Father Joseph

Deborah Beach Giordano
© June 18, 2018

Mark 3:20-35 ~ told by Deborah

Wherever Jesus went, crowds followed him; he and his disciples couldn’t even sit down for a meal without being mobbed.

When Jesus’ family heard what was going on, they set out to bring him back home, because people were telling them, “He’s lost his mind; he’s gone crazy.”

The religious authorities from Jerusalem said, “He’s possessed by an evil spirit; that’s how he casts out demons: by using its power.”

Jesus spoke to the crowd and, as always, taught them in parables, “How can the devil cast himself out?” he asked, “If a country’s citizens are fighting one another, it will collapse. And if family members are at odds with one another, it’s no longer a family. So if Satan is fighting against himself, and is at odds with his demons, it’s all over for him.

“No one can break into a strong man’s house and steal his property unless they first tie him up; only then can the house be robbed.

“I’m telling you: people will be forgiven for every sort of sin and sacrilege; but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable, a monstrous sin.” (He said this because they had said that he was “possessed by an evil spirit.”)

It was about that time that his mother and his brothers and sisters arrived. They stood outside, asking for him.

From the midst of the crowd, someone called out to Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”

“My mother and my brothers and sisters?” Jesus frowned. He paused and then, looking at the people around him, said, “They’re right here. This is my mother and my brothers and and my sisters! Those who do the will of God are My family.”

Who Else?

There he is, conspicuous by his absence. While Jesus’ “mother and his brothers and sisters” are mentioned repeatedly, not a word is said about his (earthly) father. Why is that? Where is Joseph? What is he doing while Mary and the rest of the family are out chasing after Jesus? 

I asked a couple of people what they thought and, interestingly, got the same answer from both: “He’s probably at work.”

That makes sense to me; it’s how the story went when I was a child (and remains the same in many cases, even today); dad is enmeshed in work even when at home, and if not actively focused on keeping the wolf from the door, concerned with keeping the door on its hinges. Work and home maintenance, and then a hug and maybe a story before tucking the children into bed; the Story of Dad.

So it should come as no surprise that Saint Joseph is honored as the patron saint of workers. That sounds about right: he’s the guy at work in his shop, keeping the home secure while Mary and the other children are off in search of the missing Lamb — who appears to have gone astray. It also offers a terrific allegorical image: Joseph as a carpenter; one who built up and provided stability — structural integrity, we might say — to the home where Jesus was raised. Perfect. 

Credit Where Credit is Due

Joseph is mentioned in the Gospels only rarely, and I think that’s part of the reason he doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves. Think about it: it required a huge leap of faith and secure sense of self to bring Mary into his home at the first (Matthew 1:18-25), knowing that he would be dealing with the inevitable smirking and gossip, not to mention the responsibility of raising this Child of uncertain origin: so strange, so unpredictable, at once in this world and yet not of it.

Yet over the years Joseph conducted himself with such confidence and integrity and abundant love that the townspeople referred to Jesus as “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55, Luke 4:22). There were no whispers or sly winks; the boy was Joseph’s, that’s how it was.

It is seems quite possible that Jesus’ understanding of his “Father in heaven” was influenced by the character of his father in Nazareth; this man of strength, faith, and devotion. 

Jesus told His disciples, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” ~ John 15:12-13

We could say that Joseph laid down his life — the life he might have had, instead taking up this demanding work of love: sheltering Mary and Jesus, watching over them; doing what was right, rather than what was easy. The story of the Prodigal Son could also have had its origin in the patient, caring carpenter who waited, steadfast and hopeful, for the return of the young man who went out into the wide world and got involved with tax collectors and drunks and sinners of every stripe (Matthew 9:11, 11:19, etc.).

We are are told, too, that Joseph understood what it was to hear and heed an angelic voice, to dream dreams and to take action accordingly (Mt 1:20-21, 2:13-20). He accepted a particular and personal calling and had pursued it with integrity and devotion, dedicating it as an offering to God.

It would seem that one who had a listening ear for divine instructions would also have a gift for listening to the dreams and desires of others. Perhaps there were quiet conversations in the workshop, their voices muffled by the sawdust covered floor, the air redolent with the fragrance of cedar shavings, where Jesus and Joseph would have shared the sacrament of honest, trusting communication. Nothing was hidden, nothing held back, no judgments, no condemnation. There Jesus was safe from all harm.

I think that may very well have been the case, as we know that when the practice of his ministry became intense — when Jesus was hounded by the religious authorities, pursued by crowds of the sick and the suffering demanding miracles; surrounded and stressed ….

then he came home.
~ Mark 3:19b 

Family Matters

In a time of great difficulty Jesus sought sanctuary, a refuge from the storm that was raging all around him. He came home to Nazareth — where he had known honesty and trust; where he had family, where there was understanding and kindness and safety. Perhaps the Lord did not find the peace he sought there — we are told that the mob followed along, the crush of people so great and constant that he and the disciples could not even sit down for a meal undisturbed — but he may have found what he needed in order to go on.

In the middle of a stifling, overcrowded room, Jesus was told that his family was calling for him, asking that he leave that place and follow them. It was then, there in Nazareth, his hometown, that the Lord proclaimed what it means to be a member of His family: it is not about blood and sinew or legal mandate, but of adoption: “those who do the will of God are My family!” — Just as Joseph followed the will of God in becoming an adoptive father to Jesus; acting in mercy, in kindness, in love. Joseph was truly a member of Jesus’ family.

Family is defined by love, not lineage.

The family of Christ are the generous, the gentle, the loving, the compassionate; they are the righteous ones who do what is good and kind and healing — regardless of whether it is easy or convenient or approved-of by their community. They lead not by force or coercion, but by example; inspiring and encouraging others, offering a listening ear, an open heart, a kind word.

Lasting Influence

There is another reason that Joseph may be absent from this part of Jesus’ story. Church tradition teaches that Mary was a widow by the time of the Lord’s trial and crucifixion. It is possible that by the time of this flight to Nazareth, Jesus’ earthly father had died. Yet his influence continued — and even, perhaps, grew stronger.

He has shown you, all of you, what is right. And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?
        ~ Micah 6:8

On entering the town Jesus may have walked past Joseph’s workshop, tenderly reflecting on the many confidences shared, the prayers, problems, plans, they had discussed, and even the unresolved arguments that had never threatened their affection for one another. He would have remembered a thousand moments, a thousand acts of kindness, and offered grateful praise to the One Who Reigns in Heaven for the gift of a father’s love. 

Perhaps, too, the words, “your mother and your brothers and sisters are here,” struck Jesus as they did us: as emphasizing the absence of his adoptive father Joseph — one whom he knew to be as true and fully a member of his family as any blood relation. Perhaps that was the catalyst for the Lord Christ’s powerful affirmation of what it means to be a member of his family: the challenge to each of us to be as courageously loving and as faithful to our callings as Saint Joseph was to his.

Jesus said, “Those who do the will of God are My family.”

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

As we celebrate Father’s Day in the U.S., let us give grateful praise for all of our “unsung hero”  dads; the men who set an example for us of love and strength and sheer persistence.

Advertisements
Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, General wonderings, Reflections, Scriptures, Spiritual exercises | Tagged , , , ,

Seeds and Weeds and Harvests

Deborah Beach Giordano
© June 11, 2018

Matthew 13:24–30 ~ as told by Deborah

Jesus told them another parable: 

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 

So when the plants began to sprout up, then weeds appeared as well. The fieldworkers came to the farmer and said, “Sir, you sowed good seed in your field; so where did these weeds come from?”

He replied, “An enemy has done this.” 

“Then do you want us to pull them up?” the fieldworkers asked.

