Longing to Breathe

It was a terrible image that we wish we could forget. The pleas of a man lying on the street with a knee on his neck. “I can’t breathe.” Every time someone uses that phrase, the image of George Floyd comes rushing back to me. I don’t take it lightly, and I have a visceral reaction when it has been used by more powerful people to decry their perceived loss of rights when it was most dramatically spoken by a man who was crying for his life.

This statement, however, has become an anthem … perhaps a dirge … in our time in history. We struggle to breathe as we witness the harm done to the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society. We continue to see … and participate in … political and cultural strife as we demonize others and seek to be the ones on top. We see how our nation and our world is struggling to breathe amidst the demagogues who rise up among us and continue the stir the cauldron of hate.

We see how creation itself is struggling to breathe with the devastating effects of climate change brought on by our own flawed notions of progress and entitlement. To those who deny it and say that they don’t believe in the science, my response it that it appears that science believes in us … more precisely, science doesn’t really care. The consequences of our globally collective actions since the industrial age are a planet that will finally be inhospitable to us. If the planet can’t breathe, neither will we.

Then the whole pandemic has us afraid to breathe the wrong air. As we have witnessed people struggling to breathe … who are placed on ventilators that will breathe for them, I have begun to ask myself some important questions. What if the air we are breathing carries the contagions we fear the most? What if the air we are breathing leads to our very last breath?

Breathing itself becomes an exercise in caution and fear these days.

But we are people of faith who know something that might help us move forward. It was in that second account of creation found in Genesis 2 where God was molding us from the dirt. We were just mud. In that moment, I have this image of that first human struggling to move … to breathe … to be. And then we are told that God leaned down even farther … like a rescuer offering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation … and breathed life into us.

The breath isn’t our own … the breath we breathe is God’s. That’s the simple message, and it is the best message of hope I think we have.

The issues we face are complex. They require us collectively to work toward justice for our planet, for humanity, and for all of creation. The tasks of this type of justice-work loom large before us, and I am in no way saying it will be easy.

What I am saying is that it starts with a breath. When we begin to see that the breath for which we long is the breath of God that already is, we will have taken a significant first step. Consider the person you despise the most and know that they are breathing God’s breath. Consider how it is that we might better share this holy breath without harming each other or creation itself. Consider what it might mean for us to work toward breathing justice and love into a world filled with injustice and hate.

It all begins with a breath. So to quote the old hymn, “Breathe on me, Breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou wouldst do.”

Graceless Love

In reading Gerald May’s book, Addiction and Grace: Love and Spirituality in the Healing of Addictions, I happened upon a truth. It is a truth I have honestly known through all my years of ministry. It is the title of my blog Reflections on Grace: Living only in the shadow of grace.

Yet the simplicity of this truth tends to escape me in the complexities of life … complex ways of living in the world … complex relationships … complex philosophies of how things work … complex notions of how to love. We have made true sciences about what it means to love, and yet … and yet we continue to be incapable of attaining that high level of love to which we aspire … especially us Christians who feel like we are climbing the highest peak to love God “with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.”

Yet here is the truth. We can’t get there by setting out to love God. It isn’t a checklist. It is not something we can do in seven quick meditations or ten easy steps. Unless one of those steps is practicing stillness and seeing yourself … loving yourself … just as you are.

Edith Eger, in her book The Gift: 12 Lessons to Save Your Life, talks about the simple practice of looking in the mirror each day, smiling, and saying “I love you.” Then she encourages giving ourselves a kiss on the back of each hand.

To do this is to discover the grace that God has placed in the human heart. It is to move us to a place of hearing God say, “I love you just as you are … no matter what you have done or what you think about yourself. You are loved and you are mine.”

Think with me for a moment about how hard that is. It isn’t easy to stand at that mirror … we can do it for other people (well, at least, some other people) … but we have to set aside all of our internal self talk to get to this place.

