I’ve always found comfort in these particular words of Jesus: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” And yet…really? my bank account hasn’t changed. Let’s go back and read verses preceding the one I just mentioned. They are an admonition against judgement and pointing out the flaws in others while unable to see our own. The offer of receiving whatever we ask for comes only after we stop our judgy behavior and look at our own flaws first and foremost. While that may seem depressing, Jesus doesn’t leave us wallowing in our wicked imperfections…he says, “which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him?” While he chastises our behavior, it still won’t prohibit God from answering our prayers.
Of course there are qualifications…God responds to our requests with “good things” God would never give us anything harmful. I suppose asking for something bad would never qualify. So how then, do we know what good is? What follows gives us a clue. Jesus highlights the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” He also encourages us to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, and not the wide and easy gate that many will follow to destruction. He warns of false prophets whom we will only know by the fruits they bear, followed immediately by “for a rotten tree can never bear good fruit”. The lines are drawn clear: good tree, good fruit…bad tree no fruit. Goodness can only be known by good fruit.
So what is good fruit? Is it success, wealth, fame, popularity, prowess or power? I suppose it all goes back to what each of us sees when we pull that humongous plank out or our eye. We can never see goodness while our vision is clouded; there are too many false prophets out there that exist in obscured vision to lead us astray. Only goodness can perpetuate goodness, rotten trees never can…and we all know what happens to trees that bear no fruit whatsoever (remember the fig tree). It doesn’t need to be complicated, we simply start by not judging and pointing out the flaws in others before we can even see our own, treat others exactly how we want to be treated, pray to god in secret with faith, and he will respond with goodness, from which we continue to bear good fruit. Pretty much sums it all up.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus functionally begins his ministry at a Samaritan well talking to a woman. I say he functionally began his ministry, because he had just left the desert from being baptized by John the Baptist. So what a place to start: not only with a woman, but a Samaritan woman, and even more so, a Samaritan woman of ill repute. What makes this particular event so powerful is that just prior to this conversation in the previous chapter comes the famous line he spoke to the Pharisee Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” We never get Nicodemus immediate response, but from Jesus we get an inclination that he wasn’t completely sold on the idea: Jesus makes it clear that those who prefer the cloak of darkness and fear exposure of their wickedness are already condemned. So after journeying to Samaria, while his disciples had gone to look for food, he stopped for a drink of water. What followed, (I will make you read it for yourself) was nothing short of remarkable…especially given the timing.
I think it is remarkable because he not only spoke to this woman of ill repute, but he talked to her as if she were anyone else of equal value. She was the first person who, when told he was the Messiah, believed him right then and there. (Nicodemus was most probably still pondering the idea and the disciples were amazed he was talking to a woman and concluded he simply needed to eat something). You see this is of utmost importance because he knew all about her disreputable past, appreciated her telling the truth, and then offered her everything, because she, like all those who came after her, were in need of and wanted everything he offered. She wasn’t afraid of the truth, of being exposed. And yet I still wondered, why her? Jesus must have recognized a remarkable quality in her, because even though she was a woman of ill repute, when she went back into the village saying, “He told me everything I have ever done, could he be the Messiah?” they actually came. She wasn’t afraid of her wickedness, like perhaps many of those who feared Jesus. She wanted the light.
What would his ministry have looked like had Nicodemus believed him right away instead of perhaps falling into his fear of exposure. What if it was he who ran and said to the people “I have met the Son of man who will bring us eternal life” maybe Jesus whole ministry would have transpired differently. The Samaritan woman stood in truth when exposed and that made all the difference in the world.
Yesterday I was just bored. Bored with the cold weather, bored with life and its problems and bored with my prayers. So I decided to change things up a bit and pray for those out there who don’t have the wherewithal to pray, who are too broken, too arrogant or just too ignorant to know that the necessary help is right there, waiting to be tapped. I prayed so that their eyes may be opened, and their hearts filled love so they could see the world in a new way. I prayed also that my judgement on what they needed would not factor in to the equation…because we all have a bias about what people need. I prayed that God’s will be done and not mine, even if the outcome was to bless those that I don’t think deserve it, or challenge those that I believe do. If a random act of kindness can create a ripple effect of kindness, think of what a random act of prayer can do.
These are my shoes…kind of quirky, kind of fun. You can design your own on the Adidas website. I had my name added, not because I was living in fear that someone would steal them, (although they are cool), but as a reminder that it is my feet that are walking this path. I am the one putting one foot in front of the other, or standing still, or even on the occasion walking backward. These are my shoes, no one else’s. Only I can get myself where I need to go. It’s true that at times, others have given me direction, cleared obstacles and smoothed the way and some have even put obstacles in my path to trip me up…but I am responsible for how I move forward. Regardless of what is ahead, I can choose to dance or drag my feet. I can stomp my feet in a tantrum at the unfairness of it all or simply let it go and run forward as fast as I can. I am the only thing that can stop me. When I allow chatter like “You can’t do that”, or “You’re not worthy” to impede my steps, I can’t blame anyone but me. No one can limit me, but me. The intent of the universe is for each of us to achieve our highest purpose.
