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Nothing convicts me in my heart more than the contemplation of Jesus as a historical person.

All my decades of wrestling with spiritual paths and theologies are self-indulgence, compared with the blessèdness and horror of that man’s life. Every day’s news is full of the brutality and painful neediness of humankind. That Jesus walked compassionately into the midst of it all is reason enough to follow him—and to be dismayed whenever I fall short of doing so.

Last Sunday I wrote about the painful discrepancy we experience between our outwardly celebrative expectations, as we wave our branches on the road into Jerusalem, and our inwardly destructive disappointments, resentments, fears and betrayals.

We imagine that divine intervention, or at least some authoritative spiritual teacher or political leader, will “fix everything” in our day-to-day lives. Yet those lives continue into one “unfixed” moment after another.

More distressing, occasionally we manage to hear what Jesus actually says: “Here’s what to do. Here’s how to do it. Let me show you.”

I say distressing, because we normally are so far from feeling able to do as he did in any moment of the life our stories tell us about. Not only so far from feeling able to walk knowingly into brutal torture and crucifixion. So far from risking or surrendering material security to live with society’s outcasts. So far from reaching out to sooth the secret wounds which cause others to hurt us.

In my “Palm Sunday” post, I owned these failings, these ways in which I fall short of what Jesus shows me a human being can do. Yet I also owned something else: my rejection of the Augustinian doctrine of The Fall, caused by original sin and perpetuated through every generation of the human race.

“None of our failure is ‘fallenness’,” I wrote. “It is merely part of normal, finite, fallible, hardwired primate survival behavior. God knows.”

All those human traits which are bound up in the metaphor of fallenness are natural survival traits of social animals. As self-serving, hurtful and sometimes deadly as they may be, they all arise from innate biological responses to perceived threat to oneself or one’s kin. It seems pointless to me to claim that these traits represent fallenness from some primordially better state of being.

Even so, the metaphor does speak to something deep in human experience. Last Monday, a friend sent this in response to my post:

To me, our fallen-ness is separation from God and being less than what we can be when we are in close communion with God, as was Jesus. The importance of the gospel stories, to me, is in what they can teach us about our true nature and our relationship to God.

These words sing welcome counterpoint to mine.

The New Testament Greek word hamartia is usually translated as “sin.” However, it “is rooted in the notion of missing the mark (hamartanein),” falling short of the target, the ideal, the moral (or divine) expectation.

So, instead of fallenness in the Augustinian sense, perhaps our challenge is fallen short-ness. Our natural survival responses usually block or distract us from the grace-filled life we sometimes glimpse. It is a life we sometimes even manage to live for a moment or so at a time. We long for it, strive for it…yet most of the time we fall short.

When we are momentarily successful at such living, we experience the unexpected grace of “our true nature and our relationship to God.” When we notice that we have fallen short once again, we feel as if we are separated from “our relationship with God.”

I do not believe that fallenness is separation from God. It is, rather, the illusory feeling of separation, the loss of conscious awareness, the denial, even, of our unending kinship with God.

Some years ago I discovered that, for me, the most important day in the Christian calendar is one not even traditionally noted, that strange, empty day between Good Friday and Easter.

Although I did not do so yesterday, some years I go out into the wilderness by myself and sit, watching and waiting. I have never physically seen or heard Jesus. In the material realm, all I have of him is the stories I have been told. Yet when I sit alone on the empty day, he is no less with me than on any other day.

It isn’t my reaching toward him, privately in meditation or longing, or publicly in Lutheran liturgical worship or Quaker waiting worship, that brings him into realness for me. And my fallenness, my fallen short-ness, doesn’t keep him from me.

He is just there. A historical person, demonstrating in the flesh, through the stories about him, all that a human being is capable of doing when in full relationship with God.

What, then, was so powerful for Jesus’ disciples—after their flight and betrayal and denial of him—that they could know him to be alive for them again?

Image by Carol BaileyIt was the simple, bone-deep realization that they still experienced the kinship with God which Jesus had enabled them to know before his death.

That kinship was not broken, cannot be broken.

As I wrote last Sunday:

“Jesus knows, God knows. Just wake up and follow him again. That’s all we can do.”

And so it is.

Blessèd Be,
Michael

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Note: I wanted to make certain my readers saw this wonderful example of serendipity.

WordPress has an automated feature which searches the Web for “possibly related posts” for blog entries (presumably by searching for shared high occurrence of words or phrases).

I posted “Longing and waiting” early on April 1st.

When I went back to the post later in the day, I discovered that the web-bots had found this marvelous poem on A Poem a Day: Writers in the Schools (WITS) Celebrates Kids—in their own Words. It was orginally posted there on January 31, 2008.

Waving Tassles, by Todd Klassy

Wisdom by Anancia

the wavy corn the lady
standing the baby sleeping
the mom watching the morning
comes the animal waking the
daylight is coming the forest
singing the animals creeping
musical sounds everywhere it’s like
a band it’s sleeping children
keeping and sleeping they’re
waiting for morning waiting for
evening waiting for sleeping again
until that time comes
everybody will be sleeping
everybody except the moon
and the sun everybody will
be sleeping everybody
I tell you and you
believe me believe
it like a dream it’s
true it’s true and
good

by Anancia, 4th grade

And so it is.

Blesséd Be,
Michael

Heart of the Buddha
by Hsu Yun

No need to chase back and forth like the waves.
The same water which ebbs is the same water that flows.
No point turning back to get water
When it’s flowing around you in all directions
The heart of the Buddha and the people of the world…
Where is there any difference?

