Doing Nothing

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples,  “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

-Matthew 26:36

Certain aspects of this moment with Jesus and his disciples in Gethsemane during his time of agony, are relatable for many of us.  Any time we’re “up against the ropes” torn between doing what is right and running from, hiding, ignoring or denying doing the right thing, we are in our own little garden of agony.  Those times of wishing our life could be another way, but knowing we must do what is right even though it will come at a great cost to us –be it to a relationship with others or to our reputation, or our integrity—are our personal moments of agony.  Here in the garden, Jesus gives us a clear model to follow in how to pray our way through accepting our fate, facing our suffering and holding onto hope that somehow, when it’s all over and done with, we too, will find a “new life” and be “resurrected.”

But what has perplexed me for some time now are the words Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew’s gospel while he is suffering. “Sit here while I go over there and pray,” he tells them.  Not knowing what to do with these words, I’ve chosen for a long time to focus instead on Mark’s telling of this same event where Jesus says, “Sit here while I pray,” (Mark 14:32), which can sound a lot more like “Sit and pray with me,” and to my ear, at least, is much kinder.  But Matthew’s recalling of Jesus’s words makes it seem as though Jesus wants to be all alone and gives the disciples nothing to do—not even pray with him– while he prays.  In essence, it has, at times to me even sounded like, “You knuckleheads go over there and leave me alone.  Something important is happening here and I need it to be quiet.”  And while “over there” the disciples fall asleep, not once, not twice, but three times.  Each time Jesus wakes them and reprimands them for falling asleep.  In Mark’s account, where their job of praying can be implied, it makes sense for Jesus to be upset that they fall asleep.  But in Matthew’s account, why would Jesus care if they are awake or not if he sends them “over there”?

Then, yesterday, as I held Jesus’ words in my heart, pondering them, I read a reflection by Macrina Weiderkehr, a Benedictine monastic nun, where she talks about herself waking early in the morning to go and pray in the cafeteria of her monastery and spotting another sister near her each morning who was also praying.   Upon seeing the other sister day after day in prayer, Weiderkehr is moved to tears recalling something she’d read earlier about the importance of a younger person being mentored by an elder:

Mentoring takes place…when a young person sees in an older person a bright flame of life, which is a reminder of his or her own small flame.  When these two flames connect, the younger person gets his or her flame blessed, while the older person moves into deeper wisdom. (pp. 14-15)

Weiderkehr goes on to say she realized then that seeing another sister’s faithfulness to prayer each morning was blessing and strengthening her “own tired flame.”

Through her sharing of this experience, I had a new appreciation for Jesus’ words and actions towards his disciples in this garden scene in Matthew’s gospel.  Perhaps it was Jesus’ intention to not just model for the disciples (and us) what to do in times of agony and personal suffering, but in doing so, to give them (and us) a final blessing. Perhaps Jesus wanted the disciples awake and attentive to his prayer because in his time of suffering, it was the only thing he had left to give to bless their “old, tired flames” of faith.  Perhaps there really was nothing for the disciples to do but witness the scene as it unfolded, and by their witness, Jesus could be moved “into deeper wisdom.”

In light of this reflection, my eyes have now turned from seeing not just how we, like the disciples, often “fall asleep” to the suffering and agony around (and within) us, but how we are, at times, like Jesus and like Weiderkehr’s faithful sister in the cafeteria, modeling for others how to continue our relationship with God no matter what.  To know that sometimes we are the witness and sometimes—hard as it may be to believe– we are the mentor.

Isn’t it marvelous that the miracles of God are so great, my friends, that even in these small moments of seemingly “doing nothing”– save remaining faithful and prayerful to God– that we are both a blessing to others and blessed?

Reflect:  What person or persons has been the greatest strength and blessing to me and my “old, tired flame”of faith?  How might I thank or acknowledge that person today?  What actions and behaviors do I demonstrate that may be a source of strength for others without my even having been aware of them in the past?  How might I make room for more such actions or behaviors to “deepen the wisdom” of God in me?

Pray:  Dear God, thank you for the gift of faith-filled mentors in my life.  Thank you for Jesus’ triumphant example of faith unto death and new life.  Help me to never falter in following his example.  Forgive me when I falter anyway.  Show me how I mentor others through my faith in you.  Shine in and through me. Use me now and always for your greatest good.

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Nail Me Open: A Love Story

Dear Lord,

I am tired. I cannot think straight and I am finding it hard to understand your love for me right now.

But your love is all I can think about.

This morning, I am remembering how in years past I’ve spent this Holy Week feeling the heaviness of your suffering, the sadness of your death.

But not this year.