“No,” he replied, “Because in pulling up the weeds you would uproot the wheat as well. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but bring the wheat into my barn.’ ”

An Enemy Has Done This…

It’s interesting, having what is called a “public presence” through the inklings and WordPress websites; it means that anyone with an internet connection has access to my thoughts, opinions, prayers, and advice. Hopefully, for most readers, this connection brings blessings; strengthens, encourages, entertains, amuses, and perhaps even inspires. But there are those who seem to consider it their life’s purpose to snoop, sneer, mock, and condemn.

And that’s nasty. And it can be alarming.

It’s tempting to just walk away; to leave the fray, to hide in obscurity. I’ve thought about it, talked about it, prayed about it, and meditated on it. It was during one of these “dark nights of the soul” that I was given the Scripture that begins this reflection, and which I interpreted as a call to continue this ministry. In short: Weeds happen.

At around the same time a couple of friends came to my aid, offering support, encouragement, suggestions — and, perhaps most helpful — engaging in the age-old tradition of roundly condemning the villains. Although we Christians are taught to pray for those who hate us, and nice people aren’t supposed to speak ill of others…. sometimes it feels awfully good to just pull out the stops and talk trash about our enemies. 

When I was in training they called it “getting in touch with your feelings.”

Carping, Caution, and Courage

The problem arises when we get a little too in touch with our feelings. It’s easy to get swept away in the adrenalin-intoxication induced by snipping and snapping and free-flowing venom. It’s exciting, energizing, and it feels empowering after the shock of the initial assault or attack, but at a certain point the thrill fades. We are agreed that the person is horrible, despicable, a blight upon the earth… but now what?

A little community of shared scorn and condemnation can almost convince us that we are safe; almost as if the wicked have been judged and locked away. But that is an illusion. Those who wish us harm are not vanquished by words or wishes. We should not be naive about our safety, but take all necessary precautions, and be alert and aware of our surroundings. As the Lord said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” But he also clearly stated that he is sending us out — cowering under our beds is not an option.

There are times when we have to be courageous. Even when we don’t want to be. Even when we’re frightened or tired or sick or grieving and ready to give up. Sometimes we have to pick up our cross and carry on, despite whatever enemies we may face. Including enemies within.

Collaborating with the Enemy

Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in the Valley of Darkness.
~ Matthew 10:28

Fear/avoidance of physical harm is a strong motivation for human beings; it is built into our system: staying alive is Job One. That’s why threats and intimidation are so effective; and why they can so readily influence our thinking and our behavior, tempting us to strike out, to hate, kill, and destroy: to do unto others before they do unto us. And that is precisely what Jesus warned us about; the Ultimate danger: the risk of injury to our souls. 

Bullies and villains can do more than threaten our physical safety; they can poison our spirits, cloud our thinking, and sicken our souls IF WE LET THEM.  

If we aren’t careful and mindful and prayerful in the face of an attack, we can end up “collaborating with the enemy.” If we allow harmful emotions to take root in us — staying “in touch” with those ugly feelings, we grow comfortable with the constant presence of anger or hatred or fear; it becomes our normal, natural mode of being: our fount of life is tainted, our souls are polluted. And we end up doing far more harm to ourselves than our enemy can ever dream of doing — without lifting a finger.

So what can we do? What ought we to do?

Starting at the Beginning

We know how it begins. It starts with a shock or alarming discovery that sets our minds spinning and mobilizes our fight or flight response. Each of us has an inclination toward one or the other reactions to a crisis: either running like a rabbit or strapping on our battle armor. 

If we react impulsively, anything can happen. One thing, though, is certain: it won’t be a reasoned decision, it won’t be grounded in prayer and reflection. Chances are that the result will leave us unsettled, uneasy, disoriented — and still on the run, whether away from the conflict or toward it. Nothing will be resolved.

It helps to recognize exactly what it is we are feeling: Name that Emotion. Can you describe it? Do you know what’s really stirring? Take a moment to experience the feeling without trying to respond to it, or justify it; and watch to see if it changes. Fear may turn into pity; sorrow may transform into rage.

Whatever it is, the emotion is valid. It’s OK to feel whatever you feel. (It may not be OK to act on it, however!) Don’t concern yourself with how you think you “should” feel, and don’t go about trying to redirect or reframe it just yet. Right now it’s about discerning where you are. Note: it’s where you are; not where your enemy is, or what that person’s intentions may be. It’s all about you: your life, your spirit, your soul, your health.

We can start to gain control by recognizing where we are, discerning what it is we are feeling: knowing the emotions that are beginning to swirl. Greet them, call them by name if that’s helpful. Realize that those emotions aren’t who you are; they don’t define you: they’re visitors who are simply passing through. It is within your power to show them the door. Yes, it can seem overwhelming … but hang on; there’s more to the Story — and you already know how it goes.

If Your Only Prayer is ….

Meister Eckhart said, “If your only prayer is ‘thank you,’ that is enough.” My version is a little different: If your only prayer is “Oh my God!” that is enough. There are times when our sense of loss or confusion or helplessness is so great that we are bereft of words, and calling out to God is all that we can do. And that, I believe, is enough. It is a lifeline, shooting out through eternity, intertwining with the unbreakable cord that holds us securely to the heart of God. 

With that, we are safe, and we need not be afraid. Not of evildoers or their deeds, not of threats or dangers or gossip or slander, not of suffering nor sorrow, nor life nor death — nor anything else in all creation. We are safe in the heart of God.

That glorious knowledge should be our real starting point.

Planting and Harvesting

If God is for us, who can be against us — and who gives a hoot if they are?!

We are loved by God; all else is commentary. With that understanding, that faith, it becomes easier to develop a meaningful perspective on our lives and our world. It becomes easier to relax, to laugh, to see beauty, to find joy; to get on with abundant living, focusing on what Really Matters — free from the burden of others’ wicked deeds and dishonorable intentions. 

We have been called to follow the Lord Jesus Christ; to show forth His truth in the living of our lives: sowing seeds of compassion, care, generosity, gentleness, and love in all that we do, wherever we are — and, in all things, joy; a confident belief in God’s love for us and for all creation. 

That, I think, is the meaning of the Scripture that I “heard” in my meditation: we are called to continue planting Gospel seeds, knowing that evildoers will be out there tossing out weed seeds, too. And we are also to be careful to harvest only the good; taking in only what is produced by compassion, love, and mercy — leaving the weeds behind. Don’t collect the toxic harvest into your life; don’t let it poison your spirit. Leave the weed seeds and their sowers to the mercy of God; their “stuff” isn’t yours.

A Challenge

This last brings us to another issue, a spiritual practice perhaps best described by my friend Mike: “Pray for the <ahem> stinker.” (Mike uses a more succinct term.)

It is an aspect of our faith that God’s grace extends to all that is, to the ends of the earth, to the end of the age. In compassion and mercy we dare to hope for divine glory to triumph: that even the wicked may be redeemed, even the hateful may be reformed. This spiritual practice is an affirmation of that hope and belief. It is also, in my opinion, one of the most challenging practices to undertake. 

This prayer can also help us to release the toxic emotions that might otherwise take root in us. A call for blessing — and not a curse — upon those who wish us ill can break the cycle of harm and hatred that our enemy delights in.

Resistance to this prayer is understandable: it can feel as if it might create an opening for the evildoer’s poison to infect us, as if our prayer is a form of agreement with or acceptance of what was done or said; as if we are saying that what happened is “all right.” This is the same danger that arises when our forgiveness is misinterpreted as approval or permission to continue doing harm. It takes some time and effort to comprehend this, for it to feel right within our spirit and our soul. And that is OK; we are not called to instant, perfected faith: it is a process — and it should not be rushed. This is especially true in cases where the harm has been severe and/or lasting. The first soul to comfort and heal is your own.

