16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2)
4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3)
What evil, God?
What evil, snake?
Eden was perfection, was it not? At least, that’s what I was taught. What evil was there to see if Eve took a bite? In a paradise, what darkness was present for the humans to even bear witness to? What did you know then that our theologians don’t know now?
For if Eden was such a pinnacle of perfection, and humanity it’s pure tip, then there would have been no evil to know, much less speak of. All Adam and Eve would have seen would have been more life. Evil was not known in this world, was it?
God, you separated the waters from the waters — tehom. The abyss. The chaos waters. The flood. What dwelled in those waters that you needed to create holy space away from them?
It’s a perplexing notion, snake, that you would tempt Eve with knowing good and evil when evil supposedly didn’t exist. You, snake, are not Lucifer — even if you pretend to be. Rather you’re only a crafty animal. Do you know the answer: what evil was there for the first humans to know if there was supposedly no evil present?
Ahhhh, there’s a speck on our tepid theology.
We’ve become so lukewarm, so numb, to the traditional tellings that we lack the ability to question such glaring wonderings. From what I see, all Adam and Eve would have been able to see in the garden, after imbibing forbidden fruit, was more life. If evil truly didn’t exist in Eden, it would have needed to exist outside of Eden — or outside of space and time — for them to have any knowledge of it.
If this is so, then Eden was not perfection. Eden was not God’s prescriptive ideal for humanity. Oh what a fall…we have idolized Eden, clinging to being “very good” as our return to innocence, when all along you, God, had a greater plan and a greater story.
How limited our vision and insight.
For the fruit to have been forbidden at all, evil needed to have already been present in the Garden.
And so it was.
But that’s not what we tell ourselves.
And we strive so hard to return to a place that never existed in the beginning.
It was a common refrain for me to hear growing up: “You look so much like your dad!”
And it’s true.
I have his eyes, his hair (all on my head, thank goodness; he can keep the beard), his bone structure and body type, and even his sinuses (ask both parents how many times they nursed me through horrible bouts of sinusitis growing up). If ever I claimed to be adopted, people would simply do a quick scan of dad and the jig was up. Without a doubt, I am my father’s daughter.
Did I mention I have his smile?
However, I didn’t inherit my dad’s teasing sense of humour. What I seemed to have developed all on my own was a dangerous seriousness towards life. Oh sure I could laugh at funny things (when I chose to), and there were certainly enough of those moments in our family growing up. However, I wasn’t naturally able to see the lightheartedness of things.
Dad is a natural tease. I’m not a natural tease-receiver. In taking everything so literally and so seriously, I was consistently melting down into tears because Dad didn’t seem to take my angst seriously. In trying to get me to laugh at what was going on, I felt he was making fun of me. Of course, from Dad’s perspective, he couldn’t understand why this child wasn’t able to shrug off life’s left curves and laugh at the darkness. He was trying to help me! And suddenly his eldest child was in a puddle wanting nothing more than to hide away in her room.
We even had a song for Dad when Mom was sensing the teasing was getting a little much for us kids. It was from Sharon, Lois, & Bram’s “Elephant Show” (sung by Eric Nagler as a guest performer), and it became a family mantra:
Daddy stop teasing, it’s not very pleasing It’s always confusing when you don’t know what’s true. I know that you love me, and that’s why you do it, but Daddy stop teasing whatever you do.
Mom always tells me that the major reason she fell in love with Dad in the beginning was because of his ability to make her laugh. Mom’s a serious person, too, but she was able to learn to laugh with Dad. He wasn’t making fun of her (most of the time 😉 ), and he definitely never berated her. He was simply able to inject good humour into any given situation, and through that was able to express love and affection. Healthy families need to laugh together if we’re going to survive whatever’s thrown at us, done to us, or given to us.
It is a beautiful and necessary gift, this thing of laughter.
It was just that I seemed not to have inherited that gift beyond the smile. It’s been something I’ve had to learn and hone over the years. I’m still a terribly serious person — even when learning to laugh. And there is a deep and meaningful place in the world for us serious and intense people (although I would like it if my intensity could dial it down now and again). But when I look into the mirror and smile, I not only see my Dad’s smile now but I can see his humour. It just took longer to grow into than the rest of me.