This year, I sit here thinking of your glorious return. Your unfathomable Resurrection.

Your story is such a beautiful one of joy and love and true power over self and the world, how can I feel anything but joy in remembering this story?

This week, you remind me that you are here to serve me (John 13:5), you are willing to give up all for me (Mark 15:37) you are willing to suffer, be beaten, ridiculed and punished unto death, for me (Matthew 27: 1-56). You tell me with each and every action of your life and with love pouring from your Spirit that I am worth it (John 3:16).

How can that be? Who can love me that much? What have I possibly done to deserve that kind of love? Why am I even here, that you should love me so?

You do not answer me with words, only actions. You wash my feet (John 13:5), you give me food (Matthew 26:26), you ask me to sit with you while you pray (Mark 14:32), and then you wait.

You wait for my betrayal.

And sooner than later, my humanity wins out. I hold onto the world and all it offers me (30 shekels of silver!) and I betray you with a kiss (Mark 14:45-46). Or, at the very least I deny you (Mark 14: 66-72).

And you are taken away (Luke 22:54).

Separated from you, I am without hope. What have I done? I wonder and worry while you are sentenced to death. Even as I don’t want it to happen, I know I will not speak up, will not defend you. I comfort myself with my sinful reasoning that “at least I’m not joining the throngs of people chanting for your death.”

But I can’t prevent your dying.

Even if I could, you wouldn’t let me.

And why?

Because death (yours and mine) is necessary.

And here’s where I’m confused—how can that be true? Why did we have to kill and betray you? Why did you let it happen?

Your answer comes again not in words, but in actions.  You offer yourself up and stretch out your arms in love—and as a reminder to me– you have them nailed open.

Always, always, always I will love you, this says to me(Ps 100:5). And you pour out your Spirit of life into me (John 19:30).

As I sit stunned at the horror of your death, your words echo in my heart…

“Follow me,” you said. (Matt 8:22, Mark 1:17, Luke 9:23, John 21:19)

And I try. Though I am so much more human than you, I do try.

I try to serve others.

I try to feed the hungry.

I pray.

And then?

Then I experience suffering, and betrayal and rejection in my life and I wonder and worry and blame you for punishing me for my goodness!

And you wait and you watch, wondering what will I do? Will I follow you?

But in my humanity, I become afraid and angry and I demand better. I do what you never did: I resist.

This is where the mind boggles and buckles, as the ego tempts…am I really to follow you all the way? Am I to give in now? Give up? Lose?

Then I think of the times you could have been killed, but you slipped away (Luke 4:24-30, John 10:39-42).

And I see now that your death has opened the door for me to slip away, too (1 Cor 10:13). In your forgiveness and mercy you give me another chance to try again, to serve more, to share more, to forgive more…until I, too, can finally let go of this world for the next one (Luke 23:46).

Again and again, bit by bit, ever so slowly, I let go (goodbye excuses, goodbye self-loathing, goodbye perfectionism, goodbye ego) and I open my arms to you (hello love, hello forgiveness, hello reality, hello acceptance).

And I ask you to nail me open, too.

Do not let me close my heart to you, nor to others.

And never, please never, let me stand in judgment without mercy.

Nail. Me. Open.

You taught me this. You showed me this. You lived for this.

You died like this.

I live because you loved me into being.

I die because you love me into New Life.

That is the love… that is the joy…that is the hope of Easter.

It is the Paschal Mystery. It is the Mystery of Faith.

It is a Love Story unmatched in history.

A Love Story for the Ages.

Amen.

The Pharisee In Me

Of all the characters throughout the Gospels, the least relatable to me are the Pharisees.  Those well-to-do, high-and-mighty, laa-dee-da, goody-two-shoes men who have taken their jobs of upholding the law (Their God-given law! The Church’s law!  Man’s law!)  so seriously that they do not see what we, some 2000 years later, have the full benefit of seeing:

They are killing God.

And so I look for the Pharisees around me, and I speak out against them when I see fit.  “Get behind me, Satan!”  I say.  (Only it sounds more like, ”  “That’s just stupid!”  or  “You are so blind to the Truth!” or “How can you say that?”)

And when I’ve successfully changed their hearts and minds, I walk away feeling triumphant in my battle.  I have won!  I have shown “them” the way of Truth!  (Because I know it).

I am impressed with myself.  And sometimes, I can see others are, too.

And I smile to myself, “Look what I’m doing for you, God!”  I say.  (And secretly, I think I’m his favorite).

Until today.

Good Friday.

