The Experience of Pentecost

All at once 

a thundering storm
howling
as demons
cast into the sea
shrieking for mercy,
shaking the foundations,
breaking the chains,
shattering
our complacency;

we trembled

but the Lord was not
in the storm
or in our trembling;

then

a fiery explosion
blazing
as the sun
splitting the sky
fierce flames
roaring
demanding
devouring the darkness;

we shouted in terror;

but the Lord was not
in the flames
or in our shouting;

then

after the storm
after the fire
a soft sweet stillness

peace

surpassing all understanding
and yet understood;

mocked and derided
yet cherished;

denied
yet sought after:
a gift
more precious than jewels.

Then

many voices
speaking
as birds singing
announce
the dawn;
intelligible
to every soul,
the universal language
of joy; 

we spoke

but the Lord was not
in our words
or in our mouths;

the Lord was
in our hearts.

And all who were there
understood.


May Christ’s grace and healing love abide,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:

Live in the spirit of Pentecost.

The lectures you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do.
For I may misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there is no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.
~ from I’d Rather See a Sermon, by Edgar Guest

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Posted in Christianity, Deborah Beach Giordano, Poetry | Tagged

I Am… the Walrus?

Deborah Beach Giordano
© June 3, 2019

John 17:20-26

Jesus prayed, “Father, I ask not only for these disciples, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in me and I in You, that they might be in us, so that the world may believe that You sent me.

“The glory You have given me I have given them, that they may be one just as we are one: I in them and You in me, that they may be completely one, so that the world might know that You sent me, and loved them just as You have loved me.

“Father, I wish that they too, those You have given me, might be with me where I am, that they might see my glory, which You have given me, because You loved me from before the world began.

“Righteous Father, the world did not know You, but I knew You; and these know You have sent me forth; and Your name I have made known, and will make known to them, so that the love with which You loved me may be in them, and I in them, also.”

Psychedelic

In this Gospel passage we are told that Jesus prayed,

“… that they may all be one,
just as You, Father, are in me
and I in You,
that they may be in us…”

Whew! That’s a dense sentence — in grammar and ideology: No more us or them, you or me, but all in one, together in a sort of cosmic blend. Perhaps because I am [ahem] “of a certain age,” whenever I hear it I am reminded of the lyrics:

“I am he
as you are he
as you are me
and we are all together…”
~ I am the Walrus, 1967, John Lennon

And I wonder if comparing these lines commemorating an LSD trip with that scripture passage may be closer to the mark than it might at first appear. There does seem to be a sort of hallucinogenic quality to much of the Johannine gospel; a kind of topsy-turvy, illogical, confusing worldview: Jesus anticipates his death as his “glory” — not a suffering to be avoided, but anticipated, even embraced; his crucifixion is treated as a coronation, his crown a wreath of thorns, his title emblazoned atop the cross. Crushed but victorious, he is dead and yet alive, ascended and yet present. He is One with God, One with his disciples, all are One together; individuals are a single body: joined and yet separate, apart yet together….

It does sound downright psychedelic!

And perhaps that’s a helpful mindset to adopt if we hope to comprehend what the author wants us to understand: the Christ event is exceedingly, extravagantly, beyond the norm. What happened was Utterly Different from anything that went before: it cannot be described in ordinary terms, it cannot be conceived of in ordinary images; it was and is an experience Absolutely Other Than what the world believes.

In short: God has genuinely, unequivocally done A New Thing in Jesus Christ. 

A Different Way

“In the world but not of it,” is the classic description of those who go through life without being tainted or tarnished by cultural influences: the artists, the philosophers, the lovers, the dreamers — those who think freely, imagine uniquely, behave differently. It’s the sort of character Christians are supposed to possess: “otherworldly.” We are subjects of the King of Kings, followers of His teachings; gracious and compassionate, unwilling to worship earthly rulers or riches, refusing to succumb to worldly cynicism and divisiveness: non-conforming. Free.

In short: Christians are called to be Utterly Different.

But it isn’t easy. We are in the world: surrounded by worldly values, powers, and propaganda, confronted by constant pressures to conform; to follow the herd, to admire what they admire, desire what they desire, and scorn what they scorn. Daily our faith is demeaned and mocked, denied and dissected, derided as superstition, madness, mind-control, ignorance, stupidity. We are lumped together with bigots and bullies. The bright and the beautiful make a point of denouncing Christianity as a lot of nonsense. 

But I wonder…. 

If our faith is just so much foolishness, of no account, readily dismissed — why is so much energy devoted to refuting it? 

Why is there such eagerness to deflect our loyalty, such determination to distract our attention, such persistent efforts to turn us away from Christ? Perhaps there is something to this Way of His; perhaps it is more powerful than we imagine; perhaps it poses a threat to the ways of the world. Perhaps thinking — believing — “differently” is the path to salvation: to freedom from lies and deception, freedom from serving the deadly and death-dealing powers that seek to define, control, and absorb us.

If we are mindful followers of the Lord Jesus, we cannot become mindless slaves to the status quo. We will see things from a different viewpoint: situated in love and compassion, we will not mistake passing fads for eternal truths. Loyal to Christ, we will not bind ourselves to false prophets or be misled by “saviors” who promise to redeem the world — tempting as it is to yearn for a leader who will “make all things new again.”  

“If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’
or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.”
~ Matthew 24:23

To Overcome the World

It has often happened that Christians’ professed desire to “overcome the world,” has been misinterpreted as a plan to take over the world. I think that’s purest projection: when a culprit accuses others of plotting an evil deed that they, themselves dream of. In fact, our “overcoming” is a personal challenge: the only control we seek is self-control. It is resisting cultural programming, refusing to buy in to the worldly doctrine that success can be measured by money or materials; it is learning to listen and evaluate, to discuss and not condemn — to freely, fully, graciously “think and let think.”