I even see my Dad coming through in how I relate to my young nephews. It’s hard NOT to tease them! And it is a learning journey to discover each nephew’s response to humour (especially teasing), and how much is okay or when I’ve crossed a line. I mean, what else do you do when a five year old boy marches down stairs with a goofy grin on his face and underwear on his head? (that five year old is now eight, and has the same goofy grin that I love so much; and I’m confident he’ll ditch the Captain Underpants look eventually…maybe…when he’s forty?)
Laugher isn’t my first go-to when difficult things come to pass. However, Dad’s life and laughter have shown me that it really is okay to do just that: laugh. I may need to laugh on my own, by myself, without anyone watching before I share that laughter with the world, but the spark is there where it wasn’t before. There is more of my Dad in me now than there was twenty years ago. That’s a legacy and a gift.
Now when people tell me that I look like my Dad, I can smile and say “Yup! I sure do!”
A few weeks ago, the church I’ve been attending here in Edmonton co-hosted a church picnic. Being a student, I couldn’t afford much in the way of food but I did have a vehicle I could bring to assist transporting people to the picnic grounds.
Wouldn’t you know it: there was a new woman there that morning who wanted a ride.
Here name was Jan* and she was from one of the southern states. Jan was camping across Canada for our “Canada 150” celebrations. Since the national parks are offering free admission to everyone, she thought it would be a great idea to take the time to explore our nation.
It also meant that I got to know things about Jan I wish I hadn’t.
Years ago, when I was in a particularly dark night with God — around the church, around humanitarian issues, around deep questions of identity, life, and purpose — there walked in a pastor who opened a door of light. He and his wife held what seemed like endless space for me as I processed black vitriol being vomited up again and again and again. There was gentleness, kindness, patience, and love.
There was generous space.
Never once did I sense that Calvin had his back against the wall. I could spew out anger, hurt, pain, rejection, and question after questions after question after question. If I ever did offend him, he never seemed to show it. Lori mainly showed me how to laugh at myself a little bit more — something that hasn’t come easily for me.
Since that time, I have aimed to become a pastor that emulates such people. I want to be a person that holds generous space for all kids of people, even if we disagree. I want the space to be so safe and so true, that even the most disagreeable person will be able to be fully themselves no matter what. Truth and love in a mystical dance together.
However, this is probably where I made a major erroneous assumption with Jane.
As Jane talked about feeling called to seminary but feeling too old to begin anew, about God’s purpose for her life, or about how she, as a Jewish person raised in a largely Lutheran community, experienced anti-Semitism from a young age, I assumed she needed generous space. I assumed she needed no judgements from me. I assumed she needed some care.
I assumed wrong.
As the surface discussions around seminary eroded away, she began making statements about how hurt she was that we, as Canadians, hated Americans.
We hate Americans?
I began to feel the world become a little fuzzy.
She started making claims that the hatred from Canada was felt by “her people”, and she couldn’t understand why. She didn’t understand why Canada would possibly be upset at being made the “buffer nation” during the Cold War (a war between America and Russia with Canada caught in the middle). And she didn’t understand why we would accept cowards from the Vietnam draft, or be upset at being called socialists or communists.
I suddenly didn’t understand why she was camping across our country.
As the talk progressed — or digressed — she began poking at the stance on biblicism at my seminary. She asked: “Do you folks preach and teach the Word of God?”
I hung my head. I knew where this was going.
Her jaw dropped when I referenced God in the feminine, and demanded I show her where in the Bible God was ever a woman. I wasn’t spoiling for a fight. However I wanted to guide the conversation towards usefulness, so I suggested she start with re-reading Proverbs and to dig into the image of Lady Wisdom a bit. This gave Jan a genuine pause for thought, but whether it was thought over what I had said or thought towards how to keep sapping at me, I can’t say. For the conversation then turned back to how Canadians hate Americans.
I tried explaining how Canada is engaging in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the first peoples of Turtle Island. We are far from being reconciled, but interracial dialogue and the dismantling of white privilege were important life choices for me and —
(Jan interrupted) — “Hey girl, I’m a Jew. I know far more about oppression than you ever will. Don’t talk to me about white privilege.”
Jan went to talk about how her parents had sent her to a Lutheran school because it had the better education system. Being the only Jew (or so she claimed at the time), she said that she was told repeatedly that if the Holocaust were to ever happen again, Lutherans would hold to Luther’s teachings and make sure the Jews were eliminated.
Powerful. (true or not)
At the time, while I was way past the point of comfort, I still didn’t really have a good reason to blow her off. I heard deep spiritual pain and trauma from her, and whether I liked her other views or not, I perceived she needed what I had years ago: ears willing to hear all that darkness fuelling Jan’s life. So I stayed put. The two of us carried on.
