2-27-15 - Emptying

You pretty much have to embrace paradox if you’re going to be a Christian. Ironically, our more fundamentalist brethren seem to have great difficulty with paradox and nuance, and so twist themselves and the Word of God into pretzels trying to unify it in a linear, rational way. It won’t work. Just ask Nicodemus, whom Jesus told the Kingdom of God was knowable by spirit, not intellect alone. The very effort to understand circles as squares, I submit, takes us further and further away from the Truth, whom we know as Jesus, the master of the paradox.

Here he is again, telling his followers about the cost of being his disciple. They must be prepared to deny themselves, take up their cross – a metaphor for complete helplessness, though in Jesus’ case, much more than a metaphor – and follow him. There’s no room in the suitcase for self-preservation:
“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

How we interpret this hinges on our definition of “life.” If it’s just about whether or not we’re breathing, this makes little sense. What person in their right mind would want to lose their physical life before it’s time? If by “life,” however, Jesus means the rich web of interaction and consciousness we call existence, then we might see how a willingness to let go of “the whole world” could make us more receptive to the Life of God, a life beyond what we can make for ourselves.

It is a matter of emptying ourselves and allowing ourselves to filled with God’s power, God’s love, God’s purpose. And I don’t know about you – I’m not crazy about empty. I do a lot of filling… my time, my inbox, my conscious attention, just to avoid confronting the emptiness inside. And yet that emptiness is where God can show up most powerfully, if we will allow the space to develop and not rush to fill it.

What does it mean to you to “gain the whole world?” Another way of asking that is, what are you the most afraid of losing, of getting taken away from you? That’s the place to start in prayer, asking the Spirit to show us why we’re so attached to that thing or person or status. Ask God to help loosen our grip, to feel the feelings that come up when we think about emptying ourselves of that. Ask Jesus what it looks like to “lose your life” in this world – and to gain the life that truly is Life.

A fetus suddenly filling an empty womb. The inexplicable absence of a corpse filling an empty tomb. From birth to death and beyond, Jesus’ life was one of God showing up in emptiness. "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are." (I Cor 1:27-29)

Can we give up our lives – all the “stuff” that we fill our minds and bodies with, and see what God might do with our emptiness if we offer God the space?

2-26-15 - Deny Yourself?

Sometimes I wish Christianity could loosen its association with self-denial. That emphasis misses so much of the Good News – the life-affirming, “and God saw that it was good!,” “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” “God is love,” “The Kingdom is now!” elements of the faith we proclaim. Many modern Christians just focus on all that good stuff, and pretty much ignore the sin and redemption, cross and glory parts of the story.

If we’re going to be faithful to what Jesus taught and lived, though, we can’t just pull out this thread and hope to retain a coherent picture in our tapestry. This thread is woven into everything, the wholeness of what we proclaim Jesus did for us. Certainly, he said it often enough:

“He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.'"

Maybe it would help if we clarified what is meant by “deny yourself.” For many people, this phrase connotes ascetism, doing away with comfort and frivolity and things that feel good. It’s hair shirts and pinched faces, dull clothing and hard work on behalf of others. It’s all vegetables and no chocolate. To quote a line from one of my favorite movies, Cold Comfort Farm, said in a sermon given to a sect of “quiverers, “There’ll be no butter in hell!” (And look at that! I googled that phrase and as soon as I got to “butter," got a link to the scene of Ian McKellan’s masterful performance.)

What if rather than that focus on behavior and consumption, we defined self-denial as cultivating an orientation toward others and toward God? Denying self means laying aside our own prerogatives, our gratification, our convenience, our ego strokes, and giving our selves away to help others grow in faith. Of course, the phrase, “Giving our selves away” could seem to promote doormat-ship , a somewhat masochistic willingness to do for others, until there’s nothing left of us. Certainly we’ve all known people like that – or been people like that.

But try this on for size: What if the “self” that Jesus suggests we lose is the one that is passing away in the first place, the natural human self before it becomes joined with the Spirit of the Living God? That self was never going to be robust enough to move us through life and into eternity. When we give our “selves” away for the Gospel, in the power and love of Christ, we become more fully our truest selves. Whatever we need of what we lay down will come back to us in a form we can use, as we allow ourselves to become transformed by the Spirit of God.

Is that risky? Sure. Jesus demonstrated just how risky, as he was called to lay down his life in this world all the way to death. That will not be the call for most of us. But anytime we give up something, a voice inside – and often outside – say, “You’re going to need that! Don’t give it up.” It takes faith and trust to put aside our own agendas and live a path that seeks to bring life to others, that seeks to allow God’s life to take up ever more space in us.

In what ways do you feel called to put aside your self, your prerogatives or agenda? Think of times you’ve done so successfully. Did you feel like a chump, or did you feel God’s pleasure as you saw someone else thrive? What is your response to Jesus today when he says to deny yourself?

I believe we will experience that, far from a pinched and parched ascetism, denying ourselves is the most joyful thing we ever do.

2-25-15 - Thinking Like God

Tiffs between friends don’t usually escalate this quickly. This exchange between Jesus and Peter went from 0 to 90 in two seconds flat. Jesus told his followers that he would undergo great suffering, rejection by the temple leadership – and then be killed: “And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”

Peter may have been out of line, but his heart was in the right place. Did Jesus really need to be tossing around the S word like that?

I guess we should assume Jesus was calling it as he saw it. Maybe he recognized too acutely the temptation in what Peter said, the temptation to look at his mission in human terms, in which self-preservation and security have the highest value. “Yeah. Who says I have to do it that way? Maybe I can do my father’s will by making more friends and fewer enemies…”

But he recognized it for the temptation it was, and knew full well where temptation comes from: the Evil One. So he called Peter, his closest human companion, “Satan.” And then he explained why he said that: “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’”

It’s not so easy, this following Christ business. For one of the things Jesus taught again and again was that there is conflict between the values of this world, and the values of God’s realm. When we let what we see, feel, hear, taste, and smell determine what is real, we miss a huge dimension of reality, one that cannot be perceived with those senses but with the spirit. Our spiritual work is honing these other senses, to become more attuned to where God is around us, and where we are being called to participate in restoring, reclaiming and renewing the whole universe.

