Saturday, January 23, 2010
A reflection on the propers for Epiphany 3C: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10, 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a and Luke 4:14-21 by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski
Geraldine Brooks was a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal where she covered the wars in Bosnia, Somalia, and the Middle East. She is also a Pulitzer Prize winning author for the book, “March.” Her latest novel, “People of the Book” tells a story of intrigue and mystery similar to the DaVinci code. The subject of the novel is an ancient haggadah. A haggadah is a book that tells the story of the Exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt, led by Moses, Aaron and Miriam, through the Red Sea. It is the Passover story told each year on the eve of Passover at the Jewish Seder meal. Brooks crafted this story of fiction on the few details that are known about the famous Sarajevo Haggadah, a beautifully illustrated 500 year old manuscript that somehow travelled from Spain to Vienna and eventually to Sarajevo. It survived the book burnings of the Inquisition, two world wars and the book burnings of the Nazi’s, and the war between Bosnia and Croatia. It’s a story of how three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all born from the same roots – from Abraham and Moses – participated in the creation and survival of this haggadah. And, while the story is fiction, it is based on some evidence about the real Sarajevo Haggadah, of three faith traditions working together, in its creation, its history, and its survival.
It appears that the real haggadah was first created during a time in history called the Conviviencia, when Jews, Christians, and Muslims coexisted in Spain in relative peace, and exchanged ideas and culture freely. The Conviviencia period lasted for about 500 years, from 1000 to 1499. The Sarajevo Haggadah is significant not only for its history but for its beautiful illustrations.
The story Brooks crafts around this Haggadah travels back and forth in time, from the 21st century ancient manuscript conservationist, a woman named Hanna from Australia, through the various significant periods in the books history, with enough suspense and intrigue to warrant the comparison to the DaVinci code.
I offer this book review this morning because I think the premise of this book points us in the same direction as our scripture readings this morning – to ponder the ways in which God expresses God’s self in the world and what it means, in the broadest of terms to be the body of Christ, which I suspect is greater than Christianity and includes our sisters and brothers in Judaism and Islam. Now I doubt that a Jewish or Muslim person would appreciate being considered a part of the Body of Christ, but if we remember that Christ is God incarnate then I think we can say that these three religions are expressions of the body of God.
Many years ago I read another book called The Good Heart. It was based on a presentation given by the Dalai Lama to a group of Christian meditators in England who invited him to come to their conference as their guest speaker. The idea was that each morning the Dalai Lama would be given a text from the Christian Gospels. He would then go off and meditate on the reading for a few hours. He would have no advance notice on what the text would be and he would not utilize any books to unpack the meaning of the text. He was just given the text and left to meditate on it. After a few hours the group would gather and the Dalai Lama would offer a reflection on what the text means. The group was consistently amazed at how Christian the Dalai Lamas’ understanding was of the Gospel readings. In other words, he got it. When asked if he thought all people should convert to Buddhism, since it seemed to this crowd to be a source of great wisdom, the Dalai Lama said no. He believes that there are a variety of religions in this world for a reason, and we should each practice the religion that speaks most deeply into our beings and helps us grow as people of faith. He said there was probably some merit in helping people who have no faith to find a religion that speaks to them so that they can be more fulfilled in life, but there was no real purpose in converting people from one faith to another. We may or may not agree with that premise, but it does point to a deep appreciation for the Body of God. It also reminds me of the Rule of Benedict, for those who practice Benedictine spirituality – the Rule of Benedict helps us understand how every activity and encounter is holy and reflective of divine inspiration – that God is all around us, in and through us, and all we meet and do. This is what some call the “Stillspeaking God.” The God who speaks to us in stillness, the God who is still speaking to us even to this day.
It also points us to ponder what Parker Palmer, that great Quaker author, educator, and activist, describes as “deep obedience” - about how we listen to God and let God speak through us, or what he calls, “sound- through.” Paul Tillich, a 20th century theologian, once described three approaches to authority and law: heteronomy, the rule of an outside force or imposed law; autonomy, individualistic self-rule; and theonomy, alignment with God’s vision for our lives and the law of our being. Theonomy is not imposed from without but reflects our deepest nature and what is truly good for us as persons. From this perspective, the law of God – or as our scripture this morning says, the law of Moses – inspires us to that deep-obedience, the ability to let God “sound through” our lives as the foundation for the well-being of person and society. (Process and Faith Blog).
Nehemiah describes this same idea with the words we heard this morning about Ezra reading the scroll and the people listening, all who could hear with meaning. In other words, not just listening to the words but really understanding the meaning of the law of God, which Jesus summarizes for us as “Love God, Love neighbor, love self.” The Dalai Lama exhibits this kind of sounding-through love of the Stillspeaking God. And I suspect that people living in Spain during the Conviviencia, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, had a deep understanding of this too. When we allow or provide room for that idea of love, God’s love, to listen through us, we begin to understand what deep obedience really means. How broad and deep God intends for us to live and love in our lives. Jesus points to this as well in our Gospel reading when he states that the scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing….that listening to the word of God, deeply in our being, meditating on it until it lives and breathes through us, is an act of fulfilling the scripture, living into the law, becoming the Body of Christ.
