Epiphany 4: Deut: 18:15-20 and Mark 1:21-28
I sent my Dad a postcard from Czechoslovakia in early November of 1989. A friend and I had just crossed the border into Czechoslovakia. Uniformed and armed soldiers entered the train at the border with sub-machine guns and required our passports and to turn our US and German currency into Czech notes.
A day in Prague convinced me that the Communist Government was about to fall. Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” blared from loudspeakers at the end of the beautiful Charles bridge that crossed the Vtlava River and led to the Presidential Palace, the seat of the Communist regime and St Vitas Cathedral
Later that night in a café on Wenceslaus Square, a quartet also played “Blowin’ in the Wind”. With these two synchronistic events and casual conversations with Czech and Slovak citizens, I wrote on a postcard to my stepfather, the son of Lithuanian immigrants:
I’m in Czechoslovakia. Soon the government here will collapse. Lithuania will be next…”
I bought a Czech stamp, stuck it on the card and mailed it. The card was delivered.
While I was still in Czechoslovakia the Berlin Wall came down and within ten days of mailing the postcard the Communist government had collapsed. Call it prophecy or a good guess, sometimes the voices are so loud you can’t help but hear. Lithuania came later than predicted.
I was teaching a Psychology I class at a Junior College. I needed a subject to demonstrate Pavlov’s stimulus-response. A soldier about 5’ 8”, a Vietnam Vet, offered himself. I asked him for a word that he thought would have meaning for him. He chose the word “Kill”. Nervous, I asked the class to slowly and repeatedly say the word: Kill. The little soldier began to respond with what must have been Post Traumatic Stress. He made thrusting movements as if he was hitting someone on the ground with the butt of his rifle or his bayonet. I was chagrined at what I had provoked. “The young man is completely consumed with memories of killing,” I thought.
The only thing I could think to do to stop the cycle of his reaction was to reach out to him and put my arms around him. The little soldier stopped, returned my embrace and in front of the class the two of us wept .
At the end of the semester, he and his wife, who was also in the class, gave me a plastic statue of Snoopy in graduation cap with the inscription, “Best Teacher Ever.”
It is my most prized award.
I’d bet you Jesus did a lot of holding and weeping.
Comment on the story: As I retold the events to my wife, I choked back the tears. It was a combination of the memory of the risk I had taken with the young soldier and the class. It was also a time; a beginning of what I hoped was healing for the young man and me. The brief time of weeping was a breakthrough into the horror of killing and the weeping for the killed and those who have to live with the memory of their faces. For me it was a reminder of the terrible cost to our young and not so young that we send into war. Sometimes the road to healing is the loving embrace and the shared veil of tears.
At the end it’s all up to the Holy Spirit. I’m sure there are others who would have handled this situation with greater wisdom and skill.
By the way, there is a temple in Capernaum. It is not the original temple that scripture recalls, but one built two or three centuries or more later. It’s a great place to step away from the noise and meditate.
Penelope Andrade in her book, Emotional Healing RX, says there are basically four strong emotions: glad sad, mad and scared. These emotions can be experienced in a space of three to five minutes through shaking, crying, shouting, etc. After the initial burst of emotional energy comes a moment of calm. The body has worked to release its various “spirits”.
I know that this is true for me. Unless one gives herself permission to weep or rage or shake or cry or rejoice one hasn’t let the body do the work of healing and moving out of and beyond the hurt or harm or fear. When it comes to gladness, even here we need not have to try to repeat, over and over, those moments when we were in an ecstasy of joy.
I think of these reactions: sad, glad, mad and scared as tapes (remember them?) that play in our memory bodies when we are in stressful situations. The tape starts playing and we are brought back to the original unhealed situation or memory. A lot of the time instead of flight or fight when intense conflict arises, many freeze.
Sometimes the hurt, like the little soldier, will take many sessions. And yet playing the same tape over and over, massaging it for all its worth, does little to help. Try then these short times of emotional expression, pause and reflect. Then go for a walk. Over time such work has proven to be better for healing than to dwell in the memory for too long.
See if you can find a wise guide to let you do some of the emotional work of release from trauma. Or if your trust has been broken, as that may have been for the deranged man in the temple: Let Christ or your loving divine embrace you while you weep. Try not to waste your time in ruminations. It doesn’t work except to lead to the old tapes playing over and over again.
Jonah and the Call of the Disciples: 3rd Epiphany, Jan. 25, 2015
The Chaplinesque* Jonah and the over enthusiastic Peter, James and John are two contrasting examples of how disciples and prophets are called. Jonah doesn’t want to go to Nineveh; the other three can’t run fast enough to follow. Jonah says,” No way” and the disciples say, “A way!”