To overcome the world is to form our own ideas within the framework of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shaped by love and compassion — not in obedience to what our culture or community demands. It is not to take over the world, but to take back our integrity; it is to (re)claim our allegiance to the Lord’s authority. It is to think for ourselves, to listen to our hearts, to choose kindness over conformity. It is freeing and empowering and supremely counter-cultural.

hmmmm. That does sound a bit scary, doesn’t it? Exciting. Risky. Challenging. Even alarming.

Imagine how much more alarming that sounds to those who seek to control our thinking, our desires, our dreams, our behavior, our world. Imagine how disruptive such beliefs and actions are to the plans of those who have determined that they know what’s best for others; those whose hubris entices them to extend their authority into every aspect of our lives — even to deciding to end them when they see fit. Now imagine what recourse these god-wannabes might take against such a threat to their power: that may help to explain why there is such determined opposition to the Way of Christ.

Imagine living fully, fearlessly, kindly, compassionately. Imagine overcoming the world. What a trip!

Opiate or Antidote

Religion is not, as is so often claimed, an opium for the people — but the antidote to the stream of digital opiates that obscure reality and confuse our thinking. 

Christ’s Way does not seek to entertain, but to enlighten, to illuminate the realities of our world. The Lord’s earthly life and ministry did not conclude like a fairy tale: there was no “and they all lived happily ever after” — that’s not how the world works. Nobody gets out of here alive. There is suffering and grief, disappointments and regret, hunger and hatred…. but that’s not all that there is. Above/ beyond/ ultimately / absolutely there IS — the extraordinary I AM: the magnificent, inexpressible Utterly Other that encircles us, embraces us, and absorbs us into what we might understand as Light, but is so much more.

In simple terms: God is a trip. That’s part of what the John Gospel seeks to communicate to us: what we think we know about life, the universe, and everything is feeble and faulty, limited and constrained by narrow, superficial “information.” Reality — the Truth that will set us free — is utterly different from what we are trained to believe; God really is love, and truly does care for all of creation, not least of all for us human beings.

May Christ’s grace and healing love abide,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Imagine being absorbed into God: gently, tenderly enlivened; infused with a radiance that expands your heart into a perfect love for all that is. Rest in that place, know that peace, carry it with you.

Posted in Christianity, Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Spiritual exercises | Tagged , , ,

By the Pool called Bethesda – a soldier’s story

Deborah Beach Giordano
© May 26, 2019

John 5:1-9 ~ told by Deborah

It was near the time of a Jewish holiday, and Jesus went to Jerusalem for the celebration. 

Next to the Sheep Gate to Jerusalem there is a pool the Hebrews call Bethesda, with five alcoves. Those who gathered there — the blind, the broken, the diseased, the disabled — had given up any hope for healing apart from a miracle. And so they lay in the shade and waited, because at certain times an angel of the Lord stirred up the water, and whoever first stepped into the pool at that time was made well. 

A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had been in that condition for a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” 

The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and before I can reach it, someone else gets there first.” 

Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your bed roll and walk.” 

Immediately the man became well, and picked up his bed roll and started walking.

This took place on the Sabbath.

A Soldier’s Story

The sunlight struck the edge of his sword and he charged ahead blindly, his shield before him; shouting, cursing, slashing, fueled by the wild energy of battle. Eyes forward, march on! He felt the weapon shudder and stop; a scream — a shrilling as of a peacock, and then silence; blood spattered on his gloved hand. Eyes forward, march on! Plunging ahead, his armor wet with sweat — the heat of battle is no mere metaphor, panting, slashing; howling, ceaseless, unhesitating. Eyes forward, march on! Cresting the hill: a clash, a flash of steel, he staggered; an enemy sword had struck and missed, deflected by his shield, unbalancing him. He fell, slipping back, down, prone, helpless, ignored as the following ranks marched forward over him. Sliding, sliding, sliding; unable to stop. Coughing, gagging, spitting, struggling to get his breath. The ground seemed to swallow him: wet, clinging, muddy, a dark maroon landscape of broken swords, shattered lances, flakes of armor, fallen daggers, and severed body parts. He gasped, struggling, sinking, sinking, sinking ever deeper. He could not stand: he was drowning in a sea of blood. 

Flailing, struggling, wrestling with the memory, the old soldier came to himself with a shout. His eyes wild; dizzy, disoriented: where was he? The ground was solid, smooth, pale, cold; a few steps away, shimmering like steel, a pool of water. 

He did not remember how he got there, or how long he had been there. A week, an age, a lifetime…. He knew that these were healing waters — or so it was said, but each time he drew near to the edge, he could not go in. When he looked down, he saw it filled with shards of metal, flecks of blood, and broken bones; there was no healing to be found within, only a reflection of the horrors he had seen.

And so he remained hidden in the recess of the alcove, paralyzed with fear; a creature of the shadows, laid out on the cool, pale, marble as in a sepulcher, alongside others who, like him, were dead while yet alive.

In my Imagining

Perhaps this was the story of the man who lay by the pool of Bethesda: an old soldier; struggling, suffering, abandoned, forgotten, hopeless, helpless; dead while yet alive. Sheltering in the shadows, unseen, ignored, avoided; he is a troublesome reminder of the fact of war and the cost of war.