If you cannot (yet) pray for the “stinker,” pray for yourself: ask the Beloved for protection, for peace, for a healed and healing spirit. Hand over troubles that seem insurmountable to the One who can move mountains.

Forward in Faith

If we live our lives in response to God’s love for us (“Deep calls to deep,”), all will be well. That doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect, that our lives will be easy, that the sun will shine every day and flowers will bloom in profusion. There will still be struggles and sorrows (and “stinkers”), but they will not overwhelm us, they will not lead us into despair, they will not trouble our hearts. 

Be brave and good, my friends; God loves you, and so do I.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Reflect on this passage from the Psalms:

Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls;
all of Your breakers and waves wash over me.
The Lord decrees His loving devotion by day;
and at night His song is with me —
a prayer to the God of my life.
~ Psalm 42:7-8

Posted in A Thought, Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Spiritual exercises | Tagged , , ,

A Wow! Experience

Deborah Beach Giordano
© June 4, 2018

Isaiah 6:1-8 ~ as told by Deborah

It was the year that King Uzziah died when I saw the Lord enthroned in the heights; resplendent, glorious, beyond describing; filling the sky, the hem of His robe swept down and filled the temple.

Fiery angels encircled him; each with six wings: two hid their faces, two covered their feet, and two were used for flight.

They sang together: “Holy! Holy! Holy beyond all telling, beyond all understanding is the Lord of hosts; the entire universe is radiant with His majesty!”

The posts upholding the roof shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke as if a terrible fire were raging within.

I screamed: “This is the end! I am doomed! I am a sinner, a swearer, a scoffer, a joker — I’ve followed the herd of cynics and sinners, never looking back. And now I’m standing in the Presence of the Almighty, the Eternal, the Lord of the angelic forces!”

Then one of the flames shot out at me: a fiery angel grasping a burning ember snatched from the altar.

The seraph pressed the white-hot coal to my mouth: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt is burned away and your sins turned to ashes.”

Then I heard God’s voice. It said, “Who shall I send?” and “Who will go for Us?” 

And I said, “Here I am; send me!”

Inexplicable

It happens. Not frequently, but more often than we might suspect: an inexplicable, indescribable, inconceivable, life-changing experience. Undeserved, unsought, it strikes without warning — and suddenly an unsuspecting soul is overcome, overwhelmed, lifted up, out, away: as if hit by lightning, or a freight train, or the hand of God. The recipient finds it impossible to describe. Words fail; metaphors serve only to alarm or befuddle the hearers.

It is as if a new life has come into being in a twinkling; the person is changed, utterly — filled with a new understanding, new desires, new energy. The transformation is not, however, painless. Like new wine poured into an old wineskin there is discomfort and distress, leading to disagreement, complaint and even occasional outright rebellion against the Caller. This new life is not a piece of cake; it’s more like a box of rocks — or a burning coal pressed to one’s mouth.

Isaiah’s report is a perfect example of how overwhelming the experience feels. It is not a mere “vision”; this is more than a flash of insight, or an everyday occurrence that is suddenly filled with meaning (a potter at his wheel, a mason with his plumb line, etc.). It is extraordinary, uncanny, awesome. He not only sees God’s majestic robe and the fiery flights of the seraphim, he listens to angelic songs, feels the touch of a burning ember on his mouth, and then — the grand finale — he hears God’s voice. On the prophetic call scale, it’s a solid ten. Only Ezekiel’s encounter with the dreadful flashing, flaming creatures and their chariots of fire exceeds the drama and scope of Isaiah’s experience. 

But wait!

It’s impressive, to be sure. Quite a story.

And when we hear it, let’s be honest: our Suspicion mode is engaged. We find ourselves wondering what really happened. On one hand, it doesn’t seem possible that Isaiah could have made it all up; it’s just too weird, too inexplicable. Besides, what would be the point? On the other hand, it’s so weird and inexplicable….

I mean seriously: swarms of fiery angels whizzing through the air carrying hot coals? And then the guy talked to God, person to person?? That’s… Well, weird and inexplicable. We can probably agree that Isaiah saw/heard/felt something — something strange — which he attributed to God, which makes perfect sense; people living in that place and time and culture believed that extraordinary events had to have a divine origin. But it is not so with us: we moderns see the world differently; we have no trouble in understanding what the ancients found incomprehensible. We have logic and reason on our side.

Figured Out and Filed Away

I remember my first-year Old Testament professor reading this passage to a classroom of forward-thinking young(ish) seminarians. As he concluded, a voice from the back called out, “Man, that was some choice weed.” Another disagreed, “Nope. Bad ’shrooms.” We all laughed, and the arm-chair analyses began: “Spoiled wheat; the mold affects the central nervous system.” “A petit-mal seizure.” “Migraine.” “A psychotic break.” “Religious mania.”

We soon exhausted our mental health and chemical imbalance theories — along with a sprinkling of National Lampoon-level humor, which Professor Kuan wisely let play out; then he asked, “What if it really happened?” The room went silent. We had no answer. We had no idea. It was impossible, surely? 

We spent the remainder of the class time exploring the tradition of relating God’s power to fire — at least I think that’s what we did. It’s a bit hazy, as what I recall most vividly is our shock and confusion at the suggestion that Isaiah’s divine delusion might have been genuine. And, moreover, that such a suggestion could have come from a respected contemporary scholar. What next: biblical inerrancy?!

What we understood as neatly categorized and filed away had suddenly become An Unresolved Issue. And we didn’t like it. It made us uncomfortable, uncertain; we were disturbed by what we had heard.

Comfortable Complacency

At lunch we gathered together, would-be Pharisees whispering over a potential blasphemy. Immediately we set about formulating a case against what we had heard: The professor could not have been serious; he was testing to see if someone would defend it; he’d never said anything like that before; he was joking; he didn’t ask a second time; he’s a Methodist. Before long we had reassured ourselves that there was no cause for alarm; our cherished view of reality was safe and secure.

We went on with our lives from there, comfortable and complacent; completing our degrees, preaching, teaching, counseling. We said what our teachers, our senior clergy, our congregations, and our examination boards expected us to say: holding the party line safe from alarms and incursions. 

And yet … It was always there, hovering in the back of our minds like a dimly flickering seraphim; that awe-ful moment when our worldview was called into question: when doubt entered our minds, when genuine contact with the Holy was suddenly, viscerally possible — if only for a few seconds. 

But what if….. ? Nah. No way.

True Faith

The disturbing truth is that we have no context in which to comprehend a divine encounter. We are trained to dismiss and actively oppose the slightest whiff of “religious ecstasy,” and — in the off-chance that any such dangerous ideation manifests, we are instructed to immediately refer the sufferer (n.b.!) to a qualified mental health practitioner. 

And so, when the Inexplicable occurs — as it has and will again — we have nothing to offer. We, who ought to have faith in Extraordinary Events, refuse to get involved; we leave such things to “the professionals.” We, whose hearts should be listening hopefully for a heavenly Call, are deaf and silent, condemning the recipients to modern therapeutics, to diagnosticians and skeptics. The Voice speaks, the morning stars sing together, the holy Fire ignites …. and it fades away, unheard, unacknowledged. A glorious possibility vanishes, erased by the conviction that the experience was madness or meaninglessness. 

Simply put: we, who claim to be Christians, worship at the altar of Cultural Respectability. Above all else, we want to be viewed as reasonable people: rational, sensible, logical; well-groomed, well-educated believers in the scientific method, only convinced by empirical proof: nothing more, nothing less. In our faith we proclaim that “God’s in His heaven” — and that’s where He stays. None of that mystical, weird, inexplicable holy in-breaking for us, thank you very much.

We prefer to keep that dangerous old Blighter at a safe distance.

