April 2009

“Conversion is a process of growth and change.  It begins with God and goes on silently within us, flowering out at certain unique times as He calls us to decisive moments, rediscovery, awakening, just as that initial moment of conversion did.”

-Sue Monk Kidd, God’s Joyful Surprise, p. 69


“The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it. So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it.”

–Eugene Peterson, originally published in Christianity Today, April 3, 1987, p.25, as quoted in Sue Monk Kidd’s When The Heart Waits, p129.

I love John’s account of the resurrection (Ch 20). Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb while it’s still dark, sees that the stone covering the entrance is no longer there, and runs to tell this to Peter and John. They both go in while Mary hangs back.  When they find the tomb empty, they return home and Peter remains puzzled while John believes.

But Mary continues to hang around crying, no doubt distraught and thoroughly confused. When she dares to look into the tomb for herself, she sees two angels sitting at the head and the foot of where the body once lay.  And as they ask her who she is looking for, Jesus – alive, risen, he whom she saw hanging on a cross, humiliated and seemingly defeated just days before – appears behind her. But in her grief, she mistakes him for a gardener.  Then he calls her name, “Mary” and this time there is no mistaking who he is. In her excitement, she flings herself at him, unable to contain her joy. But he has a message for her: “Do not hold on to me…Go, instead to my brothers and tell them…”

This story of Mary’s encounter with the risen Jesus moves me deeply because her story is such an encouragement.  When we linger, when we hang around and wait, even in the midst of our confusion, in the middle of life’s circumstances which seem to make no logical sense, when things don’t add up, the truth of the matter is that God is present in all of this – even when we are not aware of his presence.  And in time he does make his presence known to us – as he did to Mary who was grieving at the empty tomb.   For example, think of how Mary could have missed out on being the first human being to see the risen Jesus (!) if she had not stuck around?  And how she could have remained mired in her grief and confusion for even longer if she had not been willing to look inside the tomb for herself?

From Mary, we also learn that when God appears and makes his presence known, invariably, he doesn’t come in the way(s) we expect or even according to our timetable. But he promises to come.  And he will.  And he does.

Then, frequently his message to us when he comes is not what we expect either.  In Mary’s case, he had a very specific calling for her.  In the space of 3 days, so much had changed.  Jesus was no longer  a part of her everyday life; instead he’d been crucified but was now alive.  And so there was now new work to be done:  “Do not hold on to me… Go and tell!”

Mary at the empty tomb encourages us to:

1) persevere when the going gets tough

2) have eyes of faith to “see” God show up in the most unexpected of ways and in the most unlikely places, and

3) have the courage to heed his call on our lives, when we hear his voice.

I’ve been struck by Jesus’ choice to spend his last night on earth having a meal with his closest friends, the disciples. An eclectic group of ordinary men he hand picked three years earlier to enter into his life and work. They had shared many rich and varied experiences with him – seen him perform incredible miracles and become convinced that yes, he was indeed the  long-awaited messiah. But despite his warnings to them and various predictions of his imminent departure, none -except perhaps Judas – knew it was all about to come to a tragic end, later that evening.

Before he was betrayed in the garden en route to the cross, how did he say goodbye to these his closest friends? He took off his outer robe, poured a basin of water, stooped down and for each man in turn, he washed their dusty, hot feet.

What a send off gift!    From the master of the universe, no less, and symbolic of the complete cleansing  of the soul that only his death on the cross could make possible….  How much they each must have treasured the memory of that near final act of humility and kindness once Jesus was gone from them.

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” John 13:14.

What does washing our friends’ feet look like in New York City in 2009?

“Spiritual direction takes place when two people agree to give their full attention to what God is doing in one (or both) of their lives and seek to respond in faith…

Whether planned or unplanned, three convictions underpin these meetings:
1) God is always doing something: an active grace is shaping this life info a mature salvation
2) Responding to God is not sheer guesswork: the Christian community has acquired wisdom through the centuries that provides guidance
3) Each soul is unique: no wisdom can simply be applied without discerning the particulars of this life, this situation.”

-Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, p. 150.