Our Minds Are Set

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 | Psalm 22:22-30 |Romans 4:13-25 | Mark 8:31-38

Last week, on the first Sunday in Lent, our gospel lesson from Mark recounted Jesus’s baptism, his 40 days of temptation in the wilderness by Satan, and his call that the time is nigh to repent and believe the good news, beginning his Galilean ministry. Jesus goes on to cleanse and to heal, to call his apostles and to preach to all, sprinkling in a miracle now and then because calming a storm, walking on water, and feeding thousands make quite an impression and aren’t actions of a run-of-the-mill preacher. And then, “quite openly,” “Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected . . ., and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Again, we know the story; he’s offering a foretelling to his followers so they can be prepared. Judging by Peter’s reaction, they need all the preparation they can get. Poor Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Peter rebukes the Son of Man. Imagine that conversation a minute.

Peter: “Jesus, c’mon. You’re doing amazing things. We need you. They need you. Don’t be silly with all this death talk. We know who you are (because Peter’s just called him out as the Messiah, Mk 8:29), but keep your head in the game.”

Jesus hears what Peter is saying. Dramatically, Jesus turns (away from Peter) and looks at his disciples, now doing the rebuking himself, not even looking at Peter.

Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter, who is so eager to follow, so willing to get out of the boat, anxious to mark the revelation of the Divinity, and to name Jesus as the Messiah he is, gets the brunt of Jesus’s admonishing. This is more than a cold shoulder, this is outright denial of what Peter represents in this moment.

And what is it that Peter does that is so wrong?

If a beloved friend and teacher says they’re going to suffer, be rejected, die, and somehow rise from the dead, it’s plausible to imagine a healthy dose of denial and skepticism. It’s not what we would want for someone we love and care about, and it’s not exactly something that makes sense. But it’s not Peter’s heart that Jesus focuses on: it’s his where his mind is. “For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” In our own imagining, everything Peter might remind Jesus of is based on Peter’s attachment to Jesus here and now in their ministry. It could be Peter’s personal attachment to Jesus, or it could even be a more selfless thinking of all the good Jesus is doing everywhere he goes. This is a classic example of sticking to a personal agenda and either forgetting/ignoring/not recognizing God’s will or intent. This is us thinking, “We’ve got this.” At least Peter has Jesus with him. He knows who he’s keeping company with, but he’s lost sight of the magnitude of God’s work that will be accomplished not only in Jesus’ ministry but also through his death and resurrection.

This is hard for us to comprehend, and not just hard for us but for the disciples, too.

In Mark’s gospel there are a total of three times that Jesus repeats the same foretelling of his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. In both of the other times, too, the disciples don’t understand, can’t comprehend what Jesus is saying. They are attached to their finite, worldly thinking: they’re debating who’s the greatest or who will sit at Jesus’s right and left hand (James and John have dibs). In both of the other times, there’s still the contrast between the focus on the human and the divine.

In this first foretelling, though, Jesus does a clever thing in turning his back to Peter. Because if you really want someone to pay attention, you pretend not to be talking to them. Jesus chides Peter for being focused on human things, not divine. Jesus knows that the disciples and the crowd don’t really understand, but, again, their hearts are in the right place. They need something to do. He tells them to take up their cross and follow him.

Is he talking about wearing pretty jewelry or carrying the cross around town or in the procession, showing off our cross so everyone can know how pious and devout we are? Of course not. The cross for these early people of the Way was a symbol of humiliation. If you were to die upon a cross, you had not only lost your honor and dignity, but you had dishonored your family and community. No one would willingly take up a cross because it would be shameful. Yet this is exactly what Jesus is telling them to do. Do something unpopular for my sake. Do something that is so far outside our comfort zone that we have to get over ourself, knowing that what we’re doing isn’t for our own sake but for something far greater. And if we’re too ashamed to do it for Jesus’s sake, he’ll also be ashamed of us.

What would that look like today? What would it look like today to do something that shows you are a follower of Christ? What do Christians do that is unpopular or disrupts the norm, crosses invisible barriers? Where/when do we risk not only being uncomfortable but also risk being judged by others, often negatively (not to mention how harshly we judge ourselves).