The day I see what God’s love really looks like:

…the buzzing coud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up….  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.   -C.S. Lewis, from The Four Loves

Today I see that if this is what love looks like, I am more like the Pharisees than any other character.  Me, still thinking God’s love is “earned” through careful score-keeping.  Me, still thinking I can “see” God’s truth better than anyone else.  Me, still thinking it is my duty (and my God-given right!) to uphold the Law.

But not willing to open my arms, and my mind, and my heart to those who think differently.  Who live differently.  Who sin differently. And who love differently than I do.

Not willing, despite the fact that I say I am.

Who else can I be in these stories, if not the Pharisees?  Why am I so willing to see myself in any other character of these stories–even Judas, who at least has enough sense to just get rid of himself!–but not the Pharisees?

I don’t know…probably because it stinks to admit that I’m killing God?

I. am. killing. God.

And my breath catches at that realization.

I am a Pharisee.

And the thought sinks into my core.  The awareness dawns that even though I am just now beginning to see the Pharisee in me, our Triune God has seen it there in me the whole time.

And I wonder at that for a while.

I am speechless.

The tears begin to fall, as I want so desperately to hate myself for God.  But how can you hate yourself when God has commanded you only to love?

I don’t know how to remedy that.  In fact, if I understand the stories right, I don’t even think *I* can.

But, what I see in Jesus on the cross, is an act of love.

“Follow me,” he says.  And I want to.

What will my act of love be?

Today, it will be that I will go to liturgy, and I will kiss Jesus on the cross.

And I will ask for forgiveness.  (Again).

And I will feel his love. (Again).

And I will accept his love. (Again).

And I will cry.

Because my heart spills over with this impossible realization:

I am a Pharisee…and he loves me, anyway.

Every Knee Shall Bend

I knew this would happen.

Me and my big mouth.  Or big words from my keyboard.

Or whatever.

Remember three weeks ago when I had the brilliant idea that I needed to discipline myself to blog every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through Lent (but really, if I’m honest my intention was through forever, I was just too chicken to admit it)?   Well, here we are at the day I feared as soon as I published those words…the day I’m too full of thoughts about my unending To Do list to really settle down and put thoughts together to share.  (I was hoping for a short thought at least, but so far, I got nothin’!).  I even laid the groundwork for a topic to write about today on Monday’s post but can’t seem to focus my mind enough to even tie into what I thought I was going to say clear back then.

And now, instead of being able to put any thoughts together about Mary and the women’s roles in the story of Christ’s Passion, I am instead  full of thoughts about volunteer work I’m behind on, laundry that needs to be done, and housework and groceries and upcoming meetings and Easter and Mass times and fasting.

The good news is that in writing this post, I have succeeded in my discipline of blogging every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (so far).

The bad news is that other than sharing my To Do list with you, I’ve failed at writing anything even remotely significant.

Fortunately, I have been taught that failure is always a good thing.  And I can see it right now as I fail before you.  What you may see right now are my meaningless ramblings and a half-hearted attempt to fulfill an obligation to discipline myself and my writing.  But what I see is me allowing myself for the first time to step out of the room, completely naked (speaking figuratively here, folks!) , and show you my true self:  scatter-brained, with nothing to offer you except evidence that I have made a promise to you and I will keep it.

On that note, it has occurred to me that perhaps “showing up” today wasn’t really about me at all.

Perhaps it was about you.

And what I can offer you. (Despite my long To Do list).

And the one thing I could offer you as we prepare for Maundy Thursday, the traditional day of the “washing of the feet”– a reenactment of one of the greatest acts of service in Scripture–is my prayer.

I offer you my prayer.

Sure, my To Do list is long, but I do my best to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).  I would be happy to pray with you as I work through my To Do list today.  If you have anything or anyone special to pray for drop it in the comments below.  Though I’m not overly talented at multi-tasking, prayer is the one thing I can do well with anything!  (Even if you just “like” it, I’ll be sure to pray!)

I believe that Jesus set this example for us– bending down to offer us his service in the most humbling way–so that we would in turn go out and do the same.

After all, he never did become a king the way his followers expected, so what else could it meant that “at the name of Jesus, even knee shall bend.” (Phil 2:10)?

Garden Moments

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Yesterday, for the start of the Christian Holy Week, I watched for the second time in my life, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  This week, in celebration of Holy Week, I’d like to share some random thoughts I had as I watched the movie.