It means that we have to set aside the self-criticism about how, if people could really see, they would know I’m really not good at my job. It means that we have to set aside self-judging phrases like “I know I am not good. It is just a façade. I just have to keep up the act so people will like me … or so I will get a promotion … or so I can at least pass for smart.”

We judge ourselves harshly for our addictions and past mistakes. “Why did I have that much to drink? Where were my manners when she tried to engage in discussion, and all I could think about whether I was appropriately dressed … which I probably wasn’t.”

All of this self-criticism and self-deprecation becomes more narcissistic, and is not about the love of self described above. I wonder what it would be like if you quiet the ego a bit … look at yourself in the mirror … and simply say, “I love you. No matter what you’ve done or what others have said about you or what I have said about you, I LOVE YOU just as you are!”

Graceless love is transactional!

“Graceless love” is the myth that I can do enough to love God and my neighbor. I can bring enough offerings, do enough good deeds, visit enough people, go on enough mission trips … finally to be good enough.

When we do this, however, it becomes transactional. Instead of love being the outpouring of ourselves … our souls … our lives, it becomes something we do so God will love us more. And then perhaps, if God loves us more, maybe people will love us more.

At the place of graceless love, by its very definition, grace ceases to be grace. Love becomes manipulative and cheap … because we cheapened grace itself by relegating it to doing and not being.

Grace is the key

To live in grace is to live at what people in 12 step programs tell us is the first step. We are powerless over our addiction. That admission has the power to move us to the place where grace … what John Wesley called “prevenient grace” … will meet us. It is the grace that asks us only to be still and to see God as God is. God is not requiring you to take a test. God is not tempting you to see if you are worthy of being loved by not giving into your addiction. God is not testing you by the things that have fallen apart in your life.

God is there mirroring to you the beauty that is within you. That is the reason mirrors are important. Sometimes it is an actual mirror. Sometimes it is a trusted mentor or sponsor or true friend who can look at you and say, “It doesn’t matter the harmful things you have done or the bad decisions you have made. Your accomplishments, your rise up the ladder of success, your titles and degrees, your great promotions … none of that matters either.

All that matters is that “I see you.” I see the broken you. I see the beautifully, creative, unique you. I see the you that is afraid of the future and guilty about your past. I see the you who feels unworthy. But the message of grace … the message of God … is only that I love you. Just as you are. In this very moment.

Friends, when we experience that kind of grace, we might just find it easier to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. It just might be easier to love our neighbors because we will have learned how best to love ourselves.

A wise friend reminded me of something. We are not called “human doings.” We are called “human beings.” Practice being. It is there that you will discover a God who loved you before you were ever born. It is there that you will have learned to love from that divine center.

Journey to Wholeness – Easter Day, April 4

The Answer is Wholeness

It was the darkest hour of our lives. Like so many others who have lost loved ones, we had no way to make sense of the 3:15 AM phone call … the agony that we were a nine-hour flight away from our daughter and granddaughter … even how much this single event would forever change us.

Those who have lost loved ones know too well the hollowed-out feeling of grief. Grief is something that all who dare to love will one day experience. It brings us to that place where we realize the fleeting nature of human living, and we discover the many emotions and depletion that comes from such a loss.

One of our dear members at Wellspring shared a letter that had been shared with her years before when her first husband died. She shared that grief is a hole that is forever torn in the heart of those who have risked loving. It is a hole that will scar and that we can even learn to love, yet one that will never go away.

So when I talk about brokenness, I’m not dancing around the edges of it. In Holy Week, the gospels lead us to that same depth. I have preached this truth throughout most of my ministry: we cannot fully celebrate the light revealed on Easter morning until we have experienced the darkness of Good Friday. It is in that deepest of grief that I was invited into the Good Friday experience that I might be made ready for the joyous good news of Easter.

I have learned to equate the hollowed-out, empty feeling of brokenness with the emptiness of the tomb on that first Easter.