His story takes place on a holiday — like our Memorial Day weekend. Many of those who came to Jerusalem for the celebration would have entered through the Sheep Gate and walked past the pool where the invalids lay without so much as a sideways glance. It was, after all, a view better avoided: the mad, the misshapen, the hopeless, heaped together like broken pottery — not at all conducive to a party atmosphere.

It is the same with most of us: we see Memorial Day as a time for festivities — picnics, barbecues, camping trips, pool parties, and Sales Events — overlooking those the holiday is meant to honor: our war dead. After all, who wants to think about that sort of depressing stuff when the weather is so beautiful. Summer has finally begun: let’s celebrate!

But, for some, there can be no celebration.

Those Who Mourn

As acutely painful and tragic as are the losses suffered by families and friends of those who have died, there are others still among the living who struggle to survive after having served in conflict zones. Some are still engaged in the battle: hyper-vigilant, on guard and ready to engage in an instant. While we cry “peace” for them there is no peace, for they have seen — and continue to see — what we cannot: a potential sniper’s nest; a likely ambush, an enemy combatant, an explosive device in the street. Children’s shouts sound like battle cries, sirens can send them diving for cover, an unexpected touch can set off a towering rage, their own capacity for violence can fill them with grief and horror. 

Many of these try to self-medicate, to take shelter in the shadowland of alcohol or drugs, dulling their senses — but there is no peace, only stupor: a paralysis of mind and body. They lie on our sidewalks, stumble through our cities, mumble and shout and threaten and weep helplessly. These are the other casualties of war: those who are “as good as dead,” and yet unburied.

Marching Orders?

So, what might the Lord Jesus have done for our old soldier who was paralyzed by his memories, incapacitated by his past; unable to live, despite having physically survived the battle? The Gospel, always anxious to show that “at His word all were healed,” may have provided us with only an abbreviated version of events; perhaps there is more to the story. 

“Pick up your bed roll and walk!” 

To an old soldier, Jesus’ words might have sounded like a command: “Attention! Forward: march!” — one that the fellow appears to have followed, unquestioningly, but the Lord wasn’t a general; he was a teacher, a healer. There must have been further conversation — a personal connection, an encounter beyond a quick question, a hesitant reply, and an ensuing demand.

The only “marching orders” Jesus issued were toward love, faith, and service. That fact can help us to imagine what might begin to free someone locked in a prison of pain and hopelessness. Surely it began with Jesus’ recognition of this desperate, destitute soul. After thirty-eight years the man had become so much wallpaper: an ever-present object, as much a part of the healing pool as the pillars surrounding it, and as little-noticed. A permanent resident with no hope of healing, just another bum.

But to Jesus the man was somebody: a person with a life, a history; a reason for being there, and a reason for being. And the Lord spoke to him, directly, firmly; asking what he, himself, wanted. But instead of an answer, the man gave an excuse for remaining in the shadows. These days we would call his attitude “learned helplessness;” he had lived in the category of invalid for so long that he couldn’t imagine doing anything on his own. He had forgotten that his will or desire could have an effect on his life. 

Sacred Space

And here, I believe, is the holy lacuna: the silent sacred space in the Gospel which draws a curtain over the highly personal conversation between the old soldier and the Lord. What was said is not our business, the outcome is what matters: 

The man picked up his bed roll and walked. 

After his encounter with Jesus the man walked openly through the city that had been closed off to him, like a prisoner freed from his chains — or a man raised from the dead. 

What passed between them was particular and personal, and yet, knowing the Lord’s Message as we do, we can discern the essentials: Nothing can separate you from the love of God, no matter who you are, where you’ve come from, or what you’ve done. Your life has value and worth, and, despite whatever has gone before, there is forgiveness and redemption. Take up your history, your experiences, and go forth — walking in the Way of grace and mercy. 

Afterward

It would be lovely to say that, after meeting with Jesus, the man’s life was ease and joy from that moment on — but it wasn’t. The world doesn’t operate that way: we may gain strength for the journey and confidence in God’s love, but pains and problems, stresses and sorrows will still arise. And so it was for the old soldier.

Almost at once he is challenged by the religious authorities; scolded for carrying his bed roll on the Sabbath. Apparently his self-confidence is still a work in progress, as he shifts the blame to his unknown benefactor: “I’m just following orders.” Some time later Jesus finds the man in the Temple — offering thanksgiving to the Beloved, one hopes — and warns him:

“Now that you’re well, keep to the right path, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 

It’s a warning of the danger of cheap grace: a temptation to take divine grace for granted — to treat God’s love and blessings as of no value, as an entitlement rather than a gift. To understand oneself as a blessed and cherished child of God should inspire us to respond in kind: with love and charity, generosity and compassion. 

The man’s story ends ambiguously: having discovered who Jesus was, he went to the religious authorities and told them; they, in turn, began to persecute the Lord for breaking the Sabbath. Was the man an informer who sought to harm the Lord — a sort of proto-Judas who betrayed Him? Or a witness to Christ’s healing power? Or just a weak and frightened soul who didn’t want any trouble? We do not know.

Our Task

As blessed and cherished children of God, and faithful followers of our Lord Christ, we are called to show forth love and charity, generosity and compassion. There can be no better time than the present; and we have a wealth of opportunities.

Those who have died in combat — and, importantly, their survivors — deserve our respect and support. Notably, the state of Ohio offers scholarships for war orphans, such programs should be in place in every state. Equally, the families of those who “gave the last full measure of devotion” in service to their country should be cared for in body, mind, and spirit.

As for the walking wounded, those who returned from battle in body but not in mind — those I have named “the dead while yet alive,” they, too, deserve our care and compassion. Many of the homeless on our streets are veterans, others “live wild;” seeking sanctuary in the hills and shadowed forests. That there is insufficient, delayed and denied treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs/VA hospitals is unconscionable.

