Scripture: John 15:1-8
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever watched the sky as a storm rolls in or out? Simply watched it and seen the layered affect of the clouds coming or going, where some clouds are higher and some are lower; some seem to be still while others move quickly. In the midst of this heavenly movement, the occasional sunbeam breaks through – a golden shaft of light that seems to pierce the shadows and clouds, illuminating if only for a moment, a hillside or tree top, a section of river or misty waterfall. There, caught in the midst of the sun and moisture, perhaps cast against the background of grey, the brilliant rainbow of color appears, and it is breathtaking.
The Gospel of John is a many-layered text, but as commentators and scholars have mentioned over the years, it is markedly different than the three synoptic gospels. Some have noted this and attributed the differences to a more spiritual or mystical approach to the meaning and import of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Now that classes are over, I’ve returned to a book by John Shelby Spong that I had started last summer thinking I’d get ready for this year’s lectionary cycle showcasing the Gospels of Mark and John.
Spong tips his hat to all those whom have gone before, calling John’s Gospel a “spiritual gospel” or a “mystical understanding.”
What I’d like to explore is the idea that, just as the Gospel of John is many-layered, from stories of a Jewish Mystic, as the title of Spong’s book reads, so also our own life in the spirit is many layered. We are many-layered, but if we were to take away the layers, one by one, what would we discover at the heart? In the gospel of John, it can be argued that at the heart of this very Jewish book lies a community of excommunicated Hebrews who were following the way of Jesus, experiencing Jesus and all he taught in such a markedly different way that they threatened the accepted ways of perceiving their very Jewishness as governed by the Temple, the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, everything that had become institutionalized about Jewish existence by the first century CE.
I would lift up for consideration that we are on the cusp of a similar crossing now in the life of the Christian church, which was a direct outgrowth of that Jewish movement so many years before which ultimately resulted in two world faiths based in the same Hebrew ancestry. I wonder what the ramifications will be for that going forward into a bold new world. A world being remade by the Millennial generation in the ongoing cycle of human communal evolution…an evolution of societies, cultures, and yes, even the church.
If we took the layers of our own lives down, layer by layer, what do we find at our own hearts? Do we see ourselves as fundamentally made in the image of God? God: Identified by the Gospel of John as both Spirit and Love? God: whom Jesus embodied so well in human form that entire theologies describing him as the Son of God and the Son of Man have held sway for over a millennium.
If we are indeed going to see ourselves – and our neighbors – as communally made in the image of God, that that leaves us with living out the definition of what it means to be both Spiritual and Loving. For in us, as in our spiritual ancestors within the ancient mystical stream of the Jewish mind, real life and spirit were inextricably intertwined in one inseparable strand of being.
What does that look like to you, to be both Spiritual and Loving?
What do you think about this statement: “The future of mature Christianity will be practice-based more than merely belief-based, which gives us nothing to argue about until we try it for ourselves.”
Reflective practice: Think of one controversial issue that you are “suffering” with and acknowledge two or more possible outcomes or realities. Try not to take sides, but hold the pain of contradictions and seeming impossibilities.
Notice where this tension appears in your body. Observe it with tenderness and send warmth and love to that place. Ask God to hold you since you cannot hold yourself.
As with contemplative prayer or meditation, whenever you get caught in thinking through the pros and cons or are drawn to choose a particular side, simply return to holding the tension. Rest in God’s presence, which holds you and this paradox. Emerging from this spaciousness, listen for the Holy Spirit. It might just be wisdom you receive, instead of only knowledge.
References: From Richard Rohr’s daily meditations provided by the Center for Action and Contemplation and adapted from Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016), 199; and Richard Rohr, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2009), 120-121.
Household Prayer: Morning
God, you have asked us to love one another. As we go about our day, please help us view those we encounter through eyes of love. Help us to ask, in all our interactions, “What is most loving?” “How can I show love the most in this moment?” Thank you that you hear our prayers, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Household Prayer: Evening
Divine Embrace: You have been with us through this entire day. Have we reflected your love? Have we interacted with other in love? As we sleep tonight, keep watch over us and usher us into a place of rest, where we are pillowed by your love; in Jesus’ name, Amen.