25 July 2013

Daily Gospel Reflection -- 25 July 2013

Jesus and his disciples came to the other side of the lake, to the region of the Gerasenes. As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, a man possessed by an evil spirit came out of the tombs.This man lived among the tombs, and no one was ever strong enough to restrain him, even with a chain. He had been secured many times with leg irons and chains, but he broke the chains and smashed the leg irons. No one was tough enough to control him. Night and day in the tombs and the hills, he would howl and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from far away, he ran and knelt before him, shouting, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”

He said this because Jesus had already commanded him, “Unclean spirit, come out of the man!”

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

He responded, “Legion is my name, because we are many.”

They pleaded with Jesus not to send them out of that region.

A large herd of pigs was feeding on the hillside. “Send us into the pigs!” they begged. “Let us go into the pigs!” Jesus gave them permission, so the unclean spirits left the man and went into the pigs. Then the herd of about two thousand pigs rushed down the cliff into the lake and drowned.

Those who tended the pigs ran away and told the story in the city and in the countryside. People came to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the man who used to be demon-possessed. They saw the very man who had been filled with many demons sitting there fully dressed and completely sane, and they were filled with awe. Those who had actually seen what had happened to the demon-possessed man told the others about the pigs. Then they pleaded with Jesus to leave their region.

While he was climbing into the boat, the one who had been demon-possessed pleaded with Jesus to let him come along as one of his disciples. But Jesus wouldn’t allow it. “Go home to your own people,” Jesus said, “and tell them what the Lord has done for you and how he has shown you mercy.” The man went away and began to proclaim in the Ten Cities all that Jesus had done for him, and everyone was amazed.

Today’s reading reminds me of something I would see in an episode of Doctor Who!

The T.A.R.D.I.S. lands on a distant world. As the Doctor and his companions step out of the ship, a local inhabitant approaches them and falls at their feet. The Doctor recognizes right away that this poor creature is possessed by a hostile entity. With the flick of his Sonic Screwdriver, the entity is forced from its victim and possesses a small herd of passing animals. The creatures run terrified off the cliffs to be dashed to bits on the rocks below. The Doctor helps the native person to her feet and tells her to go home and make the proper sacrifices to her gods to allow entrance back into society and familial life.

See? I told you.

Okay, okay. All kidding aside, Jesus does bring that type of new beginning that the Doctor does (or maybe it’s the Doctor who brings the type of new beginning that Jesus does). Jesus gives people second chances in life -- not by removing the things that make them who they are but by making them who they truly are.

There’s a great Celtic Christian feel to this passage. That is, if we see this story as poetic imagery about the plight of humanity, we see a very different view of people than what has been beat into our heads since the fourth century.

Notice that, when faced with the possessed person, Jesus didn’t count the man as the problem. He recognized the man was enslaved by several demons who went by the name “Legion.” The problem was not the man but what the man had become because of his slavery. And, instead of giving the man a new nature, he removed that which was false from the man, thus rescuing the man and setting him free.

That is the picture of what has happened to everyone since the resurrection of Jesus. The entire cosmos, Paul wrote, has been reconciled back to G-d. It has been rescued and set free. But, like the man, we now have a choice to make. Once we know we’ve been rescued, the question is -- will we remain in our cell or will we move on into the New Creation that awaits us? Will we continue to be our “old” selves -- the selves that have been enslaved in our addiction -- or will we be our “new” selves, our true selves?

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

24 July 2013

Daily Gospel Reflection -- 24 July 2013

Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along.

Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”

He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”

Overcome with awe, they said to each other, “Who then is this? Even the wind and the sea obey him!”

You know, I’ve used to see this passage differently. Maybe a lot of you have, too. What’s brought out is the fact that elements are subject to Jesus’ commands. And rightly so. That’s an amazing story and another glimpse into the mystery that is Jesus of Nazareth.

Another thing that is brought out is the faithlessness of the disciples. And this is usually tied to the calming of the storm. That is, somehow, if they just had some sliver of faith, they, too, would be able to command the storms and the storms would obey them.

But this morning, I got a different feeling about the passage. Specifically, I don’t think Jesus’ reprimand had anything to do with the storm. I think it had everything to do with believing that G-d would take care of them. That if they had faith, they would not need the storms of life removed, but would have the complete trust that G-d would see them through the storm. That no matter what the outcome -- if they died or not -- G-d would be with them. That is the issue. That is where there lack of faith resides.

