Tag Archives: fear

My story part 16; when God spoke to me

About ten years or so after being baptized, I started a “prayer life.” Now, I’m still not actually very good prayer. But that year for Lent I decided to pray — or at least sit in silence and breath — for at least 10 mins a day and pray, right after dinner. This became a true and beautiful joy for me and the second after that Easter I never went back to it. Such it is to be human.

But one particular moment in those 40 days of 10 minutes of quiet stands out. Because I was pouring out my fear to God, that I wasn’t a good enough. That I didn’t know what I was being “called” to do. What feelings of failure swept over me!

Clear as a bell — very very clear — a Voice that was not my voice said:

“Do not be afraid, take care of your child, and have fun.”

Now you might be thinking that’s a pretty easy message from God. But you have to know that I am afraid of everything except public speaking and needles. Everything. Thunder. Dogs. Driving over bridges. Going outside. Being trapped inside. Everything! It’s never truly stopped me. I have always just sort of set my jaw and done what is needed. But the fear is always with me.

And may I ask, where does “taking care of your child” end? What is healthy limits and what is indulgence? What is creating food issues versus nutrition? What about pollution or this injust world we live in? What is the difference between “keeping your child completely safe” and “give your child roots and wings to fly”?

And fun? don’t even get me started. Fun!? Who has time for fun?! What sort of fun? (I eye the Ferris wheel suspiciously and keep an eye out for bees at the outdoor concerts.) Fun for me is reading. What does God mean “have fun”? How selfish is that, anyway?

I have been living into this message from God everyday since then, sometimes maybe even successfully. Less fear, more love. More time spent together and less teaching. More joy and less perfection.

And I cling to the mercy of grace, that all my failings might be forgiven.

FTGOG

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Midrash for Mark 3:20-35

First family

After explaining to the disciples

And to the crowd

And even the scribes from Jerusalem

That his mother and brother and sisters where those

Who do the will of God

There is no doubt in my mind

that he did go outside the house

And smiled at his family,

Opened his arms wide,

And his littlest brother who was not yet thirteen

Ran into his arms and Jesus

Swung him around

As normal.

 

Which broke the tension, and his sisters

And other brothers scrambled to him.

Jesus had watched over them as a big brother does

Had held the family together after Joseph died

Had shown them love

Every day of their lives.

 

Mary was the last, the children stood aside

and he saw the sorrow in her eyes

He didn’t say anything

There was nothing to say

They both knew where the journey was going

And that it was necessary.

Mary touched his cheek gently and tilted her head

An apology for her fear.

Gently he embraced her

On her head she felt his breath,

Pressed her ear to his chest and heard

The beating of his heart.

Mark 3:20-35 practice and a surprise

Working on Mark 3:20-35 — to get it down by heart — has been a challenge because of the structure of the story and the repetition or almost-repetition of some of the words. But it continues to be fun to study and think about. You might be wondering how to get something memorized?

Well, in short, you just do it. You just get the words in your head. You just tell the story to yourself over and over; I do it in chunks. And I finally have all the chunks basically in my head and am working on being “word perfect” (or if I’m going to vary some of the words intentionally versus by mistake). And I’m not smooth yet. I spent about 20 or 30 minutes one morning at church, where it was less disruptive than home, and just practiced out loud, then checked the bible, then practiced, then checked, and etc. I practice out loud when I’m driving to work or driving home. I practice silently in my head when I’m falling asleep or in the shower. Basically to get the words inside, I swim in the words. I write the words down and look for connections.

The best connections seem to happen by surprise, which is what happened the morning I practiced at church. It was the first time I really had the space to let my voice power out. After all, my family doesn’t need to hear my loud performance voice.

In saying it out loud, I heard it. And this story seems to be: Is this guy Jesus, who has a mother and brothers and sisters, just delusional? Seriously, is he the Son of God or a prophet or … just someone who isn’t in his right mind? Someone who has a demon?

And the structure of the story — remember my post about that? That I didn’t know why Jesus’ family is mentioned, then we’re off sorting out the scribes, and then we are back to his family?

Well, I think it popped into my brain, at least one possible reason or feature of it. Because Jesus, in responding to the scribes, has proven pretty well that he is in control of himself, that he is clever, that he is calm, that he is not being controlled by a demon or by random impulses.