Unmanageable

That’s a big part of it, isn’t it? We don’t really want to get involved with the Out of Control aspect of the divine. We’d prefer a polite, well-behaved God in a coat and tie; not this Presence that runs amok, appearing in His bathrobe, showing up uncalled, unannounced, accompanied by fireworks and angels shouting “Hallelujah!”

That’s … scary. We simply can’t understand it, or explain it. And that’s really upsetting.

Accepting the reality of the Inexplicable is an acknowledgement of the unpredictable, uncontrollable, unmanageable, incomprehensible nature of God — whose Spirit blows where it will, and Who informed Moses, flat-out, “I’ll be gracious to whomever I choose, and I will show mercy to whomever I choose.” This One is capable of doing anything — including stuff we’re not comfortable with. Like miracles. Like intervening in our lives to get our attention. Like moving heaven and earth to be with us. Forever.

This God can astound us, confuse us, comfort us, disturb us, love us, surprise us, and transform us completely. This God is extraordinary, marvelous, amazing, awe-inspiring and utterly outside of our neat and tidy well-ordered worldview. And more than a little bit scary, because of that.

Responding to the Question

Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit.
(Called or uncalled, God is present.) 

No matter how zealously we refute any possibility of a genuine encounter with the living God, it happens. The question is: are we prepared? 

Are we able to offer understanding and support to those who have had an experience that leaves them awe-struck, inspired, confused, alarmed? Can we hear what they say with a listening heart, not a diagnostic mind-set? Can they trust us with an honest report of the most profound event of their lives? And if not us — then who? 

How many secrets — holy and unholy — are withheld, how much distress and confusion is suffered in silence, how many hearts remain troubled out of a fear that we “wouldn’t understand” — we who are called to a ministry of love and compassion? (Which is the ministry of all Christians.) 

Then I heard God’s voice. It said, “Who shall I send?”
and “Who will go for Us?” 

And I said, “Here I am; send me!”

The Aftermath

Now, these many years later, I believe that Professor Kuan’s question was itself an in-breaking of the Holy. While not as dramatic as Isaiah’s experience, it provoked a response: in an instant it changed our perception, and left us dazzled, distressed, and curious. Despite having succeeded in dismissing and resisting it at the time, I believe that that outpouring of divine grace remained, taking root in our memories and in our souls. 

And therein is a key to understanding Inexplicable Events, and in how we may care and guide and nurture those who entrust us with the gift of their extraordinary stories: What is the result? What is called forth in response to the experience: does it lead to healing and hope? Does it inspire good or evil, does it encourage kindness or hatred? Does it give life?

The effect of righteousness will be goodwill;
the result of righteousness is peace and assurance forever.
~ Isaiah 32:17-18

A Closing Prayer

Extraordinary God, Unimaginable One who has made Yourself known to us in works of grandeur and glory and gentle joys, Source of love beyond all understanding, Compassion beyond all reason, Creator and Re-Creator of life, open our eyes to Your wonders — to the degree we can withstand it; open our ears to Your words; open our hearts to Your people. Increase our faith so that we may believe — and look for — what we have not yet seen. 

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Imagine God as Absolutely Extraordinary.

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Scriptures, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , ,

The Ethiopian Eunuch

Deborah Beach Giordano
© April 30, 2018

Acts 8:26-40 ~ told by Deborah

When Philip returned to Jerusalem after preaching and healing in Samaria, an angel told him, “Don’t get settled; go, take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This way goes through the wilderness.)

So he he started out at once.

At the same time an Ethiopian eunuch was returning home after having come to Jerusalem to worship. This man was a court official in charge of the treasury of the ruler of the Ethiopians. The eunuch was reading as he rode in his chariot.

The Spirit told Philip, “Go over and accompany that chariot.”

When Philip caught up to it he heard the man reading from the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

The eunuch replied, “That’s a good question. Without a guide to show the way, how can I?” And he invited Philip to join him as they traveled along the road. 

The eunuch was reading the passage: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer he did not protest. He was robbed of a fair hearing. Who will tell his posterity? His life on this earth is ended.”

“Let me ask you,” the eunuch said, “Is the prophet saying this about himself or about someone else?”

Then, starting from this scripture, Philip proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were traveling along, they came to a pool of water; and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water! Why can’t I be baptized right here?”

He ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch went into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord sent Philip away; the eunuch never saw him again as he returned to his home — filled with joy.

The next thing Philip knew, he was many miles away, in the coastal city of Azotus, and he continued through the region, proclaiming the good news wherever he went, all the way to Caesarea.

Angelina’s Arrival

It was in an evening class in graduate school when I met the student I first knew as Andrew, who dressed in suits and ties and sported a pronounced “five o’clock shadow” by the time we assembled at 7 p.m. Over the course of the next several semesters the beard slowly faded, the shirts and ties gave way to sweaters and tees, trousers were replaced by skirts, and her name became Angelina. 

Throughout it all the rest of us studiously avoided remarking on the changes that were taking place — although we were hyper-vigilant in our choice of pronouns and the use of her (new) name. We were far too sophisticated and enlightened to actually notice what was happening.

You might say that Angelina’s transformation was “hidden in plain sight” — as it was obvious to everyone, yet remained The Great Unspoken Fact. We made a point of ignoring what was occurring right before our eyes.

Modern Puritans

I realize now, lo these many years later, how absurdly puritanical we were. It was as if we had taken a vow of silence — imposed by our egos; put in place because we were unwilling to admit that the situation was an unusual one, that we had no prior experience to draw from. We simply didn’t know what to do — and so we did nothing and said nothing.

Gender reassignment is a rare occurrence at any time, and it was even less well-known then. Many (most?) of us were curious and a bit taken aback by the process and Angelina’s willingness to endure it. Gay and straight alike, none of us had a context for understanding what she was going through, but of course we didn’t want to be seen as ignorant or intrusive, and so we said nothing. 

We erected a Wall of Politeness.

Although Angelina had a strong relationship with her academic advisor and served as a Teacher’s Aide for another professor, otherwise I’m afraid that she was relatively isolated. Maybe more than “relatively.” Everyone was unfailingly polite; greeting her with a smile, making supportive noises in response to comments she made in classroom discussions, etc., but I recall no close friends. She wasn’t a member of the PB&B group (Pizza, Beer, & <ahem> Complaining), nor one of the Quad Flies who hung out on the lawn area between classes. She was friendly to everyone, but almost always on her own.

Unfortunately I’m not sure if that was by choice. None of us seemed to have thought to ask her — no, wait, let me put that in personal terms: I know that I never thought to ask her to join us. If I had thought about it at all, I imagine my justification would have been that I didn’t really know her, and I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. (But in all honesty: who was it that I really wouldn’t have wanted to make uncomfortable??)

Through our “enlightened” lens, I don’t think we saw Angelina as a person, only the sexuality — that we were so desperately pretending to ignore. And so we didn’t see her. We were blinded by the nice.

Truth-Speaking

Now let’s compare this “modern” behavior with the passage from Acts. Read it again; what to you see?

Eunuch. Eunuch. Eunuch. Eunuch. Eunuch. Eunuch. Eunuch. The word repeatedly jumps out at us. The Ethiopian man is described as “the eunuch” again and again, even when the pronouns “he” or “him,” would smooth the narrative flow of the text. Apparently the author thinks it is an important aspect of the story.

OK, we get it: the fellow was a eunuch. But the author’s insistence on emphasizing that fact makes us squirm. Our contemporary enlightened ignorance strikes again: we don’t want to know that the man was a eunuch. We consider it rude to notice a person’s physical appearance, especially disabilities — or anything having to do with sex. It’s a private matter. It’s “unmentionable.”

But these things do matter. Our physical condition, our physical situation, our humanness makes a difference in our lives; they are facts that cannot be ignored or denied. 

