What are we looking for?

Exodus 33:12-23 | Psalm 99 | 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 | Matthew 22:15-22

I imagine it’s safe to say that we’re all looking for something. Maybe it’s job stability, good retirement benefits, better health, or healthy friends. Maybe more existentially we’re looking for meaning and purpose, happiness and quality. This question of considering what we’re looking for is worth exploring, in Scripture and in our lives.

What was Moses looking for when he spoke to God? He knew it was important and set up his Tent of Meeting, and everyone in the camp noticed when the pillar of cloud appeared, signifying that Holy Speak was going on. From the reading today, we hear that Moses needs certainty in the presence of the LORD, an Advocate. Moses wants to see God. The LORD assures him but also reminds Moses that the terms are set by God. God will be gracious and merciful as God sees fit (though Moses already knows that intercession doesn’t hurt). God tells Moses that no one can see the face of the LORD and live, so instead the glory of God passes over Moses, with the hand of God covering him in the cleft of the mountain. We’re told Moses could see the back but not the face of the LORD. Amazing. Could Moses even imagine in his seeking God that he would so intimately experience the presence or the Glory of God? Or be told so blatantly that to see the face of God would be fatal to his mortal body? In all the encounters with God, Moses himself was too much for the people, eventually having to wear a veil over his face (Ex 34:29-35). Moses was transformed by his encounters with God.

What is Paul seeking in his correspondence with the Thessalonians, when he repeats, “You do not need to have anything written to you” but still sends the letter and asks that it be read to all the brothers and sisters. In the letter–since he can’t be there in person–Paul conveys his affection, encouragement, and instruction. In times of persecution, he’s telling them to be strong and keep doing the holy, blessed, and good work they are doing as believers. He’s seeking to support this small, marginal community as devoutly as if he were supporting a mega church. Paul’s sincerity of writing matches his tenderness. Always, it seems, Paul seeks to grow the Church, encouraging all to believe in Jesus Christ, holding himself forward as an example.

What about the Pharisees? What are they seeking, and why? They again show determination to destroy Jesus. They continue in their effort because they know Jesus is not going to let things continue as they are. The holy men can’t do this alone; they need the help of the Romans, from now through crucifixion. Catching Jesus in heresy or in treason, the Pharisees don’t seem to care so long as he is removed from the scene entirely. With Jesus gone, they can return to normalcy, their power unchallenged, the Law as they understand it enforced.

And what is Jesus looking for? I don’t ask this as a trick question or a trap. As I pondered the question, I realize that Jesus isn’t looking for anything. Jesus, the Son of God, Word incarnate, is perfectly present and  whole. If Jesus is “looking” for anything, it’s him looking to manifest the will of God on earth, to bring the presence of God to earth in a way we can encounter and not die from. Jesus looks to give his life that all might proclaim his name and live. Jesus looks to show us the Way of Life and Love so we can die to sin and live in glory. Jesus looks to teach us that while we will be tempted, tested, tried, and maybe even tormented for our faith, that is our cross to bear, that even those are things of which we are not to be afraid because for those who call upon the Name of the LORD, the LORD answers them . . . maybe not as we’d like but with a peace that passes all understanding.

Consider now what we are looking for. We, a people gathered here in this pocket of the Church, in this little corner of Arkansas. In this country. In a time not unlike that of Paul, Matthew, Jesus, or Moses. In a time when we are, as ever, people divided, especially by race, gender, and class.

In two-thirds of her new book Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown looks “at how we can reclaim human connection and true belonging in the midst of sorting and withdrawal” (p. 59). Because what we are looking for, her research affirms, is true belonging, but we let our fears divide and isolate us from one another. We’re afraid others won’t believe us or follow us (like Moses). We’re afraid our community will crumble if it’s not strong or persevering enough (like the Thessalonians). We’re afraid our power will be tested and get overthrown (like the Pharisees). Perhaps we’re even afraid that Jesus isn’t enough to help us make it in this world. In all the stories, Jesus never sought to do anything but the will of His Father. Jesus wasn’t phased by politics, economics, or social norms, just as today Jesus Christ isn’t partial to any one race, gender, or class. Jesus Christ is all about true belonging.

