Tuesday, June 26, 2012

One Great Fellowship of Love (2)

i am reading mark's gospel once more, this time in small bits, thinking about the short passages i've read for a few moments to seek understanding of the teaching(s) in each reading.  in the past few days, i've been struck by two in particular: mark 3:20-35 and mark 9:42-50.  both of these are passages that  are difficult for me to understand, but as i've prayed and meditated on them, i think perhaps a little light is beginning to dawn. today, i'll address the first of these and write about the other in my next post.

in the first passage, jesus' family has come to "take charge of him."  they believe that he is mentally unstable. he has chosen the life of itinerant teacher and gathered a group of disciples around him, abandoning his home in nazareth and his work as a carpenter.  perhaps jesus had helped to support his family and established a lucrative carpentry business, following in joseph's footsteps.  jesus' response always seemed cruel to me. when he is told that his mother and brothers are there for him, he asks, "who are my mother and brothers?"  he then says that those gathered around him are his family, that all those who do God's will are his "brother, sister, and mother."  it seems to me now that jesus was making a larger point.  he was teaching us that we are all related. his words suggest that, as God's creations, an unhealthy reliance on the ties of blood are an impediment to truly loving others as we love ourselves.

as i thought more along these lines, i was reminded of how much evil has been done because of the overemphasis on family relationships.  we see this played out every day, as related tribes or clans make war on those that are seen as being "the [unrelated] other."  we see this in the ethnic differences that divide us.  we see this as family members scheme for wealth and power, intriguing to elevate one family over another or to become the most powerful member of a family group. jesus saw this in the constant grasping for power in the families that controlled the priesthood and thereby the religious life of the jewish people. he saw that the "elitist" attitude of the religious leaders was falsely teaching his fellow jews that theirs was a superior ethnic group with access to the "true" God.

my prayer for each of us today is that we see each other as father, mother, sister, brother, embracing each other in love as jesus taught so long ago. shalom.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Greatest of These Is Love

a few days ago during my early morning meditation, as i thought about the qualities of love, it struck me that the last quality that st. paul lists in 1 corinthians 13 is "love is eternal." suddenly i saw a connection between the eternal nature of love and the concept of resurrection, that is of the continuation of life after our present bodies fail. if the only permanence is God, this is the supreme characteristic of God: that love is eternal and permanent. as we give love to God, to ourselves, to each other, we participate in the eternal, in life that is unending.

i thought, too, of isaac watts' metrical version of Psalm 90, which begins, "Our God, our help in ages past." the stanzas that came to mind are these:

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the op'ning day.

the verses of the psalm, and watts' poetic interpretation of it, contrast the eternal nature of God with the impermanence of human life and all of creation. the psalmist speaks of the fragility of life, reminding us that countless humans have lived and died, most of them forgotten. even those who are remembered through the ages are like a fading dream, one that barely lingers in the historical consciousness. eventually those mythic figures will be lost to the collective memory. only the love that is God is permanent, in the sense of being unchanging.

"as long as life endures," to borrow another of watts' phrases, our greatest good is to participate in the eternal that is love. in so doing, we share with God the power of eternity. my prayer for myself and for you is that we will love as fully as we can, refraining from hate, greed, and envy, eschewing the quest for riches and power, in favor of experiencing the divine.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Teach Us What We Yet May Be

yesterday my wife and i were riding in a friend's car as we returned from a wedding. we have been friends of this woman and her husband for many years. we knew that their marriage was not a happy one, and, as we rode, she began to tell of us of some of the reasons. we were both surprised to learn that he had taken some actions that had wounded her deeply. though these actions were not "wrong" in and of themselves, they were troubling to her and done in secret. when she confronted him with her knowledge of what he had done, he did not seem to care about how she felt and insisted that she was making a big deal of something that was insignificant. he refused to discuss the matter further with her, and from that point on, their marriage was a sham that they kept up for appearances and for the sake of their children.

