Saturday, February 25, 2012

Finding God when Pigs Fly

Thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service

They arrived on the other side of the sea in the country of the Gerasenes. As Jesus got out of the boat, a madman from the cemetery came up to him. He lived there among the tombs and graves. No one could restrain him—he couldn't be chained, couldn't be tied down. He had been tied up many times with chains and ropes, but he broke the chains, snapped the ropes. No one was strong enough to tame him. Night and day he roamed through the graves and the hills, screaming out and slashing himself with sharp stones.

When he saw Jesus a long way off, he ran and bowed in worship before him—then bellowed in protest, "What business do you have, Jesus, Son of the High God, messing with me? I swear to God, don't give me a hard time!" (Jesus had just commanded the tormenting evil spirit, "Out! Get out of the man!")

Jesus asked him, "Tell me your name."

He replied, "My name is Mob. I'm a rioting mob." Then he desperately begged Jesus not to banish them from the country.

A large herd of pigs was browsing and rooting on a nearby hill. The demons begged him, "Send us to the pigs so we can live in them." Jesus gave the order. But it was even worse for the pigs than for the man. Crazed, they stampeded over a cliff into the sea and drowned. ~ Mark 5: 1-13 (The Message)

For the Lenten Season at our Contemplative Service we are focusing on this passage. Each week a different member of the Contemplative Posse will give their thoughts on it.  For some reason it's always been one of my favorite encounters that Jesus has, there is something about demons in a graveyard followed by drowning pigs that seems like it should be in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I didn't grew up observing Lent, it was 'something strange that catholics did'. Growing spiritually meant reading the bible more and having all the right answers available. Prayer was very perfunctory and disciplines such as fasting were not encouraged. My Christianity began to broaden when I encountered people of other denominations (even Anglicans and Catholics!!!) whose lives reflected a deep connection to God.

I went from not observing Lent to it becoming a way to score some serious spiritual brownie points. I could demonstrate my love for God by how pious I was and how difficult I made Lent for myself. Somehow I equated spirituality with chains. Restrictions and Limitations were a sign of holiness, and at Lent I embraced them with abundance. I normally didn't last the 40+ days. My spirituality of unrealistic expectations normally crumbled after about 10 days.

I think of the Madman at the start of this encounter. The other villagers had tried to help him by chaining him up, but he broke every restraint. I'm sure they had the best of intentions, they saw the damage he was doing to himself and so they chained him down....partly for his own protection, but also I imagine for theirs. If they had been successful, the madman would have been chained out of sight, protected from himself, but he would not have been in the graveyard when Jesus came by.

Sometimes I kept my Lenten chains, and sometimes I failed, but I didn't encounter Jesus in the failures or successes. My 'No' to self never led to a 'Yes' to God, in fact most of what I gave up were self serving - Lent became a Spiritually Approved Diet Plan or a Victorious Living Guilt Reduction Program.

I've embraced a softer gentler Lent this year, I've still given up something (and it is still a little self-serving), but I'm trying to look for the 'Yes' hidden amongst the 'No'. Friday was not a good day, I actually snapped at a Girl Scout for trying to sell cookies to me while I entered the grocery store - I did apologize on the way out. That evening  I posted on Facebook 'I can tell Lent has begun, I feel irritable'. That statement seemed to resonate with my friends very quickly. Rather than just sit in my bad mood, I made two choices. 1) To not label my irritability as bad or good, it was just an honest response to where I was at and 2) To not sit in my irritability, but to look behind it to see what was going on.

By not judging it, my irritability helped show me where I was wandering in the graveyard. The nagging desire for something that I was choosing not to have for a season helped shine a light on some dead places in my life. And, just like the Madman, Jesus can come to us in that place of death and offer His life. By not wallowing in my mood, but stepping away from it I was able to see Jesus in that place and to hear His invitation to lay down the chains of moods and desires and allow Him to calm the demons inside.

How do you feel about Lent at the moment?
Why did you choose to (or choose not to) give anything up this year?
What graveyard places are you encountering?
What invitation is Jesus extending to you?

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