Friday, February 24, 2006

Toward a Holy Lent

Yesterday was odd, in that it was relatively quiet and productive. I am getting used to the fact that most things get done at a HIGH rate of speed with a great deal of energy and volume here at Trinity. Think of it not so much as a race car, but as a very well tuned pit crew with each person doing their own task to the greater benefit of the whole. Wonderful when it works well, crazy with one or two points miss...But on the whole, a true blessing.

Yesterday, though, had a slightly different flavor. After several crazy long days, I went in a bit late to the office. Getting in just before ten, I was able to check messages, check in and then was just in time for our book study gathering. The past two sessions have been awesome. Working through John Sanford's The Kingdom Within has been truly illuminating. Personally, I have been wrestling with the text. I am just not that much a disciple of the psycho-therapeutic model of spiritual development. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Carl Jung and Sanford's perspective...But I brace against some of the mid-20th century ideals he projects onto the Gospel texts. There is a basic assumption that individuation and individuality are the same thing. That, emerging from groups, we find our selves. Just our selves.

This is pre-Friedman and pre-systems theory, and is predicated on the point of analysis being the discovery of the individual. Systems looks at health from the perspective of the whole, both the whole person and their role in the systems in which they move, live and find perspective. Just language and semantics, but it does create some fertile moments of tension for me.

We also had a great Worship and Spiritual Life meeting. Don't know if it was a time change or what, but we got through our agenda pretty quickly and there is a sense, at least for me, of getting a pretty good handle on Lent. Next month, we lock down Holy Week. I hope to meet with the separate ministries before then, in order to make sure that we can move quickly and cleanly through that meeting.

And, finally, we had a chance to get out with some friends to grab Japanese food. Seems like we are on a sushi kick right now. Good, though, in that it is setting my palate for fish. Again, healthy Lenten discipline. I don't usually give up meat for Lent, but perhaps I might this year?

This weekend is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany: I am going to be preaching on the Transfiguration at all three services. It will also be the unofficial anniversary of being rector here. I actually started in the office on the 14th of March...But technically my letter of agreement dates to March 1st. So, on the last Sunday of February last year, we turned our faces from New Providence to New Hope-Solebury. All that new-ness. The first night in our new home was that weekend. The first days of being rector here to Trinity commenced...And the crashing, clashing run through Holy Week was moments away. Seems like I have been here just a blink, and yet forever.

So, Transfiguration looms. Jesus takes his friends up to the mountain top for a moment of prayer. They wind up getting a soul-full experience of seeing Jesus in what might be presumed as a post-resurrection state, in glory with Moses and Elijah attending. What does this mean? For Peter, James and John, is it ever going to get any better? Talk about a "Woodstock" moment, because for just a short period, the truth of the Christ is revealed to human eyes. They get to see things as they truly are. This is a theophany in the deepest sense of the word, God revealed to humanity...And it is Jesus himself that is the vehicle. His person, his white-white garments. His Glory revealed.

So, what do those disciples do? They want to stay, to linger, to hold on to that moment. If they let it go, then they lose the experience to memory. Worse, memory fades and changes over time. So, what to do? DON'T LEAVE. Stick around. Hold on.

How human.

We do that. We hold on: to God, to systems, to thing good and bad. We nurse and savor the good times...And we persist in holding on to the bad. Sins pile up. Blessings, even tarnished by YEARS on the shelf, get dusted again and again...And yet they never get the chance to welcome new arrivals. We coast.

Even in such hostile places as mountain tops, even in such rarefied air as the spiritual altitude required of us to "meet God face to face" we balk at taking those moments back down the mountain. We balk at hearing Christ's words that he must be on his way to Jerusalem and to his Passion...Cross, Tomb and beyond. We worry and fret over what next Thursday's dinner will be. We stress over deadlines. We hold on to insults, slights and hurts. We forget to forgive, others and ourselves.

Maybe that is why the framers of the calendar tacked this moment on to the end of the season after the Epiphany. Right before Lent, before we as a Church commence the walk down-slope to Calvary, we get a chance to see the world from "up there."

This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him.

God is not just engaging in a momentary remonstrance of three disciples pulling a "Larry, Moe and Curly-esque" -type moment. God is reminding us that the journey is the point, and that the mid-point is only just that.

From another perspective: remember Into Thin Air, that movie/book event which offered a witnessed memoir of one tragic climbing season on Mt. Everest? The book opens with the author standing on the roof of the world. Men and women have died to reach that summit with him. More are about to perish in a storm that is rising. He is seeing the world from a place that only a handful of humans have had the chance to perceive it from. Due to oxygen deprivation and fatigue, though, he finds he has no emotional response. He is not happy. He is not sad. He is only there. And then, reality sets in. The hard part of this tale is not getting UP the mountain. It is about getting down it again. Alive. The real blessing of climbing Everest, or any mountain, really-from both a geographical or spiritual perspective is that we get the chance to survive it. Going up AND coming down are only chapters in life's journey. Beginning, middle and ending are only moments in life.

Even seeing God face to face in a moment still means bearing witness to it later on. If none of those three lovely students of Jesus had come down, we wouldn't be remembering that moment of Transfiguration. If we dwell too much in the past, then we will never see the future...And future generations will never know us.

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