I mentioned that I hadn’t been a Lutheran for very long, but I was given to understand that the majority of Lutherans denounce anti-Semitism to the core. Many groups are involved in reconciling with POC and LGBTQ+ groups, and especially in Canada our indigenous brothers and sisters.
“You know what, sister? You’ve been fed propaganda and you’ve fallen for it. Those blacks and Indians? They’re doing all of that violence to themselves and each other. And no one talks about what they’re doing to us. They’re LYING TO YOU.” [emphasis added to highlight Jan’s sudden increase in vocal tone]
The blacks and the Indians…what?
My friends, both north and south of the border, are…what?
“Those Mexicans you have a bleeding heart for? They’re lying to you, honey. They’ll tell you anything to sap off your country and then disappear into your nation, taking all of your resources. Our immigration guards? They don’t shoot people like they tell you! They bring people in, try and understand their situation, and then get a horrible rap in the media.”
My Lantinx friends are…lying to me?
“We’ve tried making peace with black people, but look at it all. They’re doing it. They’re making it happen. The Indians just keep attacking each other like they’ve done since before we white folks came. Sure we did damage, but it was the same old damage the Indians did to each other. Ain’t our fault.”
Hold up now!
I interjected. I reasoned. I was firm. I refused to get mean, but it seemed like this woman was spoiling for a fight!
And it didn’t stop. She talked about teaching English as a Second Language in Vietnam (but only as a front so she could sneak in Bibles and teach Christianity). I challenged her on it because she didn’t understand why the local people were upset with her, or why she had no power to change the poverty she saw.
I finally found my words, which were woefully lacking in the shock I was experiencing, and challenged her:
“Maybe it’s because you’re an American trying to convert people in a country you bombed the hell out of four decades ago.”
“I didn’t have anything to do with the war.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re still colonizing. You’re still the oppressor. You’re still trying to tell a people your country demolished that their way of life and their beliefs are WRONG and that you are RIGHT.”
“What’s that got to do with it? I’m only speaking the words of Jesus Christ. Everyone needs them. I never bombed anyone. I never hurt anyone. If fact, I’M the one who got hurt as a kid!”
She claimed that she hated Donald Trump.
She continuously repeated “I’m all for ‘love thy neighbour’.
She expressed desire to be open to the ways of Jesus.
Yes, she reflected a conservatism that I was intimately familiar with and have long ago left.
Yes, she made some confusing statements about Canadians and Americans.
Yes, she was a Seinfeld “Close Talker” extrovert that was draining a lot of my energy.
…a full on bigot?
Even after ‘love thy neighbour’?
There it was.
Bright as the sun…
…the sun! Oh shit.
In one burning moment of pain, Jan pointed out after three hours of “generous space” I was turning a little bit red. I looked at my legs and arms: I was turning a lot red. In my eager desire to be a safe person, to listen without judgement, and to hold space, I had neglected to re-apply sunscreen and had given space for hate.
As Jan pointed towards my inflamed skin, a Godsend of a woman came by offering popsicles to people. As deep and intense as my conversation was with Jan, all it took to veer Jan off topic was the offer of a cherry popsicle. I was able to reorient myself and be truthful about another engagement I needed to attend to.
Thus I gave her a ride back to the church. It was only then that I discovered that she had a car all along. Why she needed a ride in the first place, I can’t say. I drove away in searing pain, both in body and spirit.
I wanted to express love to this woman and to hold space.
Well I certainly held space. But I totally misread her needs.
Jan was spoiling for a fight. She wanted me to engage in conflict. And while I didn’t realize her need in the moment, I had already decided going in that I wouldn’t be baited by her stuff. I was going to hold space.
And I burned in hell for it.
After debriefing with the pastors at Trinity, I realized my error: it’s a good thing to want to create space for everyone — even with people we don’t agree with. During a time of polarized rhetoric and public outrage (both of which I’ve been guilty of from time to time), safe and generous space is desperately needed.
However, I do need to learn some better boundaries in terms of shutting conversations down when they need to be. Jan needed to be shut down. I gave her all of my time, stood my ground, but I did not fight. Still, her word were lies and certainly racist and disgusting. She needed to be asked to leave the picnic about forty minutes into the conversation. The pastors did thank me for keeping her attention, though, and away from the children. Bigot or not, her processing did not sound…sound.