On Ash Wednesday, I saw that Father Roger and a priest he works with held “Ashes to Go” in their neighborhood in New York. We just had the traditional service here, but Ashes to Go provides an accessible invitation to a holy Lent and a mark of the cross to signify the day and one’s observance. In Hot Springs, my rector heard from a parishioner who had experienced it in Key West and thought we should do it, too. My rector thought it was a great idea and told me to do it. Obedient curate I was, I vested in my cassock, surplice, and stole, put up a sign, and stood beside the street with ashes from the service earlier. Folks drove up and walked up, happy to get their ashes. For others it was indulging in trying something different. For me, I’ve never more imagined that this was what it must be like to be a prostitute. A woman, standing by the street in downtown Hot Springs, offering something to passers-by, hoping they would want what I had to offer. And I wondered, “God, what are you trying to teach me in this?” I reminded myself this was a holy day, that this was holy work. Nearly everyone who drove by looked my way, saw me in my vestments, saw me smile at them. They couldn’t hear my prayer of blessing for them, nor could they hear the struggle within as I stayed out there, publicly displaying my faith, completely outside the safety of the church walls. Maybe that’s something of what Jesus means in taking up a cross: carrying the burden of showing our faith to the world around us, putting the beliefs in our heart into action in our lives for others to see. How else do we expect them to see Jesus?

Any time we reveal what is within, we step into that realm of the vulnerable. I definitely felt vulnerable. I felt like people were judging me, and this sense reminds me how attached I am to the human things, the self-centered, ego-preserving mindset that Jesus rebuked, even when our intentions seem good. Letting go of this, for Jesus’s sake and for the sake of the gospel, is losing our life as we often understand it. It is through this loss of self that we gain eternal life through Christ. By bringing a proclamation of faith in the good news of Jesus Christ into the world–with our crosses seen and unseen–, we mark the space and time with the presence of Christ, bringing more light and love into the world.

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Another Beginning

We give birth to so many things in our lives.  We create art.  We forge friendships.  We beget children.  These are no small things.

What I notice most about the most significant births is that they are born from a place of surrender.  My ego gives up, and I let what needs to be born come forth.  With each of my children, such is the nature of their birth.  In some of my better writing, the words seemed to form themselves.  My most sincere friendships found their own way to my heart and took root there.

This home, this school, this town we find ourselves in now, I imagine the same holds true.  In the stillness of the morning, I marvel at the sunlight falling down through the trees.  I wonder at the moisture, the thunderstorms, having come from a place not far away experiencing harsh drought.  (Believe me, I’m trying to send the rain back home!)  I am here for formation.  For a true birth to happen, I will have to let go.

That doesn’t mean I let go of all that was, of all who are a part of my life.  In as much as this is a community affair, this is mostly a time for me to grow, not away from who I am but more fully into who I am, who I am meant to be.  No one says a birth is easy, nor do I hear often that they’re beautiful affairs to observe (aside from those who hold the process near and dear to their hearts when a baby is being born). But I give thanks in advance for those who will serve as witnesses to my own birth, who will hold the space around me, love me unconditionally, and remind me that the ground is still there when I feel I’ve lost my way.

 

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Let Go

Often I think of the need to let go or the act of letting go.  This afternoon I pondered that I have indeed let go – past tense.

I let go of some guilt (because I haven’t let go of it all, of course).  I let go of some expectations (ditto not letting go of all).  I let go of nearly all of my ideas of perfection (I’m trying, folks!).

When I let go, I find that I gain something else: a lot more breathing room.  Each exhale, in fact, is a letting go of that which we don’t need; we need to exhale.  All day and night, we are taking in thoughts, emotions, worries, anxieties, joys, etc.  We take in so much.  If you’re anything like me, eventually you have to step aside or sit down or go away for a while to let go, clear the mind, and breathe some fresh, clear air — in and out.  It’s lovely to take in a deep breath, to let out a deep sigh.  If I were better at letting go, each breath would be a new moment, not holding on to anything but keenly and mindfully observing that which is before me in that moment.  (And maybe I wouldn’t sigh quite so deeply as often.)

