The Holy Mysterious

Rich Sauder made a comment during our congregational meeting yesterday that I have sort of clung onto in my thoughts since then. He reminded us that we have gotten so used to doing worship in a certain way over the years that we may have forgotten that there is mystery in our relationship with Christ as we worship. That is part of the idea I have been trying to get across in some of my more recent blog posts regarding supernatural events in our lives and the life of Christ.

When we enter into worship on Sunday morning, are we truly and fully prepared for the Holy Spirit to show up? We often say that we invite the spirit to our midst, but are we seriously hoping that happens?

I would argue that our worship…no matter what shape it is…is intensely mysterious. We are speaking directly to God and are drawing nearer into his presence. But, do we fully understand that? I like to imagine myself surrounded by an unseen force that connects me to the mysteries of Heaven in a way. We glibly throw around phrases like “hedge of protection” and “spiritual warfare” but I think we often don’t realize how real that stuff is! As I enter worship, do I fully understand how physically close I am to God?

The idea that baptism is not just an outward symbol of something we want the world to know…but a mark of distinction that sets us apart in the spiritual world to show that we are under a banner of power…that one I really liked too, DAD! How the enemy cringes as I walk around showing that off. The sign of the cross has amazing power! It is not just coincidence that horror movies use it to scare off the demons…they know all about it. Are the elements of the eucharist just symbolic or…hmm…am I really partaking?

Let’s get into the mysterious. Put aside the legalities and the laws for a moment and imagine yourself drowning in the sweet comfort of communion with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Sit still and just listen. In my somewhat abstract thought process, it reminds me of one of those 3D photograph images. You know, the ones that you stare at until your eyes focus on the center and the 3D image suddenly jumps at you. (Not everyone can get those to work, I know that.) Find a quiet moment, go outside and sit down. Look out at the world in front of you. Don’t look at it as much as look through it.

Right there, beyond the tip of your eyelashes, it’s right there.

The mysterious.

All around you an entire scene is playing out and if you just reach through it at the right time, sometimes you get to touch it. It’s amazing and frightening and comforting and quite real. We are not alone in the dark.

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The Rest of the Passion?

There are so many discussions in the blogosphere right now surrounding the authenticity of the church, scriptures and the relevance of the cross to Christianity. I’m participating in a couple of them on an elementary level and I am again back to a gospel no one really reads. The Gospel of Nicodemus. It is also my understanding that in some anabaptist/Mennonite/Amish circles, this gospel is highly regarded as historically accurate or at least worth the time it takes to read. Perhaps I dreamt that and some sage Menno (Leon/Dad) will likely be along to confirm or deny that.

Anyway, the account of Christ’s trial and cricifixion in the Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate is more in depth than the Bible’s accounts go. Christ has little or nothing to say that is different from what our Gospels record, but everyone else does. Particularly the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Jesus’ followers.

The Jewish leaders were angry that Jesus was performing miracles on the Sabbath (not really caring that he was doing miraculous, wonderful things only God could do, but that his timing was lousy) and loudly denouncing him as an evil person.  According to this writing, people whom Jesus had healed came to his defense. The man who took up his bed and walked, the woman with the issue of blood (apparently her name was Bernice), blind, lepers and others told their stories. How cool! They couldn’t deny the deity of Jesus Christ, yet the leaders swept that part away.

A verbal stone thrown at Jesus was the accusation of the leaders that because of him, many children had been killed by Herod at his birth. I never thought about this much. Imagine all the heartbroken parents walking around watching Jesus live his life and wondering how Mary got so lucky as to have her child spared! Only 33 years later, Jesus had to have felt their burden. I wonder if he ever talked about it. The leaders at his trial acknowledged that he was the one Herod was looking for, so I imagine it came up somewhere.

I particularly like the depth to which Pilate’s agony is portrayed in this writing. He was tortured over the decision to prosecute Jesus. He tried and tried to let him go, but couldn’t. His politics got in the way and he ultimately washed his hands, but you can almost feel his sorrow at doing so.