Among certain groups at certain times it has been considered smart and fashionable to discount, disrespect, and have outright contempt for those who serve in our military. Such attitudes have no place in the Christian heart, which is to be guided by compassion, mercy, and generosity toward all. That we may hold pacifist views, or disagree with our country’s international policies are separate issues from our call to love and care for one another — especially the sick and the sorrowing, the weary and the wounded, the widows and the orphans. 

May Christ’s grace and healing love abound,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

The question Jesus asks of the man by the pool might easily be asked of us: “Do you want to be healed?” Do we want our foolish (or hardened) hearts to be opened: do we aspire to be wise and loving followers of Christ? Then we must listen to others’ stories.

Read histories of battles, listen to the voices of those who have fought and struggled in combat — troubling and terrifying as they can be, for how else can we hope to understand? How else will we know how to help? How else will we be truly committed to peace?

Clarification: As a Jew, our imagined soldier would have been released from the obligation for military service under Caesar. It is possible that he would have been involved in one of the many “skirmishes” that occurred in the farther provinces of the Roman empire throughout the late first century B.C.E. and early C.E. Having shed blood would require that he undergo cleansing/purification before he could enter the Temple precincts.

Posted in Christianity, Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections | Tagged , , , , ,

Confronting Evil

Deborah Beach Giordano
© March 18, 20197

Again … and Again, and Again

San Bernardino, Parkland, Charleston, Strasbourg, Paris, Orlando, Boston, Ft. Hood, Marrakesh, Pittsburg, Peshawar, Las Vegas, Jolo, Christchurch, … And so it goes.

Another shooting, another heartrending list of names and life stories, another series of funerals, another set of demands for solutions, another chorus of angry denunciations against “those people” who are responsible for the despicable actions of the perpetrator. 

It has become a tragic, heartbreaking routine. And it will continue, as long as we ignore the real cause — which we assiduously, incessantly refuse to do.

We are eager to attribute the motivations for these unconscionable acts to specific belief systems, cultures, or communities; thus establishing an identifiable villain, an “enemy of the people,” to blame. It’s a very workable system, enabling us to believe that all of our troubles will be resolved if only we were rid of: the NRA, racists, radical Islamists, fundamentalist Christians, drug cartels, white supremacists, illegal immigrants, international bankers ….. or whatever group we currently love to hate. They are responsible; they are the guilty ones; they cause all the trouble; if it weren’t for those people, everything would be great.

We’re also perfectly willing to assign someone we’ve never met to one or more of these categories, and ascribe the most destructive and diabolical goals of that group to this person. He or she may be none of those things — but it’s simpler and more comforting to assume the worst. Because… well, because it isn’t us. We, of course, are not like them. But that other person is probably guilty of something.

We are on the side of the angels: we are able to point out the sins of those others. We, with our unblemished hands, can sit in the judgment seat and despise and condemn all of those horrible, utterly other people — of whom we know nothing, other than the attitudes and beliefs we attribute to them: primarily mindless prejudice, and, of course, insensible, insatiable hatred.

An odd accusation, coming from a culture that is consumed by hatred and division.

Them!

“Them!” “Those people!” Thoughtless, unsubstantiated labels are handy devices to affix to a person or group, effectively dismissing and discounting all that they say, all that they care about, all that they are. Individuality is erased with a single word; people are turned into mere caricatures serving to further our prejudices.

Because “it sells” (= is what we want to believe), the media have produced vast assemblages of prejudicial material, further inculcating and inflaming this hatred of “the other.” Whenever the interest in one group begins to fade, another one is raised up: “Look! Over there! A new group we can despise and hate and dehumanize. Another group that isn’t us, another group we can feel superior to, another group to blame for the raging hatred in our world.”

As we are repeatedly told how evil, despicable, deplorable, are those “others,” we grow convinced that they seek only to hurt, kill, and destroy; they are a danger to society. Considering these “facts,” eliminating these threats begins to seem … reasonable. Not merely reasonable, but necessary.

And then Christchurch happens. Or Orlando. Or any of a hundred other tragic events driven by hatred and fear and self-certainty.

Radical Hatred

Recently commentators have begun to use the term “radicalize” to describe those whose belief turns into an obsession. It is the development of a focus so narrow that all that can be seen is the “evil” that is blocking the achievement of the desired goal — which is, invariably, to make the world a better place (in their view). Those so radicalized believe that the destruction of this evil will be a good thing. And so they act accordingly.

The victims are not human beings to these murderers, they are enemies; they have no reality beyond their status as an evil to be eradicated. The overarching cause isn’t an “ism,” but an attitude. It is hatred and a conviction of irresolvable “otherness”: it is the ultimate form of “not us.”

These terrible acts are an extreme reaction to the “radicalizing” to which we’ve all been subjected, and in which we have all willingly participated. It all begins with “the other-ing” of one another. It begins when we cease to see one another as human beings. It begins when we categorize and condemn and hate people we do not know.

And it will continue, for as long as we continue to fuel the fires.

Original Sin

This does not mean we ought to accept as “normal” these terrible, unspeakably tragic killing sprees; murder must always be condemned in the strongest terms. What it does mean is that we need to admit our complicity in the spread of hatred, prejudice, and “othering.” 

The common thread in of all these tragedies is humanity. Human beings are murdering other human beings. People just like us are murdering people just like us. And the impulse to do so exists inside every one of us.

When we are tempted to think that the world would be improved if only “those others” were eliminated, we are murdering them in our hearts. Wholesale slaughter takes place in our imagination every time we divide and despise and condemn; each time we set ourselves as worthy of judging who deserves to exist.