To clear one’s mind doesn’t mean we rid ourselves of the lessons learned from our experiences, the wisdom of our lives, or the emotions we feel and have.  We are very much of this life of ours, but we do not have to be so attached, clinging to it as if it were all that this life is about or as if someone could take it from us.  Such dependency seems to me as if it boils down to fear.  Being fully mindful and present, I believe we can open ourselves completely to the possibility of being in full connection with others.  In a way, that means we become vulnerable, possibly losing ourselves into the whole.  Is that a bad thing?

We have to let go.  Let the children play on the big kids’ playground.  Let our daughters go to the movies alone.  Let the children out of our eyesight, even for an entire weekend.  God grant me strength to let my children drive, fly, go to college, fall in love, be heartbroken, and discover themselves.

Mostly, though, I hope that I can let go enough to do my best, to love as deeply as I can, and to keep on breathing in all that is the blessed life of mine.

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Letting Go

No one promises that letting go is easy.  Everything out there says that simplifying our lives is the thing to do.  Once we hear a call, we have a choice whether or not to follow it.  Following it doesn’t promise to be easy.  In fact, taking the scenic route through a Life well lived will undoubtedly be way more difficult than staying on the Interstate of life.

I had to take a step yesterday that was bittersweet.  I didn’t want to let go of something that I think is so important, of work that I know needs to be done.  However, I promised myself I would bring focus to my journey.  If I’m going to do something, I want to do it well.  We like to say we don’t do anything half-ass around here (“single-cheeked,” if the kids are listening).  If we’re going to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk.  That’s a lesson learned and lived while in the desert, right?  No time like the present.

So, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it well.  I wish the same for you.

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Oh, the Audacity!

A friend of ours has neighbors who just opened a skating rink here in town, and would we like to join him for a skating and pizza party?  It’s one of those things that didn’t fit in our schedule, but I made it work.  Yes, we would love to.

While husband took the older kids to piano, I took the younger two to Starlight Skatorium.  After visiting with our dear friend, I spent what seemed like 20 minutes getting skates on the two restless ones and then crammed my feet into skates, too.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.

My six-year-old took off onto the rink, straight out into the flow of traffic, and then turned to move against the flow!  It was painful to watch, and I gave thanks that the place wasn’t busy, being a Wednesday night.  I couldn’t yell at him over the loud music — not that he would have listened to me anyway. He crawled part of the way to the middle of the rink.  I just had to wish him luck as I turned my attention to my three-year-old whom I was holding up on skates.  We made it a sixth of the way around the rink (basically to the next exit opportunity) before she was done.  I have to admit I was grateful because I wasn’t sure my core and arms could have made it all the way, either!  While taking off her skates, my 6yo reappeared and informed me he was done, too.

Are you sure?

Yes!

Skates off, it was time for Sprite and pizza, a double treat.  I had yet to make it around the rink myself.  Would I even be able to do it, or would I end up busting my butt?  The older kids arrived after lessons, ready to don their skates.  Of course now the younger two were ready again.  Another 20 minute venture.  Fortunately, I had just kept my skates on.

I suppose I fully embraced the craziness of it all.  Now I had four kids on skates. I let them drink soda and have carry-out pizza for dinner.  Hubby had another appointment, so I was skating solo.  Could I have done this even with one child eight years ago?  Probably not.

I realize that to some, I probably seemed like the 6yo jumping out into the middle of the rink, full of adventure, a devil-may-care attitude . . . sheer audacity. With the two older kids warming up to making it all the way around the rink and the other two using the skate-helpers to roll down an entrance ramp, I finally got to make a couple of rounds myself, totally recalling memories of my younger days.  Skating to loud music, disco lights, hokey-pokey, and 50s dress-up contests.  Good times (even though one time cost me a front tooth!).  Sometimes we just have to let go and enjoy the moment for what it is, trusting that all is well.

I hope our audacity continues to enrich our lives.

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