This is underlined even more for me as a woman of faith. When God is for me, who can be against me? The boon of spiritual assistance gives me no excuse. As I look to my future and I walk in my shoes, I remember that blame will stop me in my tracks, and will never get me where I need to go, as will lending an ear to those who want me to fail. I walk in my shoes…no one else. While my journey may be a singular affair, the upswing is that I don’t have to walk alone. I can choose companions to walk along side me, which does abate the loneliness of my life’s adventure. I’m better now than when I was younger at avoiding those who slowed me down or confused my sense of direction, yet I still have to remind myself once in a while when it is time to move out of a crowd and forge ahead on my own. And while my journey may include walking in step with fools at times, there are many times in hindsight where I realize that I myself was the fool. I am thankful for those angels God put in my path when it was most needed, and I hope I’ve been an angel to others in their time of need too.
My steps may not be as quick as they used to be and my shoes have taken on a more practical nature, but I embrace the adventure of every new day…I forge on happily, just me and my shoes.
So, what does perfection look like? The dictionary defines it, in part, as the full growth or development of anything, or a completed state. So beyond all the traditional trappings…I ask this question, “Given that God is perfect what does God look like? Avoiding the easy traps of artists portrayals, I start with the old testament when God was always shrouded somehow, because to look upon God physically meant certain death. The metaphor that came to me as I was struggling to find something completely unique, was that of God as a flasher–God revealing the deeper realities of life, for God’s pleasure, and our limited ability to see God in full glory. NOW WAIT INTERNET, DO NOT FREAK OUT, KEEP WITH ME FOR JUST A MINUTE! I have waited for enough time after writing this draft to validate that I have not caught on fire, I have not turned to stone and my head hasn’t turned all the way around once…so just bare with me, if God’s OK with it, so should you. First of all, the reason I use the flasher image is that God has been clothed in so many different layers over the centuries, it’s about time to challenge many of these historical notions. So when all the layers are stripped away, what do we have left? I don’t have that answer yet, but and this is a big one, BUT I certainly had to ask this question first? Am I willing to see God naked?
Culturally, nakedness is far more associated with sexuality and porn than personal knowledge and perfection. The kind of exposure from someone who reveals themselves out of pleasure without being asked to do so is not only uncomfortable, many times it is a criminal offense. Perhaps it is our discomfort and limited capacity for understanding perfection that God chooses to show us only so much at a time. It can be more than a little daunting to entertain the possibility that many of the fundamental assumptions we have about God are really ill-fitting costumes that not only hide, but distort God’s very essence. I say this, in part, because if we were so clear about God’s true nature, wouldn’t our world be in a much better place? So let’s go back to before being naked was an indecent thing.
According to the book of Genesis, when Eve, then Adam ate from the tree of knowledge, bringing sin into paradise, they recognized their nakedness, tried to cover themselves up and hid from God. Note that being naked was a good thing until they sinned and they began to see themselves differently as a result. It certainly doesn’t imply that being naked was intrinsically a bad thing does it? We are created in God’s image, after all…free of any wardrobe malfunctions. Isn’t it more likely that the need to cover ourselves up as a result of recognizing our imperfection naturally flows to why we try to cover up God as well; we don’t want the constant reminder of how imperfect we really are. History certainly says so, for Christians anyway, look how humanity treated Jesus. If we are truly created in the image of God, and by our own choice moved away from that image, it seems to make sense that in order to discover God’s true nature we deal with our own nakedness…and the neurosis that comes with it first.
Looking at my own naked flesh is mixed with many different emotions. At my age it is impossible avoid gravity, period. I will never resemble those beautiful women in the magazines, and I guess I’m OK with that, but sadly, though, I never thought my body would ever resemble one of those prehistoric fertility goddess figurines comprised of sagging breasts and a marsupial like stomach either…and while spanks work miracles, they do have to come off some time. But at the same time, this body of mine has survived breaks, falls, injuries, childbirth, dancing, and the many things I have done for God…all that comes with living life. Our bodies are the empirical evidence of all that we have seen and experienced. So why is it that we worship bodies that bear no reflection of the greater lessons in life? Isn’t it true that most supermodels hit their peak before the reach the age of majority? Why focus on a blank canvas, or a body free of experience? I truly believe that God’s true nature is probably closer to the reflection most people see of themselves in the mirror–a body worn with experience. Let’s go back to the definition of perfection…the full growth or development of anything, a completed state. A life lived fully, should be seen as closer to being perfect than running away from it through growth hormones, plastic surgery or the other myriad of ways we try to look younger. I’m not saying that we allow ourselves to waste away, our bodies are temples after all…but the obsession with youth has to stop, especially since it sends an unfair message to young people that their bodies are the standard to which all perfection should be measured. Would I go back to the perky body I used to have? Ah, now therein lies the rub…the temptation would be great, but seriously no, I would not. I think I would focus on all the wrong things. As much as I struggle with aging, it is a natural part of coming to completion…and it is up to me, with the help of God to figure out how to wrap my head around it. Perhaps, it will mean for me that I am one step closer to seeing God.