But then his family comes back and the crowd says, hey your Mother and brothers are outside. And verse 33 happens:

“And he said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”

And for a second — how long a second? — there must have been a sudden pause in the minds of the crowd sitting at his feet. Doesn’t this guy know who his mother and brothers are? Has this guy forgotten his family? Is this guy actually not in control of his mind?

Just a second, just for a second, did we all doubt? Did those sitting there doubt him at that moment, maybe even feel the cold breeze of fear?

And how completely beautiful that Jesus brings it home, to our hearts: we are his brothers, sisters, and mother, we who do the “will of God”, we who sit at his feet.

Jesus loves us that much, that we are in the family.

Imagine sitting at his feet, he’s been talking about the scriptures (I think) and then he sorts out those scribes from Jerusalem. Your guy here is on fire. You’ve got people’s knees in your back, and your knees are hitting people, and the air is maybe a bit ripe, even with the door open. You are thirsty and hungry but at the same time you are learning so much, and feeling so much hope: this guy is making God’s love seem real. And then that moment of doubt, of fear, that you’ve been tricked all along? And then he looks you in the eyes — you know it is you he is looking at — and he calls you his sister.

And you have never felt so safe and beloved.

John 10:11-18 and scattered sheep

Today at church was Palm Sunday (the week before Easter) service, which at my church is only readings and liturgy, not a sermon. Plus I was so tired I was a zombie. I was still thinking about how confusing John 10:11-18 is, even if it seems straightforward, and even though the text today was Mark. What suddenly caught my attention was the scattered sheep:

Mark 14:27–

And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.”

Well there you are, remember how confused I was/am about Jesus saying he was a Good Shepherd because he would willingly lay down his life for the sheep, not let them be snatched and scattered as the hired man would? And I couldn’t figure out how dying would in any possible way protect the sheep from being snatched and scattered.

And it doesn’t.

The liturgy today — perhaps because I was zombie-tired — really seemed to unfold in my mind’s eye like a movie, the triumphal entry quickly turning to betrayal and brokenness and the cross. The “wolf” however willing Jesus might be to lay down his life, has come and has indeed snatched and scattered…. and I felt the terror perhaps. Terror if you are Peter or one of the others at being caught by the Romans and also killed. Terror of a world without Jesus in it, that you were only slowly learning to trust and hear and see. Terror of a life now empty and full of regrets.

Perhaps we the church are the “hired man” trying to help the sheep and care for the sheep but of course we cannot do whatever mysterious thing it was that Jesus did on the cross. Most practically we cannot “take up” our life again if we were to lay it down.

Perhaps if you are Peter or the others, afraid on all sides, you might remember Jesus saying he was a Good Shepherd. If it was inescapable for the Shepherd to not be struck, perhaps remembering that Jesus can take his life back up again, perhaps in the time between the cross and the empty tomb and the appearance of Jesus again they had some bit of hope. Or perhaps later — we were goofs, we had forgotten that Jesus was the Good Shepherd. they said, telling the story to others and remembering, remembering it all. We were afraid they would remember and shiver and then smile and break bread and drink wine.

The beginning of John 9:1-41

So here’s the beginning verses:

As he walked along,
he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 

Now on one level it is a very clear thing — in those days the reason someone might be born blind was because of a punishment for sin. Jesus is saying no, that’s not it. And that was considered (I am told) a radical thing to say and believe.

Yet would Jesus’ reason for the man being born blind might really be comforting? God made this man born blind so that eventually he will be healed by Jesus and thus show and serve God’s glory? Isn’t that really mean of God? Isn’t that God using bad for good; isn’t that unfair?

The man born blind makes no complaint. He’s glad to be healed, he’s frustrated at the confusion of his identity post-healing (as you would be), he’s frustrated by being asked over and over how “that man” healed him and who (and where) “that man” is. He ultimately believes “that man”, Jesus, to be the Son of Man (a declaration of being the Messiah) and worships him. You do not worship someone who is only human. The formerly blind man ends up seeing very clearly indeed.

So if he has no complaint about being used by God to reveal the glory of God, perhaps I should not either. It might be patronizing of me. Or it might be me stuck in this endless loop I seem to be in about wanting the world to be fair and nice and just and safe and good and when bad things happen, I don’t blame people*, I blame God.