That means we are invited to learn to think like God instead of in our natural human way. Think we can do that? What does it mean? Obviously, the mind of God is much too vast for us to comprehend – and perhaps too simple. So we have to use our imaginations and the revelation we have received – imperfectly, in Scripture, and perfectly in Jesus, whom we have to use our imaginations to understand. Oh dear!

It’s not as simple as “What would Jesus do?” or “What would Jesus think,” but that’s a start. I think we come at it by asking God to show us God’s view of a situation or a person or a part of ourselves. If we start doing that in prayer, “God, please show me what you see when you look at this,” I think we’ll be surprised at the responses we detect. We will probably find that God’s way of thinking is much more compassionate than ours, and at the same time perhaps less lenient than we might tend to be. We will no doubt discover that God is much less interested than we are in making sure people “feel good,” and more invested in loving them, which means desiring their spiritual growth.

I can’t tell anyone how to do it – all I can do is join you in asking the question that way and letting the Spirit gradually change my perspective. And I can invite Jesus to be more and more present in my life, in my thinking, in my interactions. As I allow his life to transform my life, I will find myself thinking more like God. You too!

2-24-15 - Say It Ain't So!

For everyone who walks the Christian path, there comes a time when we get disappointed or angry, maybe even say to God, or someone we associate with God, like a clergyperson, “Hey, this is not what I signed on for.” It can happen when someone we love dies, or a relationship breaks up, or trust is broken, or we become ill or vulnerable in some way. Sometimes we even take a hike away from everything we connect with God. Those hikes can last days or decades.

For Peter that point came when he heard Jesus say what would happen to him in the days to come:
“Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

“This will never happen to you!” Peter says. “How could it? You’re the most powerful person we’ve ever seen. I’ve just acknowledged that I believe you are the Son of God, the Messiah himself! How is it the Son of God could be killed?”

Though insubordinate, Peter’s rebuke is incredibly faithful; the disappointment we can feel when it seems God has let us down is a measure of our faith. If we didn’t believe in God’s power and love, we wouldn’t be disappointed, right? But these letdowns also present an invitation to grow in our faith, to separate out the promises we think God made from the ones God really has made. My friend Peter calls these the “contracts” we think we have with God – such as, “I will serve you, and nobody I love will get hurt.” Only sometimes we find out God never signed those contracts.

So what promises can we count on in this life? I count at least three P’s - Peace, Presence, Power.

Peace: My peace I leave you, my peace I give you,” Jesus said to his followers. Paul reminds us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God, and the peace of Christ, which defies understanding, will guard your mind and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.” (That's from memory, but it’s pretty close.) God never promised to change our circumstances but gives us peace within them…and sometimes that’s enough to change them.

Presence:Lo, I am with you always,” Jesus said before ascending into heaven. “Even unto the end of the ages.Hebrews quotes him as saying, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” That’s a promise we can live on, as his presence is not only with us but in us through his Holy Spirit, that living water that wells up within us to eternal life.

Power: I have given you authority to… overcome all the power of the enemy,Jesus said as he sent out 72 followers to proclaim the Good News and heal the sick. Paul reminded the Corinthians that, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Human wisdom and human strength and human vision will only get us so far. We have been given the gift of divine wisdom, divine strength, the eyes of God to see what to the world looks like it doesn’t exist. We live already that eternal Life that transcends life. As we learn to rely more and more on these promises of God, we will find disappointment transformed to hope we did not dream possible.

2-23-15 - This is Good News?

Many Christians I know have a funny relationship with the Good News. We'll use the term, but many would confess, if pressed, that we find the “news” about Jesus Christ being the risen Son of God neither all that new (come on, 2,000 years?), or all that “good” in the “Wow! Yippee!” kind of way that we associate with the term “good news.” God’s promise of eternal life is one we hope not to collect on any time soon; God’s promise of forgiveness is great, on days we’re willing to acknowledge how much we need it. But if we’ve been in the church awhile, we know too much.

We know that being followers of Christ does not necessarily translate into an easier life. We know it’s no picnic – at least not the kind of picnic we’d choose; more like the picnic described in Psalm 23 – “You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies.” Gee, thanks, God! I'll take ants.

Jesus’ original band of followers discovered just how mixed this “Good News” was to be when Jesus started talking about what was going to happen to him. He did not mince words: “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly." (Sunday's gospel is here.)

We’ll look tomorrow at how this message went over with Peter – spoiler alert! not so well. I doubt the others liked it much better. After all, they have given up a lot to follow Jesus – homes, jobs, reputations. And up until now it’s been one healing and brilliant teaching and miracle after another. Why would Jesus predict such dire things events everything is going so well?

The disciples were being asked to adjust their vision of what God was up to, as we are. We live on this side of the events Jesus predicted, so far beyond them that we have to re-enact them each year. We don’t have to wrestle with the fear and protectiveness the disciples did – Jesus is not gong to die again. But we do continually have to adjust our vision of what God is up to, and what the Good News means.

As with many things, it can be easier to grasp if we look at what it does not mean. It does not mean success, financial or numerical or any other kind we crave as human beings. We might be blessed with success in many areas of life, but let’s not confuse that with the Gospel. Even harder for many to accept, the "Good News" does not mean security or safety, for us or for our loved ones. It does not mean serenity and never-ending joy and love, at least not in this life.

It does mean what it meant from the beginning: Emmanuel, God With Us. In all circumstances. It does mean New Life – resurrection, that what we think are endings are never the final ending because God always has the last word, and God’s Word is Life. God’s Word is Jesus the Christ.

It does mean that all those things we cannot change can be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, as we invite the Spirit in. She seems to wait for our invitation – but boy, when we invoke the power of God, things become redeemed, transformed, made new in ways we can not imagine.

In what ways has the “Good News” seemed less than good to you? Where would you like to see some transforming power at work, in the world and in your life? Invite the Spirit of God into that situation. Envision changed lives.