Body of Christ language is important to the ministry of women in particular because the historical Jesus was a man. As a priest, when I Preside at the Eucharist I think about this – image of God, body of Christ. When I hold my arms wide and pray the words of consecration and for those few minutes stand as the image of the incarnate Christ, I think about what body means. I think about the words we are using in that prayer-time, what words are speaking in and through us? Do the words we pray reflect to us the Stillspeaking God in the body of a woman standing as the body of Christ at the Eucharistic table? I know that the historic Jesus was a man but in the moment of that Eucharistic prayer the incarnate God is not limited to the physical body of Jesus. Rather the Holy Spirit breathes into us, opens that prayer, and us, and invites us to re-member the body in the image of God, both male and female. The Incarnate Christ, then, like we see in Rubilev’s icon of the Pontecrator, is also male and female. In the Eucharistic prayer we re-member that body of bread and wine, of hands and feet, and heart, of male and female, of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, of you and of me. And in so doing the scripture is fulfilled.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Holy God, before time you named us
Through time you redeem us
You call us, precious in your sight
May we love as you love.
Holy One, through the turbulent waters
Make us steady, your hands
Holding strong the fragile and weak
May we love as you love.
Gracious God, may the fruits of our lives
be food for the hungry, bread
clothing, shelter, fire, water, Word
May we love as you love.
God of justice, remove the chaff
Of our lives that keep us from
Hearing, following, Your call
May we love as you love.
Loving God, take this day our fears our
Worries, distractions, and all
Turn them into wheat, heart food
May we love as you love.
By The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski
Crossposted on RevGalBlogPal blog, RevGalPrayerPal blog, and SeekingAuthenticVoice blog
Photo from the collection of Terri Pilarski: Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski holding her God-daughter Zoe Repp
Saturday, January 2, 2010
‘The word became flesh and dwelt among us’
I love the opening of John’s Gospel, it is probably one of the greatest pieces of religious literature ever written. But, I think we may have over-egged it a little bit in the last week or so, we had it on Christmas Day, then we had it on Thursday and now again today. Well, I suppose the reason it is used so often is because it is an important passage. In those few verses John introduces some key themes and particular words that will recur throughout his Gospel.
Those first few verses set the coming of Jesus in beautiful poetic verse. ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’
For John, Jesus cannot be introduced in terms of time, place and human ancestry, he was there from the beginning, the very beginning, before creation when only God existed and so Jesus is the same as God, he is divine. Jesus is not named until the very end of the prologue, instead, he is simply ‘the Word’.
God used words to create the heavens and earth, plants and animals, ‘God said, let there be light’, and light came into being. The Jews thought that God’s word was alive and active, he only had to say ‘Let there be..’ for things to come into being, his word creates. Then God’s word comes through the prophets, again his word is alive and active. And then, ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’ God’s word alive and active and physically present here on earth.
The word was not only pre-existent with God, it was also personal. John emphasises that the ‘Word was God’, he chooses his words very carefully. The Word wasn’t a god which would reduce Jesus to a lesser divinity. Neither was it the God, which would suggest that there was nothing more to God than Jesus. Jesus is divine and yet personal, existing within the unity of the godhead and yet distinct from it, because ‘the Word became flesh’.
God became very present here on earth, sharing in our earthly experience, to bring light into the darkness. And so, we honour the Christ-child cradled in Mary’s arms, his mother comforts and protects him as he comforts and protects us. As the shepherds and Wise-men brought gifts to Jesus, we too bring gifts we bring love, time, talents, commitment; we bring to him our joy and sadness, we seek forgiveness for what we have done wrong, full of intention to lead a more Christ-centred life in the future.
We bring the very best we have to offer, and Christ will honour our gifts because they are brought with love. And, what do we receive in return, we are children of God receive full and free salvation, the fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace…and LIFE, everlasting life. Generosity on a divine scale, the more we put God’s gifts to work, the more we receive.
The Hebrew prophets looked forward to God’s light coming in Glory. The light came in the form of a baby, a baby who came to give. He came and walked among us healing the sick, sharing meals with outcasts. He is the light that shows us the way and casts out the darkness.
Ultimately he gave himself, in death on the cross, that we might be saved. Jesus was born into a violent world, where children were murdered because Herod the King was scared of what he had heard of a new king, he was born into a world that 30yrs later would reject him. The Christ child, God with us, that baby born in a stable, the one who walked among us. will one day be rejected and abandoned, crucified on the cross. As the story unfolds, Jesus knows all things, is aware of his pre-existence with the father, and goes to his death serenely in control.
The world tried to extinguish the light, but could not, the darkness could not and has not overcome it. On the third day, the tomb was empty Jesus rose again, the light of God overcame the darkness of humanity though the cross.
Even today, Jesus is still giving, and as Paul points out in his letter to the Ephesians, everything we have in Christ is a gift of God’s grace. One of the most precious gifts we receive is power, the power to become children of God, the power to inherit eternal life. The only condition is that we have to believe in Jesus. It doesn’t matter who we are, young or old, male or female, all we have to do is believe.
The story has its beginnings in a humble stable, but that is just a small part of God’s plan for the cosmos. We are given the power, not for our own sake, but for the sake of all that God wants to accomplish through us. We bring our gifts and worship the Christ-child, but we must continue to use those gifts to the best of our ability as we each play our own small part in bringing to fruition the Kingdom of God.