In John’s gospel, as we will share today, Mary had come to grieve. She was feeling her own emptiness when she stumbled upon the empty tomb. Mary was left alone in her grief, even after a brief visit by two of the apostles. And it is in the stark emptiness of that moment that we encounter the resurrected Christ.

It is here that we surprisingly discover that God’s answer to brokenness is the experience of wholeness … when we experience Christ as Emmanuel … Christ who is forever with us. All it takes is looking up through our tears to see Christ right in front of us.

Wholeness, you see, is not about going back to the way things were. Wholeness is about the discovery of a completeness that shows up in a new emerging normal. Fr. Richard Rohr has done much work on the spiritual journey that goes from order to disorder to reorder.

As I think about my life, I know what order looks like. That is the roadmap that I used early in my life to tell me everywhere I was supposed to go and what I was supposed to be and do. Order is about the dreams and expectations we have when we are young.

Disorder then is that which changes your direction. It is often the experience of loss: loss of jobs … loss of physical abilities … loss of loved ones. The roadmap of my earlier years was then torn up and scattered on the floor. I found myself lost in those moments without clear direction. Throughout my ministry, I have also encountered those who, because of early loss in life or because of childhood trauma, have never even had a roadmap. All they have experienced is disorder.

Then I have experienced those moments of reorder. It is the new way of seeing … the new opportunities … the new life that begins to form. This is perhaps where we can begin to see God at work opening up new jobs … new opportunities … new relationships that lead us to an ever-deepening wisdom. It is where God invites us to move through our trauma, our grief, and our pain to the incredible experience of this new life that is beginning to emerge. It is the gift of wholeness.

It doesn’t mean that we won’t experience grief or pain in the days ahead. It does mean, however, that we can trust God to walk with us through each new phase of disorder, grief, and brokenness until we experience that Easter hope that can never die.

So on this Easter day, my friends, may this Christ be made known to you. May the brokenness be filled with wholeness. May the darkness of death be met with the light of resurrection.

Lord God, may the emptiness we experience be transformed by your love to the emptiness of the tomb in which we discover the joy of resurrection. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – April 3

The Maundy Thursday/Good Friday service last evening, ended with a poem that speaks into the experience of emptiness that spans from the cross to the empty tomb. It is shared here for today’s reflection.

The Sacrament of Letting Go

from Seasons of Your Heart by Macrina Wiederkehr

Slowly
she celebrated the sacrament of letting go.
First she surrendered her green,
then the orange, yellow, and red
finally she let go of her brown.
Shedding her last leaf
she stood empty and silent, stripped bare.
Leaning against the winter sky
she began her vigil of trust.

Shedding her last leaf
she watched its journey to the ground.
She stood in silence
wearing the color of emptiness,
her branches wondering;
How do you give shade with so much gone?

And then,
the sacrament of waiting began.
The sunrise and sunset watched with tenderness.
Clothing her with silhouettes
they kept her hope alive.

They helped her understand that
her vulnerability,
her dependence and need,
her emptiness,
her readiness to receive
were giving her a new kind of beauty.
Every morning and every evening they stood in silence
and celebrated together
the sacrament of waiting.

Let our prayer be silence.

Journey Through Brokenness – April 2

Speaking the Truth of Good Friday

This is the day of darkness. We call it “Good Friday,” yet it is a commemoration of a terrible execution.

Why is it called good? Through much of church history, we have chosen to view the death of Jesus through the lens of “redemptive violence.” That is this notion that God was angered by sin and demanded punishment, but somehow loved us enough to send God’s own child to be, in the words of one of my well-respected theology professors, “the lightning rod to receive the lightning strike that God, as a God of justice, had to throw.”

When we read the Sermon on the Mount, however, we hear Jesus describe a God that is anything but violent … this is a God who is good. We hear Jesus say in Matthew 7:9-10, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?”

