A Reflection on Proper 23B by the Rev. Dr. Kate Hennessy - Mark 10:17-31
“He looked at him and loved him.” And that, it seems was the moment of the rich young man’s undoing in this week’s Gospel. When someone sees us and loves us as we really are, it can be challenging to us. It can call out a response in us to face the truth of our lives for good or ill. And it can make us turn tail and run for cover, even if we are grieving as we go.
I recently attended a clergy conference where the facilitator used the work of Parker Palmer from his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. As part of our discussion, he asked us to reflect and share with one about another our “shadows” which are:
A basic insecurity about our own identity and worth
The belief that the universe is a battleground and essentially an unfriendly place
Functional atheism – the belief that ultimate responsibility for everything rests with us
Fear of the natural chaos of life
Denial of death and denial of failure
What was most interesting to me in this group of clergy was how many of us identified that our biggest shadow was “functional atheism” and how much we struggle with that. Many of us articulated how painful that is, and how deep it goes – that indeed it is a soul conflict. We “know” with our hearts and souls…indeed most of us with all of our beings that God is God and we are not…and yet…and yet….to see us in action, one might easily conclude that we might think that indeed the ultimate buck does stop with us. Many shared that they find themselves feeling burnt out, exhausted and even resentful about the demands of their call, and yet feel the need to keep doing more and more, and to keep striving to do it perfectly, or at least as others demand they do it because this is the only way they feel that they are “good enough.” Many also shared, with some sadness, what gets lost in all this striving. Compassion, joy, a sense of connection with oneself and with the Holy One.
“I have followed all the commandments all of my life. Indeed. I have been a good minister. I have dotted every i and crossed every t. I have visited every sick person and attended every meeting. I have signed every register and done good liturgy. I have studied hard and preached well. I have listened and been a non-anxious presence even when my own anxiety was rocketing me out of my skin. And God…I am so tired! That’s what that particular shadow in action looks like for many of us.
“Enough trying” says Jesus. “It’s not about that anyway, because my beloved silly human….you cannot save yourself anyway. Give it up, give it over, give it away….it is not about you.”
Oh. The young man couldn’t bear that particular piece of news, wasn’t ready for the depth charge. He had to go. But he went sadly. Knowingly? Maybe. Sometimes we do know when it’s there, the real thing, the better way, just out of reach…but we can’t quite manage it yet, the fear, the shadow pull is still too strong.
We were reminded that shadows are illuminated by light and that there is for us a Light that the darkness cannot overcome. We were also reminded that frequently we cannot see our own and that is why we need to be in loving community with one another.
We cannot save ourselves. For the functional atheists among us that may come as scary news on a bad day. The illusion of control brings us comfort and the command to give all we have away makes us quake in terror. Until we remember just who and whose we are anyway….just who it is that looked in love, said “give it away.” The credibility of the example is hard to argue.