July 7, Lack

Today’s Gospel Story (Mk 6:1-6) has some very disturbing words: Jesus “could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them; He was amazed at their lack of faith”. Lack of faith. Wow! The Story suggests an ongoing journey of openness and growth for any who are open to making it. It really is a choice.

Besides giving an indication of how the people in his day received Jesus, or didn’t, this passage offers me insight to my own everyday living here and now, if I am willing to be open to it. Do I think I know Jesus well enough to decide how he will be in my life? Do I keep him “in a box” and refuse to accept him in any other way? This helps me feel safe and comfortable, but it also keeps me from growing. Jesus promised to send the Spirit to help me see what it is to live as his disciple in my every day circumstances. I have a great deal of power here, in the sense that I can choose how much I want to be open to the Spirit. Am I willing to be led wherever without setting any limits on what I will accept? Or am I saying that I’ll accept anything that helps me feel safe and in control, but not in any way different from what I already know and feel comfortable with.

For many people faith is believing the right things about Jesus. Of course those right things vary accord to particular religious traditions, for many of whom keeping the rules and using the right terms is more important than being open to the Spirit and willing to be led. They are saying, in effect, we’re not looking for the truth, we already have the truth and we’ll tell you what it is. The Gospels show us is faith is not believing about Jesus, but believing in Jesus, basing our life on what Jesus calls us to and the Spirit leads us to in our daily living. There is nothing theoretical here, it is all very practical, and as we become aware of it, very real.

Trying to live open to the Spirit is not a popular thing. For many it’s a threat. She might lead us to think in ways that others don’t understand and therefore don’t like, or even fear. As history shows, there can be serious practical repercussions. None of us, no tradition, has all the answers for how others are to live. The Spirit does not move us to holy thoughts, but to holy actions. A number of friends are involved in a parish community that a while back decided to walk the challenging and at times rocky journey away from the local diocese and form their own community in the Catholic tradition because of how they were being treated by local church management at the time. They felt they are being guided by the Spirit, and who is to say otherwise? Watching them from the outside it is clear that the Spirit is very much involved and they are responding and growing, even trailblazing. I’m learning just from watching them. This week they are welcoming their new pastor with all the dynamics this involves. I wish them nothing but the best.

Jesus’ teachings were not widely poplar in his day, and they certainly are not today. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor”. He  also gave us the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commandment, which are often seen as nice thoughts for church but have no place in “real” life, eg the suffering folks at our borders, our homeless, people suffering in Gaza, Israel, Ukraine and too many other places.

So, what does this say to me? As I write this I’m sitting comfortably on my very nice balcony listening and watching life happen all around me, birds all over the place.. I’m in a pretty safe place. I’m retired and growing older, with all the ups and downs this entails. I have no serious responsibilities, other than responding to requests for pastoral care of many sorts. I don’t have find a safe place for my family to live, look for a job or a house or adequate medical care. I don’t have to fear being bombed or burned, although the increasing incidents of local and national violence violence raise some questions here. While the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commandment impact my thinking and prayer, they don’t much involve my daily living, I can just write and talk about them. I’m not sure what all this really means. I have learned that preaching about the social implications of the Gospel at times generates quite an emotional response among some hearers, not always a pleasant experience. What is the Spirit saying to me here?

Each of us on our own personal journey has to deal with commonalities which are uncomfortable, even painful, yet part of being human — health and illness issues, difficult even failing relationships, watching family and friends gradually leave us through the long slow death pf dementia, family challenges, the terrible pain of not being accepted for how we see ourself or who we love., and loneliness in its many forms. And for many different reasons we worry about the future of our country. 

In all this I am most grateful for my “heart attack in the car experience” that makes it increasingly clear God is real and involved, although I have no idea how. While I believe this, I don’t know how to share it. I’m learning that the Spirit really does “speak” to me in my everyday experiences and the people I meet, without exception, whether  enjoyable  or not. At times this is very real, at other times not so much. Often I see it in hindsight. In my challenging times I try to make God into my version of what I think I need at the time, and so I miss a lot. There is always a letting go and accepting, with the peace and freedom this brings. Whatever my difficulty, God is in it with me, not as all-powerful, but as all-loving and all supporting. I am in God and God is in me, a living ongoing real relationship. This inner sense puts context into whatever I am experiencing. Perhaps I can say in everything we are happening together. Life is a joint effort with God and us, and it is good to have some sort of a “graced understanding” of this. As I sit here quietly on my balcony, I am in God being God all around me. I heard a line the other day, “God is the harmony of all harmonies”. Perhaps the ongoing revelation of Trinity, and each us as we are is a part of this. Just sayin . . .