her revelation made me wonder if there were things that i had done unbeknownst to my wife that would hurt her if she found out. i suppose that in every relationship there are those "secrets" that, while not evil in and of themselves, would be troubling if they were brought to light. but should there be such hidden acts and habits? after a not-very-restful night, i got out of bed and began my period of prayer and meditation, asking God to show me some answers. the answer i received was that i needed to work for more openness in my own marriage, to become a more caring husband who took every opportunity to assure my wife of my deep and abiding love for her. i asked God to lead me to expose more of my thoughts and actions to my wife, something that is difficult for me because i am at heart a very private person.

i asked God to lead me on a voyage of self-discovery, to help me understand who i am in the deepest core of my being and to help me be that person all the time, not a fragmented person who is one "me" to my wife and family, another "me" to my friends and acquaintances, and still another "me" in my private life and thoughts. this is the transformation that i've sought for so long, the transformation that i believe God has been leading me toward over the past few years as i've written this blog. it took the revelation of our friend about her marital problems to awaken in me this process that i believe God is leading to begin.

my prayer today is that we each discover who we truly are, trusting in God to transform each of us into a person who lives in openness and honesty every possible moment. may we each have the peace of knowing that we are living the life God created us to live. shalom

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

As with a Mother's Tender Hand

this is the last post about african-americans i remember from my childhood.  like many affluent women in the south, my mother always had a "woman" to help her around the house.  mother never called her helper a maid or nanny, but the main job of mother's helper was to take care of me and my younger brother.  i remember two of these women who took care of me when i was between the ages of four and ten.  one was named "jewel," and i loved her almost as much as i loved my mother.  i never knew why she left our employment; i don't think she left on bad terms, but i was crushed that she showed no interest in me when i saw her around town, because she was held such an important place in my heart.

jewel's successor was named "mary."  mary was a large, jolly woman who loved to play games with me, and mary and my mother became friends.  they worked together in the kitchen, shared the household chores, and played with me and my brother.  mary didn't come every day, so i was excited when one of mary's work days came.  i hated not being able to stay home all day with mary when i began school, though i loved going to school.  at lunch time, i would rush home so i could eat with mary, my mother, and my younger brother and hear about the activities of the morning.  after school, i rushed home to spend a few minutes with mary before my mother took her home.

occasionally, i was allowed to spend the day with mary and her husband mac on a weekend or during the summer.  theirs was the only black home that i visited in my young life, other than the time i went to check on john after he cut his toe mowing the lawn.  mary and mac lived in a small white house not too far out of town, but far enough from town to be considered "in the country."  they had a nice vegetable garden and raised hogs.  mac asked me once if i didn't want to come on "hog killing day," but i declined his invitation.  i couldn't imagine slaughtering an animal that one had raised, even though i loved pork.  i didn't want to be that close to discovering how the meat went from the hog pen to my plate.

mary was a wonderful cook and always had a special meal when i spent the day at her house.  i don't remember what she cooked for me on those occasions, but i do remember the happy conversation and the easy laughter between her and mac.  they both had hearty laughs, and i never saw either of them angry or unhappy.

as i got older, our family fortunes declined.  mother began to work part time in a local store and could no longer employ a helper.  we children were older, and there was less need for someone to help around the house, since we could fend for ourselves and didn't need such close supervision.  i'm not sure mother would have kept mary on, even had we been able to afford it, but i suspect that she would have because she enjoyed mary's company so much.  i missed mary and from time to time i rode my bike out to their house for a visit.  those visits were joyful occasions that continued until i graduated from high school and went away to college.  by that time, mac had passed away and mary decided to go live with one of her children.

i still miss mary and am certain that she missed me after our lives went their separate ways.  my prayer for each of us today is that we treasure our friends, regardless of the differences in our ages or stations in life.  may we know the joy of friendships that transcend the expectations of society and embrace those that come our way with an open and unprejudiced heart.  shalom.