How does Jesus, who speaks about love and compassion, bring us a God who is angry and vindictive? This sounds like projection of the human ego instead of delving into the mystery of the divine.

A very different way of looking at it is to understand the crucifixion as “redemptive suffering.”

We must understand that Jesus is the one who spoke truth to power. The gospel message is innately political in that Jesus issues challenges to stand with the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, and the broken. His overt angering of the religious and political leadership during this last week of his life is about this political reality.

Marcus Borg and Jon Dominic Crossan, in their book, The Last Week, write:

We would like its Holy Week conclusion to be about the interior rather than the exterior life, about heaven rather than earth, about the future rather than the present, and above all else, about religion safely and securely quarantined from politics. Confronting violent political power and unjust religious collaboration is dangerous in most times and most places, first century and twenty-first century alike.

It is during Holy Week that Jesus teaches us about speaking the truth of the gospel that comes to transform our world in radical ways. He then teaches us how to hold the suffering … how even to experience a torturous and violent death … without directing violence (including even violent words) to his own executioners.

Yet we tend to slip into this easy dualism where things are black and white … good and evil … victor and victim. We need to know who to celebrate and who to blame.

Richard Rohr, in the last season of Another Name for Everything podcast was inspired to reach for a piece of paper that he said had been on his bulletin board since moving into his hermitage at the Center for Action and Contemplation thirty-three years ago. I am adding it to my wall in my home office as a reminder.

Those who blame others have not begun their education.
Those who blame themselves have begun their education.
Those who blame no one have completed their education.

When we move beyond the need to blame, we can then speak the truth, practice accountability, and move from that toward forgiveness and reconciliation. This is the way of Christ … this is the truth of redemptive suffering

It is the truth that we can experience a deeper love than we previously thought possible by holding our suffering without the need to blame even those who harm us. More than that, it is an all-inclusive truth that confirms that maybe the tagline of Wellspring’s motto might just be right: All Means All.

That, friends, is what makes this particular Friday good!

God, teach us the way of redemptive suffering that we might discover the truth that will finally set us free. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – April 1

The Foolish Context of Love

If there is a day for foolishness, this is it. The fact that Maundy Thursday and April Fool’s Day coincide presents a unique opportunity to talk about a perspective that speaks to this unique convergence.

Paul writes these words to the Corinthians:

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, as though sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals. We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. — (1 Corinthians 4:8-13)

My experience is that throughout the world, there are images of Jesus and the apostles as royalty and conquerors in art and stained glass. Of course, there are also images of their suffering, but I know from my travels and studies that images of royalty (especially in protestant churches) far outweigh the images of suffering.

Perhaps this is because talk of brokenness and suffering is hard stuff. It is difficult to think of ourselves as both royalty and fools at the same time. It is hard to have any kind of real wisdom outside the liminal space of suffering and death. This is the liminal space of unknowing that leads us to a greater wisdom beyond mere cognition.

The Corinthians made the mistake of confusing the two. When Paul says, “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ,” he is not affirming the great wisdom of the Corinthians, much as they might have hoped. He is chiding them for claiming to have such wisdom without having given themselves wholly to the task of discipleship, which invariably leads us to being a “spectacle to the world, to angels and to mortals.” It often leads to suffering and brokenness, even as Paul describes here.

Today is Maundy Thursday (which Wellspring is combining into one commemoration with Good Friday scheduled for tomorrow evening). As Jesus gathered with his disciples, their confidence in everything they thought they knew about Jesus was either coming into question or was completely falling apart.

Much earlier in the gospel accounts, as they had stopped along the way at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus had asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter named it: Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

As soon as he spoke that, however, Jesus began to talk about his journey to Jerusalem where he would suffer at the hands of religious and political authorities and be killed. Peter would simply have none of that, and Jesus rebuked him telling him, “Get behind me, Satan.”

Jesus both affirmed him and then called him Satan for thinking that being “the Christ” is somehow incompatible with suffering and death.