I’ll likely never hear from Jan again, which is 100% okay by me. And I highly doubt now that she really was interested in the seminary, which is also 100% okay by me because with those views she wouldn’t make it past the recruitment process.
However, I have learned to always reapply protection. Know the need going in before engaging, and assess accurately as I go along. As sacred as holding space is during a time of hatred, my friends of colour deserve a louder and quicker voice on the uptake when a loudmouth gains my full and personal attention.
If I keep playing gentle and nice all of the time, I get burned.
“And this is the strangest of all paradoxes of the human adventure; we live inside all experience, but we are permitted to bear witness only to the outside. Such is the riddle of life and the story of the passing of our days.” -Howard Thurman
The Spirit’s movement that nudges me into the quietest spaces of myself also nudges me to bend in time with that movement. If I do not act on the transformations of Spirit, then my contemplations is useless. If not useless to me, they are certainly useless to my community around me.
I enter in silence into those solitary places not to shut the world out, but rather to come to a realization of how to put feet under my faith. Too often I fall back on the fear that my journey is becoming too “works-based”, or that my gospel is becoming a “social justice” gospel. But there’s the rub: I fall back on fear. Any fear is to noted, observed, but ultimately denied.
I fear that my faith is so works-based that I fail to do anything at all. I pray, I study, I theologize, but I fail to act when my neighbours plead their desperate cause. If I do act, it is to pray over or for rather than with these people (had they even asked for prayer?). I speak flowery words that rise to heaven when my community fights hell on earth.
Richard Rohr deliberately named his retreat — The Center for Action and Contemplation — as he did because action is a needed and natural rhythm of life. Our world needs people who will choose to live life on the inside, even while being able to bear witness only on the outside. We cannot afford to wile away our precious days contemplating the mysteries of the universe when the universe is screaming “Get UP!”
I often witness this anemic faith in our Self-Help Culture. We race after whatever makes us happy, whatever pacifies us, whatever keeps us as the centre of our own little worlds, and express fear guised as disdain for others who have already gotten up. Bookstore shelves are bleeding self-help books, all designed to make us feel good for a moment; but rarely are they deep enough to expose us to the realities of the world, whether we knew of these realities beforehand or not.
If contemplation without action renders faith anemic, action without contemplation renders faith thoughtless and insincere. Perhaps that sounds harsh, but how often have we marched into the lives of our neighbours and communities with all the good intentions in the world only to discover that we’re really only paving the way to somewhere else far worse?
Action without the movement and transformation of the Spirit can lack wisdom, insight, empathy, and understanding. I see it in the well-intentioned actions of white people, such as myself, who experience racial privilege on a daily basis. We know what will help (do we?) and rush to save the lost. I sense the good intentions of non-affirming people when they tell me that life can be so much better if I was straight.
It was Trinity Sunday this past Sunday — celebrating the mystery that Christians call God the Father/Creator, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I could speak of balance or substance or authority. But I prefer to speak of the Trinity as it was explained to the small children at church: it is a dance. God in a mysterious dance, moving and bending and being. All God. All Three.
And God Created.
And God Lived.
And God Dwells.
Movement. Action. Relationship.
All such incomprehensible notions that hurts my insides to dig into. And yet, even as they draw me into connection with God, they move me outwards. I begin to see with the eyes of the person next to me, imperfect though my vision remains.
Is there room in our world for mysticism and contemplation?
There is internal bleeding the size of the world’s oceans, all of need for me to enter in to those dangerous holy spaces and discover Who waits for me there, and who I will continue to become because of this sacred relationship. There is space. There is room.
As long as I emerge from contemplation and carry it with me to action. For others, they will act first and discover contemplative spaces along the way that they must enter before they can continue to act.
In choosing to do so, we connect with reconciliation, restoration, salvation and transformation.
“By reading the scriptures I am so renewed that all nature seems renewed around me and with me. The sky seems to be a pure, a cooler blue, the trees a deeper green. The whole world is charged with the glory of God and I feel fire and music under my feet.” -Thomas Merton
“What happened once I started distributing communion was the truly disturbing, dreadful realization about Christianity: You can’t be a Christian by yourself.” -Sara Miles, Take This Bread
The world was filled with colour yesterday. Not just a rainbow of flags, banners, feather boas, beads, and tattoos, but of a swirling palette of people all spilling into one another and back again. Nature and nurture both sang together and screamed against each other from the same mouths and hearts. In a contrived space — contrived space meaning here planned and intentional space not usually entered into on a daily basis — people exposed their truest selves and the heavens resounded along.