Who is meant by these words?

The author didn’t repeatedly tell us that the man was a eunuch in order to shock or embarrass or titilate us, but to make an important point about the Gospel, and about the One who delivered it to us.

The eunuch was reading the passage: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer he did not protest. He was robbed of a fair hearing. Who will tell his posterity? His life on this earth is ended.”

“Let me ask you,” the eunuch said, “Is the prophet saying this about himself or about someone else?”

We tend to believe that Philip used the passage from Isaiah to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised, suffering servant Messiah. Period. But it seems to me that there is more to the story. A lot more. 

If we consider that Scripture passage in the context of the eunuch’s lived experience — if we recognize the eunuch as a eunuch, in his full humanness — it becomes much richer and fuller. Isaiah’s words must have shimmered with meaning for a man who was castrated when a mere child: like a sheep to the slaughter, like a lamb before the shearer; helpless, powerless, silently suffering in fear and pain.

And so the eunuch asks: “Who is it that the prophetic Voice of God is speaking about?” Could it be me? Could it be that God sees me? Is it possible that the Eternal understands my loneliness; is a companion to me in my isolation; is one with me in my otherness? Can it be that God’s compassion extends to all people — even to “outsiders”?

The eunuch would have been prohibited from entering the Jerusalem temple, nor could he have participated in worship there. This wasn’t because of who he was (it wasn’t personal), but because of the condition of his body. In religious life, in private life, in public life, at home and even in a foreign land — wherever he went, whatever he did, the eunuch was a permanent outsider. And then the Word of God reached out and spoke to him.

The Spirit said to Philip, “Go, accompany this man on his journey.” And so he did, and told the eunuch the story of Jesus of Nazareth — an outsider; shunned and mocked, silently accepting his condemnation, tortured, scorned, and crucified: taken, like a sheep to the slaughter. This man, this Jesus, this outsider, has been affirmed by God as the Lord Christ, God’s beloved Son. This divine Presence came into our world and knew suffering, and understood, first-hand, what it means to be fully human — including the humanness that is “imperfect”: disabled, different, damaged, isolated, alone, outside the norm. 

God “gets” us. And loves us. And calls to us. And speaks to us. Yes, my friend, the Voice of God was referring to you: this one is a beloved and important member of My family. (And so is this one, and this one, and this one, and this one….)

And who among us is not damaged or distressed or different? And who has not felt isolated and alone?

The Good News of Jesus Christ

The Holy Spirit told Philip to join the eunuch as he made his way along the road, but gave no further instructions. Apparently his Christ-fueled heart led the way from there, for Philip responded to the eunuch’s question in a way that inspired the man to want to become a follower of Jesus and — and this is hugely important — so that the eunuch “went on his way rejoicing.” As if he’d heard some Good News.

The eunuch hadn’t been rejoicing earlier; he was sitting alone in his chariot, reading and wondering — and perhaps praying — about who was acceptable to God. Perhaps he was grieving over his seemingly insuperable outsider status, perhaps dreaming of a community in which he would be included; somewhere that he would be seen as a whole person. 

And after his encounter with Philip, he went on his way rejoicing — because Philip treated the eunuch as a person beloved of God, as a partner in the kingdom of heaven, because that’s how the Gospel works: it is meant to bless and uplift people where they are and who they are. It recognizes our individuality and our commonality. Each of us is unique, and yet we are, as has been said, more alike than different. The eunuch was a eunuch; he was also a human being yearning for love and acceptance, just as we all are. Just as Angelina was.

Nice Walls

How many times do we erect walls of “niceness” that impede or impair our relations with others? How often do we avoid contact with a person who is different or distressed — to spare ourselves embarrassment or discomfort, despite our claims to the contrary? 

I am reminded of the woman who had been an active member of a church for over twenty years; after her husband ran off to Mexico with his secretary Denise stopped attending Sunday worship. And no one called to check on how she was doing. No one. It was as if she had vanished without a trace, erased from the memory banks. When long-term “church friends” were asked about it, they responded, “I don’t want to embarrass her.” “If she wants to talk she can call me any time.” “I’m sure she’s got a lot on her plate.” They hid their cowardice behind claims of politeness, choosing to ignore the suffering in plain sight: pretending not to notice the obvious fact of her divorce.

It’s sad, isn’t it? Those women failed to provide companionship and encouragement to a lonely and isolated soul. They missed out on an opportunity to proclaim the Good News — in fact they buried it; you might even say they betrayed it by their (in)action. Just as we did — as I did — back in graduate school, by failing to reach out to Angelina.

Glorious Beloved, through Your grace, may we become heartfelt bearers of the Gospel in all that we say, all that we do, all that we hope for, all that we pray for, and all that we are. Amen.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise: Who is an “Ethiopian eunuch” to you? Who is the outsider?

Important Disclaimers

I in no way intend to draw parallels between Angelina and the Ethiopian eunuch except insofar as their shared outsider status, and the fact that their “differentness” has to do with sexuality.

All names have been changed and specific circumstances modified to protect the identities of the individuals referred to in this reflection.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beggar at the Beautiful Gate

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© April 16, 2018

The Beggar’s Story

It was evening; I was climbing up a steep hillside toward a city; the lights were shining bright, creating a halo above it in the heavens. Occasionally I stumbled, and thorns and thistles snagged my robe and scratched my feet as I made my way along.

At length the terrain leveled off; I had nearly reached the top — but then I saw an enormous storm cloud approaching, so vast as to nearly fill the sky; lightning flashed from within the cloud as it drew nearer. From the depths came the sound of a low-pitched hum; the whole earth trembled in response, as if the voice of God spoke from the abyss. And I was lifted up, and soaring into the center of the tremendous deep. I awoke, shivering.

Lemuel glowered over at me, “It’s about time you woke up, you worthless sod!” His words were without malice; a joking phrase grown dull with repetition.

I grunted an acknowledgement and began folding the blanket that also served as my robe and my sunshade. In time it would be my shroud, I had no doubt.

Pulling myself across the tiles, I reached for the bowl that he had placed on the stool where I could reach it. He caught my hand and held it as he recited a psalm of thanksgiving to its conclusion; only then would we eat our meal. Never was there such a one for prayer as my brother! 

Lemuel then set a small cup of milk down next to my bowl, giving me a grudging smile — my brother truly does have a good heart. And at that moment, as if summoned by a bell that only she can hear, my Lady Herodias appeared.

Although she is only three years old, Heri — as I sometimes call her — is infinitely wise; you can see it when she gazes at you with her deep and thoughtful eyes, holding secrets that she will never reveal. The Egyptians of olden days worshipped these creatures as gods and, although it is quite wrong-headed, you can see how they got the idea.

Before beginning my meal, I set the cup of milk on the floor next to me, where Heri very delicately lapped it up. When she had finished she began the process of cleaning her face — giving special attention to her long, elegant whiskers, and then each of her white-tipped paws. Watching her I remembered — suddenly, vividly — my dream: how easily I had climbed the hill, how steady my steps, how strong my legs. How unlike the reality of my life!

My throat felt thick; I coughed, so abruptly that a startled Heri ceased her cleaning for a moment and stared at me. I rubbed my hand over my face, “I’m ready when you are, Lemuel.”

With a deep sigh my brother slapped his hands down on the table, “Let’s roll out!”

It’s another of those routine phrases of his. Another is “Onward we go!” both of which he adopted from hearing soldiers in the Roman legion shout the words as they marched through the town when we were still young boys.

Lemuel would like to have been a solider, I think; he is fascinated by tales of foreign lands, and his eyes positively sparkle when Caesar’s troops pass by, as if reflecting the shine of their bright armor and glittering spears. Instead, his life is spent in servitude to me; as my guardian, nursemaid, my all-in-all. Without him I would very simply be dead: I cannot walk, I cannot work, I cannot prepare my meals or clean myself. My damaged legs have crippled my brother, as well.

