace of God extends.

“One single sacrifice for all.” 10:12

The practice of communion allows us to understand God’s extension of grace in a real and tangible sense as we experience Jesus’s willingness to suffer with us. He chose not to maintain the security of the divine realm and instead embrace the human condition. In this, he is the great high priest, the one who understands and knows our suffering and can support us and our weaknesses.

In the body and life of Jesus there was a bit of heaven that revealed a deeper understanding of God. That life was marked by suffering: by scars and bruises, by unfulfilled promises and unrealistic expectations, by imperfect ancestors who held to faith alone, by unlawful shootings and forced deportations, by being scorned and excluded.

By suffering.

Our human experience of suffering yokes us not only to him but to one another. And, in communion we are deeply present to suffering in a way that allows us not only to know suffering but also to know the grace that accompanies it.

Prayer: May I know you in suffering.

Reflection: When have you chosen to avoid rather than embrace suffering? What might help you embrace suffering as a pathway to knowing grace?

Art: Unknown Artist – Referenced Here

Grace Remains by Makoto Fujimura- https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Grace-Remains-Nard/890479/3254010/view

Another Gospel: Lenten Reflection (27)

Scripture for Today: Galatians 1Colossians 21 Timothy 1:3-11

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As I mentioned in my last post, I spent this week in Bermuda with my partner and Purity, a very good friend from Kenya. I’m going to share more photos and stories from the trip in a later post; for now, here’s one of the three of us at Cooper’s Island.

The week provided time for enjoyment, wonder, and conversations that are impossible in the normal hustle of life. After this photo was taken the three of us drove our scooters to Pizza House for traditional Bermudian fish sandwiches and a particularly powerful conversation about the cross-cultural nature of oppression.

Although our experiences of oppression were incredibly varied given our diversity of race, ethnicity, class and gender, there was a common thread that ran through our experiences and cultures:  humans have always created systems to differentiate between who is right and who is wrong, who was “in” and who was ‘out,” who is valued and who is shunned, who has access and who is denied.

Anglican theologian Francis Spufford refers to this tendency to disrupt God’s dream for us to live in right-relationship as “the human propensity to f**k things up.

This eternal struggle shows up in our reading for today: the people of the Way are forming beliefs that limit the gospel’s reach to only only the most deserving. This institution of merit is especially surprising in this situation because the community of the Way is founded on the grace of Jesus. By “grace” Paul is referring to the idea that all people have the capacity to comprehend and intimately know the love of God.

Paul is infuriated that people are placing bounds and limits on that which was never theirs to mediate. He responds: there is no other gospel than grace. 

This plea of Paul’s, to stop creating systems that lay claim to what was never ours, is one we would do well to heed today. Although I would love to be proven wrong, it is unlikely we will ever stop creating systems of oppression. They are part of our very being.

However, the good news is that the love and grace of God abound in equal measure to our propensity to f**k things up. And if we can come to truly know this grace, a gift that we never earned and to which we can only respond to with abundant thanks, maybe then we will stop holding tightly to what we consider ours and work ardently to secure access for all people.

Prayer: Forgive our tendency to divide.

Reflection: Where are systems of merit or value present in my world? How do I benefit from them?

Art:  Grace Remains by Makoto Fujimura

Untitled by Ivan Guaderrama http://www.ivanguaderrama.com/art-inspired-by-god.html

Living the Way – Lenten Reflection (26)

Scripture for Today: 1 Corinthians 13, Galatians 5, Colossians 3

Today’s readings include sets of instructions about how the earliest followers of Jesus are to live as people of “the Way.”

The passage reminded me of a video that I love by Dave Tomlinson that was produced by The Work of The People. Dave offers the modern-day followers of Jesus a similar message to that of Paul’s. His words about what it looks like to walk “the Way” today inspire me to more boldly pursue a life of love. I hope they do the same for you.

For the sake of transparency, I am away this week celebrating my  loving partner’s birthday. I was able to write three out of four reflections before we left. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Darrell (a man who clothes himself in love daily) and forgive me for this shorter entry.

With Love,
Natalie

Prayer: Reveal your way to us today.

Reflection: Who in my life embodies “the Way”? What is it about them and their way of being that I find so compelling?

Art: Untitled by Ivan Guaderrama

 

MArk Lawrence - https://www.wayfair.com/decor-pillows/pdp/romans-8-38-max-by-mark-lawrence-3-piece-framed-graphic-art-set-fcac3454.html - Revealed In Jesus: Romans 8:39

The Eternal Sacrifice: Lenten Reflection (25)

Scripture for Today: Romans 5-8

As I’ve previously mentioned, the Epistles are a window into the minds of the earliest followers of Jesus. They seek to understand how the life, death and resurrection of Jesus might fit into their paradigm for life. Paul, the author of the letter to the Romans, was a man steeped in Jewish tradition and history, so he is trying to understand  the mystery of Christ through an ancient Jewish lens.

Therefore, if we want to makes sense of Paul’s musings on sin, the law, grace and reconciliation, we must interpret it through the same contextual lens that Paul was reading it through. Paul most likely grew up with the belief that our relationship with God is based on our ability to follow the law. If he, or any member of the Hebrew community, failed to perfectly follow God’s precepts, it was necessary to offer a sacrifice to God in order to pay retribution and return to God. One was to follow this pattern as many times as needed, as well as offer an annual “catch-all sacrifice” to cover any overlooked sins during the year.