The original sin remains as it always was — nothing to do with sex or nakedness or communing with snakes. It is the deep, distorted desire “to be as gods.” We yearn to be different from the rest of mere humanity: we want to be special, separate, apart; and, above all else, we want ultimate control over the world: that we might give life and take it away.

The Way Forward

The situation cannot be more clear: our world is being destroyed by hatred and division. 

And as for us, what shall we do? What should we say, how should we act, what should we hope for, pray for, work for, and believe in? 

As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the answer should be equally clear: overcome evil with good. We are called to be compassionate, to heal, to bless, to encourage, to uplift. We affirm that all people are children of God, none are outside of the divine encirclement — there are no “others” in the eyes of God. 

It is hard — painful, in fact — to admit that the same hatred that kills multitudes, that same hard-heartedness and self-certainty, exists within all of us. In unguarded moments we succumb to the desire to eliminate our enemies. We may sugarcoat this murderous fantasy by claiming that the removal of these others would “save the world,” but the intention is the same. We want “to be as gods.” We want to set ourselves above all others; as superior beings, able to judge and condemn. 

We live in a world starved for kindness, hungering for compassion; longing for simple mercies of acceptance and understanding. It is a world in desperate need of Christ’s gospel: divine love, enacted in word and deed. This is the work we have been called to; may we be inspired and empowered to do it, gloriously.

Christ’s grace and healing love be with you,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Make contact with a person who is different; one who is an “other” to you. Be compassionate; listen. Do not proselytize or try to convince: simply listen, and seek to learn, and to be a friend.

“Do not judge, or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and the measure you use on others will be applied to you. How is that you notice the dust in your brother’s eye, but not see the log in your own?” ~ Matthew 7:1-2

Posted in Deborah Beach Giordano, Spiritual exercises | Tagged , , , ,

It’s Perfectly Simple

Deborah Beach Giordano
© February 27, 2019

Luke 6:27-31

Jesus said,  

Love your enemies.

Do good to those who hate you.

Bless those who curse you.

Pray for those who revile you.

If someone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other one, too.

If someone takes your coat, give him your shirt, as well.

Give to everyone who asks and, whatever they take, don’t demand its return.

As you want to be treated, treat others.

It’s That Simple

With these few words Jesus tells us how we are to live as His followers. There are no elaborate procedures or exotic rituals, no arcane laws or complex legal codes, no special initiations or secret handshakes; just a few simple rules, given in plain, straightforward language. 

The sentences are composed of basic verbs that even a child can understand: love, do good, bless, pray, turn away from anger, give. And treat others the way you want to be treated.

It’s that simple.

No conditions, no exceptions, no exclusions. 

But, what about….??

These simple, clear-cut, uncomplicated instructions describe how we are to behave as Christ’s disciples; as living embodiments of His teachings in this world. That’s it. End of story. 

Except…

Except for the fact that we humans have been endowed with great intelligence, cleverness, cunning — and a fierce determination to have our own way. So, for the last two thousand years we’ve searched diligently for work-arounds to avoid doing what our Lord Jesus told us to do. 

In the interim we’ve managed to find lots of ways to justify our unwillingness to follow Christ’s teachings. We’ve devised special circumstances, imposed restrictions, created vast categories of “exceptions” to the Lord’s clearly-defined rules. Basically, we’ve convinced ourselves that we only have to engage in Christian conduct when it suits us: when it aligns with our personal preferences and prejudices.

But woe unto those who disagree with our opinions, who hold other beliefs, have opposing views or live in other regions. Those “others” are not deserving of our compassion or care; we haughtily and heartily despise them, ignore their hurts, scorn their concerns, and refuse to engage with them. Words like love, do good, bless, pray, be generous, and turn away from anger are not in our vocabulary — not where “they” are concerned.

“Treat others the way you want to be treated”? Surely that only applies to decent people, the people we like, not just anybody and everybody — we can’t possibly be expected to extend that to those we consider loathsome. And as far as loving our enemies or doing good for them? Well, that’s just not going to happen. They’re beyond redemption; utterly in the wrong, nothing to do with us. Besides, we need to keep our distance; we don’t want to risk contamination. Ewww; they’re just nasty.

Really, there’s no way that what Jesus said can possibly apply to our time and situation; we’re different. We’re good, just the way we are, so there’s nothing more to be done.

Hold on a moment. I think I hear a rooster crowing.

Once More, with Feeling

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good, and lend without regret; and your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you.”
~ Luke 6:35-38

It isn’t up to us to determine the suitability of others: whether they “deserve” our respect or consideration; we are to conduct ourselves as true children of God, as faithful followers of the Lord Christ, with malice toward none and compassion toward all. To condemn is to write another off as of no value; to deny not merely that person — but the One who made him. We have neither the right — nor the ability — to judge the heart of another. 

We are called to compassion and to communion: if we are to be God’s own children, we will acknowledge our differences and seek our commonality. We are none of us so very different from one another: we are more alike than we are willing to admit. Our fascination with our “unique” character leads us into the temptation to believe that we are “special,” in a way that translates to “better than,” our sisters and brothers. We grow stubborn, spiteful, self-infatuated, deluded; our way becomes the only way — and we forget that it is the Lord Christ’s Way that we have been called to follow.