And we haven’t really changed all that much, even today. We go out of our way to “cover all the bases,” to “be prepared.” We’ve been told over and over again, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Hogwash. Rubbish. Balderdash. I don’t buy it.

We can’t be prepared for any (or every) possible situation. If we could, we would not need faith, we wouldn’t need G-d.

You know, the Celtic Christian monk and theologian Pelagius got into a lot of hot water for supposedly teaching that people didn’t need G-d’s grace. That they can “make it on their own.” We’ve found out later, now that some of his writings are coming into light, that isn’t what he taught. He taught that people need G-d’s grace to empower them to carry out G-d’s commands of loving G-d and neighbor. In other words, people would have to have faith in G-d to help them in life. I think that’s what Jesus is referring to above.

The old proverb, “G-d helps those who helps themselves,” goes too far. The faith that Jesus referred to is not an afterthought, a prayer that is muttered in desperation because we’ve mucked it up (although, sometimes those are needed). No, the faith Jesus is talking about is the everyday faith - the simple trust in G-d that leads to action. And not just the “big things.” The faith Jesus is meaning is the faith needed for all things.

In the Carmina Gadelica, a very early 20th century publication of prayers, hymns, and incantations of the Celtic people in the Scottish Hebrides, Alexander Carmichael captured just the type of faith I’m talking about; that Jesus was talking about. Here are some of those prayers.

The first is a prayer at each new moon. When the new moon would appear, women would curtsey and men would bow.

In name of the Holy Spirit of grace,
In name of the Father of the City of peace,
In name of Jesus who took death off us,
Oh! in name of the Three who shield us in every need,
If well thou hast found us to-night,
Seven times better mayest thou leave us without harm,
     Thou bright white Moon of the seasons,
     Bright white Moon of the seasons.

Next is one for kindling a fire:

I WILL raise the hearth-fire
As Mary would.
The encirclement of Bride and of Mary
On the fire, and on the floor,
And on the household all.
Who are they on the bare floor?
John and Peter and Paul.
Who are they by my bed?
The lovely Bride and her Fosterling.
Who are those watching over my sleep?
The fair loving Mary and her Lamb.
Who is that anear me?
The King of the sun, He himself it is.
Who is that at the back of my head?
The Son of Life without beginning, without time.

Here’s a milking blessing. In this one, and the one following, “Bride” is another name for St. Brigid:

COLUMBA will give to her progeny,
Coivi the propitious, will give to her grass,
My speckled heifer will give me her milk,
And her female calf before her.
     Ho my heifer! heifer! heifer!
     Ho my heifer! kindly, calm,
     My heifer gentle, gentle, beloved,
          Thou art the love of thy mother.
Seest yonder thriving bramble bush
And the other bush glossy with brambles,
Such like is my fox-coloured heifer,
And her female calf before her.
             Ho my heifer!--
The calm Bride of the white combs
Will give to my loved heifer the lustre of the swan,
While the loving Mary, of the combs of honey.
Will give to her the mottle of the heather hen.
             Ho my heifer!--

And, lastly, here’s loom blessing:

THRUMS nor odds of thread
My hand never kept, nor shall keep,
Every colour in the bow of the shower
Has gone through my fingers beneath the cross,
White and black, red and madder,
Green, dark grey, and scarlet,
Blue, and roan, and colour of the sheep,
And never a particle of cloth was wanting.
I beseech calm Bride the generous,
I beseech mild Mary the loving,
I beseech Christ Jesu the humane,
That I may not die without them,
    That I may not die without them.

This is the type of faith Jesus was referring to. The faith that carries us every moment of every day. Through the ups and downs, the sorrows and the celebrations. It is that faith that carries us through life’s storms.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

05 July 2013

A Grand Promise -- Chapter 1 - Part III: Exodus

As we saw, the Hebrews, Sarah’s and Abraham’s extended family, were enslaved in Egypt. The creator G-d, the G-d of the Hebrews, chose Moses to lead them out of bondage. But there was one small problem...

Pharaoh -- the king of Egypt.

From the beginning, G-d told Moses that Pharaoh would be trouble; that he wouldn’t let the people of G-d just walk away. He would be stubborn and there would be a confrontation. But, in the end, G-d would rescue the Hebrews through Moses.

