Thursday, April 25, 2013

Life on the road - the Sacrament of Absence.

(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Do you remember a time of feeling close to God?  When conversation with God flowed naturally and easily? When you never worried about whether God was listening or not? I've had times like that, and I imagine that was what it was like for those two disciples before they left Jerusalem....before the crucifixion. Suddenly an event happens and their experience of Jesus is radically altered. They are left with nothing but abandonment, disillusionment and frustrated expectations. ....We had hoped.... 

So they leave Jerusalem. Their place of experiencing Jesus is now just a cruel reminder that Jesus is no longer there. Their connection with Jesus has been severed and so they walk the road to Emmaus...not seeing that Jesus is walking with them. They pour out their hearts to this stranger on the road as they journey together.

At Emmaus an amazing thing happens. Jesus reveals himself to them in the breaking of the bread, and then he vanishes. This is a new Jesus, a different Jesus to the one they knew in Jerusalem. A Jesus who apparently is not bound by the laws of Physics.

I have lived in Jerusalem - the place of connection and certainty, and I have lived in Emmaus - the place of new revelation and understanding. However I think most of my life is spent on the road, journeying between the two. I feel content in Jerusalem and then something happens and my connection to God is lost. Sometimes I can pinpoint something specific, but most of the time I cannot.

Life on the road scares me. I want to live in Jerusalem or Emmaus. I want the certainty of the past or the joy of new revelation., but I am learning to be o.k. with the unknowing. Remembering that I have walked this path before makes it easier to journey this time. I am learning that the absence of God on the road can be a sacrament - a visible sign of Divine grace. The grace to allow us to stumble, change and grow. The grace that chooses to journey along with us incognito. The grace that speaks through the mouths of strangers. The grace that invites us into maturity. The grace that empathizes with us feeling abandoned by God because He has felt the same. 'My God! My God! Why have you abandoned me?'

Where are you? Jerusalem, Emmaus? On the road? 
How do you feel about where you are?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Emotions suck......sort of

I started writing this blog post in May 2012. For some reason I never finished it.

Somehow in my early faith forming years I internalized the idea that emotions were suspect in the Christian life. That they should be discounted whenever they disagree with theology. The image of a train was frequently used:

Bill Bright (the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ) said it this way,

The promise of God’s Word, the Bible—not our feelings—is our authority. The Christian lives by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word. This train diagram illustrates the relationship among fact (God and His Word), faith (our trust in God and His Word), and feeling (the result of our faith and obedience).
The train will run with or without the caboose. However, it would be useless to attempt to pull the train by the caboose. In the same way, as Christians we do not depend on feelings or emotions, but we place our faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God and the promises of His Word.

I may not 'feel' the presence of God at all times, but my theology says God is always present so I must ignore my feelings and trust God and what the bible says....

...this creates some tension in my life. When my theology and my lived experience conflict then I learn to ignore, distrust and suppress my emotions. It's a short step from there to labeling some of my emotions as 'wrong'. My emotions and experiences do not fit into some imaginary list of what I think a good christian should 'feel'. This internal conflict begins to dominate my life and drain energy from it.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, was so tormented by doubts about her faith that she felt “a hypocrite.” Shortly after beginning her work in the slums of Calcutta, she wrote in a letter to friends “Where is my faith? Even deep down there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. If there be a God — please forgive me.” eight years later she was still expressing “such deep longing for God,” adding that she felt “repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal.”

My feelings are the primary way I experience the world. I touch, taste, breathe, love, see, grieve, smell, laugh etc. They are the means by which I encounter the 'track' that the train of my life runs on. God created us to be emotive beings as a reflection of God's self. In the person of Jesus we see someone who feels deeply and passionately. He is not afraid to express emotions, even one we would label negative. 

When Jesus utters the devastating cry of dereliction 'My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?' I cannot imagine responding with, 

"Well Jesus, don't you know that the promise of God’s Word, the Bible—not our feelings—is our authority? The Christian lives by faith (trust) in the trustworthiness of God Himself and His Word. You may feel abandoned but don't surrender to your emotions. God is there. Where is your faith?" 