Even picnics with our enemies are pretty good news, if it means we are now friends. That’s the Good News in action.

2-20-15 - Now is the Time

My message at the Ash Wednesday service this year was, “Do it. Now. Pray, repent, engage in ministry, experience God’s life. This life is much richer when we put our spiritual lives first. Not always easier, but much more centered and rich with meaning.”

And here we come to the end of this week’s passage, and I see that’s pretty much what Jesus saying. (What, did I think I made it up?) “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’ “

That one sentence contains everything we need to focus on during Lent – and the rest of our lives as Christ-followers. We are to proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near. We are to live in the Already – the time is fulfilled! We are to repent of the ways we fail to live in the fullness of that message, and we are to believe in the Good News. Proclaim it, live it, repent, and believe it.

I said the other day that Ash Wednesday is kind of a threshold to lead us into Lent. Lent too is a kind of threshold time, an antechamber if you will, to lead us into the greater mystery and promise of Easter life. And this life we inhabit in this world, embodied, governed by time and the laws of nature – this life is also a threshold time, a foyer, an antechamber – to lead us into the Life we will enjoy for eternity with God. That’s the Good News we have to proclaim – that that Life begins here and now, in this life, as we open ourselves to it.

Why advocate a practice of repentance? Because big parts of us are not on board with entering that Life God invites us into. We fear too much will be asked of us, it's too hard to pin down, we can't see it. But we don't repent to feel bad about ourselves. Repentance is about inviting our whole selves to join into the movement toward God.

And why stress believing? Because we’re more convincing when we talk about things we believe in. There is always room in belief for questions and doubts – but we don't have to give them a lot of space or make up a bed for them.

No one can get another person to put God first. All we can do is call out from our own place on the path, “Hey, the view’s pretty good over here. Come walk with me a ways.” That’s why clergy always want their congregants to participate in everything, all the time – not to make us feel good, but because we’ve found satisfaction in shifting our center God-ward and we want that for everyone.

Lent is a time to walk intentionally so that we might find our center shifting… and then we’ll want to stay on that path all the way to its End.

Note: At Christ the Healer this Lent we are focusing on experiencing God in different ways, and exploring spiritual practices that might help us make more space for God. I've created "Pilgrims Journals" for everyone with different exercises each week. I'm also doing an online version - if you want to join in, here's the first installment, with some questions for preparation. On Sunday I'll post a link to next week's exercise. This is a google form, which means I would see your responses. To make it private, I think you can open this link and copy the form, creating a new doc that would be your own. I think....! Try it...

2-19-15 - Wild Beasts and Angels

After the Ash Wednesday diversion, we return to our gospel passage for Sunday, especially the two sentences about Jesus’ forty days of testing in the wilderness. Mark may be short on information about the actual temptations Jesus faced, but he does include an odd detail: “He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

Were I an artist, I would paint a beautiful wolf and a chipmunk and maybe an owl hanging out with Jesus, with angels hovering around carrying trays. This line carries echoes of stories about the prophet Elijah, who at one point during his time on the lam from the wicked Queen Jezebel, was fed by angels, and another incidence when he was fed by ravens. Is Mark drawing the parallel to Jesus as the new Elijah?

Wild beasts and angels: two kinds of creatures over which human beings have no control. Was that part of Jesus’ trial? To have to rely on help he couldn’t control, to get him used to his ministry, in which he had to depend on others for basic sustenance? Or are wild beasts and angels two kinds of creatures over which ordinary humans have no control, but who both recognized Jesus’ authority and helped him out? Mark doesn’t tell us. Mark doesn’t even tell us that Jesus fasted for the forty days – Matthew and Luke throw that in. Maybe Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness was not so much about withstanding deprivation as boot camp for the spirit.

Today we properly dwell in the season of Lent – we’ve left the threshold day of Ash Wednesday and make our first foray into whatever wilderness we might find ourselves led. Let’s keep our eyes out for “wild beasts” – companions who might at first seem scary, but might have gifts for us. These “wild beasts” may be other people, ambitious callings, wrestlings with failure. They may even come from inside us, what Jungians would call the “our shadow,” parts of us, even buried or wounded parts, that are calling us to look, notice, welcome, re-integrate. Making changes in our daily life, allowing more silence or space, can invite these parts of us out of hiding. If we can bear with the discomfort their presence elicits, we might be able to receive their gifts and experience some healing.

And let’s stay tuned to the presence of angels bearing the gifts we need to most fully benefit from this Lenten sojourn. We do not do this work of growing in God alone.

Some American Indian traditions teach that whenever we encounter a wild creature, it has a message for us. I pray we experience some wildness this Lent, within and without, and just enough angelic waiters, as we wait upon the Spirit.

2-18-15 - Dust and Ashes

Welcome to Ash Wednesday – one of the weirder holy days in the world. What kind of religion asks people to wear a smudge of ash on their forehead as a reminder of their mortality? Who cherishes a reminder of insignificance, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return?” Maybe this is not so strange in a faith that ritualizes in worship eating the flesh and drinking the blood of its founder/God…

Some of our practices on Ash Wednesday are rooted in medieval piety. There’s more than a little of the hair shirt in our Ash Wednesday liturgy – we read the penitential psalm 51, which petitions God, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.” We engage in a long litany of confession with no provision for the priest to confer absolution. We remind each other that we are no more permanent than dust – even as we glory in the promise of eternal life.

Why should we “do” Ash Wednesday? Why am I going to get up at 5 to stand at the train station offering commuters the briefest brush with the ashes and the dust? Partly because it’s good to mark our passing over the threshold into the season of Lent. Lent can be ordinary – or we can allow it to become special, consecrated, set apart, holy, a time to remember that at our best, our lives revolve around the God who made the universe, not around ourselves or even those whom we love. Really engaging in the rituals and prayers of Ash Wednesday helps us move into this holy season.

And it’s never a bad thing to be reminded of how temporal our lives are, how little impact we really make, so that we might stop defining success by how much of an impact we make. To hold together these two great truths: that God is all, and next to God we are barely discernible AND this same God has deemed us so precious and beloved that he sacrificed what was most precious to redeem us… that takes more than a day to reconcile. It takes more than a season, and possibly longer than a human life span. That is our Lenten work, always.