Then, the crucifixion as portrayed here and the reaction of the guards to the resurrection is so great! They couldn’t believe their eyes and acknowledged in no uncertain terms that they had crucifed a righteous man. At the appearance of angels at the tomb, they played dead out of fear, but they knew by then who they were dealing with. They tried to convince others of his deity, but even in all of that, the leaders couldn’t accept. Couldn’t surrender.

We do that every day, don’t we? Reduce his miracles, deity and holiness to what is convenient for us. As long as he is working in our lives on our time line, we’re happy to let him carry on. As soon as he works a miracle, nudges our conscience or otherwise breaks through our thick skulls at a time we don’t want him to, we try to deny his power in our lives. We take back control. We can’t surrender.

Waitlisted

So…I have been waitlisted on my road to education.  I did not register for class in a timely fashion so now I have to wait. The big problem is that classes start in about two weeks and I don’t know what I will be doing yet. My first choices are Contemporary Problems for Christian Leaders and Worldviews.  These are both required first year classes and I figured I’d get them out of the way first…but maybe not. If I don’t get in, I’ll have to choose something else at the last minute I guess.

I am not a patient person. I know this and so do others around me. I am, however, getting better at waiting. I am actually quite impressed with my lack of anxiety about this. Maybe it’s because I have twelve hundred other things going on and I’m simply not allowing time to care. I am, after all, a mother of young children, a wife, a commissioned saleswoman and a daughter-in-law to live in parents. No stress, pressure or busyness in my life! HA! Who has time to get worried?

Hopefully by May 7th, though, I’ll be off on the road to higher learning. It’ll be a long, long time until I am done. I once had a goal of completing my Master’s degree by the time I was 30. Now…we’re hoping for the Bachelor’s by the time I’m 40! Boy…life changes things, doesn’t it!

Respect my Dying Wishes Please

I haven’t posted anything on the blog for several weeks. I’m not sure there is a real reason for my lack of thought…just tired, I guess. The past few weeks were weird to say the least. I sit here in 80 degree weather remembering that only a week ago we drove home from upstate New York in a snow storm! Global warming at it’s finest.

In Seneca Falls we attended the funeral of a dear family friend. For 67 years she attended a small Baptist church and wouldn’t give up on it no matter what. The politics and formation of this church changed dramatically over the years, yet she kept attending. Her children and their families all left the church citing irreconcilible differences, yet she kept attending. Chief cook, bottle washer and organist for the church and the local funeral home, this dear woman remained loyal to the church she loved no matter who was in charge. She fought against doctrines and ideas she didn’t like. She lovingly confronted behaviors in the leadership she couldn’t agree with. She was open and honest with everyone about her misgivings and concerns for the church body there, but yet she continued to attend. She found it a place where she could meet God, despite the silliness of humanity in the building.

During the funeral, many of the family’s wishes regarding the service went unheeded and the agenda of the pastor took over. The family had asked for only one verse of each hymn to be sung; the pastor decided on all verses of all songs at a VERY slow pace. They asked that the sermon be kept to a minimum length; he talked forever. He manipulated the emotions and heartache of those attending and turned a celebration of this woman’s life into a guilt trip. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that we were either “Children of God or Children of the Devil.” He “knew” that she would have wanted us to come to Jesus and that if we didn’t accept the invitation at the end of the sermon, we were surely doomed. He ended by addressing the family, particularly the grandchildren, by telling them that “if you ever want to see your Bamma again” then they would hit their knees. From what we gathered later by speaking to the family, this pastor tightly controls everything that goes on inside his church. Basically, he is the end all and be all regarding any decisions that are made. No board of directors, deacons or elders can contribute. He used to be an Amway salesman. It shows.

While I know that many attending the service would agree that Jesus Christ is the only way to God and that heaven and hell are very real places, I don’t think this funeral was the appropriate place for an altar call like this! Hellfire and brimstone did not belong.  Especially when her family had expressly asked for something else. Heaping loads of guilt on the grieving family is no way to assuage their hurt or provide comfort. And watching a pastor turn a funeral into a side show of his own agendas and ego is simply torture. Needless to say, I left more angry than anything.