With his understanding of Jesus, Paul challenges this notion of paying retribution to God. For Paul, Jesus is our eternal sacrifice. Rather than impact our individual sins or errors, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus impacts our entire identity (8:14).

We have been granted to access life eternal, or, more fully translated: “age-long. and therefore: practically eternal, unending; partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting.” Through Christ we are no longer constrained to the understandings and choices of this world; despite our human constraints we can choose life over death, love over estrangement, and hope over fear. Through Christ we can live in the way Jesus modeled.

However, as is true for all humans, we will undoubtedly miss the mark. The entirety of Romans 7 is Paul’s grappling with the fact that he continues to choose death, estrangement and fear despite having full access to the power of God. He is frustrated:  Why do I keep doing the exact thing I don’t want to do?!

I assume that like me, many of you can connect with this feeling. And, just imagine if you had to kill a calf every time you snapped at the customer service representative on the phone, judged your body as unlovable, failed to speak out against racism, or ignored the hungry person on the street corner.

Paul says that the good news is that because of Jesus’ eternal sacrifice we no longer have to “make it right.” It is ALWAYS right with God. There is never a moment in which you are not fully loved by God.

Similar to early followers of Jesus, we hear this good news through our cultural lens. Perhaps you, like me, find it hard to fully grasp this abundant grace and love in the context of our Western work ethic. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I still think I can will myself out of sinful behaviors. And I find it more comfortable to try and earn God’s favor through prayer or good works rather than relying on abundant love.

Our work, then, is to develop an ever-deepening sense of compassion for ourselves and the world around us. To accept the grace that was extended to us and to return it to others. To practice resting in the truth that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God. This is the eternal work.

Prayer: May I rest in your love.

Reflection: How do you respond to the truth that you are completely loved? How fully do you let that sink into your bones? What might support you in more fully believing that truth?

Art:  Revealed In Jesus: Romans 8:39 by Mark Lawrence

 

Ephesians 3:17 by Missy Cummings - https://www.pinterest.com/missycummings/art/

Together In Christ: Lenten Reflection (24)

Scripture for Today: Ephesians 1-3

Paul* begins his letter to the Ephesians by reminding the followers of the Way of Jesus about their identity in Christ. Through Christ, he says,we are children of God. In fact, we have always been children of God, we just didn’t fully realize this until the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. Through Christ we can understand that we are and have always been undeniably loved by God (1:4).

Through his replete use of the first person plural, Paul makes abundantly clear that the identity as God’s beloved applies to all of us.

God, who is rich in mercy, out of great love with which God loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. 2:4 & 5

What struck me most when reading this passage is that my identity in Christ isn’t mine at all. More so, I as an individual am not alive through God’s love; it is the collective we that comes alive in Christ.

Yes, it is true that you and I are children of God, but it is an incomplete truth. What is more true is that we are children of God. If we only focus on the grace that’s afforded to me, you, or certain people, we fail to fully grasp God’s claim for all God’s children. More so, the moment we deny even one person’s belovedness, we deny the entirety of God’s claim on humanity.

Paul emphasizes this collective understanding of redemption in chapter 2. God’s abundant love for me reconciles me to God. That is, it draws me into right relationship with God. In addition, God is drawing you into right relationship with God. And this relationship is only partially realized when I only look at God. To fully receive the peace that Jesus brings, I must also look to my left and right and foster right relationship with all the others surrounding God (2:16).

This piece from Episcopal City Mission’s literature (written by Mariama White-Hammond) gives us an idea of what it looks like to move into right relationship:

Right relationship requires acknowledging that we need one another to heal ourselves and our world. Right relationship requires that we speak out about how we have personally and systematically maintained separation. Right relationship requires that we ask for forgiveness and make retribution for how we have hurt one another.

Right relationship requires a dynamic process of awareness, acceptance, and action that has inner and outer dimensions. We must do the inner work — meditation, prayer, reflection — individually and communally to push beyond fear and transform ourselves into more peace-filled and grounded people. We must do the outer work — relationship building, action, resisting unjust systems that keep us separate and unequal — to advocate for our neighbors and build power to eradicate inequity. Our deepest resource is love. When love is cultivated, it can bring down unjust systems. We must tap into our desire for wholeness and liberation as individuals and communities, placing love at the center of our lives.

This is the love Paul says we should let dwell inside of us. A love that dwells so deeply that we are convinced that we belong to one another and that we cannot bear to stand by idly while systems and structures exist that deny the belovedness of others. A love that settles itself so deeply into us that we become transformed from a self-centered “I consciousness” to Paul’s collective “we consciousness.” A love that redefines the Christ mystery; it is no longer just about me or you. It becomes about right relationship. It becomes about us.

Pray: May I recognize the Christ in each person around me.

Reflection: What element of right relationship stood out most to me? How would my relationships be different if I embodied that aspect?

ArtEphesians 3:17 by Missy Cummings

*Although the authorship of Ephesians is debated, I chose to use Paul instead of “the Author” for a less cumbersome read.