That Lemuel is sometimes angry and resentful, no one can blame him. Least of all me, his terrible, weighty burden. His love for me is all that has kept me alive. 

And so we are off again; my brother pushing me through the streets in a sort of carriage he built using the parts from a discarded wheelbarrow, Lady Herodias perched on my knees like a queen reviewing her subjects as we head toward the temple gate. We can always be found in the same place, every day, from early morning until the last light, with a brief return to home in early afternoon for a small meal — beggars are not to be seen eating: a sure sign that they have all that they need!

Suddenly the cart sped up as my brother started to run. “Make way!” Lemuel cried, “Make way for the prince!” 

I laughed, feeling the air brushing against my face. When we were young — when our parents were still living — my father bought a beautiful little cart for me to ride in and Lemuel would push me through the marketplace calling out like that. People had stopped and stared then, as they were doing now.

For a moment life was sweet again. Like the midday meal had been. Sometimes you just never know how things will turn out.

Too soon we reached the entrance to the temple; “the Beautiful Gate” where I sit each day, among the others — the aged, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the deformed, the demon-haunted; each of us with our tragic story, each one vying against the others to reach the hearts of the temple worshippers. And, of course, their pocketbooks. Who among us is the most pitiful? Whose misery most deserving of relief? 

Alms! Alms! Charity, for God’s sake! 

When I was younger the handouts were more generous. After all, who isn’t moved by the sight of a lame child? But a crippled old man gleans far less sympathy, and far fewer coins. But haven’t I suffered longer? Should I be punished because poverty and pain have eroded my appearance? Am I not like the one Isaiah spoke of:

despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and companion of grief; one from whom others look away; he was ignored and avoided, considered worthless. ~ Isaiah 53:3

There are days when I consider it a bitter irony that this doorway is also called “the Gate of Mercy.” Get it? I sit outside the threshold of God’s charity and compassion. But then Heri yawns and stretches and winds her way around me, insisting on being petted, and life is suddenly sweet once again.

Lemuel lifted me out of my carriage and half carried, half dragged me to the spot where I can always be found. Age does have its privilege here: a regular position, like the elders in the temple; preferential seating which I am expected to occupy. So my brother’s facetious cry has become true: I am a prince — among beggars. I would give anything to be a pauper among the able-bodied. But I have nothing to give…..

I settled on my blanket as the worshippers made their way into the temple for afternoon prayers. This hour is favored by merchants and innkeepers — many of whom are often quite generous; last-minute good deeds to soothe uneasy consciences, perhaps. Whatever the reason, it is a good time to be here. I glanced over and saw that Lemuel had stationed himself a short distance away, mingling with the crowd, pretending to admire the vendors’ wares. In reality he was standing guard to make sure I would not be robbed, as has happened in the past. Our eyes met and it was as if an arrow pierced my heart: my poor brother! Tied to me by invisible strings, his life as constricted as my own.

Lady Herodias, meanwhile, was drawn to my neighbor’s knapsack, her eyes narrowed, her tail twitching, crouching. Slowly a foolish brown bug began to emerge — just the head and feelers visible. Heri backed up a few inches, and bent lower, ready to spring .… when suddenly the cricket made a huge leap and landed on her left foot: in an instant the hunter became the prey. With a startled mew! she turned tail and burrowed under my blanket. As I say, you never know how things will turn out.

The sound of a metallic click on the marble tiles drew my attention back to the passing crowd; someone had tossed a coin to little Jacob, with his huge dark eyes. None of us will fight him for his gleanings; his body so thin, his movements so jerky, we’ve seen it all before; soon he will be too weak to sit up, and soon he will sleep with his ancestors, God be praised. God be praised, indeed! For the mercy of an end to suffering! Is that why we sit here — is that all we hope for — here at this Gate of Mercy: the mercy of our final rest?

I shake my head and get down to the business at hand, “Alms! Alms for the poor! Charity, for God’s sake!”

“Look here!” a voice called out, I looked up into the eyes of the man who spoke — a rarity, it must be said: most people hurry past, discomfited by our many maladies, embarrassed by our begging, preferring to look away; perhaps to spare us their looks of pity — or contempt. But this man and his companion were looking directly at me. They were dressed modestly, but their clothes were clean, and they looked well-nourished.

I put on my meekest, most ingratiating smile; you never know: sometimes the most bedraggled person will hand over a great deal of coin — not guilt-gold as Lemuel calls it, but given out of true, pure generosity; genuinely “for God’s sake.” I’ve heard a story about a poor woman who gave the last coin she had. You never know.

“I have no money, but what I have I give to you,” the man said. I reached out, expecting perhaps a piece of fruit, a slice of bread or even a flask of wine — when suddenly the man grabbed my outstretched hand and yanked me to my feet. I gasped in shock and alarm.

“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene — walk!” said Peter (for this is who it was).

I could see Lemuel fighting his way through the crowd to reach me, but what was more pressing at that moment was the sensation in my legs and feet: I could feel them! For the first time in my life I could feel.. … there was warmth, and then as if they were on fire — but not in a painful way; as if they were filled with life, with energy, with strength. I could stand!

I began jumping and leaping like Heri’s cricket. I practically ran into the temple, shouting Hosannahs all the way, Peter and John barely keeping up, and Lemuel following behind, calling my name. 

Everyone was staring; the priests, the prayerful, the idlers, the lamp lighters. Most recognized me, as they had walked past me day after day for years on end, and their faces registered amazement — and shock, confusion, doubt, and — for a few — delight: here stood a living, breathing confirmation of God’s mercy and compassion. “A miracle!” someone whispered. “God be praised!” another voice, louder. Then a shout: Lemuel had caught up to us and, pushing Peter and John aside, reached for me, “What are you doing?! Let my brother go!” 

Then he saw me standing before him on my own two legs. He stared, unblinking, his body as motionless as one of the temple pillars. I laughed and called out — my voice echoing through the temple, “Look, Lemuel! I can walk!”

I kicked my feet in the air and did a little dance — one of the priests put his hands to his face in horror (honestly: if David danced before the ark, it should be perfectly fitting for the rest of us to do the same, don’t you think?). I paused, breathless, and then said, again, “Lemuel! Do you see what God has done? I can walk!” After a moment I had another realization, and I said, “Lemuel, you are free!” We fell on each others’ shoulders, sobbing.

It has been many months since the miracle, and life has changed in amazing ways. Now that I can get around on my own, Lemuel has taken a job with a spice merchant which gives him an opportunity to travel, and everywhere he goes, he tells our story: one of many chapters in the good news of Jesus Christ. 

And as for me? I have found work on a fishing boat — although I’ve been known to cast my net for for other “catch” as well. Lady Herodias has adapted to her new position as ship’s cat, and her coat has never been sleeker (or her body rounder!).

As I’ve always said: You never know how things will turn out.

Grateful as I am to our gracious God, I often wonder “why me?” Why wasn’t little Jacob healed instead? or old Nathaniel, or Joel, or Hannah’s baby daughter… or any of the rest of those who were there that day? Why was I singled out for this miracle when others needed healing and restoration just as much, if not more? 

I have no answer; I can only show forth the reality that I embody. What I have I give to you: I have been healed; I have been given a new life through Jesus Christ, son of God, savior. In His name I seek to do as He instructed all who follow Him: let us love one another — for I believe there can be no greater healing miracle than love.

In His Name,

Gabriel

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Have faith in God’s grace and the healing power of Jesus Christ. It all starts (and continues, eternally) with love.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Acts 3:1-16 ~ told by Deborah

Peter and John were heading to the temple for afternoon prayer as a man who had been lame from birth was being carried in. He could always be found at the gate to the Beautiful temple, where he begged from those who were going inside.

