In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Friday, July 17, 2009

Proper 11-B

A reflection on Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 23; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56; by The Rev. Jacqueline Schmitt

My parish sits in the middle of a busy city.

Last week, at our midweek service, we read this gospel. There were three of us at the service: me, the sexton, and a woman I will call R., who until a few months ago had NEVER cut her hair. She is 60 years old. She has no grey hair, and few wrinkles. We who are privileged to live in cities frequently come across people like R.

Our midweek service is always very small. For the gospel reading, we practice a very modified form of lectio divina, or African Bible study, where we read only a snippet of the gospel a few times over, with lots of space in between, and let the wisdom of the words rise to consciousness. Our parish has the only soup kitchen, in a city of 100,000, where hungry people can come for lunch. Some of these people come to church, on Sundays, or Wednesdays. R. is one of the people who for many years has come to lunch here. Three years ago, when I arrived, she hardly spoke. I would take communion to her in the pew, because she was too ashamed of how she looked to come to the altar. She always wore a coat, and pulled her matted hair back with a woolen cloth. She lived in a variety of rooming houses, and when one would be shut down for code violations, or foreclosed, she would walk away, leaving nearly all her belongings behind and try to start again in a new place. Each time, she moves closer to the church, and now she is our most faithful, twice-weekly communicant.

This is what I read on Wednesday: “Jesus said to the apostles, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Jesus saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

I read it once, and a siren screamed by. Usually, I ask another person to read the passage again, after a few minutes, so we could hear it in a different voice, but I wasn’t sure either of my friends had heard the passage, given the screaming siren. So I read it again.

“Jesus said to the apostles, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Jesus saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

There was some silence, then a truck steamed by, grinding gears and belching fume. The roofers hammered away. Other cars passed by.

What does it mean, in a busy city, to “come away to a deserted place?” Did Jesus just hop on to the metro north, or jump into his Volvo station wagon, and head upstate for a few days? Did he visit Wave Hill? Or the Cloisters? Or take a short hike in the Palisades Interstate Park, or any other of the other diversions some of us city people can take advantage of? We all know the need – the pressing need, often desperately needed, to get away from it all. To stop the noise, to seek, in the words of the old hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier, a place of quietness, where all our strivings can cease, where our souls can let go of strain and stress, and our ordered lives confess the beauty of God’s peace.[i]

But look at the text: Jesus tried to get away to a deserted place, but he must not have been able to go very far. The crowds followed him, pressed on him before and behind, with their insistent noise and needs and hopes and desires. Like the noise of the sirens, and the trucks going by, and the roofers hammering: in a city, the demands of the world are never far away from us.

And yet it struck me that we are able to create in that little chapel, Wednesday morning after Wednesday morning, something approaching the “place apart” that Jesus intended. A few moments of prayer, reflection on scripture, an ordered few minutes where the passions of life, the needs of those on the edge of psychotic break or violent outburst, could sit quietly for a time. In a liturgy stripped bare of the demands of middle-class propriety, we could sit, quietly, our consciousness moving back and forth between the words of Jesus and the noise of the street.

“Jesus said to the apostles, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Jesus saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.”

We stood up for communion. On Wednesday, for the first time, R. stood up, came close to the little table used for an altar, entered vigorously into the responses, put out her hands for the bread, drank from the cup. In this place apart, in the midst of the busy city, Jesus is known to us in a word, a gesture, and then is off again, waiting in line for lunch, walking down the street with his possessions in a bag, bringing rest and refreshment, and words of wisdom, to all of us harassed and helpless, and in need of a shepherd.


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[i] Hymn 652, 653, The Hymnal 1982 (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation)


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3 comments:

mompriest said...

Thank you. Lovely.

ROBERTA said...

that was wonderful.

Janine Goodwin said...

I have been blessed more than once by those who have nothing. It's humbling. There is a great tension in accepting the blessing and knowing we could, as a country, do better by them.