The beautiful hymn, “Come down, O Love divine,” keeps floating through my mind – in particular these words:
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear, and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
O let it freely burn, till earthly passions turn to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
and let thy glorious light shine ever on my sight, and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

As we seek to allow the fire of God to burn away everything in us that is passing away, to embrace the ashes and the dust, let’s remember that we do this work in the glorious light of the One who showed us what it means to truly empty oneself. Lent is a season of sober reflection, not of stumbling in the dark. He will illumine our path.

2-17-15 - Forty Days of Testing

“Tempted” is a loaded word, and for us can have associations beyond what it may have meant for Biblical translators. When we read that Jesus was “in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan,” we may imagine him out there with the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (which arrived in many households just in time for Lent…) or an all-you-can eat buffet. Since Mark, unlike Luke and Matthew, includes no details about the nature of these temptations, our imaginations have free rein.

The other Gospels explain that Jesus was being tempted not so much to garden variety sin as to misuse his divine nature or relinquish it in a grand bargain with Satan, temptations more cosmic than venial. Perhaps a more useful word for what happened to Jesus in that wilderness is that he was tested. His faith in the unseen power he had received was tested. His trust in the guidance of his heavenly Father was tested. His commitment to the mission for which he had come into human life in the first place was tested.

As I write that sentence, thinking very much of Jesus in his humanity, I am struck by how bewildering all the experiences related in the gospels must have been for him. Many of us have a sense of mission. But how does a human hold the mission we believe Jesus had – a mission we see perhaps more clearly in hindsight than he might have on any given day – and not be wracked 
daily by questions and doubts?

Perhaps this is why the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, to have his assurance in his identity tested and tried until he could withstand those doubts, whether they came from within or from others. Jesus could not have exercised the ministry we read about in the gospels were he not able to return time and again to his solid center, his sure knowledge of his Father’s love and power flowing through him. Indeed, faith in Jesus could not have spread so far and endured for so long, I don’t think, had he not been able to maintain that center to the grave and beyond.

What if we were to look at Lent as a forty-day period of testing rather than temptation? Do we really need to know we can resist chocolate or wine, or that we can sustain a spiritual discipline for six weeks? Wouldn’t we be better off, more joyful followers, more effective apostles if we knew our faith and sense of mission to be bearers of Christ could withstand the arrows of scheduling, convenience, complacency, embarrassment, priorities and their like?

We don’t have to go to the wilderness looking for testing. Life hands it to us – every time we are tempted to allow an item on our to-do list to trump the time we had planned to spend in quiet prayer (guilty!), every time a friend or family member tries to talk us out of investing in our spiritual life, every time we are tempted to look at an area of pain or disease and agree with the world that God has no power there… those are just a few of the tests that come our way.

How has your faith or your commitment to God in Christ been tested lately? Are you pleased with the way you responded? How might you respond differently? We may need to become more aware of the tests themselves, and then how to resist.

One thing we can always do is call on the power of Jesus to help us and re-center us. After all, we claim he was “tempted in every way as we are, yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) That means he did not give in to other demands or to what the devil told him was “reality.” With his Spirit in us, we can withstand those darts too.

2-16-15 - Highs and Lows

Thirty years living at home, presumably apprenticed to his father’s carpentry trade, settled into the rhythms of small town life – work, meals, rest, punctuated by weddings and funerals and festivals… we know nothing about the longest part of Jesus’ earthly life. I tend to think it was uneventful, the imaginative exertions of some novelists notwithstanding. And then, suddenly, he is activated, like a member of some sleeper cell who gets the cue to commence his mission. After that, did he ever know an “ordinary” day again? Certainly the beginning of his ministry is marked by the highest possible honor, affirmed by God himself, followed by forty days of trial:

“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.” (Here is this week's passage...)

Immediately. No resting in the spiritual high of the anointing, the voice from heaven, the assurance of belovedness to fill his spirit before he embarked on a process of emptying himself. No, immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness. This Holy Spirit had no sooner anointed him than it drove him away from everything that sustains a human being, to be tested in a setting of deprivation and danger.

Sometimes it’s like that for us, too. A time of felt spiritual connection may last days, weeks, even months – and then it seems like the line went dead, or we’re going through motions and rituals that used to bring us closer to God but now leave us empty. The literature of Christian saints and mystics tells that story over and over – “What happened, God? You were right here, and now it seems you’ve gone away.” Among the most eloquent was St. Theresa of Avila, writing about the loss of what she called the “consolations” God gave her. In our own day, we have the testimony of another Teresa, of Calcutta, who wrote that she experienced the absence of God much more than moments of connection.

When we are enjoying a time of spiritual engagement, we should bask in it and allow God to fill us, the way animals squirrel away food for times of hunger. In our connected times, we don’t need to think about the wilderness. But when we find ourselves in more desolate spaces, let’s remember this is also part of the deal. It’s not an aberration, only another way in which we can open ourselves to receive more of God’s life.

We are about to embark upon a six-week season in which we intentionally try to put ourselves into the wilderness. Some years that matches where we are spiritually and other years it doesn’t. That’s why I’m more keen on taking on spiritual practices than giving up comforts during Lent. How are you feeling about your relationship with God going into Lent? Are you already in a "dry" place, or feeling the flow of Spirit? Are there practices you might take on to grow toward God?

Whatever you choose to do this Lent, which begins Wednesday, remember that Jesus in the wilderness was still “my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Wherever you find yourself in the spirit, know that your belovedness has not gone away; perhaps God has just allowed some other space to open up in you, to increase your capacity for love.

2-13-15 - Tell No One

What an amazing series of events Peter, James and John experienced on that mountain. They must have been bursting to tell what they’d seen and heard. But Jesus had other plans: “As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”

Maybe he did them a favor - what would that story have sounded like, anyway? A very, very weird dream?