“If your heart is as my heart, take my hand.” ~ John Wesley

All Christians need not observe the same rituals or traditions, say the same prayers, or sing from the same hymnals, but — for the love of God! — we must be compassionate to one another. This has nothing to do with corporate unity or organizational politics: all human constructions are as summer grass that withers and is swept away; nor is it a balm to soothe our weary souls (though it may, indeed, serve that purpose), it is a sacrament. To love one another — those we consider our “enemies” as well as our friends — is a praise-offering to the Beloved, acknowledging the grace and beauty and holy potential inherent in every human being.

Simple — Not Easy

Love, do good, bless, pray, turn away from anger, give generously, treat others the way you want to be treated, be compassionate. A very simple set of instructions … that are very difficult to follow.

It’s so much easier to snipe and snarl and despise and condemn — and it makes us feel so superior that we hardly notice that it poisons our souls with cynicism and despair. The venom clouds our thinking, and we forget what Ultimately Matters; we forget who we are and Whose we are.

Following the Lord Jesus is simple, but not easy. It requires daily, hourly — sometimes minute to minute — effort to be compassionate, gracious, thankful, and kind. It is a glorious calling, and truly a very demanding one: a genuine work of carrying forth the Good News of God’s abundant grace and unfailing love. 

May the divine Advocate inspire and empower all of us to accomplish the holy work we have been called to do.

Christ’s peace and healing love be with you,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Love, do good, bless, pray, turn away from anger, give generously, and treat others the way you want to be treated.

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

Everyone Who Was There

Deborah Beach Giordano
© February 18, 2019

Luke 6:17-19  ~ as told by Deborah

Jesus and his apostles came down from the mountain where He went to pray, and into the midst of a horde of humanity; there were fishermen and farmers, merchants and traders, soldiers and sailors, the educated and the illiterate, disciples and doubters and the desperate, the youthful and the long in the tooth, mothers and maidens and women of ill repute. People from all over Judea — from Jerusalem City to the harbor villages and everywhere in between — came to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were tormented with vile spirits were made well.

And the whole crowd — all of them — surged around Him, reaching out, trying to touch Him; for power came out from Him and healed all of them.

Hold Your Horses!

There’s a problem with this passage: because we know what’s coming next and we’re in such a rush to get to “the important part” (Luke’s version of the Beatitudes), we skip over this, the prelude. In our hurry we miss an equally — perhaps more — important event that happened to the mob of people who had come to see Jesus that day:

“power came out from Him and healed all of them.”

Everybody who was there was healed. Imagine that. The rich and the poor, the devout and the demon-possessed, the best dressed and the worst behaved, the meekest and the meanest, Jewish city dwellers and Roman centurions..… everyone

All those who were there were healed. Jesus did not give special attention to either the good or the bad, the nice or the nasty, the righteous or the wrong-’uns; there was no Express lane for those with ten demons or less: everyone who was there was healed. Everyone.

But let’s think about that. How could everybody be healed? There were other people in the crowd: there were curiosity seekers and believers and folks who had just come to listen. How could it be that all of them were healed — when a lot of them weren’t even sick?

No, I’m OK, Really…

Perhaps some who were there were healed in spite of themselves: those who suffered in silence, unwilling or unable to admit the pain they endured; those who “toughed it out,” because they could not imagine — perhaps had never known — any other way. Still others may have believed that their suffering was a form of punishment for things they had said or done or thought.

It can happen. We may come to a point of surrendering all hope of happiness, all sense of worth or dignity. We may carry crushing burdens of sorrows and grief, be weighed down by guilt and fears that we refuse to acknowledge, heartaches we will not admit, yearnings we ignore. Souls can be sick and weary, and no one ever knows. It can happen, and it has happened to many of us — and many, who were very much like us, were there in the crowd that day.

And then the Lord Christ intervened. And every one who was there was healed

The Power

We are told that the healings were not brought about by what He said, but by the presence of the Lord. As far as we know, He didn’t even touch most of the people, and yet they were made well. There was was a “power,” a divine energy flowing forth from Jesus that blessed all who were there.

Was it some sort of holy magic, a curative power contained in Christ alone that will never be present in our world again? Or was it something else: a miracle of sorts, perhaps, but one that is utterly mundane and repeatable?

Perhaps it was in the way the Lord Christ saw those who were there. When He called his disciples, Jesus always spoke to them directly, individually. It was never, “Hey, you guys over there,” but a specific, “You, Simon, follow Me.” When confronted by a mob of people pushing and shoving and shouting, demanding attention, crying out for help and healing, grabbing at the hem of His robe, many of us would have turned and run right back up the mountain, or used the disciples as an advance guard to protect us and keep the crowds at bay. But Jesus fearlessly entered into their lives, striding directly into the messy business of being human.

The Way in the World

And, too, we would probably have viewed this chaotic scene as the Gospel writer did: as a “crowd of disciples” and a massive throng of “others.” But I don’t think that’s how Jesus viewed the world; to Him it wasn’t a “crowd:” there weren’t types or categories or sheer numbers of people, but individual human beings.

That’s an essential aspect of how Jesus blessed and healed, as evidenced by the Gospels: in recognizing each person’s unique qualities and character, seeing them for who they are, and where they are, and what they need. Jesus would not have seen a “throng,” but would have looked upon each one who was there as a specific, particular, blessed, child of God. 

And surely that what we all want: to be recognized as ourselves — not categorized into limiting designations as part of a herd or tribe or type, but to be truly seen for who we are.

More Than

We are more than the sum of our parts, more than our appearance, our ancestry, our accent; more than our aches, our injuries, our illnesses. We are more than what we have done or where we have been. Those things are part of us, but they are not all that we are. 

