“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Wisdom of Wilderness

A reflection on the readings for Lent 1B - Mark 1:9-13 (14-15)

  In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

One of the great preachers of our time is Dr. Fred Craddock. Craddock tells a story about vacationing with his wife one summer in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One night they found a quiet little restaurant, where they looked forward to a private meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. Before long the man did come over to their table.

  "Where you folks from?" he asked in a friendly voice.

"Oklahoma," Craddock answered.

"Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there," the stranger said. "What do you do for a living?"

"I teach homiletics….," Craddock replied.

"Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a story to tell you." And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife.

"I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born, so I had a pretty hard time. When I started to school, my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and lunch time because the things they said to me cut me so deep. What was worse was going to town on Saturday afternoons and feeling like every eye was burning a hole through me, wondering just who my father was.

"When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the closing prayer so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in the church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me. ‘Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?’ he asked. I felt this big weight coming down on me….Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. ‘Wait a minute!’ he said. ‘I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.’ …‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.’

The old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, "Those were the most important words anybody ever said to me, and I’ve never forgotten them." With that, he smiled shook hands with Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends.

As it turns out, Ben Hooper, was a former governor of Tennessee, a man who did indeed go out claim his inheritance as a child of God.

Ash Wed. invited us to observe a holy Lent. Observing a holy Lent is an invitation for us to explore who we are and whose we are by doing something different. It doesn’t mean we have to literally go into the wilderness as Jesus did in our Gospel reading this morning. But Jesus’ wilderness experience reminds us there is wisdom in knowing when to turn toward a place, a person or a practice that can help us move through the challenges of life, move more deeply into understanding God, Jesus, and our faith. (idea from Jan Richardson, A Painted Prayerbook)

The Ash Wed. Services reminded us that we are to observe a holy Lent by doing the following:
Self-examination
Repentance
Prayer
Fasting and self-denial
Reading and meditating on God’s holy word.

Self-examination means that we pay attention to our lives. That we become mindful of our actions and words, and more intentional in acts of love and compassion as a means to grow deeper in our relationship with God.

Repentance: Repentance literally means turning away from anything that keeps us from God. Repentance comes from being mindful of how we have tended to our relationship with God, how we have cared for others, and how we have treated our-selves.

Sin: Essentially sin is broken relationship in all its forms – broken with our family and friends, broken with our neighbors, broken with strangers…broken because we stop caring. Sin is also broken relationship with ourselves – the ways we berate ourselves and tell ourselves we are not worthy of God’s love, even when God tells us over and over that we are truly worthy.

Prayer: Our prayer does not need to be perfect, nor poetic, nor grand. Prayer is simple. We offer ourselves to God - in words or in silence– like sitting with a friend. Often times it is enough that we just sit down for a few minutes and say, “God, here I am.” And then be silent.

Fasting and self-denial – these speak to a process by which we empty ourselves of the stuff of life and open ourselves to God. Fasting may be from food or drink – but it also may be from simply being too busy. Imagine your Lenten discipline being a fast from busyness.

Reading and meditating on God’s holy word: Our scriptures offer us a wide range of human experiences with God. And from the stories and experiences of the people in our scripture we learn that we are members of a community of people who struggled with their faith. And yet, these are a people who have been loved by God for being who they are - who we are.

But it’s not just about what we are doing; it is also about what God is doing. Observing a holy Lent is about enabling ways to invite God into our lives anew. God draw us into a place where we don’t know everything, don’t have to know everything. And thereby we become free to receive the word, the wisdom, the clarity about who we are and what God is calling us to do.

Our worship space is one way we are connecting ourselves, our worship, to the season of Lent. Our space reflects this symbolically in the use of dried branches, pussy willow, and dried sunflowers– all signs of the middle of winter, seemingly lifeless and barren, the wilderness, acknowledging that sometimes life feels this way too.

 The color purple – a color of royalty reminds us that the love of God, “God’s kingdom,” is made manifest in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The rocks in our worship space and in the baptismal font symbolize the ruggedness of our journey, the challenges of our faith. The water that symbolically flows from these rocks reminds us that God pours God’s self out for us.

This living water represents the love of God which flows forth at all times. And for Christians it is the living water that gives us new life in Christ and names us as God’s. Baptism is the beginning of the relationship.

Lent is an invitation to be mindful of the relationships we have with God, with others, and with ourselves, and become more intentional in the way we love. Lent invites us to turn our hearts and minds to God in a new way in order that we can more fully understand who we are and whose we are: created by God, loved by God, made good to do good.

It is a paradox that in the wilderness we find our true home. For it may be that in the wilderness of a Lenten journey we become more mindful of what we are doing and saying, striving for greater compassion in all ways. May we take time each day to pray, silently or with words. May we fast from that which keeps us from God. May we ponder God’s living word. May God’s love flow like water in and through our the wilderness of our lives.