Again, G-d’s primary interaction with creation is through people. As we saw from the promise to Abraham and Sarah, G-d would work through humanity to restore creation.

And that is just what happened. Moses confronts Pharaoh and requests that his people be released so they can go on a three days journey to worship their G-d. Pharoah’s like, “No stinkin’ way! I don't know this G-d of yours and I’m not letting all of the slaves go!” And just to prove that he’s not messing around, Pharaoh make the Hebrews work so much harder.

Of course, the Hebrews complained to Moses. “This is your fault! You’ve given Pharaoh even more reason to kill us all!” Moses, in turn, complained to G-d. “This is your fault! The Egyptians are beating your people even more than before and you’ve done nothing to rescue them!”1

And then something interesting happens. G-d says something that most people haven’t really noticed. G-d tells Moses that his ancestors only knew one aspect of G-d. “They knew me as ‘El-Shaddia (G-d almighty).’ But you and the rest of Israel will know me by my name YHWH (or “Yahweh” pronounced yaw-way).”2

What’s important here, and this is what I was getting at above, is that the understanding of G-d changed. That is, the people before this point only understood G-d in certain ways. After this point, the people knew G-d in different ways in addition to what they previously knew about G-d. This shows us that our understanding of who G-d is and how G-d is and (even) what G-d is changes and evolves. It should. With each new understanding, the “old ways” have to be re-examined in the light of these new realizations. Before the Exodus, perhaps the people wouldn’t have understood this side of G-d; this new understanding might not have made any sense to them. Perhaps they wouldn’t know how to handle it or what to do with this knowledge.3 This is another flag, another marker, another signpost that leads us to other things later on. We’ll come back to this.

Back to Moses, Pharaoh the king of Egypt, and the Hebrews.

When Moses puts his foot down and tells G-d he won’t return to confront Pharaoh, G-d starts to do some really strange and bizarre things -- the dreaded “miracles” that so many today dismiss out-of-hand. G-d tells Moses that Moses will be “like G-d” to Pharaoh. Aaron, the brother of Moses who’s been helping him, will be like the prophet for the “G-d” Moses.

Once more we see that G-d is not working independently of people to rescue the Hebrews. G-d is working through Moses to such an extent that Pharaoh will come to see Moses as G-d.

And thus begins the several “plagues” that G-d unleashes upon Egypt to convince Pharaoh to release the Hebrews.

After all the water in the Nile -- and the water in pitchers, cups, wells, etc. -- turns to blood and an infestation of frogs, Pharaoh pleads with Moses and Aaron to rescue Egypt from these disasters. If they do, he will let the Hebrews go. Moses prays to G-d and relief comes to Egypt. When Pharaoh sees this, however, he decides not to let the Hebrews leave, just like G-d told Moses would happen.

So other plagues ravage Egypt. And Pharaoh repeats his behavior. And each time, the cost to the land and the people of Egypt is greater.



Death of all the livestock of Egypt.





Through this series of “plagues,” Pharaoh “repents” over and over again and begs Moses to rescue Egypt. If Moses does, Pharaoh promises to release the Hebrews. And each time Pharaoh reneges on his promise and refuses to release the Hebrews when Egypt has been rescued.

Finally, the last “plague” is released -- the death of all the oldest children, the first born, throughout the land of Egypt.

What is interesting about this “plague” is that it could have killed the Hebrews, too. The way the story goes -- and this leads to one of the greatest feast days, holy days, in all Judaism -- the Hebrews were told to kill a lamb and spread it’s blood over the door frame of their home (if a family doesn’t have a lamb, they can share with their neighbor). When the plague comes, it will pass by or “passover” the homes that have blood on the door frame.

In all of the others “plagues,” the Hebrews were not affected. But this “plague,” this one was not so selective. It killed every first born creature, human or animal, Egyptian or Hebrew. If there wasn’t blood on the door frame of a Hebrew families house, the eldest child in that household would die, too.

This last “plague” finally does it. Pharaoh releases the Hebrews and even gives them livestock and jewelry and other items just to get rid of them. The Hebrews have been ready and leave Egypt in a hurry. G-d, YHWH, leads the Hebrews in the form of a column of a cloud during the day and a column of light during the night.