I find it a little surreal talking about evil with any real clarity because it is so weighted in stories of fantasy, monsters, fallen angels, hell and brimstone, red demons etc. So, let me start with this: Christian Scripture is heavy on the notion that all things work out for those who love. Then where does the big “E” come in to play? I’ve never met the prince of darkness personally, but my first hand experiences of evil through perhaps his minions were good enough to convince me of its existence. In addition to be donned, the Father of Lies, I think another good moniker for Satan is the consummate actor and tailor: one who tempts us to layer ourselves in costumes and convinces us to portray ourselves as anything but what we truly are. We then, are confused so deeply that we lose the ability to ask for the right kind of spiritual help.
For example, look at the chaos that gun violence has brought to this country. There are those who think the government is evil because they believe their second amendment rights are threatened. There are those who think the guns themselves are evil and that they should be eradicated. I’m sure God has entertained prayers to abolish both. Where then, does the true root of evil lie? I would say the true root lies in the most fantastic misdirection of all. First that God has not conquered Satan yet (in classic terms) and we think we know exactly what evil looks like and what fuels it. When Jesus died, and before he rose, we are told of a short trip he made to hell where he basically opened a big ol’ can of whoop ass. What does this mean? I think that the whole point of Christ’s sacrifice, essentially is that for those who choose Him, evil cannot infect them…they have a spiritual vaccination, of sorts. Evil is like an opportunistic virus; it can not survive on its own. Without the human spirit to infect, it can never thrive. Think for a moment, what better way to create a foothold in human lives than for evil to skulk around shrouded in disguise in order to infect our perception and cloud our vision. Evil, then, like a plague that spreads like wildfire, we are paralyzed by fear and become obsessed with how to combat it, even though we’ve had the cure all along. And we fight it, most often in the name of God and religion. Aldous Huxley, in The Devils of Loudoun (regarding the crusades) explains it like this:
“Those who crusade not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes even perceptively worse than it was before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil, we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself…To be more against the devil than for God is exceedingly dangerous.”
So I say, the best way to combat evil in our lives is first and foremost to practice love, and never let fear take hold of how we live our lives. Then, and only then, will we develop the acumen to recognize, free from disguise the face of evil…I will save that for another post.
My son asked me if you have to be a priest to be pope…The answer is no. Even I could be chosen, and while there is a greater chance of hell freezing over, I wouldn’t. But I might accept the challenge to teach those cardinals a few things. If I were to give an intro to Prophets class…it would start like this:
To be a true prophet, you don’t need a pedigree…in anything. You do, however, need to say this prayer: “Honoring all the talents I’ve been given, take me down the path I need to go to fulfill my greatest purpose in life and in turn I will promise to keep walking despite the fear that wells up in my throat, the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy that I may face and the desire to give into the temptation to run in the opposite direction.” If you can say those words then you are ready. Please note, however, that once you say them…God will take you at your word. Changing your mind is not an option.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a prophet as the inspired or accredited spokesman, proclaim-er or preacher of some principle, cause or movement. A prophet is one who speaks for God as the inspired reveal-er or interpreter of divine will; one who is held or (more loosely) who claims to have this function; an inspired or quasi-inspired teacher. No where does it say that a prophet must have any greater handle on the truth or is better suited for it than anyone else. You must see a truth, be inspired by it and believe that it is God who is the source of that truth. What separates the prophet from a charlatan or someone of feeble mind? Nothing. Only time, commitment to the truth, and complete surrender to the divine will can keep you on the right path.
Is truth absolute? If it is, our human limitations probably keep us from fully comprehending it. Is the color blue still blue in the dark? Because color is dependent on light and the reflection and absorbtion of its waves to produce a color in the spectrum, perhaps it’s substance exists only in the realm of potential until light shines upon it. Truth, like color, depends on exposure to the light in the same way. The first challenge of a true prophet is to shed light into the darkest places in their lives. Sometimes the greatest truths lie hidden along side those things we try to bury in darkness. Before you begin this journey of exposure, let me comfort you by saying that things are far less frightening or threatening once you see them in the light.