  • I like that Gibson’s portrayal depicted Jesus’ time in the garden as one of an ongoing internal struggle.  In the past, it’s been far too easy for me when reading Scripture to think that Jesus said, “Not my will, but Thine” (Luke 22:42) with a lot of strength and certitude.   My thinking had long been that because Jesus is also God, somehow facing his own impending doom was easier than it would be for us “mere humans”, but in that thinking, it also makes Jesus very distant from our own struggles.   Instead, Gibson nicely casts the human side of Jesus for us, struggling with putting his own personal agenda aside, letting God work through him as the darkness surrounds him.  In this depiction, Jesus is much more relatable to us, much more understanding of our own struggles, making our own suffering perhaps more tolerable because we know that he, too, has “been there.”
  • Gibson’s portrayal depicts Satan as a soft, gentle tempter.  I think very often the challenges that God lays out for us are often the more difficult for us to choose (Remember “choose always the hardest”?), and so this makes Satan’s job much more easy, because he is simply appealing to our own human weakness.  If you don’t believe me, look again at Genesis and the story of Eve.  Have you ever noticed that she doesn’t ever question the serpent?  Never says, “Where did you hear that?”  or “What would make you say such a thing about God?”  No.  There’s no need to question because she’s already thought it for herself.  The serpent’s gentle suggestion that God is not being completely honest with her was all she needed to act in vain.
  • I like the fact that when Jesus was looking to the moon and praying for God to take away his burden, a cloud immediately passes in front of the moon.  I’ve had experiences like this in nature before and I personally believe God speaks to us all the time in nature, but we rarely listen, or we slough it off as coincidence.  I remember one particular incident last year when I was really angry with God about our having been relocated again.  Why was I being called away from the work I had grown to love in my old town and the friendships I’d formed?  Why was I being asked again to start over, knowing that this location, too, would likely not be permanent?  And the whole time I was letting God have it!  (If you’ve never done this before, you may want to try it.  I’ve learned he can take it!)   As I was demanding answers to these questions, the sun was parked hidden behind a cloud.  The cloudy sky seemed to fit my mood perfectly.  As I rounded the church building that was part of my dog’s and my daily route, the sun and cloud were blocked entirely, but just as I rounded the corner of the building on the other side (and was really letting God have it), the sun popped up real big from behind that cloud  and I heard (in the quiet of my heart) the ringing laughter of my grandpa who’s been gone for over 20 years, and the words, “It’s OK, I’ll leave the light on for you.”  And just like that, my anger was gone.  Gone!  And I was ready to move forward.  It was the perfect “sign” for me, and the perfect “thing to say” to my heart.  It made me laugh out loud!  In a similar way, Gibson’s version of the cloud covering the moon at the time that Jesus is praying for relief, seems to be the perfect “sign” for Jesus, too.  It seems to confirm what Jesus already knows, that he will not be relieved from his fate.  And just after that, when the soldiers arrive, Jesus meets them with a new resolve that he was missing earlier.  I like this depiction. From my own experience, it makes sense to me.
  • My thoughts on this final topic are jumbled, but I’ll do the best I can to explain…. If there were one thing I would change about the garden scene, it would be to try to draw us into what I see as the deeper meaning of Jesus’ request to the disciples to “stay awake.”  I’ll admit I wouldn’t have the first clue how to show it.   But, I personally  contrast Jesus’ ability to do this with the inability of Adam & Eve to do so in the Garden of Eden.  True, Adam & Eve never literally “fell asleep” there, but it seems to me that if they had been “awake” to the serpent’s suggestions in the garden, and not “fallen”  into blaming others (and each other) for their own bad choices, our whole salvation history would probably be written much differently.  To me, it is every bit as disappointing to “fall asleep” in the hour of another’s need like the disciples did  (I’ve heard many a divorcée or ill person lament about the so-called friends that left them in the hour of their greatest need), as it is to “fall asleep”  and abandon ourselves, as I believe Adam & Eve did, in our hours of greatest need.  The times we really should question the gentle, coaxing voice that says, “There’s always tomorrow,” or “God wouldn’t mind,” (am I the only one who hear’s that voice?)  are, as I see it,  all “garden moments” because somewhere deep down we know that tomorrow is never guaranteed, and that if we are seeking reassurance that God “wouldn’t mind” something we are about to do, it is only because we already know that he would.  I’ve come to believe that the only real difference in a garden moment is whether we choose to follow Adam & Eve’s example, or follow Jesus.  This is, I believe, why it is only proper that Jesus is the only one fit to “stay awake.” (Of course, eventually all of the disciples did “wake up”– providing hope for us that we can do the same– and then went out to spread God’s Word instead of blaming “the crowds” for putting God to death…and that is, in fact, Good News!)

Join me on Wednesday as I take a closer look at Gibson’s depiction of some of the other characters in the story of the Passion.  And if you haven’t yet seen the movie, or it’s been awhile, I encourage you to revisit this movie for Holy Week, as well as reading about the Passion in Scripture which begins in each of the four Gospels at the following chapters:  Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 12.