Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Meditation on This Week's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 29, 2009:

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm: Psalm 51:1-13 (Psalm 51:1-12 NRSV)

Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 119:9-16

Second Reading: Hebrews 5:5-10

Gospel: John 12:20-33

Another reading about light and darkness. I love the last verse, the one that mentions becoming children of the light. How much I want to be a child of the light. How hard it is to keep from slipping into dimness.

My standard response to a Gospel reading that reminds us to be light to the world is to give myself more duties and obligations. I'll pray fixed hour prayers 7 times a day instead of 3 or 4. I'll tithe 20% instead of 10%. I'll find an hour a day to read the Bible. I'll create spiritual art. I'll go on 4 retreats this year, instead of one or two.

But what if my approach is wrong? What if God would like me to calm down, to be still, to rest and get to know the presence of the divine?

Two weeks ago, I did a labyrinth walk. Even though I've already blogged about this experience and its insight, I think it bears repeating. I held a candle in a tall, skinny glass jar, which I thought would protect the flame. I noticed that the faster I walked, the more my flame flickered. When I walked with a slow, deliberative pace, the flame burned brighter. Instantly, I made some connections.

I spend much of my weeks racing from this commitment to that commitment. Few of them are burdensome, yet my pace often leaves me exhausted. Perhaps that's the reason that lately I've been more fiercely drawn to the contemplative side of religious traditions.

Don't give me more books to read. Give me a Bible passage and let me walk the labyrinth--give my body something to do so that my mind can ruminate. Don't ask me to give more money--but do give me information so that I can be sure that my money is well spent. Don't give me more tasks to do--but do give me more time, so that I can do the tasks I've been called to do with a degree of completion that will please us all.

Today, many of us in the Christian tradition celebrate the Annunciation of our Lord. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and says, "Hail, oh blessed one! The Lord is with you!" (I still like the older wording best). Mary asks some questions, and Gabriel says, "For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1: 37). And Mary says, ". . . let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1: 38).

But then notice what is required of Mary. She must wait. She is not required to enter into a spiritual boot camp to get herself ready for this great honor. No, she must be present to God and be willing to have a daily relationship, an intimacy that most of us would never make time for. She doesn't have to travel or make a pilgrimage to a different land. She doesn't have to go to school to work on a Ph.D. She isn't even required to go to the Temple any extra amount. She must simply slow down and be present. And of course, she must be willing to be pregnant, which requires more of her than most of us will offer up to God. And there's the later part of the story, where she must watch her son die an agonizing death.

But before she is called upon to these greater tasks, first she must slow down enough to hear God. I've often thought that if the angel Gabriel came looking for any one of us, we'd be difficult to find. Gabriel would need to make an appointment months in advance!

Our modern lives make it difficult for us to find our way to God. And if we don't find our way to God on a regular basis, it will be hard to be filled with light so that we can radiate God's love to the world.

So, perhaps instead of adding more to our spiritual lives, we should begin to hollow out some spaces. Then we'll have room to invite God in.

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