Brown offers a working definition of true belonging I find useful:

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” (p. 40)

And we are people created in the image of God. We are the coin of God, just as much as the denarius is the coin of Caesar. Jesus knew this fully, in every moment, whether he was in the midst or the head of the crowds, in the wilderness facing Satan, or on trial informally or formally.

What can we do to believe and belong to ourselves so deeply that we tap into the child of God we are, that we find a way to unleash the Light of Christ that shines in wisdom and knowledge that we know we are known to God, beloved of God, belonging in God, abiding in love?

Maybe you heard the phrase “me, too” this week. #Metoo was people braving the wilderness, facing vulnerability and perhaps fear by declaring that we, too, were victims of sexual assault and/or harassment. With all the women and men who said “metoo,” did you consider that we were finding belonging in our pain, in our being devalued, considered less than someone else? But it is in the belonging, in the collective, in the standing together to hear and listen to one another, to risk feeling together (even the pain) that love grows. Where love grows, fear has a harder time finding its way into our fault lines of division and isolation. Making the choice to stand out is braving the wilderness, being vulnerable even to temptation or evil itself, Satan we call it to personify it. Equally evil are the violations themselves and the shame that silences the voices and hardens the hearts, both breaking the connection of belonging as a beloved, whole child of God and as a person in beloved community. This is one example of how gender is abused. Internalized racism blinds a white person to their privilege and whispers in the mind of a person of color that they don’t know any better, that they can’t or shouldn’t speak out, up, or against. Classism, our social stratification, traps people in worldly systems, making their “worth” only as great as their social standing. These belong to God about as much as Caesar’s coin–part of creation because humans created it. They are in God’s power to change because it’s up to us to say where the power and authority lie. It’s up to us to call out violations of true belonging, to pay attention when our brothers and sisters aren’t being valued as children of God. In the name of Christ we stand against the status quo and stand up for love one genuine contact at a time so that the life and love of Christ flourish.

A life lived having seen the face of God is one reborn having known Glory. This was Jesus’ every breath, but we are so defended that we protect ourselves even from God. We see a sunrise and pause in its beauty. Our soul stirs at those liminal moments, those thin places where we feel the hand of God on our backs, but then we quickly forget or return to life as if we hadn’t been touched by God. Brown says what God knows to be true:

“Mercifully, it will take only a critical mass of people who believe in finding love and connection across difference to change everything” (p. 58).

It will take a critical mass of people looking for Christ here and now to change the world. It is taking a critical mass of people uniting together to build beloved communities across differences, whatever they may be. In the complicated moments we find ourselves in, we have to pause–especially in our fear–and breathe in the breath of God to inspire us, to remind us of our belonging and our belovedness. And then we set out looking for ways to affirm that we bear the image of God and seeking the reflection of the light and love of Christ in others. When we start looking, we’ll see that Light has been with us all along.

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Change of Plans

A little perspective goes a long way.  As odd as it sounds, my stresses tend to come from my blessings, my abundance.  Even my seeming lack of financial resources isn’t all that bad; most everything gets paid most of the time and on time.  It’s the excesses we can’t afford, and excess by nature is something we don’t need.  I get stressed because I’m trying too hard to control everything.  That just cannot happen, and I certainly can’t do everything on my own.

It takes one event to set in motion a trajectory downhill.  That spiral that will go as deep as we let it or as deep as it can pull us.  Some may call it natural selection.  Some call it fate.  It is true that darkness is ever-present.  What makes some of us more keenly aware of the light in our lives and some more susceptible to the pull of darkness?  Can it also be the same for positive events, that when good things start happening, they just keep coming?

I don’t mean to oversimplify this.  Life is not either good or bad.  Mostly, it’s gray, and, despite the over-use of the phrase, it is what it is.  I am convinced that our perspective, how we choose to encounter everything along our way, and our choices going forward make all the difference.  I’m also convinced that we cannot do it alone.  If your faith is enough, bless you.  If you’re like most of us, you need community.