Here’s what I imagine. Imagine the man’s mother, so young and hopeful and delighted to be okay after giving birth, and delighted to have her baby and delighted he is nursing and thriving. Except unlike other babies, his eyes don’t seem to learn to track. He doesn’t seem to recognize the light when it shines in his face. She holds him to the sun, putting her hand gently over his eyes and moving her hand away, and he laughs because he feels her hand, and the strength of her arm holding him, and the breeze blowing against his face. But his little eyes don’t get upset by the bright shine of the sun. It might take more months before she admits that he can’t see, that he will never see her face, he will never be the son they so longed for, that all he can be (in that place and time) is a beggar, an object of mercy and charity, or in bad circumstances, an object to ridicule and even steal from, take his money right out of his cloak spread on the ground. Imagine the tears she shed, no matter how many other children they had or have, because this child is facing a literally dark future. Imagine Jesus telling her — it was all set up just so I could prove that I am.

Would she be angry at Jesus/God?

Would she be glad to know why this happened to her son, and that it was set up as an honor?

All we end up knowing from the story, is she and her husband are afraid.

Would it help me in suffering, to know that it is for the glory of God? I hope so. I think it might. I pray that I never need to know. I think fear is a pretty honest and appropriate response to seeing the power and healing of God!

 

*Mostly. Sometimes, some things, sure. But not for being born blind, right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interrupted by Poetry

Afterword (a draft)

 

It feels more like Good Friday than Advent

More tenebrae less bells and songs

How can we sing of joy in the midst of hate?

Put your harps away, find the drums

 

Of course life is always thus someone

Somewhere is dying and someone else

Is grieving. One year, our rebirth only came with

Red Wings of a bird in a green fir tree.

 

Those left behind keep saying year after year

Remember our parades our feasts our holy days?

While others know the lynching tree could return,

The night could take back the day, rule of fear over law.

 

It could be worse. Is God helpless to help, bound

By some mysterious force that offers only myrrh?

Turn, see His small face, feel tiny fingers, hear the fragile beat.

Turn, He is nailed up there, bleeding for us.

Back to John the Baptist’s testimony

I’m just delighted to say that I’m still working on John 1:19-28, in prep for December when I’m the layreader and hope to do this in storytelling mode. So one prep for that is to simply say it over and over, playing with the emphasize on words, the speed, the timing. It could be a sort of mechanical thing to just get the words learned by heart; but it can be a surprising thing as meanings and nuances appear from hearing the words and from the repetition of the words. On my recent scary business travel, I even would say it just mentally, so to speak, as I was falling asleep, a sort of prayer.

Here’s one thing that came up: John the Baptist says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness/make straight the way of the Lord”. He’s saying God is directing his actions, his words. His call for repentance/baptism is coming straight from God.

Yet the priests and Levites who are questioning him don’t respond to that part at all. We are told, “Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.” And we already knew a few verses early they came from Jerusalem. They are asking John the Baptist questions based on human authority.

So should they have sat up and paid attention to John’s “irregular” authority? Doesn’t God trump the Pharisees? How human and ancient is the temptation to put God sort of in a box “up there” and think “here and now I need to stay alive, do my job, pay the rent”. The Pharisees were not going to be happy with the results of the testimony so far. So the Priests and the Levites didn’t really listen to the answers they were getting, consider what God might be wanting them to hear, and pressed on for answers that would fit their script, which was “what will make the Pharisees happy with me”.

What will make God happy with us? If they had listened to the message to prepare the way of the Lord, what might they have done? If they had just heard “repent/change/focus on God” as the message, in the midst of the clean desert air, the cool water, the big sky away from Jerusalem, could they have let go of their fear of not pleasing the boss? Do we live from fear more than live to make God happy with us? What sort of images did that last sentence bring you — doing good deeds, helping the helpless, working hard at what you love to work hard at, being mindful of beauty all around us, creating beauty, caring for our neighbor…. and so on? Or did you think “make God happy” would be the same as living in fear of making a mistake?

Because myself, I’m not sure … fear seems so incredibly embedded in my life. I’m going to take baby steps away from fear and hope I don’t backslide!