“Well, all of a sudden Jesus face completely changed, and then his clothes became a blinding white, like the whitest white you ever saw…"
"And then all of a sudden he wasn’t alone. Two men were with him – and we realized it was Moses and Elijah!”
“How did you know it was Moses and Elijah,” their listeners might ask.
“Well, you know, we just knew… Moses had that staff, and Elijah that cloak…. I don’t know. It was obvious.”
“And then Peter wanted to build three little huts so that Jesus and Moses and Elijah could just stay up there—”
“Oh, but all of a sudden we were in the middle of a huge cloud; couldn’t see anything!”
“But we heard a voice, a booming voice… ‘’
“God’s voice—”
“Saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved! Listen to him.”
“And then it was all gone – everything was back to normal. Just us and Jesus. Like it never happened.”

Yeah. Right. And what were you smoking up there?

Perhaps more perplexing to them was Jesus’ strange reference to the Son of Man “risen from the dead.” Mark tells us, “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.”

Did they think it some figure of speech, a metaphor, perhaps? How could one conceive of someone rising from the dead – until it happened? That event itself was hard enough to accept. Perhaps this surreal experience, accompanied by Jesus’ prediction, prepared them to comprehend that incomprehensible. And once they received the Holy Spirit, they no longer “kept the matter to themselves.” They couldn’t shut up about Jesus and his resurrection.

How about us? This isn’t a bad description of many 21st century church-goers – “…they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.”

Those who have trouble “buying” Jesus’ resurrection are more apt to “keep the matter to themselves.” There is always room for questions and even doubts – AND at some point, we need to decide that we accept this spiritual reality we claim as foundational truth for Christians. Our questions can persist beyond that point, but so can our being released into ministry and faith-sharing.

Our whole Christian story can sound far-fetched on first hearing. That’s why it needs to come from each of us in our own words, as we talk about how our stories have intersected and been enriched by The Story. I pray we will feel settled enough about who Jesus is, and his resurrection from the dead, to stop keeping it to ourselves and let a thirsty world hear our Good News.

2-12-15 - The Urge to Stay

Last year I attended an eight-day retreat for clergy. Oh, there was some work to do, but it was self-nurturing work – reflection on who I was and who I wanted to be, how I could best serve God and God’s people. There was wonderful and abundant food, interesting people, beautiful surroundings – and enough prayer and worship that I was able to connect with Jesus in prayer in a way that I hadn’t done for a long time. By about mid-week I was wondering why I ever had to leave this place, ever had to go back to my day-to-day life and to-do list. Only when I was actually at the airport did my thoughts begin to turn back toward home. When we are in a sweet spot, the urge to remain there can be powerful.

Maybe Peter was having one of those moments, blown away by the spiritual revelations coming one after another on that mountain top. He had proof he’d backed the right horse. He was experiencing holiness and the holiest men he knew of. Why not try to fix it all in time and space, right here, right now? Or was he just babbling out of fright, as Mark suggests?

“Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.”

We often associate encounters with holiness with heights. We talk about “spiritual highs” and “mountain-top experiences.” Often these encounters come when we’ve stepped out of our quotidian patterns and gotten away geographically or temporally, on retreat or in an unstructured Sabbath day. Just as people in the throes of “in-love-ness” can’t conceive of their relationship ever becoming dull or predictable, It can be hard to believe, in a time of spiritual connection, that life will ever go back to normal, that our prayer life might become ho-hum.

It doesn’t have to become “normal” or “ordinary” – but it’s never going to stay at the same pitch all the time, for God is always on the move, leading us forward. God is rarely in the last place we caught a glimpse. God can be found around the next corner, down the next road, in the next person we meet. In this life of faith we are invited to live in a delicate balance – present and aware to the fullness of joy around us in this moment, and always open to where the Spirit is leading us next.

When was the last time you experienced an intense time of connection with God? What were the circumstances? How long did you feel connected? If it was less time than you’d like, you might ask the Spirit to help you stick around longer next time. Can you repeat some of the circumstances so that you might feel that connection again – not in an identical way, but as God leads?

If you can’t remember a time when you felt close to God in some way, you might ask if you’re holding yourself back, or if you feel God stays apart from you. Why do you suppose there is this distance? Lack of trust? Disappointment? Unwillingness to put our weight in the unseen realm?

We know we’re growing spiritually when we are able to exult in those times when we feel the Spirit so close – and look forward to the next adventure God has for us. It may not be on a mountaintop, and it may not feel exhilarating – but if the Spirit of God is there, it’s real and true and will move us deeper into Love.

2-11-15 - The Company We Keep

How much more likely are you to respond to an email or phone call if it’s prefaced with, “Our mutual friend So-and-So suggested I get in touch with you…?” Knowing someone is connected to someone we know goes a long way to reducing suspicion and increasing our openness to new people.

So it’s significant that the next event in this “long, strange trip” the disciples enjoy up on that mountain is the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. Leaving aside the question of how they knew who those two were, here’s a deeper one: why Moses and Elijah?

I can think of at least two reasons: Tradition and Testimony. Moses and Elijah represent the Law and the Prophets, and Jesus and his followers took care to communicate that Jesus’ teaching and ministries were a fulfillment of previous revelation, not a departure. On Easter afternoon, when the risen Jesus comes upon a couple of sad disciples on the road to Emmaus, we’re told: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)

Moses was the great giver of the Law, the commandments sent from God. And Elijah was one of the greatest of the prophets of Israel, said to have been carried up into heaven in a chariot of fire at the end of his life. This is why the Jewish people held an expectation of Elijah’s return.

These two great heroes of the tradition had something else in common – they were both recipients of “theophanies,” encounters in which God made himself known to them. Moses spent time in the presence of God, both on Mount Sinai and in the Tent of Meeting. And Elijah was told, in a moment of despair, to stand outside the cave in which he was hiding, and that God would pass by - and God did.

And then there is the matter of testimony. I suggested earlier this week that Jesus was preparing these three followers to bear witness to his true identity after his resurrection. Jewish law required at least three witnesses. Perhaps Moses and Elijah appear here to serve as witnesses to the witnesses – their presence a vivid testimony that this vision was real and true.