When he saw Peter and John at the entrance to the temple, he immediately called out, “Alms! Alms for the poor!” And Peter, and John, too, looked directly at him and said, “Look here!” And as he looked at them, expecting to receive a handout, Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene — walk!” And grabbing his right hand, he pulled him to his feet; and immediately his feet and his ankles became strong. 

With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he went into the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And everyone who saw him walking and praising God recognized him as the one who used to sit at the entrance to the temple to beg alms, and they were incredulous that such a thing could have happened.

Seeing their looks of amazement, Peter said, “Why are you surprised by this, you who worship the Living God? Why do you stare in awe as if we did this through our own power? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus — the one you rejected and handed over to Pilate, even though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One, asking for a murderer to be released instead, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses to that crime. But by faith the very mention of His name has made this man strong — the man you see before you, and know personally. It is the faith that comes through Jesus that gave him this perfect health that is right before your eyes.

“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. And God used that to fulfill what the holy prophets had foretold: that his Messiah would suffer. So turn, then; turn to God so that you can have a fresh start.”

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Scriptures, Stories | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Silence

Deborah Beach Giordano
© April 9, 2018

Mark 16:1-8 ~ told by Deborah

After the sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, in order to anoint him.

Very early on the first day of the week, as the sun was starting to light the sky, they set off for the tomb. Along the way they began to worry, “How will we reach him?” “Who will remove the stone from the entrance to the tomb?”

But when they got there, they saw that the stone, which was massive, had already been set aside.

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were shocked.

But he said to them, “Don’t be afraid; you’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he isn’t here. See,” he pointed to the rock shelf, “That’s where they put him. Now, go and tell his disciples and Peter that he is headed for Galilee; that’s where you will see him, just as he told you.”

So they went out and ran from the tomb, terrified and bewildered; and they said nothing to any one, because they were frightened.

They Went to the Tomb at Dawn

The image that comes to me is of midwives, these women who went to Jesus’ tomb that early morning — and who came away from that place in awe, carrying their incredible knowledge with them. 

They are witnesses to a new birth, a redemption from death; Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation,” as a later apostle will say. Life is reborn, renewed: hope is born out of despair, joy is born from sorrow. 

and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away. ~ Revelation 21:4

It is a precious, sacred message they are carrying, these midwives to the Gospel, and they are terrified and confused by what they have seen, despite the angel’s reassurance. “Don’t be afraid”? Is he kidding? Who wouldn’t be overwhelmed and alarmed by such an awesome responsibility?

They Said Nothing to Anyone

Most scholars believe that Mark’s gospel originally ended with the women’s hurried departure from the tomb, the Story yet untold. Later editors “helpfully” added material to explain how things worked out. 

I prefer this incomplete version. The women’s silence is more believable and, I think, gives greater honor and respect to the Message they were carrying. This wasn’t simply a pretty sunrise, a lost coin that had been found, or even a minor earthquake — nothing that could be easily described or readily comprehended. This was a divine revelation which will only be understood by those with ears to hear. 

If we were in their sandals, what would we say? They had been in the presence of absolute holiness revealed; a place where God had acted, definitively. They had stood in the portal between all that had gone before and A New Revelation; between non-being and the fullness of life. Explain that, if you can. What happened there? What did you see? Tell me about this “Jesus who was crucified and has been raised.” Who was he…. Who is he?

Sometimes what is true is far beyond mere words.

Awe-Struck

I have stood in the presence of birth and of death and, as strange as this may sound, the two share a similar essence — if you will. Again, as with certain events and experiences, it is difficult to describe what that “essence” is. There is a kind of shimmering; a sort of “bright darkness,” an energy field, a sense of profound depth; a powerful, overwhelming silence — even as monitors beep, alarms sound, cries and moans and prayers are raised. 

At such times there truly is a holy breath — a Spirit that speaks for us and to us, with sighs too deep for words. It is there, in the deep silence, beyond description, beyond explanation. Midwives and hospice chaplains know this Holy Land, this liminal space where this world and the other mingle gently, softly, deeply; where an unseen, powerful Presence keeps watch; where there is no fear or sorrow, only peace.

How do you talk about the Utterly Divine; the Alpha and the Omega, the Absolutely True? What words could be adequate? What language shall I borrow?

So they went out and ran from the tomb, terrified and bewildered; and they said nothing to any one…

Perhaps because there was nothing they could say.

Go and Tell

Although the women initially remained silent, the word got out. They safely delivered the Message entrusted to them, and the other disciples were able to go and see the Lord Christ — just as He had said. 

Overcoming their fear and confusion, the women found a way to share what they had witnessed. They had to find the right words, and the right time, and the right people to tell. It had to be done carefully, thoughtfully, gently; like carrying a newborn child: far too precious to be handed over to just anybody. 

“Carry tenderly the Virgin’s Son.”
~ St. Giles of Assisi

Entrust

I came across the word “entrust” as I was composing this reflection, and saw it with new eyes. What is entrusted to us is of great value: emotionally, spiritually, or physically; if we are good stewards, we will take special care of this en-trust-ment; ensuring that it is kept safe and secure. If I entrust to you the pearl necklace that belonged to my mom, I have faith/hope that you will treat it gently and care-fully — and not mislay it or mistreat it or cast it to swine.

Our Easter morning midwives were entrusted with the infant Gospel, which they carried away with them in silence, in awe and trembling. They held and beheld this precious trust, this awesome responsibility, and treated it accordingly.

And I wonder.

What about us? How careful are we? Like those women at the tomb, we Christians have been entrusted with a precious Gift: the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Do we tremble in awe of this sacred responsibility? Do we carry it tenderly? Do we carry it at all?

Temptations along the Way

Those holy women were faced with great temptation as they ran away from the Sacred Mystery. They could have kept on running and never looked back; they could have remained silent, never telling what they knew. They could have succumbed to fear: fear of ridicule, of public opinion; fear of being thought of as liars or foolish or insane.

After all, it is a pretty extraordinary Story. Not the sort of thing you can tell to just anybody.

So how, then, are we to carry the ever-newborn Gospel that has been entrusted to us? How can we bring the Good News to those who do not yet know it? 

Sing Hallelujah

As our Easter midwives demonstrated, the Message is to be delivered with awe and tender care. We are called to honor the gift and the Giver — with grateful praise and astonished hearts singing “Hallelujah!” Singing, not shouting; offering, not demanding; revealing the radiant visage of the Lord Christ in our own lives as living founts of compassion, charity, and courage. 

If we so choose. 

Like the women running from the tomb, we can remain silent, or we can reveal the glorious Good News of “Jesus who was crucified and has been raised.”

And thus Mark concludes …. dropping off into silence, waiting for our decision, waiting for our witness. The story does not end, not as long as the Gospel continues to be told, as long as lives are transformed, as long as faith and hope and love remain.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Sing “Hallelujah!”

 

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Prayer, Scriptures, Spiritual exercises | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Anointing

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© March 28, 2018

Mark 14:1-11 ~ told by Deborah

It was two days before Passover and the religious authorities were continuing their efforts to get rid of Jesus permanently — but they agreed: “Not during the festival, otherwise the crowds may riot.”

At the time, Jesus was staying at the house of Simon the leper. That evening at dinner one of the women brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil, and she broke the seal on the jar and poured the oil over his head.

Some who were there whispered angrily to one another, “Why waste such expensive oil like that? It could have been sold for a small fortune — and the money given to the poor.”

And they scolded her, “What’s the matter with you? Do you have any idea what you’ve done?!”