Now it is Thursday of Holy Week, and they are in Jerusalem gathered in an upper room. Jesus begins to lead them through a ritual of brokenness and death as he deviates from the Passover ritual. He uses the seder elements to talk about his own broken body and shed blood. He then takes up the basin and towel, girds himself like a slave, and washes the disciples feet. To those who wanted a conquering messiah, this is folly.

Paul is right. If we follow Christ down this road, we will likely be seen as “fools for the sake of Christ.”

The meaning of Maundy Thursday, however, cannot escape us. The word “Maundy” is taken from the Latin word “maundatum,” which is “commandment.”

What is this commandment associated with Maundy Thursday? It is found in John 13:34-35 where Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

You see, when we love as Christ loves … when we love our enemies … when we forgive those who harm us … when we love through our suffering and beyond our brokenness … when we love in such a way as to blame no one … then we will be thought fools for the sake of Christ.

When we learn this new commandment, we will then discover that the folly of love then becomes the only way to see beyond the cross.

Radical Loving Christ, teach us the foolish way of love that we might transform the world. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 31

Cleansing of Religious Spaces

During the season of the pandemic, we have learned a lot about cleaning.

We have learned to sanitize and disinfect every possible space and surface every day to keep from spreading this terrible virus. We get out of the car to put in fuel, and we grab a wipe to clean the pump handle and buttons that must be pushed. We wash our hands frequently, and I have a smart watch that has gotten a little pushy suggesting I wash as soon as I arrive back at my house and then scolding me if I don’t make the timer go all 20 seconds from when the hand washing has started.

At the church, we have made a concerted effort to make sure the space is clean. We will continue to focus on disinfecting even as we begin to make our plans for some sort of return to in-person worship following our restoration and renovations (hopefully by early summer).

As I considered the various ways we talk about cleaning our own sacred space, I am reminded of another cleansing of a sacred space. What is known as the “Cleansing of the Temple.”

While the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus begins his ministry with this act, the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us that the first thing Jesus does upon the triumphal entry into Jerusalem is to go into the temple and turn over the tables of the moneychangers responsible for exchanging Greek and Roman money for Jewish or Tyrian shekels, which were required to pay the temple tax. The percentage the money changers added would qualify as usury and the money they collected for animals for sacrifice would qualify as price gouging.

The religious leaders had made the temple “a den of thieves.”

And Jesus disrupts the flow of business and speaks about care of the poor. He makes a clear statement about adding a tax that becomes onerous for the poor and deprives them of something that should be freely accessible. In this case, access to the temple and to God is something that should never be taxed.

As we move through this Holy Week with our Lenten theme of brokenness, I think we have to ask the questions about love, justice, and access to God. When we talk about atonement as we often have, we simply make Jesus the scapegoat (see Richard Rohr’s meditation on this for more information). When Jesus becomes the scapegoat, then we can settle into our easy religious and spiritual routine that is disconnected from any real transformation of ourselves or the world in which we live.

If the pandemic has done one thing for me, it has come into my comfortable religious routine and kicked over the tables. Long gone is the easy (knowable) Sunday morning routine. Long gone is my taking for granted that I will see everyone worshiping with us that day, as we have people who can anonymously worship with us each week. Even my weekday routines have been upended.

More importantly, long gone are the blinders that helped keep me shielded from overt prejudice and racism and harm done to our siblings, whether based on the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, or who they love. Long gone is the capacity just to make excuses about how we are not racist without being anti-racist.

What Jesus does in this week called holy is remind us just how broken our systems are, and he comes as the broken messiah, not to take away our responsibility, but to teach us how to see sin honestly … repent of it earnestly … and move in a new direction faithfully.

By the time we have put Jesus on trial, we may come to see that we are the ones who have been tried and found wanting. By the time Jesus is put to death, we will have discovered that churches devoid of inclusive love and justice themselves are dying.