While for a few brief moments during the frenzy it was startling to realize that I indeed was one of Your beautiful creations, I needed time away from the world to process Your creations’ voices. For there were many. Trying to respond to so many voices and so many colours all at once must take at least a good six days of creating, must it not?
You would know.
Did You know how brilliant the Light would be when You first spoke it? Did you need an entire age to sit in awe of Your work before finally collecting Yourself to create again? Certainly our childhood stories would have us learn that You needed no rest until the end, but I wonder. I really do wonder.
I stood in a liminal space shared by dangerous people — people who would condemn us to a hell of their own making in Your name, and people who would defend us all in Your name, and people who would do away with faith altogether most certainly without Your name. I stood in this strange quasi-sanctuary, hearing all of the voices shouting around me and began search to for You: where were You? In all of the humanness, where were You?
The terror happened when I stepped quietly away into creation, finally securing a measure of solitude, and realized that You were everywhere and in everyone. The truth should have brought me a measure of peace, but peace was the furthest thing from my core.
I could see You in the LGBTQ+ Christians and Christian allies who were living out the character and life of Jesus; I could see You in LGBTQ+ people of faith different from my own; I could see you in LGBTQ+ atheists and secular humanists who, while perhaps disagreeing with Your existence, embrace LGBTQ+ people of faith heartily; and I could even see you in LGBTQ+ who sneer at faith and wish enmity upon those of us who choose to live in communion with You.
I was shocked to see You in and with people calling themselves Christ followers, but were decrying our right to live, to exist, to believe, to pray, to worship, to commune, or to be. The greater shock was my own realization that I did not want You to be there among them. No, not those people. Those people were blind and hurtful. They use You to scare us into heaven and away from hell, and coerce us that we are abominations or aberrations or mental health cases or simply unrepentant sinners. They use You to hurt, terrify, anger, subdue, shame, and lie to those of us who do not fit a narrow and restrictive definition of one form of a lens of one historical interpretation of Scripture.
And You were still there. Still present. Still quiet. Still a force of Love so great that I was ashamed for the thoughts I was having.
Advocacy and education must continue, there is no question. I do not believe You’re asking me to stop standing up against oppression and violence, especially against harmful teachings done in Your name. However You are continually asking me to see the You in the them — always. If You are ever-present, then hope is also ever-present for every person. As it was for me, so it is for even the loudest, most foul, most angry and hurtful person bearing a megaphone.
So it is for those people who decry such hatred in theory and approach, but still believe that I must repent. These people do not use anger or loudness to address me; but rather shades of kindness and love that they truly believe are kind and loving.
I was that person.
We are a far more dangerous kind of people when truly believing that we are loving while condemning others. Blatant anger and hatred is easy to spot, as You well know after facing the fickle crowds of Palestine and religious leaders of Your human day. But friends and family who continually mean well in their doctrines, scientific studies, and truncated family values — people who believe they are showing the most passionate forms of love and inclusion — are harder to spot because we are so tightly woven into community together.
You had your Judas. And You had Your Peter.
I do not condone these theologies anymore, having hidden within them in order to survive. But I once believed that the more loving thing I could do for another person was to gently point out their sin so they could come to saving faith in You, learn to love You as You love them, and go on to live a powerful life of testimony. For some reason, being an LGBTQ+ person was somehow a permanent form of sin that needed more work to eradicate.
I do not condone these teachings anymore, but I understand them. Perhaps this insight gives me a wider bridge from which to cross when relating back to those who hurt us the most. It easy to walk away from Westboro Baptist Church — even conservative Christians do that! But it is not so easy when the person offering condemning or exclusion arrives in the form of a loving grandmother or a best friend or a sincere pastor who loves You like no one else.
Could I not be a Christian by myself? Remain the colours of nature? Commune alone with You?
I’m treading the earth a little more gently tonight. Seeing You in every person and every group has given me reason to slow my steps and walk lightly on the world. This is not to silence my presence (or even my anger or hurt sometimes), but rather to give me time to see You in the most unlikely people. Dare I confess unwanted people?
One day we will all parade together. Even then, we will all not agree on You or who You are or how You move amongst all of us. But I hope as You hope: that we will be one just as You are one, recognizing the very goodness of everyone’s humanity and life.