Once light shines exposes your personal environment, you may be shocked. Life is not as clean and neat as one might expect. Initially, it may be a shock to see how one can live a midst such apparent filth. Life, however, is messy, as is growth. Embracing the fact that “shit happens” to everyone and it is a normal part of anyone’s journey is essentially the first step in understanding it’s importance in allowing the truth to take root and flourish in your life. Growth cannot occur in a sterile environment Dirt is essential, as well as fertilizer. The richest and most natural source? Manure. The simple decision to learn from the “shit” that is present in your life is what determines whether it will help you grow or turn you toxic. A prophet uses everything that happens to enrich their truth.
When you go through the often difficult process of uncovering and embracing a truth, you may have a tendency to tell everyone you know. In your zealous enthusiasm, you may want to strip illusion from the eyes of everyone you love, show them the error of their ways, and challenge them to change. But when you deprive them of the process, truth can be nothing but a bitter pill. Not everyone is ready to let go of illusion and face the truth. Many people may even be angry with you for judging how they live their lives…even though you both know it could stand improvement. The most effective prophet allows themselves to be transformed by truth, and then lives it. Talking about it is often too confusing. When others see the transformation in you and desire the same transformation, then it is time to talk…and yet whether or not they choose to follow the process is still up to them. A prophet is only as effective as the truth they live.
After the initial freedom of embracing a truth, there is often a period of time when you may look back with nostalgia at life shrouded in illusion. It may appear simpler and easier in many ways. This is absolutely normal. Elevating one’s reality brings change to every aspect of life. The brain is forced to work in a completely new and different way. The best way to handle this change is to free fall into it. The phrase, let go and let God is a necessity during this period…as well as remembering the prayer you recited at the beginning of this process. Don’t fight the changes that truth brings and the transition will be easier. You will also be better prepared to face what is to come.
Once you begin living in higher definition, it may become easy to judge others who live with less clarity as stupid or having little to offer you on your journey. WRONG! Everyone and everything that crosses your path is an essential element on your journey. A wise prophet understands that the big picture is comprised of smaller, seemingly insignificant pieces. Even the darkest of characters can provide an opportunity to share the light of truth. Embrace each person or event as the greatest gift. Gratitude builds hope. Hope illuminates what comes next.
This concludes first series…since I’m sure we’ll see black smoke this evening…stay tuned.
I don’t know if it is God’s great humor or the hubris of Jonah that resulted in my isolation in the belly of my own metaphorical whale, but sans the fish smell it was no less cramped, dark, and completely uncomfortable. When it comes to the non-prodigal son and Jonah, I can completely sympathize with their tendency to mope over a last-minute save. Today, they are my brethren. Granted, I may be speaking in the voice of that petulant child that roars her ugly head once in a while, but the feeling of putting my ninja on and wreaking havoc on all the vipers and hypocrites and evil doers even has my rational, old soul, adult self jumping on board. I am tired of bad people getting away with bad things and coming to Jesus to make it all right. I wish omniscience was one of my super powers so I would have the ability to distinguish between who has really learned the hard lessons and has changed their ways and the liars who just pretend to. Then I could spontaneously combust the wolves with my Darth Vader like stare. But alas, that would make me no better than they are, focused so outwardly on the sins of others that I can’t see my own. I did despair a bit at this awareness because Jesus has taught me to keep forgiving the bastards seventy times seventy….which is how I ended up inside my whale. My internal rantings began to the tune of “Walking the Line” and all the difficulties that come with that when there are so many who appear to reap benefits from not only walking far away from the line but taunt the rest of us who do…only to descend even deeper to conclude with a chorus of “nana nana booboo” while I visualized the evil doers being herded off a cliff somewhere. The echo of all that whining bouncing off the blubber of my internal whale became so deafening that I told my internal petulant child that enough was enough already. The descent into emotional and spiritual retardation, became an invitation to revisit why it is I choose to live by a higher moral imperative anyway. It isn’t because I believe that I get to go to heaven, or avoid a heavy karmic backlash. Truly, I believe it is because it makes the most sense to me. Choosing a path of love demands certain behaviors laid out for me in the New Testament. Jesus did prescribe a way to live in the world that will build the Kingdom of God and in order to get out of the belly of the whale I had to figure out that holding others accountable is God’s job and not mine. The phrase, “it’s not fair” is wiped from my lexicon. That is not to say that I won’t continue to fight for justice, rather, I will trust that Jesus’ great gift is very much alive and well even when it appears that the line isn’t even visible anymore. I have learned a great lesson these past days and have regain a greater peace.