A reading from the book of James: “Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” There’s so much hope in this instruction from James. I love 3 words in particular from this NRSV translation:
For someone who plays it safe, whose favorite defense is but they told me to, this was a very convicting scripture.
By Melodious Monk
“The worst temptation, and that to which many monks succumb early in their lives, and by which they remain defeated, is simply to give up asking and seeking. To leave everything to the superiors in this life, and to God in the next—a hope which may in fact be nothing but a veiled despair, a refusal to live.”
This past week I’ve been mulling over this quote from Thomas Merton. I’ve often thought of Jesus’ well-known direction, to “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” as a loving invitation more then a command to stay living in Christ. It’s certainly both, but I don’t regularly think of “asking and seeking” as a very active way to fight daily temptation. Seeking truth can be a challenge, causing turmoil internally that feels safer to avoid. Merton is right in his challenge to us. When we stop the active life-giving task of seeking and asking God to show us his face in all that confronts us each day, we are the poorer for it. In doing so, we risk not being able to see all the doors that God would like to open for us.
I saw the movie “Of Gods and Men” this weekend — the true story of seven monks in a monastery in Algeria who, in 1996, amidst growing political turmoil in that country, were kidnapped in the middle of the night, held captive, and eventually killed…just because they were Christian. It would take too long to say all the things that moved me about their story. But two stood out. One was the scene where a young woman was in turmoil over an arranged marriage and asked one of the older monks if he’d ever been in love. “Many times,” he said, “but then I found a love greater than all of them, and I left everything for that love.” His genuine love of God was palpable – so real – based in everyday experience.
But almost more inspiring was a scene where a younger monk was praying in his cell. Each monk had agreed to pray and decide for themselves if they would stay or leave the country — knowing that staying put them in death’s path. Br. Christophe was in turmoil — terrified of staying, and yet afraid to leave his call. He literally cried out to God in the darkness of his cell, “Do not abandon me! Give me faith.” It took my breath away — this raw, human, throwing of himself at God’s feet.
And I came away with the knowledge that I want that — I want to love God every day — to cry out to him in the most real way — in joy and turmoil.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a daredevil, but I do enjoy roller coasters, and some day I hope to go skydiving. Recently I had an interesting discussion about so-called daredevils or adrenaline junkies, or whatever you want to call these types of people. Often there’s a misunderstanding that these risk-seekers have no fear of death. They seemingly are willing to take risks that most of us can hardly stomach watching–like the 34-year-old this summer who walked across the grand canyon without a harness.
While skydiving may not be for all of us, I’ll bet there are risks we can take each day that will remind us of the new Heaven for which we are destined. I say “risks” because the kingdom of heaven is not of this world and it takes courage to forgive our hurts, to stand up to bullying and injustice in ourselves and in those we know. Perhaps by risking our lives daily for another, we have the opportunity to become free from ourselves, making us available to experience the wonderful freedom that God intends for us.
I had to do some pruning today, cutting back tall stalks whose once-beautiful dark purple flowers are now brown, ugly and dry. Embarrassingly, I felt sad, pausing to make sure I really needed to cut these withering stems down to the ground. I’d already waited a few days hoping they weren’t really dead, (maybe they’d have a second life!) but with things only looking deader daily it was time for them to go.
Now pruned, the garden looks better, crisper and cleaner. I got to thinking about how human this reaction is, not wanting to prune. We don’t always like to get rid of “dead” things, like sins for example. We probably all know of a particular sin that should go, but it’s our nature to procrastinate the pruning, which can be painful, and we try to find another way. Perhaps God is trying to teach me something about life through the garden. Seasons come and go, and cutting back the flowers reminds me that it takes faith and action (even pruning) to produce the best new fruit.
In the Gospel of Luke chapter 8, Jesus is in the country of the Gerasenes, healing many people. Near the end of the chapter, Jesus heals the leader’s daughter who had been proclaimed dead. St. Luke writes that Jesus called to the girl, “Child, get up!” and “Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up.” It was the spirit that returned, giving her body life.
Many years ago I was taught this simple prayer, “Come Holy Spirit, clear out my mind so that I can pray.” I have a mind that races, meaning it doesn’t turn off easily, like a pinball rocketing to and fro through its game board, bouncing from one idea to the next, and coincidentally from one emotion to the next. This prayer helps calm me down and sometimes gets myself out of the way so I can hear God.
I wonder how frequently each day I let the clattering thoughts in my mind push the Holy Spirit away? As with the young girl in the gospel, it isn’t our minds or physicality that make us able to walk with God each day; rather clear minds and ears to hear God’s voice calling each of us to “get up!” and a heart and spirit that are willing to do so.