Wednesday, December 29, 2010

O, to be a poet on Sunday mornings

I've been marinating in a familiar text, as if I'd never seen it before. John's famous prologue--John 1:1-18--is amazing. We read this as if it is old news, but check this out.
The NIV, NKJV and KJV all translate John 1:1 like this:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Good news. A bit mysterious. But not nearly as far-out as John originally said it.

This past fall, as we traveled throughout Europe, we visited dozens of cathedrals and churches. Often, as in Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting, God is depicted as an old, ye powerful and wizened man. White beard and all. These paintings were done in order to instruct and help us understand Bible stories and truths.

The same anthropomorphic teaching is written into some God-descriptions of the Old Testament. We read of God's right hand, of God's holy arm, or of God's eyes or face. We also read of God sheltering us under wings, and of God riding on clouds. These are not intended to be literal. They are ways that limited language can represent an unlimited God.

Yet, I fear these images, if we are not careful, can dampen our maturing comprehension of the person and presence of God. When God said there should be no graven images, perhaps this is what was to be avoided.

In the movie CONTACT, Jodi Foster plays the role of a woman who is chosen to travel into space where she sees some incredible, indescribable scene. Enraptured and unable to express the awe of what she takes in, she stammers: "No, no words. No words. Indescribable....They should have sent a poet."

In my thinking, John's prologue is such poetry. Listen to one literal translation of John 1:1 as taken from the original Greek. "In the beginning, was the SAYING, and the SAYING was toward God, and the SAYING was God." Now the word "SAYING" here is the Greek word "logos." It has also been translated as "mind," or "Word."

And so at creation, the Logos/mind/Word/Saying is speaking creation into existence. Compare Genesis and John here. God hovers over chaos and speaks light, and life and order into being. Consider the angel's message to Mary in the familiar Christmas story, the Spirit will "hover" over you, and your child will be called the Son of God."

This Sunday, I hope to open minds to mystery...the kind of mystery that says some indescribable energy--which we know as God, and we know is LOVE--is speaking grace and truth to us. And that in a very visible and touchable Jesus, we have seen what is the truth of this mysterious and mighty God. And that same hovering, mystery who speaks life and light into existence, speaks children of God into existence as well.

This Sunday, if for only few moments, I long to be a poet.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reflecting on a Sabbatical: Part One

Journaled on Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Many have been asking me if I enjoyed my trip, or if we had a nice vacation. I can only answer with a "Yes." However, if I have time to speak with those who ask--I mean, if I have the time to sit down and look them in the eye long enough for each of us to see beyond the haze of cliche--then I can speak truth to them. The past three and one half months have been the most grueling and wonderfully transforming months I've ever lived.

I've never treated a journey with such reverence. I treasured each day of our recent sabbatical as a gift of life, not of place. So coming home has not seemed a desertion of pleasure, but a continuing of the sojourn. It has not been a disappointing return to the "same old." I have returned to a place I've never been. Same house, same job, same cars and dogs and bills. Different me.

I treasure the Italian apartment we called home for six weeks of our fourteen week, four-continent trip. But I don't long to be back there, in the way I have pined in times past for some surf-side beach chair. What Christ accomplished there, I am experiencing here, now, today--beside the fire in my home. And I benefitted from it earlier today as I encouraged a parishioner who is grieving, and yesterday in a nursing facility while ministering to a friend who has had yet another stroke.

The peace of Christ which is beyond understanding has worked in and through me. And that peace could not have been found on a three week vacation. It required entering daily into the mine of prayer. Daily, over the course of months. (This has not stopped). Finding peace required much confession and loving counsel. Peace was not gained like some loaf of bread to be picked up on aisle one. Peace emerged in tiny nuggets--minute, yet treasured fragments of authenticity and truth; extracted from massive boulder-sized frustration, selfish ambition, grief, and even some unknown resentment that I had been carefully and diligently sweeping under the rug of my psyche.

Spiritual work is not easy. And it cannot be hurried. The Lilly Endowment's Clergy Renewal Grant has provided me the time and the space to do the difficult work of sorting out my life and spirit. Fourteen weeks may seem a long time, but it was only after week thirteen, that I was ready for one more visit with my spiritual director. There I dropped my last anxieties of returning to ministry. I was ready: a new and centered man.

The global destinations we visited were spectacular. Some see them as the reason for the journey. They were not. They were only the setting of a journey of prayer and devotion. I traveled a far greater distance in my heart and head, than over land or sea.