But the good news about cleansing is the notion of grace itself. We will be given the opportunity to find hope after despair … wholeness after brokenness … life after death.

Today, however, we might just have to endure a hard scrubbing.

Cleanse us, Lord, that we might discover the joy of the new life you bring. Amen.

Keeping Ourselves Together

When I was a kid, I can remember those Sunday mornings. It was quite a bit of work getting my sister and me ready for church. Mom would have our Sunday clothes out. We would get dressed as she and Dad would get themselves dressed. Then she would do our hair (mine was easy but required a bit of Vitalis hair tonic), and my sisters had to be brushed out, curled and then put up in whatever fashion she and Mom negotiated.

There was usually some amount of fuss until my sister and I were placed in front of the television to watch the claymation series produced by the Lutheran Church, Davy and Goliath (linked for those interested in ancient history).

Then we would all get in the car. No eating was permitted once we were dressed … especially after the “Fried Pie Fiasco” that I created and had to completely change clothes making us late.

As we travelled in the car, there was one clear rule given: Be on your best behavior! You are going before God and everybody else, and we don’t say “those words” or talk about personal or family things. We are taking only our best to God. While likely a bit of an overstatement, it was the rule that was imbedded in my mind. For God, we always put our best foot forward. It might sound oppressive, but for me, it provided a pattern that was comfortable and knowable. It’s also why people rarely see me on Sundays without at least a tie and white shirt (if not a suit).

The one downside was that it took me years to realize that God didn’t want my Sunday self to show up … God wanted all of me to show up. It was part of the duality that is so prevalent even today in religious life. The ego part of us wants to be thought of as good … pure … saintly … Christian, and the ego doesn’t easily abide the vulnerability that comes from being fully known. We divide even our own selves into good and bad, and we can only take the good parts into the presence of God.

You see, our egos want us to be known as “the good people.” These are people who show us only their best side, and they are the ones we talk about over Sunday lunch. We fantasize at how wonderful their lives must be. Their fall from grace is usually spectacular when it finally comes.

When we lived in Arlington, our family would often go out to eat at a Chinese Restaurant near the church. One day as we sat in a booth, an older couple were seated at a table next to us. They had come from their church, which I knew was different from our church. As is true to this day, because I was clergy and had to greet people and wrap things up before leaving church, the only people who arrived at the restaurant at the same time we did were likely from the Baptist or Church of Christ churches in the area … the Methodists had already eaten and gone home.

The older couple were both impeccably dressed. His hair was perfectly in the place. She had on a lot of makeup, and she was smiling … constantly smiling. There was this moment though that stands starkly in my memory. The man got up to go to the restroom, and she stopped smiling. Not only did she stop smiling, she showed a face that had tragedy etched in the lines … she wasn’t just sad … she looked devastated. Then as soon as he returned to the table, the smile came back. That smile was all she would show to him … at least in public.

For some reason, she couldn’t bring her whole self to that moment. Not when they were together. The memory of this poor woman still stands for me as a constant reminder of what it looks like when we can’t bring our whole selves even into the presence of the One who knows every fiber of our being.

I have always found it interesting that we use the phrase “keep yourself together” in a way that means, “we don’t want to see your shadow self … we don’t want to see the part of you that is too real too or embarrassing … we need to see only your best side.” I wonder what would happen if we changed that to mean something like:

Keep yourself together and don’t leave any part of you out. I see you, and God sees you. You are loved just as you are.

Parker Palmer writes in A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life the following: “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other.  In the process, we become separated from our own souls.  We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the integrity that comes from being what you are.”

God does not expect us to divide ourselves. As we live our lives in God’s world and, most especially, when we place ourselves in the presence of God in meditation, prayer, and worship, I think perhaps the best thing to do is to “keep ourselves together!”

Journey Through Brokenness – March 30

The Role of Suffering

I once received a card from a clergy friend. On the cover it read:

Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. (1 Corinthians 11:24-28)

When I opened the card it simply read: So that’s enough about me. How is it with you?