What difference does it make for us that Peter, James and John saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the mountain? It connects this odd revelation with the great tradition out of which our religious heritage emerged. While that might not be persuasive to a skeptic, it was enough to ground the claims about Jesus in a larger story, and that did help Jews of his day believe.

Perhaps this is how the communion of saints functions for some. Those who have spiritual encounters with saints (and I don’t mean ghosts…) can find their faith encouraged and strengthened by the testimony of those who have been with God. Nothing beats being in the presence of Jesus himself, of course, but we all have different filters and different ways of connecting, and sometimes we believe more readily when people we trust have gone there first.

Which gets us back to telling the stories of our encounters with God. You never know when you might function as Moses or Elijah to someone considering this strange and wondrous revelation of ours. Maybe if people see us hanging out with Jesus - or at least hear about it - they’ll be more open to meeting him themselves.

2-10-15 - Dazzling

Maybe women did have a hand in writing the gospels; would a man really use a laundry image to convey how white something was? “And Jesus was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”

It’s hard to avoid associating "light" and "white" with God and godliness. Jesus spoke of himself using the the image of light, and light is generally white. Often we use these terms without questioning their impact. That impact, though, can vary according to ones skin color, geography and temperament. We want to be careful not always to equate whiteness with goodness, light with purity.

But here we are, up on that mountain with four disciples – and their experience is of dazzling light, whiter than any bleach can achieve. It’s a wonder they weren’t completely blinded, as were the Israelites when Moses came down Mount Sinai glowing so brightly after his time in God’s presence, they had to veil him for their own sakes. In this story at least, light and white are linked to divine revelation. I like to think that Jesus wasn’t just revealed as being like light, but as light itself – a beam of pure energy, in which there is no darkness at all, as God is pure good without a trace of not-good.

No doubt there is much to be gained by exploring the spiritual gifts of darkness – Barbara Brown Taylor has published a book with just that theme, Learning to Walk in the Dark. But this week we celebrate Jesus as the Light of the World, and this moment when that Light was made known to the witnesses who made it known to the world.

How have you experienced God as light? How is Jesus the “light of the world” for you? What is your experience of light spiritually? I rarely associate Jesus with light in prayer, but maybe that's because I relate to his humanity so much.

Jesus said not only that he was the Light of the World – he said his followers were also the light of the world. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

I wasn’t there, so I don't know – but I believe that what the disciples saw was Light itself. But the light we shine is reflected light, the way the moon reflects the sun’s light rather than being a source itself. If we make it our intention to put ourselves in the way of the Light of the world each day, and keep our reflectors in peak condition, we will indeed let our lights shine before others. If it’s Jesus’ light we’re reflecting, they may well be dazzled.

2-9-15 - Six Days Later

Passages in the gospels often begin with phrases like, “On the third day…”, or “In the sixth month,” that require you to look back and see what came before. So it is with this week’s gospel, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration: “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.”

A high mountain. Apart. By themselves. Just the four fishermen and Jesus. Quite a treat – or retreat. Why did Jesus take them on this outing? What had happened six days earlier? Jesus had asked his followers who they thought he was, and Peter answered, “The Messiah.” Then Jesus started talking about taking up your cross, and how the Son of Man would have to suffer and die, and Peter tried to stop him, earning a harsh rebuke. Maybe Jesus thought it was time his closest followers had an experience to match their heart knowledge. Maybe it was time Peter saw how right his first answer had been.

The Transfiguration is one of the odder stories in the gospels, one that we read every year at the end of Epiphany, maybe because it was the penultimate revelation of Jesus’ divinity. For a short while on that high mountain, the two sets of brothers saw Jesus’ true nature revealed. Why do you suppose Jesus gave them that glimpse of glory?

I wonder if he was setting up his witnesses. Peter already knew he was the Son of God; now let him see it, and other witnesses with him, so that these men can later testify to Jesus’ messianic identity. After the experience, he instructs them not to tell anyone until after “the Son of Man is risen from the dead,” a phrase they did not understand. But later they would. And then this experience would reinforce their faith so that they could boldly testify to the truth of that greater revelation.

One New Testament definition of “apostle” is a person who knew Jesus in his earthly ministry and can witness to his resurrection life. I’m intrigued by the notion that Jesus here is giving those who will later serve as the key witnesses to the in-breaking Kingdom of God a crucial experience to strengthen them for later. Because it is the witness of these men and women that laid the structure of the Church. They are the reason we are here.

And we are here to carry on their apostolic witness. We are here to testify to the glory and power and love of the Risen Christ as we have experienced him in our lives. Perhaps we aren’t treated to the dazzling display Peter and Andrew, James and John got to see… but maybe we don’t need to be. We are apostles on the other side of Jesus’ resurrection. We can see his power poured out in our midst whenever we speak or pray or love or act in His name.

If we don’t feel we have had enough experience of Christ to truly bear witness… well, there’s a prayer, isn’t there? Ask the Holy Spirit to make the presence and peace and power of God known to you.

I believe God will answer that prayer, as we open ourselves. I truly believe God wants us to experience God’s goodness. Jesus is still preparing witnesses - you and me.

2-6-15 - On the Move

The people of Capernaum, where Jesus stayed when he wasn’t traveling, must have been thrilled that someone of such wisdom and power should settle among them. He was theirs! They wasted no time bringing to him everyone in need of healing and deliverance, and when he went off to pray in private, they looked for him. But Jesus’ mission was much larger than one town. When his disciples found him and said, “Everyone is searching for you!,” he answered,

“Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

As we know, Jesus’ mission was greater than Galilee too, greater than Israel and the Middle East, greater even than the boundaries of this world. He did not belong to any one community, but to all. Jesus’ mission was to redeem all of creation, to proclaim the reign of Life over death, disease, despair, the demonic. That is the message he proclaimed and that is the message he demonstrated over and over again as he set people free.