In the end, we know the story, Jonah discovers that his role, as much as he resisted it, was essential in saving many lives and also that of a lot of cows (a sentiment we can well appreciate here in Vermont). In the end the enthusiastic disciples are the ones who, as did Jonah, bear much struggle and suffering, so that a world might be saved.
Each along the way found times of resistance and self-emptying, refusal and assent. Each one tries to run away from the call, each one finally succumbs to call as “deep calling to deep”, and not as some wild and totally futile adventure toward death, but as a burning away of their various encrustations of unknowing and forgetfulness so that they were purified for the rest of the journey.
Joshua, my Rabbi friend, when I asked him if everyone has a call, said, “There are a number of “clergy” who go into the field because they want to be professionals and can’t make it as doctors or lawyers, yet everyone has a call.” It may not be to be a priest or rabbi or a prophet, it may be to grow where you are planted or journey to a distant land, but we all get a call. I suspect even those who enter the priesthood as a profession, after years of being fired in the cauldron of God’s fierce love and the worlds suffering, is transformed and purified.
Josh says, “The voice of Gd, like the name of Gd, is within each of us…the name of Gd is the planting of everlasting life within us”.
Love for the world and the suffering of the creation moves within us to hear the call of Gd. Or is it the other way around? The call of God gives us ears to love and hearts and minds to stand in the suffering and with broken hearts, to continue to love the creation. It’s when neither way works that there is a certain sense of being lost in the world. Even then “You are with me.” Ps. 23
*Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp seems to me a kind of Jonah: called to be a bemused, poor and hapless agent of compassion. One episode of “Northern Exposure the 1980’s TV series about a New York doctor who finds himself in a remote Alaska town and resists being there with all his energy, has a dream of being swallowed in the belly of a whale. Any of you ever had such an experience of going where you did not want to go? Funny isn’t it that it often turns out to be the very place where Gd needed to work on you. I’ve been to such places, but like the little tramp, I am still bemused and hapless with some basic trust that the Divine will lead me.
Or they could be Dorothy and the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion on their way to OZ on a quest for a brain, a heart, courage and a way home. Oh, and the voice behind the curtain is a reminder that the Gd we seek out there is more accessible within. As Joshua says, “The voice of Gd, like the name of Gd is within each of us.” I’m listening. Speak.
Nice Guys Finish First. Epiphany 2. Written in 2014, I’m writing this week about a friend who had died too young. You know what havoc that can make for the Sunday Sermon.
Maybe every Baptism is like that of Jesus; there is a sign, the
heavens open, and a voice declares, “You are my beloved.” All we need is our hearts open so our eyes are adjusted and our ears attuned to discern the callings of the spirit.
Years ago now my Roman Catholic priest friend said to me, “You don’t
have to be baptized to be a beloved child of God. All you have to do
is to be born. That is enough.”
We do Baptisms to try to make visible what is the already
existent eternal truth: that each one is a beloved and cherished child
of God, a sacred vessel, a container of the holy. And that’s why we
baptize, to make physical by water and the spirit, the indwelling
spiritual DNA, that begins at our birth.
Did Jesus or John intend for his baptism to be the one, the only
manifestation of the divine? Or like the water that poured down the
Jordan River from the Mountains, might he have intended that we all
become conscious of our divine connection?
It seems to me that each one is a beloved child of God. Our genetics are both fully human and fully divine. Our task in life is to discover each. In the process of becoming fully human our spirits grow.
I’ve baptized hundreds of people, I’ve blessed a three legged seeing
eye black Lab, and an Iguana. Each time whether I was aware of it or
not, their was a moment of sanctity that was beyond expression and a
voice that said: “Dear One, I love you, you are my beloved child.”
And yet we are not gods. We are called to be neither gods nor angels, but
to be human in all our particularity. Like Jesus, we are each a
scandal of the particular: race, ethnicity, class, sex, politics,
nationality, location, DNA, even the prejudices of our culture and
outlook of family and peers make of us in our time a particular
We, like Jesus, are called to remember and to seek and find in our
particular identity the seeds of the spirit, the universality that
desires to be born in the particularity of our place and time. Some
have been blessed to know this truth. Most of us have had to struggle
to try to remember the whisperings in our ear and some have been
caught in the web of their time and culture and have almost given up
looking or hoping or believing.
We are neither gods nor angels. We are sanctified vessels
into which the world is poured: All its truths and lies, tragedies and
comedies, failures and victories, hatreds and loves. How we keep and
nurture our brave and full humanity in the midst of the world began
with those words whispered to us at our birth. “You are my beloved.”
In those nights of self-doubt and suffering we hold on to the divine,
for me it is the Christ. I hold on to Him now as much as the Christ
holds on to me. Together we support and comfort and challenge each
other as we make our way from the river into the world. With Him it just might be possible for me
to love the whole creation.