____________________

I could not stop laughing, but I am always aware that my laughter belies something important.

The interesting thing about Paul is that none of this is a deterrent from his mission. As a matter of fact, he sees the suffering he has experienced as fundamental for transformation. In the many things Paul suffered, he found himself poured out and given for nothing other than serving God through the power of Christ.

In his own suffering, he found solidarity with Christ … he found solidarity with all who had suffered.

Paul also discovered that the deepest spiritual transformation he could experience was through the pathway of suffering and brokenness. What he experienced empowered him in a unique way to go to the deepest places of spirituality. The Corinthian correspondence was late in his ministry, and his Letter to the Romans is considered to be his last. Romans also exhibits Paul’s deep spiritual maturity … where in the eighth chapter we hear that “there is nothing that will separate us from the love of God through Christ Jesus our Lord!”

His wisdom and insights don’t come from academic studies, and they do not come from a strong ego. They come from the place of brokenness and an authentic humility.

Paul doesn’t linger in that brokenness. My laughter at the card my friend sent was because it is my own tendency to wallow in the brokenness a bit too much. Paul, however, doesn’t make his story just about brokenness. He makes it about the power of the cross to transform and create community. His story is ultimately one that reflects the radical inclusive love of God.

So as we move toward the conclusion of this theme of brokenness, we will experience, with Jesus, that the darkest is yet to come … yet the darkest hour will precede the dawn. My prayer is that you will take all that you have suffered and bring it to the cross. It is there that our suffering will take on new meaning, and the darkness of death will itself begin to reveal the light of life.

God, may our brokenness and suffering somehow connect us more deeply to you and to one another. Amen.

Journey Through Brokenness – March 29

The Path of Descent

Have you noticed how biblical narratives always say that everyone is going “up to Jerusalem?” I remember being curious about that in my teen years. Like most of us who were trained using conventional maps (obviously made by people north of the equator), I was taught to think that “up” is north. So as a kid, I came to believe that Jerusalem was north of everything … maybe at the “top of the world.”

The ancients, however, had no concept like that. Because they primarily walked everywhere they went, there were only three ways they went: up, down, or flat. Jerusalem is located on the top of Mount Zion (one of seven hills that form Jerusalem), so anyone going to the Holy City was always going up.

We like up. Have you noticed that? We love to think about soaring. A beautiful sunlit day invariably brings our attention (not to mention our mood) upward. We love upward mobility, and many of my own generation were labeled as “Yuppies” for their own self-description as “young urban professionals” or “young upwardly-mobile professionals.”

We think “up” is success, and we think of “down” is failure.

Perhaps that’s what makes following our theme of brokenness through Lent so difficult. We have had enough downward spiraling in a year fraught with pandemic, racism, and violence. We have experienced isolation … fear … trauma … and we just really don’t want to look farther into this darkness.

Yet that is exactly what Jesus does. Fr. Richard Rohr talks about the seven themes of the Alternative Orthodoxy (found in his book of daily meditations, Yes, And …), and the 6th theme is stated as follows:

The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.

Jesus, having gone up to Jerusalem, is now going down to the place of death. If we dare to follow him this week … while not moving too quickly to Easter … we will discover far deeper learnings than we might have thought possible. Here we will learn:

  • what it is to stand in solidarity with those whose worlds are darkened by poverty, hunger, and homelessness
  • what it is to stand in solidarity with all who are marginalized for nothing more than being the people God created them to be
  • how to experience violence without the need to act violently toward others
  • how to see brokenness and death as a pathway to wholeness and resurrection

The thing I have learned is that Jesus isn’t “upwardly mobile,” as we think about success and prosperity. Jesus doesn’t call us to go upward. He invites us to go downward to the place of death. Ultimately, Jesus calls us to journey forward to the cross and what lies beyond.

Lord God, be with us on the journey. Amen.