The phrase, “Let us go to the neighboring towns” got my attention. An early theologian, John of Damascus, used the Greek word perichoresis to describe the active, ongoing, interrelated life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This word has connotations of movement, of swirling, even of dance – and one definition is “circulating about the neighborhood.” It suggests that the triune, relational life of God is not static but circulating, bringing life to the whole cosmos.[1]

We might say that Jesus, the incarnate Son, or second person of the Trinity, continued to live out that principle of perichoresis, circulating with his followers among the neighborhoods of his region. And his followers continued to live out that principle of perichoresis, circulating among the “neighborhoods” of the Roman Empire, starting new churches and baptizing new believers, who circulated among their neighborhoods – until even we received this proclamation of Good News and transformed Life.

This moving, communal life of the Trinity is our inheritance as well. We are invited, even called, to circulate among the neighborhoods in which we find ourselves, proclaiming the message of renewed life to the people we encounter, casting out demons of fear, injustice, complacency, disease, despair.

Where do you feel called to exercise the ministry of an apostle? Among what people? In what neighborhoods? The Love of Christ is desperately needed in every neighborhood, poor, rich, urban, suburban, blighted or beautiful and in between, and we are called to make it known.

Only we don’t need to go alone. Jesus goes with us. Once he was no longer confined to a body in time and space he became available, as it were, to indwell every single person through his Holy Spirit. We carry him “around the neighborhood,” and he directs us when to speak and when to listen, when to challenge and when to offer healing.

I pray we will all get moving out of our comfort circles and church life, moving with Jesus to the “neighboring towns,” eager to proclaim the gospel of peace – for, like him, that is what we are sent to do!

[1] Many thanks to Dwight Zscheile for making me aware of this translation, in People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity (2012, Morehouse Publishing), pp. 46-7

2-5-15 - Where's Jesus?

Jesus may have thought he could go off for a time of quiet prayer and refreshment after a long day and night of ministry – but already his time was not his own. We read that “Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’”

“Everybody is searching for you.” All his earthly life, people were looking for Jesus. When he was twelve, his parents searched for him when he went missing on a trip to Jerusalem. When they found him, they said, “Didn’t you know we would be looking for you?” When Lazarus was ill, and Jesus came days later, Mary and Martha said, “Where were you?” When chief priests and scribes wanted to arrest him, they went looking for him in Gethsemane, though he’d been “hiding in plain sight” all over Jerusalem for weeks. “Why didn’t you just arrest me at the temple?” he asked.

And on Easter morning, we find Mary Magdalene weeping in another garden, lamenting, “They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where they have put him!” And there he is, once again hiding in plain sight, risen from the dead, mistaken for a gardener.

Is Jesus still “hiding in plain sight?” I don’t believe Jesus hides from us, and yet he can be remarkably hard to find, even when we're looking. Maybe that’s because the faculties with which we perceive spiritual reality are different than our organs for sensing physical realities. And in many of us, especially in Western cultures, those faculties are under-developed. Jesus told Nicodemus that the Kingdom cannot be perceived with human senses, saying, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again,” which he then defines as being “born of water and the Spirit.”

Even those of us who have been born of water and Spirit in baptism may not have developed our spiritual perception if no one told us we needed to. Paul prays for the Ephesians and Colossians that “the eyes of their heart will be enlightened,” their “inner vision” sharpened as they come to recognize the Life of God around them.

If we want to see and experience Jesus more fully, we may need to do some spiritual exercise. What are called “spiritual disciplines” are practices that help us to expand our ability to perceive and receive, just as we expand our mental capacities or our physical strength and stamina. We wouldn’t expect to run 10 miles our first time out; we gradually increase our capacity. In the same way, our spiritual “muscles” must also be exercised. Sure, sometimes we have a glimpse or an encounter with Jesus unexpectedly, unbidden. I believe God gives us those experiences to draw us closer, to get us on the path, the way falling in love gets us to the place where we're willing to work at a relationship. We will see and experience more as we cultivate the intimacy Jesus promises us.

What spiritual practices are you drawn to? Increasing your reading of the Bible? Developing a more consistent life of prayer and contemplation? Getting more involved in ministries with the sick, the poor, the marginalized, where Jesus also promised he could be found? Lent is approaching – why not ask the Spirit to lead you to a spiritual practice that might help you grow your inner vision. Ask your pastor or a spiritual director for help (you're welcome to ask me).

Long ago, God made a promise through the prophet Jeremiah: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13)

It can be hard for us to do anything with our whole heart. Wherever we start, I believe Jesus is not hiding from us, and will honor our desire to find him. Let's look with the eyes of our hearts.

2-4-15 - Retreat

What do you do after a whole evening spent healing the population of a town? If you’re Jesus, you try to get out of Dodge, at least for a little while: “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.”

I would probably just sleep in – but there are better ways to nurture your spirit, and Jesus led the way. After an intense period of spiritual output, or sometimes after hearing bad news, he often sought to go apart, either by himself, or with some or all of the Twelve. These mini-retreats were often interrupted, but that didn’t stop him from going.

I personally am lousy at the spiritual practice of retreat, at least in its longer, multi-day form. At times, I've gone somewhat regularly on retreat to convents or monasteries, but not lately. What Jesus models here, though, is the value of a time apart for prayer no matter how long it is. He knows he has another busy day of ministry ahead, so he gets up while it’s still dark to grab some alone time with his heavenly Father. That’s what prayer is – a time of conversation with God, and we don’t need five days away to do that.

Maybe we should think about retreats in smaller chunks. Christ the Healer offers a monthly half-day retreat, Spa for the Spirit (next one is this coming Saturday – find out more here, and register here!). Even four hours off the treadmill of our lives can be surprisingly renewing and refreshing.

How about building an hour of retreat into your week? Choose a day when you’re not too busy, and a spot where you can be alone and quiet. Make a date with yourself and with God, and show up. Light a candle. Read a little Scripture and chew on it inwardly. Read a spiritual book. Talk to God about what’s on your mind. Try to get centered and silent and hear what God might be saying back. Write in a journal about what happens as you pray, what your hopes and intentions for the next week might be. Our spirits can get some deep nurture in a time apart like that.

