Henri Nouwen writes, "The many contradictions in our lives – such as being home while feeling homeless, being busy while feeling bored, being popular while feeling lonely, being believers while feeling many doubts – can frustrate, irritate, and even discourage us. They make us feel that we are never fully present. Every door that opens for us makes us see how many more doors are closed. But there is another response. These same contradictions can bring us into touch with a deeper longing, for the fulfillment of a desire that lives beneath all desires and that only God can satisfy. Contradictions, thus understood, create the friction that can help us move toward God."
This fits in well with what I was reading a week or two ago about ‘orthopradoxy.’ Dwight Friesen a contributor to AN EMERGENT MANIFESTO OF HOPE suggests that being church is really all about embracing an idea that he calls orthoparadoxy. He defines that as "an effort to make God’s main thing the main thing for all people of God: reconciliation. Not sameness or agreement but differentiated oneness – where the fullness of one can be in relationship with the fullness of another. Orthopardox hold difference, tensions, otherness, and paradoxes with grace, humility, respect and curiosity, while simultaneously bringing the fullness of self to the ‘other’ in conversation, not to convert or to convince but with the hope of mutual transformation through interpersonal relationship."
Both of these notions well define the practice of living a Christian discipleship. Those who get mired down in arguments about orthodoxy or ‘right beliefs’ are in my opinion, in denial of what is intrinsic in the Christian’s journey – that which is so well articulated by Nouwen above. A living faith is one which can embrace the notion that we come closest to understanding what we believe when we are prepared to embrace the notion we are often uncertain and contradicted about what we believe. Even more tragic is the resultant discord in the community of God when engage on discussions of orthodoxy or orthopraxy. What is ‘right belief?" What is ‘right practice’ or ‘right worship?’ Friesen’s concept of orthopardoxy is a healthy approach to encourage the people of God to understand that the manifestation of the Light of God is found in diverse and varied places and we can perhaps best experience that Holy Presence by engaging in a respectful way those who have different beliefs, different practices than our own.
The challenge then is to be comfortable enough to allow internal contradictions and tensions to live within us, guiding us on our journey toward Light. If we can live comfortably within these contractions we will likely become self-aware enough to begin to live in those contractions with others, accepting that we are not all the same, we do not all believe the same things, we do not all worship the same way. Nor do we need to all be obsessed with sameness. There is a oneness that is most complete because of its ability to accept differentiation – can we embrace that paradox?
The Hebrew Scripture appointed for today include these verses from Isaiah 49;
Listen, far-flung islands,
pay attention, faraway people:
God put me to work from the day I was born.
The moment I entered the world he named me.
He gave me speech that would cut and penetrate.
He kept his hand on me to protect me.
He made me his straight arrow
and hid me in his quiver.
He said to me, "You’re my dear servant,
Israel, through whom I’ll shine." – (The Message)
"God put me to work from the day I was born." Imagine that! From our creation we have been working for God’s purpose. Imagine! You and me and all those people we encounter at church, and in the community, all together, doing God’s work. One might argue about how well or not we are doing that work, but the point is, that in our very being is the nature of God’s good work and purpose. Seem overwhelming? It can be- but read the rest.
"God gave me speech that would cut and penetrate." Now you will argue here that we are not all orators. Of course we are not! I will counter – don’t be literalists. This is a promise that the gifts needed are given and imparted by the God of the covenant to the people. We are approaching the end of our Lenten journey and we now need to ask are we using that which God has given us to do the work that God is wishing to accomplish in us. The gifts are many and varied and God has given those gifts to us. Are we making use of those gifts today to show God’s love, God’s grace and God’s purpose.
I must confess that at times I am still discerning what gifts God has given me. From time to time I am surprised at what God is calling me to do. From time to time, I feel alone and a little scared that I will fail, or that I will not measure up – not so much to God but to those who seem to carrying a measuring rod at all times. Do you every feel like you need some help, a steady presence to help you on your journey? I do. And the good news is that "God kept a hand on me to protect me." How wonderful and how true! When I think about the most difficult parts of my journey it becomes obvious to me that God has been there as a steady hand in times of trouble and even in times of triumph. That hand has been extended to me in the form of family, friends and neighbours, parishioners and even strangers who have each in their own time protected me when I needed it, encouraged me when I needed it, held me back when I needed it, pushed me when I need it and caressed me and wiped a tear when I needed it. I suspect the same is true for most of us when we think about it. How has God’s hand been present for you? Who has extended that hand?
We are God’s dear servants and we are the one’s through whom God’s love will shine. As we near Good Friday and the great celebration of Easter let us discern this week what gifts God has offered us and how we are called to use them. Let us discern how God’s steady hand is present to us and in whom that hand is present. And let us discern how we can be the servant through whom the light of Christ might shine.
I missed a few steps last weeks – so I apologize that I missed blogging for a couple of days. Therefore you can count this blog for days 32, 33 and 34! I am slowing learning that God does not need perfection – just an honest effort!
So here is what is on my mind –
Passion is a kind of waiting – waiting for what other people are going to do. Jesus went to Jerusalem to announce the good news to the people of that city. And Jesus knew that he was going to put a choice before them: Will you be my disciple, or will you be my executioner? There is no middle ground here. Jesus went to Jerusalem to put people in a situation where they had to say "Yes" or "No." That is the great drama of Jesus’ passion: he had to wait upon how people were going to respond. How would they come? To betray him or to follow him? In a way, his agony is not simply the agony of approaching death. It is also the agony of having to wait. – Henri Nouwen
On Sunday we began the journey toward the cross that is Holy Week. On Sunday we sang Hosanna, in a few days we will yell Crucify!
Jesus still waits – he waits in the hearts of the hungry, the lonely, the broken, the disenfranchised, the forgotten, the mourning, the broken, the rejected, the outcast and just about anyone else who is on the ‘short’ end of the stick. His short but powerful ministry was all about those on the fringe. His passion was for those who needed love. Where is our passion? I know that we are passionate about the things that we want. We can be very passionate about our political views. We can be very passionate about our sports teams and our kids sports endeavours and our jobs and just about everything else in life but are we passionate about following Jesus?
He waits – still! Will we betray him? OR will we follow him? The truth is we can probably answer yes to both. BUT can we be courageous enough to admit our betrayal and seek to be stronger followers? It is a great question to ponder in Holy Week!
A Brief thought from Nouwen for Today
The Dignity to Give and Receive
"Nobody is so poor that he/she has nothing to give, and nobody is so rich that he/she has nothing to receive." These words by Pope John-Paul II, offer a powerful direction for all who want to work for peace. No peace is thinkable as long as the world remains divided into two groups: those who give and those who receive. Real human dignity is found in giving as well as receiving. This is true not only for individuals but for nations, cultures, and religious communities as well.
A true vision of peace sees a continuous mutuality between giving and receiving. Let’s never give anything without asking ourselves what we are receiving from those to whom we give, and let’s never receive anything without asking what we have to give to those from whom we receive.
THIS ONE IS FOR APRIL 1st
Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love Him as they love their cow – for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort. They do not rightly love God, when they love Him for their own advantage. Indeed, I tell you the truth, any object you have in your mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inmost Truth.
… Meister Eckhart (1260?-1327?)
I love Eckhart and I think this is one of his most powerful quotes. We have soooo much stuff if our lives and learning to remove that stuff will be an improvement in relating to the Divine.