 
Posted on Poetry Chaikhana Blog: Sacred Poetry from Around the World.

And so it is.

Blessèd Be.

The inside blurb to Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons begins, “Frederick Buechner has long been a kindred spirit to those who find elements of doubt as constant companions on their journey of faith.”

The book was a birthday gift from my mother two years ago, and I’ve been slowly making my way through its gentle, surprising sermons ever since Christmas of that year.

This past weekend, just as the newest post for Walhydra’s Porch was starting to come together, I opened the book to “Faith and Fiction,” a long piece in which Buechner tells about his experience as a religious novelist and explores how faith and fiction rely upon common characteristics:

The word fiction comes from a Latin verb meaning “to shape, fashion, feign.” That is what fiction does, and in many ways it is what faith does too. You fashion your story, as you fashion your faith, out of the great hodgepodge of your life—the things that have happened to you and the things you have dreamed of happening….

In faith and fiction both you fashion out of the raw stuff of your experience. If you want to remain open to the luck and grace of things anyway, you shape that stuff in the sense less of imposing a shape on it than of discovering a shape. And in both you feign—feigning as imagining, as making visible images for invisible things. (174-75)

Toward the end of the piece, Buechner revisits these parallels:

To whistle in the dark is more than just to try to convince yourself that dark is not all there is. It is also to remind yourself that dark is not all there is or the end of all there is because even in the dark there is hope…. The tunes you whistle in the dark are the images you make of that hope, that power. They are the books you write.

In just the same way faith could be called a kind of whistling in the dark too, of course. The living out of faith. The writing out of fiction. In both you shape, you fashion, you feign. Maybe what they have most richly in common is a way of paying attention. (182)

These passages frame Buechner’s description of writing several novels about an imaginary saint and one more about a historical one.

The passage which caught my attention, though, on the morning when Walhydra got going with her latest piece, is this one:

If you had to bet your life, which one would you bet it on? On Yes, there is God in the highest, or, if such language is no longer viable, there is Mystery and Meaning in the deepest? On No, there is whatever happens to happen, and it means whatever you choose it to mean, and that is all there is?

We may bet Yes this evening and No tomorrow morning…. But we all of us bet, and it’s our lives themselves we’re betting with in the sense that the betting is what shapes our lives. And we can never be sure we’ve bet right, of course. The evidence both ways is fragmentary, fragile, ambiguous…. Whether we bet Yes or No, it is equally an act of faith….

Faith…is distinctively different from other aspects of the religious live and not to be confused with them….

Faith is different from theology because theology is reasoned, systematic, and orderly, whereas faith is disorderly, intermittent, and full of surprises. Faith is different from mysticism because mystics in their ecstasy become one with what faith can at most see only from afar. Faith is different from ethics because ethics is primarily concerned not, like faith, with our relationship to God but with our relationship to each other.

Faith is closest perhaps to worship because like worship it is essentially a response to God and involves the emotions and the physical senses as well as the mind, but worship is consistent, structured, single-minded and seems to know what it’s doing while faith is a stranger and exile on the earth and doesn’t know for certain about anything.

Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting. Faith is journeying through space and through time. (172-73)

And so it is.

Blessèd Be.

This is a beautiful post I stumbled onto, thanks to Martin Kelley’s QuakerQuaker.org. It’s on a blog I hadn’t seen before, Showers of Blessing, by Paul L of Minneapolis.

Friend Paul is quoting from Andrea Lee’s article, “Personal History: Altered State — Pennsylvania, blackness, and the art of being foreign,” in the June 30, 2008 issue of The New Yorker.

As a fifth-grade student at Lansdowne Friends School, she and her classmates were called on to recite Psalm 19 at Thursday morning meeting for worship to the elders of the meeting and the rest of the school:

For a long time, things go without a hitch, but on the morning of Psalm 19 our class fails. First, the short, deep-voiced boy who is our bellwether stumbles over his verse and, purple-faced, shudders to a halt. And I, with gold ready to pour from my lips*, simply freeze.

At Teacher’s frenzied prompting, we burst into the chorus, about errors and secret faults.** But the words are a tripwire: somebody’s helpless giggle becomes a rout. We double over, choking with uncontrollable laughter. The beams of the meetinghouse ring with the echo of our debacle, and we wither under the sidelong smirks of the sixth grade.

Still, after a minute, a curious transformation occurs. One by one, we are able to look up at the faces of the elders, which are not severe and condemning, nor yet smiling with the kind of amused indulgence with which grownups greet endearing childish mishaps. Nor do they display any desire to make this a character-building experience.

Those old faces are simply present: alert; regarding us and the rest of the hall with a boundless, patient comprehension that raises us to their own dignified level. We let the silence flow back.

And, gradually, something becomes clear: a kind of radiant indifference to words, mistaken or correct. What the elders, the Friends, pass on to us this morning is an inkling of how strong silence is. Essential; eternal. But common, in the best sense. Always there, if we can only listen for it. Inside or outside meeting.

* v 9-10: The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.

** v 12Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.

What a marvelous story of grace.

Blessèd Be.

Stephen Jay Gould

Our mind works largely by metaphor and comparison, not always (or even often) by relentless logic. When we are caught in conceptual traps, the best exit is often a change in metaphor—not because the new guideline will be truer to nature...but because we need a shift to more fruitful perspectives, and metaphor is often the best agent for conceptual transition. (264)

Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History

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