To respond in such a way is to avoid His doubt and the way it resonates with our own. Maybe that is the fear here. We are so terrified of our own emotions that we find biblical justification to ignore the ones we do not like...or maybe that's just me. Theologians have debated for centuries what 'My God! My God! Why have you forsake me?' means. I may not understand Jesus' statement theologically (is there a rift in the Trinity?) but I understand it emotionally. Jesus' incarnation is on full naked display on the cross, uttering a statement of abandonment that unites the world. In some mystery that I cannot comprehend, it is at this point, where Jesus expresses the fact that he is abandoned by God, that I am assured that God is in the midst of my abandonment because He has experienced it as well. 

I cannot explain that....but I can live into it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Awesome Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I haven't posted a recipe for a while...but these are deserving of a post.

Wonderful basic chocolate chip cookies that are soft and chewy like store bought :)

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup brown sugar (I've used both dark and light)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips.

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets or line with parchment or silpat

2. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

3. In a mixer (or bowl) cream together the melted butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy (very important you don't stop too soon).

4. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips.

5. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. They should be at least 2 inches apart as they spread.

6. Bake for 15-17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. The cookies will still look slightly soft when you remove them from the oven, so let them rest on the residual heat of the cookie sheets for a few minutes before transferring them to wire racks to let them cool completely.

The recipe makes about 16 cookies.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Crawling through Mud and Guano

Last weekend I paid for the privilege of crawling around in mud and bat poop for over 3 hours. My family was visiting from the U.K. for 2 weeks so as a special treat Steve and I took them to Natural Bridge Caverns for a private caving trip.

We started following the path that all visitors to the caves take. The only thing distinguishing us from all the other tourists was the lighted helmets we were wearing. We walked through well lit caves, cement walk ways, hand rails and artificial stairs that made the journey easy. We reached the final stop in the regular tour and our guides then instructed us to clamber over the safety rail and climb down the rocks.

It is a scary thing to climb over a rail that has been constructed for your protection and begin to descend beyond the reach of the electric lights. We were given basic instructions on how to climb effectively, but a slight panic set in as I swung my legs over the rail and began to descend.

The trail (well lack of trail) soon narrowed and the only way through was a tight crevice between two mud covered rocks. My nephew - who is narrower than I am, had an easy time. I had to clamber up over the rocks and twist sideways simultaneously. Not an easy feat.

We were rewarded with a new cavern with some rock formation that the average paying customer never sees.

The next obstacle was a climb up a 2 story mound of bat guano covered in mud. We had to wait at the bottom while each person ascended to avoid the possibility of them slipping and crashing all of us back down to the bottom in a muddy heap. Our reward for risking humiliation was new formations and some fossils.

We went deeper and deeper into the caves. Through mud sucking at our boots (and destroying some of them), crawling through passages on our hands and knees, and stepping over deep holes in the ground until we reached a point where floor and ceiling met with just a narrow crack.

I was glad we had reached the end of the tour and was looking forward to a rest and some water, when the guide pointed at the hole and said "Through you go!"

This gap was only 14 inches tall, riddled with stalagmites and stalactites blocking the way, and coated with mud floor and ceiling. I had read about the narrow passage (ironically called The Birth Canal) in the tour information, but I had assumed we had passed it when we crawled through the section on our hands and knees. We had even practiced crawling underneath our dining room chairs to simulate the 14 inch gap. 

Nothing prepared us for the real thing. 

I lay flat on my belly and slowly slid across the mud. I grabbed the bases of rock formations when I could to propel myself forward, the rest of the time I wriggled and writhed like a dying fish and tried not to think about rock falls and earthquakes. I reminded myself that if the guide could make it through, so could I. We spaced ourselves far enough apart so as to not kick each other in the face....

....and eventually the gap widened again and we journeyed on.

We had our water break soon after. We reached a point in the cave where the way forward would have involved a 75 foot descent down a wire ladder into the darkness.....this was the point where only professional spelunkers continued. We extinguished our lamps and sat for a while in a darkness so complete our eyes would never adjust, before turning around and taking the same route back to the surface. 

Lessons Learned

There were many places on the tour that I wrongly assumed were our final destination, but the end of the journey is never the end of the journey.
If you are afraid of getting dirty you will never make the journey. 
Each breakthrough comes after a messy squeeze. 
Celebrate for a while and then dive back into the mud. 
Even though we are all travelling the same direction we all experience the journey differently
We all get past obstacles in different ways.
Just because you are in total darkness it doesn't mean you have gone the wrong way.
Some bruises take time to surface.
Be prepared to climb over the safety rail - if the guide asks you too.