Saturday, March 30, 2013

Clamor and Contemplation

I talked myself hoarse trying to be heard above the din. People were gathered around tables sharing their lives with each other during the Maundy Thursday Love Feast at our church. It was clear that most were having a good time. It took what seemed like forever for the noise to abate when the leader of the service tried to speak.

This special Holy Week meal is similar to the potluck dinners our church has from time to time. The fellowship is lively and the food, cooked by many hands, is shared in love. During Holy Week, however, the sharing of the Eucharist and Foot Washing add to the sense of community in Christ that these meals exhibit. Community is loud and noisy.

The next day, Good Friday, I found myself sitting in our church’s sanctuary silently contemplating the stations of the cross set up by our pastoral staff for a day of reflection and prayer. Usually filled with the gathered community for worship, on this day the church provided a true sanctuary, a sanctuary for the contemplative soul. While over 100 people filled the fellowship hall for the Maundy Thursday service, there were only a few people at the church for the day of reflection and prayer. Silence doesn’t come easily for most of us. Silence not only puts us in touch with the God-image within, but it also makes us aware of the evil tendencies of our egos; tendencies that crowd out the God-image.

As human beings, and as followers of Jesus, we need to have both the clamor of community and the contemplation of time alone with our souls. Holy Week gives a prime example of both. At the Passover feast, Jesus enjoyed the company of his followers, sharing a meal and the Eucharist. There were intimate moments when his beloved disciple leaned on his breast and heard “the heartbeat of God.” There were confrontational moments when the betrayer was identified. And there were boisterous moments when Peter wouldn’t allow the Master to wash his feet. This was community, and like Jesus, beautifully divine and brutally human. I can only imagine that there was a lot of clamor.

At some point, however, Jesus interrupted the revelry to go out “as usual” to the Mount of Olives to pray (Luke 22:39-46). It was a continual practice for Jesus. It is recorded that during this night of contemplation, he wrestled with his ego tendencies, anguishing to the point of sweating blood. But he also experienced his God-image through an angel who ministered to him. In contemplation he was able to surrender his ego to his God-likeness. In contemplation he became grounded, balancing the clamor of community with the calm of silence and contemplation.

Jesus followed clamor with contemplation. As his followers, it behooves us to do the same. Is contemplation part of your “usual” practice of spirituality? Or are you too caught up in the clamor of everyday life?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pondering About Holy Week

Since 2007 I have participated in three Mesoamerican Holy Week celebrations and re-enactments, one in Guatemala and two in Mexico. The high point of each of these celebrations was Good Friday and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. The reverence and devotion displayed by the participants in the processionals and the enactments were admirable, as was the devotion of many people in the crowds watching the trial and crucifixion of Christ unfold. Resurrection Sunday is also celebrated, but it almost seems anticlimactic to the spectacle and ceremony of Good Friday.

At my church in US America, we celebrate a lovely Maundy Thursday service with a love feast, the Eucharist and foot washing. Then on Sunday we have a rousing Resurrection service with people joyfully proclaiming, “He is risen indeed!”

Many of my students find the Latin American emphasis on Good Friday “creepy.” They ask how Latinos tend to skip over Resurrection Sunday and glorify Jesus’ death. They should ask why we tend to skip over Good Friday. You cannot have Resurrection Sunday without Good Friday!

I think there are cultural reasons beyond the simple Catholic vs. Protestant/Evangelical explanations. Too many people in Latin America, the majority, live in what we would consider abject poverty. They have been oppressed and beaten down by giant empires from the North, and are at the mercy of economic systems that favor the rich. They suffer. In their suffering, they identify with a God who suffers. A God who became flesh and endured the suffering of a brutal of empire. This God walks with them. This God loves them and understands them. This God has compassion on them. Jesus looks down from the cross and says to them, “Today you are with me in Paradise.” Good Friday tells their story.

In contrast, most US Americans are pretty well off. We like to be number one. We like a God who triumphs, who overcomes odds and comes out on top. We like a God who beats up on the bad guy and wins. A hero. A God who was born in poverty but became rich by his own doing—a self-made man. We identify with a God like that. The God of the resurrection is the God of the “American Dream.” The “self-made man” has risen indeed! Resurrection Sunday tells our story.

Of course any serious reader of the scripture knows that both Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday are important in the God’s plan of salvation. My Latin American friends could use a dose of the joy of the Resurrection. But US Americans need more than of a dose of Good Friday. God suffered. God died. We, however, avoid suffering at all costs and deny death. That’s why my students thought the reenactment of the crucifixion was “creepy.” Death may have lost its sting, but few of us want to face it. Without death, there cannot be a resurrection. For a healthy Holy Week, we need both Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dreams, God’s Forgotten Language

The other night I dreamed that I was on stage in full costume ready for the play to start and I couldn’t remember any of my lines. This is a recurring dream for me, and is much like the common dream of taking a test and not knowing any of the answers, or that the test was in a totally foreign language.

The reason that I have the drama dream rather than the test dream is because I spent many moments on stage in my life as an actor. My unconscious (soul) is taking something that means a lot to me in my waking life and using it to reflect moments of anxiety that I must be experiencing. My soul sends me a message to which I should pay attention.

John Sanford says that dreams are God’s forgotten language in his book with the same title. The image of God is stamped on our souls, and from that image emanates messages from God. Most “modern” people laugh off these nightly messages as the product of something we ate, or simply silly products of our sleep. Mystics throughout the ages, and distinguished psychiatrist Carl Jung along with other depth psychologists, however, see dreams as special messages from our psyche (Greek name for soul). Messages from our God-likeness.

So I reflect on the message from God about my anxiety. On one level, I can identify precisely what made me have such an anxiety dream—a conversation I had with someone the day before. But such messages are seldom only from the most obvious level. As I delve more deeply into this dream, I discover that I am too dependent on my own resources, and not on God’s providence as I approach retirement age. I am surrounded by cultural messages everyday that remind me that I haven’t saved enough, that I don’t have a large enough estate, that I need more insurance, and so on. I can become overwhelmed by these messages.

So I can listen to God’s message from my soul that says, “you silly little creature, you. You stand there on stage and think you are in control of everything, as everybody watches you and listens to all your words of wisdom. Well, if I take away your words, your control, where does that leave you?” It leave me in a state of anxiety. The message from God tells me to trust him more, trust his provisions through church, family and friends.

The fact that this is a recurring dream signals that I still have a long way to go to trusting in God’s providence over my own actions on the stage of life. So my soul will keep sending me the message until I get it.

What messages are you receiving from your God-image, stamped on your soul?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Deep Waters of the Soul

“The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” Proverbs 20:5 (NIV)

Most of us judge human purposes, or motives on a rather superficial basis—they do what they do because of race, culture, age, gender, appearance. Human motives, however, as this verse points out, run much deeper than that. The person of “insight” knows that these motives come from the deepest level of the soul—the place where we reflect the image of God. At that level, we are all the same. Therefore, those of insight realize that what motivates each of us is not much different from what motivates even the “vilest of offenders.” People of insight then, “draw out” and examine their own motives and purposes before they judge another’s.

Carl Jung, the great Swiss founder of depth psychology, called this phenomenon “projection.” Jesus, long before Jung, called this human tendency to judge on appearance a plank and a speck. “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

To be insightful means to “draw out” from your deep waters; your soul. What do you use to do this? How do you discern whether you are projecting or not?