Saturday, January 07, 2017

Choosing Hope

Bill and Jody were a parishioner couple in the first church I served as a Rector. Bill was perpetually grumpy in a charming kind of way and Jody was consistently cheerful. They had been married a long time, raised four kids. Jody was the chair of the altar guild so she and I spent a lot of time together, not just preparing for worship, but outside of church as well. I knew her kids and her grandkids. Bill was diagnosed with lung cancer but it was slow progressing and he was managing okay. So it came as quite a shock when I got a call one day that Jody had suffered an aneurism and was in the ICU. I rushed to the hospital and learned that she was on life support and the doctors were certain that she was brain dead. Bill was devastated. Over the next week their children and grandchildren came in to town. One granddaughter had to be flown in from Iraq and a grandson had to come from Afghanistan, but thankfully the military gave them both leaves to come home. We gathered more than once around Jody’s bed and prayed. I baptized a grand baby in Jody’s hospital room so she could be “present” for that baptism. We planned her funeral and prayerfully prepared to take her off life support. 

The oddest experience of that week however was a dream I had the night after Jody’s aneurism. In that dream my phone rang and when I answered it Jody was on the other end. I still remember how clear her voice was, how absolutely Jody like it was in its inflection and in her laughter. She said to me, “Pastor Terri, I just wanted to let you know that I am okay. I’m fine.” 

I relayed this dream to Bill and to her family. None of us interpreted that dream to mean that she was going to revive and live. We all knew that the dream meant that wherever Jody was, she was fine. And, that in true Jody form she wanted all of us to know that she was fine and for us to be comforted by her once again.

Consciousness is an interesting concept, informing how we perceive the world around us and how we behave as a result. Dr. Robert Lanza, a stem-cell researcher, has created a theory called biocentrism. One aspect of the theory states that consciousness does not die when the physical body dies. Consciousness exists before the body and continues to exist after the body dies. Consciousness is an integral part of the universe, existed before there was a universe, and may be the means by which the universe was created and holds together. Some people use this theory to explain the existence of God.

Certainly Genesis, Isaiah, and the Prologue to the Gospel of John all speak of a consciousness that existed before creation.  Genesis describes it as God meets the formless void and through God’s imagination God structures the void into order:  night and day, animals and humans. Isaiah calls this consciousness  “the servant.”  In Isaiah the servant of God is a concept of justice that God reveals to humankind as our “calling.” Being a servant means being one who enables God’s justice to manifest in time and place. In the prologue to the Gospel of John this consciousness is called “the Word.” In the incarnation the Word has taken on human flesh, Emmanuel, Jesus, and now the Word lives in each of us.

In our reading this morning from the Gospel of Matthew we hear that in John’s time baptism was for forgiveness of sin. With Jesus’s baptism, God is doing a new thing. Jesus, the Word of God made flesh is called “beloved.” Through the Word Incarnate, through the word in human flesh, God is transforming all creation through love and grace using human beings to be the agents of transformation.  Experiences and opportunities that transform us are always a matter of perception and how we allow them shape our conscious understanding of ourselves and the world. 

So, in this Season after the Epiphany, in an era when fear is being thrust about as if it should be the dominant state of being, I can choose to be otherwise. I can choose how to center my being and where to focus my conscious state of mind. I can focus on trusting in the ongoing action of God’s living Word, expressing itself in and through people who are willing to speak about a reality that is motivated by love. I can engage with people who will challenge fear by witnessing to hope.  I can choose to be creative instead of stuck. I can choose to be playful instead of staid. I can choose that which is generative instead of that which is deadening. I can choose to believe in mystery.

Did Jody really speak to me in that dream? Did her conscious state of being reach into my unconscious state with the intention of assuring me and her family that she was okay? I choose to understand the dream this way, that Jody was literally speaking to me. Which opens up for me a reality that exists in dimensions beyond what I can literally see or feel or even fully understand, a mystery in grace and love.

If there’s any truth to the biocentrist theory and any substance to our faith and belief in God, then it may mean that we have more influence on our lives and the future of the world than we think we do. It means that how we choose to see the world can literally influence how the world is.

It means that if one prays for peace, for grace, for God’s justice, then those prayers will influence the world and move creation a little closer to that reality. There is the potential that the actions of just one person can impact the lives of many others. Just one person, the servant in our reading from Isaiah, Jesus in our Gospel reading, you or me, just one person becoming the living Word of God can shift the universe and everything can change. That idea centers me, anchors my anxiety, leaves me hopeful. Because the transformational work of God, begun before time, continues to speak into our world, calling human beings to rise up in love, tending to the broken places, loving one's neighbor, and building the beloved community. Choosing hope means feeding people in mind, body, and spirit; it's transformative, relieving the world of its hunger and filling it with love. 

a reflection on the readings for the Baptism of Jesus, Epiphany 1: Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17

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