I hope that when I lay in that casket at the front of the church there will be a celebration of my life. If, in that time of reflection, my friends and family begin to question their faith, their future and their lives as they relate to Jesus Christ…fantastic! But I do not want my death to be an opportunity for an eager pastor to rave against evil and condemn my loved ones if they don’t respond to him. I hope and pray that my dying wishes are respected and that my family gets to bury me with grace.

Ellen Degeneres and Gladys Hardy

Let’s Lighten the Mood!

This is my favorite YouTube video to date. I have laughed each time I watch it…if you have a few minutes, indulge yourself. You’ll be glad you did. I hope I’m this spunky and full of joy at age 88!

Gladys Hardy on The Ellen DeGeneres Show

Why Can’t we Believe?

Supernatural events abound in the scriptures. Amazing encounters with angels, healing, resurrection and rainbows. We read of countless miracles of Christ throughout his life. Even a fig tree wasn’t immune to his powers. Scriptures also record supernatural experiences of a less-than-holy kind too. Satan and his little helpers had their grips into people in many ways. I imagine watching Christ walking around on two legs was quite upsetting for the Evil One and he truly fought back. Filling people with demons, sickness and all forms of bad stuff.

Evangelicals accept the miracles in scripture as fact and accept Satan’s workings as fact yet struggle to notice or believe that equally supernatural events can happen to us today. When they do, we call them “miracles”. I wish there were another word for it. I would like to think that miracles would be an every day occurance and something we come to expect. I wonder why we can’t believe. Not “believe in…” or “believe that…” or “believe on…”, but simply Believe. Period. I wonder what would happen if we took God at his word. That he can, will and does intervene in miraculous ways if we pay attention. We limit God to our North American version of what’s comfortable and let him “work through us” or “in us” and that’s fantastic…but we stop there and fail to let him simply work wonders all by himself.

My most vivid encounter with the supernatural happened in Penang, Malaysia. I was 15 years old. A Hindu man who worked at our school invited a small group of us to come witness his firewalk at Thaipusam. (Click this link for more information and pictures). This Hindu festival celebrates Lord Murugan and followers go to ask him for things or to thank him for answered prayers. My friend had asked the god Siva the year before for a son. His wife had given birth 10 months later and now he needed to go thank Siva by performing some rather atrocious physical acts as an offering to his god. His plan included walking the hot coals and pulling his son on a wagon behind his back around the island. Attaching the wagon to my friend were long cords with hooks on the end which he embedded into his back. It is an honor to be asked to attend and watch. (Pictures here of Penang Thaipusam).

We made our way to the temple and up onto a balcony of a house right outside the courtyard. I will never forget the smell of the incense and hashish that assaulted us out there. It was a fantastic smell and below us, participants were going into their trances. The loud Indian music was beautiful and awful at the same time. Quite bewitching in fact. We watched our friend with the head of the temple chanting and singing and breathing in incense. We watched him turn into a puppet with no control over himself. We watched a demon take him, I think. The next two hours more and more men did the same things. Skewering themselves with sharp rods, walking fire coals and other hideously painful acts of contrition. But…no blood and no pain. The doctors on the island said that very few Thaipusam participants come in after the event for medical attention to their wounds. Most of them simply have no marks at all to show.

Towards the end of the walk, we made our way down to the temple courtyard to greet some people we knew. I have never felt heavier in my life. As though evil had a taste and it was trying to shove itself down my throat. I can tolerate heavy incense and the hashish wasn’t too bad…but the heaviness was physical and unrelated to the smells. We were surrounded by painted men, their wives, families and many many children. Suddenly we heard someone screaming and the crowd in front of us parted wide. The high head of the temple was standing a few yards ahead screaming at us to leave. “Get out! You are Christians! You will ruin everything!” was basically the message we heard. So we did. But in that moment, we knew we were surrounded by something far greater than ourselves. I wasn’t afraid. I felt such peace as though I could fight anything these people threw my way. I had a power greater than theirs and they weren’t going to win. Then, a rush of sadness pushed down on me and I wept the whole way home.