As part of a community I love dearly, I’m willing to change my plans for lunch and visit a friend in need.  I let go of my expectations and live into something greater.  We make magic happen every day and can rejoice in the light.  When the darkness comes, we can know we are not alone and that we don’t have to be afraid.

That’s a beautiful thing.

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Memories Remembered

It could be that the life you lead today is much like the one you grew up with.  School, work, shopping, entertainment, shuttling kids hither and yon.

I remember sitting at the edge of my mother’s bed while she was messing around in her closet, perhaps hanging laundry.  She said she could see me living in a fancy house, decorated just so.  I’d probably marry a white-collar guy (my words, not necessarily hers).  Did she know or just hope that my life would be different?

I hadn’t realized that I was beginning to forget some of my childhood memories until I saw a movie this weekend, Winter’s Bone.  No, I didn’t grow up in a meth-using family, but I did grow up in a rural environment (and many family vacations were spent in Branson, where the movie was filmed).  Part of my childhood was in Southwest Missouri, too, on my grandparent’s farm.  I would go to the sale barn on weekends, sometimes get treated to a Frito-pie and a coke (which is what all carbonated beverages are called around here, even if it’s not a Coke).  I couldn’t hear anything much over the auctioneer, “yep”ping farmers and traumatized animals.  It was Saturday entertainment to me, though I wasn’t aware it was a means of survival to others.

We also hunted chicken eggs in obscure places when the hens rebelled against the coop.  I have to admit I let my little brother reach his hand into the darkness between the stacked hay bales more often than I would.  There were snakes, too, of course.

At a family friend’s dairy farm, we hopped from bale to bale over the circular mounds.  The dark pits between went straight to hell, I was told.  You wouldn’t want to fall!

Today there are chain stores and strip malls on what was pasture.  Our communities have grown with each new subdivision.  But downtown there are signs of the past.  In the still-small communities, there are the boarded up shops and abandoned homes.  I’ll have to remember to air out my own memories every once in a while, lest they, too, be neglected or worse . . . forgotten.

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Genuine Connection

Recall the last conversation in which you spoke from the heart.

Think of the last time you listened with so much awareness and presence that you truly felt what the other person conveyed to you through words.

When is the last time you maintained eye contact long enough to glimpse the soul and true feeling of the person across from you, not diverting your gaze out of societal propriety?

Forget the e-mails, the Twitter, the insincere chatter and texts of your day and seek out what is truly meaningful in relationships — we have to genuinely relate.  Our souls need contact.

Our recent ice storms left many without electricity, many without heat.  Neighbors came together and helped each other, visited with each other; they connected.

In our Women’s Leadership Circle curriculum we’re using in our women’s spirituality group at church, the meat of the curriculum comes from the conversation that conveys our experiences, our observations, reflections from our heart.  No book, brochure or digital anything is going to replace the connection of souls sharing in Spirit.

Many lost or man-made electricity, but the current of energy that Spirit provides may have just been given a boost.  I hope your power is restored.

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Share a Story . . . Yours

These past few weeks I’ve spent more time thinking . . . and reading . . . rather than writing.  I wouldn’t say that my well was dry or that I’ve spent time filling it.  I’d say I’ve been listening, which is the largest component in discernment.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be working on a new site design, or branding, if you will.  I’m going to come up with a more consistent schedule of topics to reflect what is most dear to our hearts.  And probably most importantly, I want to work on building our community, sharing our stories so that we encourage each other along our journey, provide a little direction, maybe, if we need assistance.  Whether you’re a maid, matron or crone, you are welcome here, and I’m sure you have inspiring stories to share.  Contact me, and we’ll see how and if it fits.  Communication is what it’s all about.  Either leave comments or e-mail me — sara at everydaysimple dot org.  (trying to prevent spam!)

Together our stories weave a beautiful tapestry.  Collectively our creativity fluorishes.  Journeying together, the Divine is ever-present.  That is what being a woman is all about.

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