But it can be hard to see beyond the obvious, outward signs, even when we look at ourselves. We can get caught up in narrow patterns of thinking — seeing, as through a tunnel, darkly; taking note of only a single aspect. We can come to believe that this one thing is the whole thing: a person then becomes “saintly,” “wicked,” “wonderful,” “unreliable,” “a life-saver,” “a cheat.” Likewise we may conflate individuals with their illness, their age, their disease or (dis)abilities (“a leper,” “a drunk,” “an old coot,” “an addict,” “cancer,” “chronic fatigue,” “blind,” “PTSD,” “paraplegic”) — thus ignoring and obscuring their humanity.

No one is just one thing; we are as complex as 5,000-piece Lego kits without instruction diagrams. Every human being is a mix of diverse (and sometimes conflicting) wants and needs, loves and hates, impulses and ideas, emotions and experiences, hopes and fears, dreams and desires. Each one of us is infinitely different from all others; we are truly “amazingly and wondrously made” (Psalm 139). 

To focus on a single aspect is to miss The Big Picture, big time. And to categorize (and either lionize or demonize, or discount or dismiss) another person or group of people with a single epithet is an insult to the Maker.

And so, for us, we who say we follow the Lord Christ, how shall we live, what shall we do?

Healing Vision

This brings us back to Jesus, there in the middle of the crowd of people who were healed by being in His presence. Was that event a one-off? Is Jesus the once and future king who has left the building — taking His glory and His gracious healing with Him? Or, as we claim, are Christians “the body of Christ at work in the world”? Have we not been empowered, through our baptism and the energy of the Holy Spirit, to do “all He has done, and more” (John 14:12)? If so, then what are we waiting for?

Big miracles are marvelous, awe-inspiring — and exceedingly rare; it is the small, subtle, “everyday miracles” that keep the Light of Christ shining. Acts of kindness, gentle smiles, and simple acknowledgements can lift spirits and soothe weary souls.

Such things take only a few moments, and are easily accomplished. Yet so often we neglect them in our rush to get where we think we are going. We have no time for small talk, we’re busy with our work, caught up in our worries, thinking about other things, looking at our phones; it’s quicker and easier to order our coffee without making eye contact, avoid those we do not know, and only speak when we are spoken to.

As one of my directees said, “I can’t tell you what the guard in our building looks like — and I walk past him every day.”

Is it any wonder that loneliness and isolation are rampant in our world? 

Everyone

And everyone who was in His presence was healed.

To be in the presence of Christ is to be seen, not merely looked at: to be recognized in our individuality, not classified as members of a crowd or class or type, or treated as mere objects. It is to be lifted up in a genuine encounter of compassion and understanding; to be acknowledged and honored as one Child of God by another. 

To develop Christlike vision requires us to be fully present to each another. It means giving our undivided attention to the other person. Imagine that. Really. Take a moment to imagine what it would be like to give someone your undivided attention; seeing that person — and only that person — without distractions, presumptions, or prejudices. 

Imagine the holy power that could be unleashed if we all openly, honestly, compassionately encountered one another. What an amazing healing gift that would be — for everyone who was there!

May Christ’s gracious light, and healing vision be with you,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Practice the gift of Christ-vision: genuinely seeing those you encounter as individuals, recognizing their uniqueness, blessing them with your compassion and undivided attention. 

Posted in Christianity, Deborah Beach Giordano, Reflections, Spiritual exercises | Tagged , , ,

A Joyful Celebration

Deborah Beach Giordano
© January 21, 2019

John 2:1-11 ~told by Deborah

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and Jesus’ mother was there, along with Jesus and his disciples.

When the wine ran out, his mother said to Jesus, “They have no wine!”

But Jesus said to her, “Woman, what has that got to do with you — and with me? Now isn’t the time.…”

His mother said to the waiters, “Do whatever he tells you.”

There were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding about thirty gallons.

Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.

He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they did.

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, not knowing where it had come from (but the waiters who had drawn the water knew), he said to the groom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then puts out the cheap stuff after all the guests have had a snootful. But you saved the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

On the third day …

The author of John’s Gospel begins the introduction to Jesus’ public ministry by telling us that what happens next took place on “the third day.” 

Oh ho! We hear those words and are immediately on the alert: What was that?

The phrase leaps out at us like a gazelle that suddenly appeared — then vanished amid the mundane details of Galilean social life. A wedding reception, empty wine jugs, tipsy guests, idle conversation; an average day with minor problems …. Why are future echoes of that distant “third day” sounding now?

We weren’t expecting anything like that, not so soon, no hints of the Resurrection — nor the suffering preceding; no betrayals or trials or crucifixions — not here amid the noise and distractions and general celebration; not in this place or time. In fact, we’re not quite sure what it is that we saw.

With those words the author has very deftly situated us right alongside those who were there. We are as surprised, confused, and uncertain as the rest of the wedding guests. 

The Setting

Jesus is sitting at one of the tables, fiddling with an empty cup, laughing and joking with his friends. If there were a photograph, he’d be in the background, half-hidden behind the bridal couple; not in the spotlight, of no special interest, just another face in the crowd. Most people wouldn’t even remember that he was there.

But he was. The Lord Christ was in our midst, unnoticed. Miracles occurred right under our noses, and we were blind as moles. We didn’t see divine blessings — didn’t even know what had happened.

That is often still the case, today.

Now, some people did know what Jesus had done that day: the waitstaff knew, the disciples knew. And, of course, Mary, his mother, knew: she was the one who initiated the remarkable transformation. (As an aside: Speaking as a mom, I find it infinitely charming that the Lord agreed to do what he could to make his mother happy.)

The First Miracle?

But that’s a curious thing. Although the author tells us this that was the first of Jesus’ divine signs, Mary seemed quite confident that he could resolve the problem. How did she know?