Later, our Hindu friend at the school told us that people at the temple that day could see something different around us. We had a light or a presence that was following us as we walked around. And THEY were afraid of US!

My supernatural God visibly walked with me that day. We had prayed for protection and we got it in buckets! I have never doubted his presence since then. There is truly a battle going on for our souls in the air around us. I think if we reached out far enough, we might touch it sometimes.

Mary, Mother of Christ Resurrected

I am amazingly drawn to the life of Mary, mother of Christ. Popular culture paints her as a young woman to whom nothing extraordinary happened. She was young, naive and simple…until the day the angel Gabriel appeared to her.  Until then, we imagine, she had lived a quiet life in Nazareth, doing the things all other girls did. No mention of her immediate family, parents or siblings. But, when this angel showed up, she doesn’t seem afraid of him. Luke describes her as “troubled” and although Gabriel asked her not to “be afraid”, Luke seems to imply that she simply wondered what was up with this?! Luke 1:29 “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”

According to the Nativity Gospel of Mary, extraordinary circumstances surrounded this young woman’s life long before this angelic visit and long before she herself was conceived.  Her father, Joachim, was greatly troubled at his barrenness. The high priest at that time belittled him saying he was unworthy of presenting his gifts before God because God had not seen fit to bless him with offspring. Joachim wandered into the pastures of the shepherds to hide himself in his sorrow. While he was there, an angel of the Lord appeared to him and assured him that he would indeed have a child. God had seen fit to “open the womb” of his wife, not to just give them children, but to bring glory to Himself. Sound familiar? This angel then appeared to Anna, his wife, and told her that she would bear a child, name her Mary and that this child would find favor with God. She would be a special child in the temple of the Lord.

According to this writing, Joseph was also called divinely to be the “root of Jesse” through which our Lord Jesus Christ would be born.  It seems that both Mary and Joseph were somewhat accustomed to divine intervention.

When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he filled her “chamber” with “great light.”  [Chap 9, vs. 3] “And the virgin, who was already well acquainted with angelic faces, and was not unused to the light from heaven, was neither terrified by the vision of the angel, nor astonished at the greatness of the light, but only perplexed by his words; and she began to consider of what nature a salutation so unusual could be, or what it could portend, or what end it could have. ”

It seems to me that God would be mighty picky about the vessel in which his son would be nurtured. If God was to take the form of man and be born of a woman, a virgin, He would likely have groomed her from the moment she was conceived. I imagine Mary must have become quite used to angels checking in on her now and then, and, dare I say…she may have conversed on a more intimate level with YHWH who would ultimately become her son? It seems so fantastic and supernatural…yet she accepts it with such grace as though she always knew it would happen this way.

Christ loved his mother like no other person on earth…as I hope my children love me. As he hung crucified, he beseeched John to love her and asked her to take John as her son. Watching out for both of them as he left them behind. Unbearable heartache enjoined with unending love as the skies opened and God himself took on the pain and sin of the world in complete and utter surrender to love…while this woman who loved Him in all imaginable ways looked on. Her heart must have been bursting and breaking and flying high to be entwined with the unimaginable healing power of grace.

The Nativity Gospel of Mary as a historical account of events was likely handed down orally from generation to generation…much like our own family histories today. It does nothing to diminish the deity of Christ, rather delves into the history of his mother and I read it as a love note on her behalf.  Frederica Matthewes-Green has this wonderful essay on Mary that discusses writings pertaining to the Virgin Mary.  Many of us are afraid of her…we don’t want to fall too deeply into what some fear would be a worship of Mary on par with a worship of Christ…but I think it’s worth looking at this woman as a integral part of the life of Jesus Christ on a deeper level than just that of the birth mother.  Did she live her life waiting for her son to give of his? How much did she know or understand? I wonder, too, how much time Jesus spent with his mother after his resurrection…how could he stay away; how could she?

An amazing woman, to be sure…and one that I am desperately anxious to meet some day.

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