Pharaoh changes his mind.


This time, however, the Hebrews were already gone.

So, Pharaoh gathers an army to go after them. He swears to put an end to this in the only way he knows how -- violence. The Hebrews will either be slaughtered or they will return to Egypt as slaves. G-d, however, has other plans.

The Hebrews make it to the Reed Sea (traditionally known as the “Red Sea”) and set up camp. The Presence of G-d moves from the front of the traveling band to the back -- between them and the incoming Egyptian army. During the night, Moses goes to the bank of the sea and, raising his staff, stretches out his hands over the sea.

And something begins to happen.

A great wind begins to blow. There’s so much force in this wind that the sea starts to divide and actually congeles on either side - giant walls of water with nothing but dry ground between them. At this sign, the Hebrews begin crossing to the other side.

Because of the Presence of G-d standing between the Egyptians and the Hebrews, the Egyptian army can’t pursue them until it’s almost too late. Then, when the last of the Hebrews has almost crossed over, the Presence moves again and the Egyptian army thinks they can catch the Hebrews and begin to pursue them.

They’re so set on capturing or destroying the Hebrews, they don’t even pause to comprehend what just took place. The Egyptian army chases the Hebrews in wild abandon, envisioning their lives back to some kind of normalcy.

At first, they’re right. As more and more of the army pours into the dry sea bed, however, things change. The sea bed, which was hard before, now starts to turn moist. Then a little bit muddy. Then a whole lot muddier. Then, like a deep, thick, pit of almost solidified cement, the horses and chariot wheels start getting stuck. The rushing foot soldiers are finding it more and more difficult to move forward. When they realize that their getting too stuck to pursue the Hebrews, they decide to retreat.

And that’s when they hear it.

The sound of a mighty rushing wind.

At the breath of the G-d of the Hebrews, the once solid walls of the Reed Sea start to fall. A huge wave comes rushing toward the trapped Egyptians. As they scream and struggle to free themselves from their plight, the other wall gives way and the water starts rushing toward them from the other direction. There’s nowhere to go.

In a matter of moments, the last gurgling shriek of terror subsides into the foggy past. There is only silence.

The Hebrews erupt with joy. Their G-d has delivered them from the cruel and oppressing Egyptians. The people then begin to sing songs to their G-d for a great show of power and deliverance.

That’s how the story goes, anyway.

And I wish I could say something like, “They all lived happily ever after.” But I can’t. Throughout the next forty years, roughly a generation of people, these same people grumble, complain, deny G-d, and create their own idols. They were so determined to go their own way, that the G-d who delivered them was ready to wipe them all out and start over with Moses and his family!

But Moses interceded.

And this is the pattern we see over and over again. The people of G-d, who were supposed to be the symbol of what a rescued, reconciled, and restored world was to look like, becomes more and more like the rest of the world around them. At one point, they no longer wanted G-d to rule over them but wanted a human king like the rest of the world. And while there were some really great kings -- David and Solomon, being a couple of the best known -- this was a slap in G-d’s “face.”

So, time and time again, the people of G-d would act so badly, were more concerned with themselves than with their vocation of being a light to the world, of the nations being blessed through them, that G-d would send prophets and poets to warn them of the coming consequences for their way of living.

Sometimes they refused to listen. And each time they refused, an invading army would conquer them, take some of them captive into a foreign land, slaughter the rest, and destroy their city and Temple.

But, after some time, the people would recognize their hard hearts, their sins, their falseness, and repent, and G-d would “remember” the people, forgive them, and bring them back to their land.

This exile and return is one of the most common themes throughout the Jewish Scriptures. In fact, the “end” of that story finds the people in a strange predicament -- they returned to their land, rebuilt their city and Temple, but they aren’t free. They’re now occupied by a succession of foreign -- “pagan” -- rulers.

  1. Wow. That’s some tough talk. Have we ever talked to G-d that way? I may have had thoughts like that but I don’t really remember speaking them out loud. Maybe I should.
  2. It means ‘I Am Who I Am,’ often translated as LORD. A lot of Jewish people read this word as “The Name” or use Adonai since they believe that G-d’s name is too holy to even pronounce.
  3. Brian McLaren has written about this evolution of humanity’s understanding of G-d in his book, A New Kind of Christianity.