But Jesus said, “Stop right there. Why are you hassling her? She has done a beautiful thing for me. You can show charity to the poor any time, but I won’t always be here. She has done all that she could; she has anointed my body in anticipation of its burial. I’m telling you truly: wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in remembrance of her.”

It was then that Judas Iscariot went to the religious authorities and offered to betray him to them. They were grateful — and promised to pay him, so he began to look for an opportunity to hand him over to them.

The Beginning of the End

Jesus and his disciples were dining at the house of a friend two days before Passover. As observant Jews, the coming holiday would have been foremost in their minds, celebrating the birth of their nation, when Egyptian slaves followed God’s call and became The People of Israel. Yet here they were, preparing to celebrate a festival of freedom while living under the sovereignty of a foreign king.

This fact was not overlooked by the multitudes who came to Jerusalem for the holiday. Surely the Eternal, the Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had heard the cries of His people — for they were groaning under the oppression of Caesar, his taxes, his soldiers, his bureaucrats. How long, O Lord? Had Moses lead the people out of Egypt so they could die under Roman rule? When would the promised messiah come: the one who would lead them to victory, and (re)establish God’s kingdom as David had done? Many had grown tired of waiting, and agitated for a revolution.

The religious authorities were well aware of the volatility of the crowds who swarmed into the town during this emotionally-charged festival, and they feared the carnage that might occur if things got out of hand. Therefore, it was decided that this was not a good time to continue their  pursuit of that troublemaker, Jesus.

And there, in this season of hopes and dreams and national enthusiasm, just outside the City where David had ruled by divine right as king, a woman came to Jesus carrying a flask — made of alabaster, the symbol of purity and perfection, filled with fragrant oil. Breaking the seal, she poured the contents over Jesus’ head.

Different Seeing

The literal-minded who were that evening saw only the thing-as-it-was: the oil, its expensive container, its costly ingredients, its resale price on the open market. Others looked upon it with different eyes, honoring its symbolic purpose, seeing its value as far beyond mere money. It was a chrism; the oil of anointing:

a consecration, a coronation.

Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

The messiah of God, the Lord Christ, the anointed One.

Here was an enactment, a confession, a demand: Lord, be for us the One who was promised.

Our Views

Despite the Lord’s commendation, this (unnamed!) woman’s action has quite certainly not been “remembered wherever the Gospel is told.” Historically, it’s generally been overlooked, or brushed aside — as if she were some kind of crazy lady who followed Jesus into Lazarus’ house and attacked him with a flask of oil. At best it might be thought that she was a sort of prophet who knew that she was pouring fragrant oil over the soon-to-be-corpse of the Lord.

Her action, so daring and so devout, has been misunderstood, overshadowed by Jesus’ recontextualizing of it. This was not an anticipation of his death, but an avowal of his messiahship; an affirmation that he — and not that schmo Herod — was the true King of the Jews; that God had indeed heard the groaning of His children and had sent a Divine Rescuer to free them from their servitude and misery.

What that woman did was extraordinary — very much a “goodness” done to the Lord; a beautiful thing: proclaiming to him and to the assembled community that he was their king. She, and others, saw and understood Who he was, even if the bureaucrats in Jerusalem did not.

Jesus, of course, viewed the situation from a different perspective. He saw the inevitable outcome of his mission and ministry: the authorities would not approve of, or allow, or tolerate it. He was a marked man; a dead man walking.

The woman was right and righteous in her intention, as was Jesus, who accepted her blessing, the consecration — and the responsibility that came with it. What came next would not be a glorious elevation to the throne of Israel, but an ignominious elevation on a cross of suffering and death. It was both an anointing and a preparation for his burial.

The Stages to the Cross

In her (brazen?) act of anointing Jesus, consecrating him as the Christ, the woman set off a chain of events that brought His ministry to its fruition. And so, perhaps, we might say that wherever the Gospel is proclaimed it is a remembrance of her faith and courage. This may also explain why all of the other Gospels “sanitize” the woman’s act by setting her at the Lord’s feet, because a consecration — in which the holy oil was poured over the ordinand’s head — was to be done only by a man, and only by a priest, at that.

While we need to be cautious about reading the scriptures through a modern lens, it seems very possible that the description of the events as given in Mark more accurately reflect what happened than do the Gospels which were written much later. It may also shed some light on why it was at that time that Judas decided to betray Jesus.

Later reports label Judas as “a thief” and that thirty pieces of silver was enough to buy his loyalty, but that’s not what Mark implies. Something happens that night at the dinner table that causes him to decide to hand Jesus over to his enemies. Could it have been Jesus’ willingness to accept a woman’s consecration? Was it that He not only allowed, but defended her use of the oil of anointing? Was this the last straw in a long pattern of Jesus being just too darned accepting?

An Unlikely Messiah

How could this Jesus be the messiah when he didn’t care about raising an army or taking over the temple? It was nearly Passover; the city was filled with willing bodies, if only they were mobilized, but Jesus is just sitting there, eating with this bunch of sickies and sinners! And why wasn’t he concerned with holiness, if he really had been sent by God? What was he doing fraternizing with lepers and layabouts, tax collectors, wine merchants, and women of every type and condition?!

It was as if nothing was too extraordinary; no sin too vile, no behavior too loathsome, no history too shameful, no character too questionable. All were welcome, all were precious in his sight. Just look around the table: there was no preference in the seating: you sat wherever you sat — disciples who had been with Jesus from the beginning weren’t treated any different from the bedraggled camel-trader who just came in from off the street. If everybody was ok, how could you tell who wasn’t? How could you be sure that you were loved if everyone was loved and cared for?

It simply isn’t right. It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t the way the world works. There has to be an elite group; there have to be outsiders so that the insiders know we are special. This guy can’t be the messiah we’ve been awaiting if he is so lacking in a basic understanding of how things are done. …. And so Judas pushes himself away from the table, slipping out the door, down the shadowed alleyways, into the depths of the night. This Jesus is not the messiah he was waiting for.

Washing His Feet with Her Tears

Jesus had noticed Judas’ departure, perhaps even risen to follow him and offer some comfort or consolation — but the man was lost in the darkness, his anger enveloping him like a shroud. The rest of the company was quiet, possibly shocked into silence by the Lord’s announcement of his coming death and burial. The woman was weeping. Had even Jesus himself misunderstood what she had done?

She knelt before him, washing his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, pleading for his life, begging him to claim his rightful heritage, to be the messiah they had been waiting for. And Jesus gently stroked her hair and wept beside her.

Was this the inauguration of the ritual of foot washing as commemorating in some of the early Christian communities? Was it a sign of both devotion and sorrow: an acknowledgement of holiness, and sorrow at the brevity of life?

Wouldn’t it be just like Jesus — this most unlikely of messiahs — to offer to his followers a reminder of the sacredness of one another; an honoring of each person individually, intimately, in the washing of each other’s feet? Here, indeed, was a king whose kingdom was not of this world: a community of compassion, ruled by the law of love and service — utterly unlike the way we expect these things to be done.

The Coronation

King Jesus’ only crown will be one cruelly fashioned out of thorns, he will be mocked and scorned, betrayed and denied and deserted by his followers; his reign lasting for but a few dozen hours. The oil of his consecration was indeed the anointing of his body for its burial, just as he said. But, despite the most determined efforts of his enemies, his kingdom is still with us — we are living in its midst. God’s Word is the last word, and that Word is Life.

And what of the legacy of that devout and daring woman? Surely we do remember her whenever we proclaim the Gospel — whenever we affirm, with her, that Jesus is the Christ, our Lord, the king whose law of love rules our lives.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Once a year, on Maundy Thursday, the Christian community reenacts the Lord’s washing of his disciples feet. What would it be like to approach everyone we meet with an equal attitude of humility and compassion and care — every day?

 

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Scriptures | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment