The stark contrast between my beautiful weekend and the reality of Monday morning made me aware of how easy it is to lose the peaceful nature of those moments away from routine, and I wondered how beautiful it would be to experience those moments I experienced on the retreat in the normal routine of my life. I wondered if it would be possible to live in the mindset of the retreat in every moment.
I’ve seen books that hype the new way to experience the divine, new methods for seeking God, new ways to enter into that state of bliss that helps us to commune with God.
And these books always seem to sell well. They sell well, because the old, tried and true methods for finding God have been tried, and found not to be true.
Many of us, in the days following the riot and attack on the capitol building on January 6th of this year, have come to wonder how people who claim to know Jesus could have ended up storming the capitol with the intent of causing harm to those within its walls. Causing harm, when the Jesus they claim to follow expresses the mandate to “love your neighbor,” and “pray for your enemies.” Nowhere does Christ seem to indicate that violently beating your enemies with a flagpole is the way of love, nor even something he wants his followers to do.
Sometimes, asking people to jump into an existing ministry works, but more often it doesn’t. People may be excited about their faith, but that excitement fades when they are told to embrace the constraints and guidelines of an existing ministry merely because “we’ve always done it this way at this church.” That vetted ministry may have been dying for a reason, and throwing a new and excited individual at it will probably not bring it back to life, because their creativity and passion will have been saddled with a vision that is not their own.
Especially in the church, there is a tendency to elevate perseverance to the level of saintliness. Giving up in the face of hardship is considered akin to blasphemy, because, after all, Look at the example of Jesus, who died on the cross for you. Or look to Paul, who endured extensive amounts of torture and imprisonment to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to far off lands. What are our mere troubles when compared to the hardships endured by those two?
“You have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
I was restless.
Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, the one who carries the double-edged sword that kills or gives life, asks a monk to bring him something out in the world that is not medicine. The monk searches far and wide, and finally returns, saying that there is nothing out there that is not medicine. To which the master says, “then bring me something that is medicine.” The monk then reaches down and plucks a blade of grass.
The master turns to the monk and says, “This medicine can kill people and it can also bring them to life.”
When I was a pastor for a small church up in the pacific northwest, I received a phone call one day. The call came from another pastor in our diocese, who wanted to let me know that he had a “word of knowledge” for me.
For those of you not particularly versed in the charismatic / pentecostal nomenclature, a “word of knowledge” is a personal prophecy, or discernment, regarding what God is doing in the life of another person. These can at times be very powerful, when truly directed by God. When not directed by God, they tend to take on the likeness of a battering ram.
Years ago, on a diocesan retreat, two men were arguing about a particular prophecy concerning where the new diocesan cathedral would stand. We were all sharing a cabin bunkhouse, and I was trying to get some sleep. The two could not, or would not, agree on any of the supposed signs that they had interpreted to indicate the location of the new building, and after a while, I got grumpy enough that I just flat out asked them why they were arguing.
People love to hear sermons about how God loves them. People love to hear sermons about how those who love God are blessed. People love to hear about how God’s love covers over their multitude of sins. People love hearing sermons about love as long as that love relates to them. But people hate to hear sermons that demand that they follow through on loving their neighbor, because others can just be so difficult to love sometimes.