We can even go with smaller increments. Just as they’re finding a half-hour of exercise can be valuable even in 10-minute increments, so can stepping into “God-space” for a few minutes once a day or more. I know people who set alerts on their computers or smart phones to cue them to go into quiet for an allotted period of time.

I don’t suggest these shorter times as a replacement for intentional, multi-day retreats. Retreat is one the most rewarding spiritual practices in our Christian tradition, and there are things that we can only hear and receive when we’ve stepped out of our regular lives for several days. It takes time for our spirits to rest, get in touch with what’s going on, and then become receptive to a deeper connection with the Holy Spirit. As I write this, I realize I must commit myself to take a longer retreat in the next three months, and maybe even lead one. Even so, I plan to be more intentional about daily and weekly retreat times.

When we just give and give without taking the time to recharge our spiritual batteries, to reconnect with the One whose life we are sharing with the world, we soon find ourselves with little to offer, tiring more quickly, becoming easily irritated.

When we follow Jesus into the places apart, we can be pretty sure he’ll meet us there with his peace. And we will be renewed.

2-3-15 - Many Were Cured

Capernaum, where Jesus made his home, could be a tough place for him. Too many people knew about him, too many wanted some of what he was giving out. The story about the healing of the possessed man in the synagogue must have spread quickly – and maybe the tale of Peter’s mother-in-law’s swift recovery also quickly made the rounds. People knew where to find Jesus, and they weren’t shy about it:

“That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.”

What I find interesting is not that the “whole city” was gathered around the door. It’s that Mark says Jesus cured “many.” By the time Matthew and Luke get to this material, it's upgraded to “all” and “everyone he met.” The word “many” suggests that not everyone Jesus touched was cured, and perhaps not even all the demons were cast out.

The single biggest obstacle to people investing in the ministry of Christian healing, in my experience, is the fact that our prayers are not always answered in the way we desire. One big step of faith not met with “success” can be enough to stop some people from taking a second. And so the church is deprived of one of its most powerful ways to make the transforming love of God known in the world, and individuals’ faith can grow weak from lack of exercise.

People active in the healing ministry today find there can be obstacles to healing, things that must be addressed before a person can receive the healing love flowing toward them. As Agnes Sanford wrote so simply and memorably in her classic, The Healing Light, if we flick a light switch and the light doesn’t come on, we don’t conclude that electricity is impossible and doesn’t work – we look for a break in the flow – in the bulb, in the wire, in the outlet, in the house itself.

Obstacles to healing can include a root cause that needs to be brought to the light, an inability to give or receive forgiveness, or an investment in infirmity. Sometimes infirmity is a system’s response to trauma that has not been dealt with in a conscious way. When praying about long-term illness, it’s worth asking when it came on and what happened 6-9 months before it did – or even earlier.

Illness or injury can also be the result of chronic shame or resentment, an inability to forgive someone else or receive forgiveness ourselves. That is a block that can be brought to the light and dealt with. Sometimes healing follows forgiveness. There are also people who have become so accustomed to being sick, with the attendant diminished expectations and increased support and attention, that we can pray all we want; the person can't receive it until they're ready.

This is not to suggest that it’s the sick person's "fault” when healing isn’t discernible – only that there are factors to look for and deal with. A lack of faith within a community, or among those offering prayer, can also be a barrier, as can conflict. Healing prayer is rarely a one-shot thing – it needs to be undertaken over time, asking questions.

If even Jesus did not cure everyone, we should not feel deficient if our “healing rate” is less than 100%. I pray we will take this word “many” as encouragement to move forward in our faith, inviting God to release the healing stream in every situation where healing is needed. And give thanks in advance - God's last word to us is "yes."

2-2-15 - They Also Serve

We have been looking at “call stories,” the ways in which Jesus invited his disciples to become his followers, to leave their nets and books and follow him. But they likely left not only their livelihoods, but whole networks of family and community who relied upon them. We get a glimpse into the extended family of four of Jesus’ closest disciples in this week’s passage:

“As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them."

Andrew, Simon (Peter), James and John are the four fishermen whom Jesus called from their nets to follow him. The two sets of brothers lived and worked together, and obviously Simon and Andrew lived with their extended family in the same household. And quite clearly Simon Peter was married. We don’t know about the others, but they likely had wives and children as well.

So the call to follow Jesus implied sacrifice from others, not just the disciples who traveled with him. One of the most poignant reminders of this came for me in an excellent but short-lived TV series, Nothing Sacred, about a Roman Catholic priest. In one episode, we keep coming back to a statue of a woman waving, and we don’t know what it means until the end, when we learn it is a statue of Peter’s wife. (I wasn’t able to recall which episode it was, but someone has put the series up online, if you can’t get it from NetFlix…)

I know many an individual who has been part of a church community in which their spouse does not participate, and they live in a special kind of tension between living out their faith with the fullness they’d like, and not taking too much time away from their families and partners. Sometimes this has an emotional and spiritual component as well; I’ve watched people hold back on going deeper spiritually because they don’t want to get too far “out in front” of a less believing partner.

If you know someone who is on their own in their faith journey, in terms of their family system, remember to pray for him or her, and find ways to “be family” for them at times. And if you are in that situation, you might pray that the grace and strength that you feel in your connection with God would come through you into the household, whether or not the other members of your family name it. God’s peace is God’s peace, and it works its wondrous way whether or not we name it. Then maybe it doesn’t have to be a tug-of-war, but a way to blend without imposing. And maybe in that space, the partner might find room to move toward God.

And remember to thank your family for what they offer in making it possible for you to live out your faith more fully and freely. As I write this, the non-church-going spouse of one of our most active congregants is putting a tarp over a Bilco door at the rectory to prevent more leaks - he is truly a blessing and part of the community, if from a slight distance.

There are passages in the New Testament in which Jesus or one of the apostles clearly states where the priority between faith and family should be. And there are others, like this one, where we see the healing power of Jesus move into a whole household and bring transformation to a whole family.

Or maybe he was just hungry and wanted Peter’s mother-in-law to get up and serve them… you think?