We might say that she had faith; that’s the traditional reading. But her comment is made so casually, a gentle nudging, rather matter-of-fact: Come on, I know there’s something you can do. It’s as if she’s had experience; as if the miraculous is, with Him, routine.

In the early days of the Christian tradition, stories of the childhood of Jesus were in circulation — none of which were received into the canon. Many are charming, some are alarming: not all of them end happily. These “apocryphal” tales describe how the little boy — fully human as well as fully divine — learns what he is capable of doing. Some of his childish miracles bring abundance and new life, others bring grief and pain. 

Though they are not chronicles of “what really happened,” for me these stories confirm that the adult Jesus was aware of his abilities and was mindful of how to use them. He did not act thoughtlessly or in ignorance, but with wisdom and understanding. Through lived experience the Lord had learned that words can cut and wound, or comfort and heal; that anger is destructive, but compassion gives life. He understood the enormous potential of holy power that, once released, cannot be recalled.

Initiation Sequence

This explains the author’s emphasis on “the third day.” In turning the water into wine, publicly revealing Who he was, the Lord set off a series of events that would lead, inexorably, to the Cross and, in turn, to Easter morning. Once the Power was released into the world, there was no opting-out, no turning back, nothing could stop it; the launch sequence had begun: Christ’s mission would proceed according to the divine plan. 

This initial “third day” was a catalyst for that holy Third Day — and every day in between (as well as all of the days that follow). In a seemingly insignificant, though impressive, miracle, discretely arranged and apparently unclaimed, the transformation of the world began.

But hardly anybody noticed.

We, sitting among the other guests, weren’t really sure what we saw — or if we saw anything; like glimpsing a gazelle dashing through the garden. It all happened in a flash, quite suddenly. Maybe a spark of sunlight reflected oddly in the wine newly poured by the waiter. Perhaps a taste, a swallow, a surprised glance into the cup, a comment: “Where did this wine come from? It’s leagues better than the one they served before.” Perhaps there was something, but who could be certain? And, as many of those present had dulled their palates with much mediocre wine, they had no taste for the fine new one.

It is Done

From Cana, Jesus’ Way now formally begins; it will take him to Jerusalem, to Gethsemane, to Calvary, and to the Resurrection. It would seem that, after the wedding miracle, the Lord might well have declared, “It is done,” — for in this Act all His other works were set in motion; the rest of His mission would follow. 

His time had come. The holy power was unleashed.

Pouring Forth

It is from this point forward, in John’s telling, that Jesus’ ministry really takes off; growing greater, expanding outward from the local region, reaching Samaria and the farther provinces of Judea. Through His word a child’s life is restored, the hungry are fed, the crippled walk, and — at His touch, a blind man is given sight. Alight with holy passion, He challenges religious profiteers, debates priests and theologians, persuades the doubtful, rescues the fallen, inspires and encourages ever-increasing multitudes. 

Wherever he goes, those who encounter Jesus are transformed by his presence: some, in glorious, soul-renewing ways — like water into wine. Others find their teeth set on edge: the mean-spirited, the hard-hearted, the smugly self-certain become angry, suspicious, and antagonistic. Meeting the Lord changes lives. 

Typical

John’s Gospel is the only one that tells of the wedding in Cana, and describes it as “the first” of Jesus’ divine signs. Perhaps we might say it was of the primary sort: typical of the Lord’s miracles, exemplifying the character of the deed and the Doer. There was no spotlight or grandstand, no shouting or self-aggrandizement, only a Gift, freely given. A blink and you would have missed it, perhaps felt only a subtle change — a sudden smile, a spark of joy, a flicker of warm remembrance — and never recognized its Source. But you would be blessed, just the same. That’s how Jesus worked. 

The Wedding Feast

Perhaps there is another meaning to be drawn from Jesus’ first miracle having taken place at a wedding celebration. It signifies an occasion of joy and delight — and even mystery; festivities founded in love, sustained by hope and promise. 

Love unleashes holy Power, infusing us with greater wisdom and profound understanding. Worldly cynicism describes the experience as somehow defective or distorted: “looking through rose-colored glasses,” but do we not, in fact, see more clearly when we are deeply in love? The sky is bluer, the grass greener, the people kinder, the wine sweeter. Beauty shines forth where ever we look; we are filled with compassion and tenderness, enlivened with creative imagination: all things are possible.

Love is a kind of holy intoxication — not drunkenness or incapacity, but a gentle merriment. It is as if we’ve supped from a chalice of sacred wine and been transformed into a divine energy source: blessings stream forth from us to everyone we meet. That’s how Jesus worked.

The First Supper

Another difference between John’s Gospel and the synoptics is the absence of what we know as “the Last Supper;” the meal Jesus shared with his disciples on the night before his arrest and crucifixion. Instead, there is the wedding feast — which, I suggest, defines Christ’s message; revealing, in a single act, the style and significance of Jesus’ ministry. It is a celebration of love: a joy-filled community of friends and neighbors and people we’ve only just met. 

The reality of what is called Jesus’ sacrifice was in His giving of His life to us: living with us, walking with us, celebrating with us, even to sorrowing and dying with us. From the initial divine sign on that first “third day” to the glorious third day of Easter morning, Christ’s Gospel was the same: a celebration of love; of God’s enduring, passionate love for us.

All who have partaken of Christ’s message go forth as if from a sacred party — with merry hearts, intoxicated with love, tipsy with divine delight, infused with holy power. We follow His Way of compassionate wisdom, empowered, inspired, fearless and free.

May your spirit always drink from the Cup of holy joy,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Allow yourself to fall in love with God.

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