For a single person who prefers cooler, quieter places over hot, noisy places, it served it’s purpose well. I was able to shut the world out when I needed to, and no one else I knew could beat my free all-natural air conditioning in the summer. People who vacation to Mexico or Palm Springs baffle me. The heat is intolerable! So a space that remained cool, even in the hottest Albertan summer, was a God-send.
But this place had the old small basement windows. They were big enough for me to wriggle through in case of fire, but no larger. There was one window in my bedroom, and two in the dining/kitchen area. There were none in the living area — it was all one long white wall.
Having struggled with insomnia since I was 19, I know to spend as little time in the bedroom as possible unless it is specifically for sleep. Even then, that east-facing window was heavily draped so the morning sun wouldn’t wake me too soon. It was an easy task during the winter months; not so easy during our northerly summers. But since I spent few daytime waking hours in there, it mattered little.
The two important windows faced west/southwest. However, they were so small that they faced up against the neighbour’s fence. For short periods out of the day — natural light would slant in towards the furnace room. I might have caught a piece of it now and then if I was cooking at the right time, or switching my laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. But by and large, I experienced no daily natural sunlight until I left the house.
I even had to crane my neck upwards to see what kind of snow was falling during the winter.
For an introvert, this might sound heavenly to you. Indeed, even as I describe it, the misanthrope in me misses it. But with isolation from the sun came isolation from the world. I didn’t know just how isolated or unhealthy I had become until I moved in the sunniest room in the house here in Edmonton.
Early morning wake-up calls from the sunrise were frustrating in the beginning. I am the world’s most terrible mystic in that I have no desire to rise and contemplatively greet the rising sun. A few choice words may have escaped my mouth during that first week.
Hot temperatures also nearly did me in. I’m an autumn-lover, so frosty nights and cool days are my element. A bright old room with enough windows sucking heat in enough to bake a cake is one way to roast me slowly in my own juices. A quick trip to Wal-Mart to find a small A/C unit fixed that. My commitment to minimalism was put to the test but I had to weight this one out between living minimally or losing my mind.
I chose to keep my mind.
A/C unit in place and my system slowly adapting to bits of sunlight here and there, I began to settle in. I also began to notice something else: I could see.
Down in the basement suite, as much as I loved some of the long times alone, I paced a lot. I fretted, I binge-watched Netflix (but not in a good way), and I worried about how being cooped up like I was would affect my night’s sleep. I couldn’t afford to move anywhere else — the rents were too high! I hadn’t found another job that might offer to pay more so I could move to a place with light. And around and around I went…
What a difference day makes. Not A day. DAY.
A day with light filtering in through the windows; a day when I can look down upon the trees and yard outside; a day I can look out upon the rooftops around me; a day I can notice the people walking past, and cars driving by; a day I watch the rain and the wind in the trees; a day I can sit and feel the sun on my face.
If I’m stuck in my room all day tapping away on homework, I don’t feel anxious about whether I’ll sleep or not. I simply move away from the desk to the window seat and look out on the world. Who knew the world had this much to offer from one window? Even my skin feels more alive.
I learned to live and love my 11 years in my basement suite.
But I needed to come out — to come up — into the light and let it enter me.
It doesn’t rush me to heal or grow; it doesn’t push me to see everything differently all at once. All it does is soak into me — into those dark dry cracks — and begins enliven this wary soul and illumine these blind eyes. Everything seems so new and original. It’s as if I’ve never watched a backyard tree before.
That’s a long time to be out of the world in the way that I was. Perhaps it was more like straddling the worlds of real and imagined, alive and dead, light and dark.
On a late spring day like today you have probably imagined a thousand new wonders already (before breakfast even), invented new trampoline moves, created many-a-raucous noise, and designed more intricate Star Wars origami. It’s not a day for sitting too still for too long. There are worlds to explore and lives to experience.
“Let him regard all the utensils of the monastery and its whole property as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar.” — Rule of St.Benedict
“The Lord walks among the pots and pans.” -St. Teresa of Avila
Benedictine spirituality, among many others, looks to move past our divisions between the sacred and the secular, or the sacred and the profane. So often we place our holy rituals and bible readings in one divine category, and the rest of our lives in another mundane category. Ancient mystics such as Benedict and Teresa saw no division between the two.
In fact, the division we created was, in part, the reason for people being unable to truly experience God. How can we? If only a tiny portion of our daily lives is considered ‘holy’, does God really care about your new imaginings or trampoline moves? Is God present?
What a wondrous and absurd thought to think that God could possibly see trampoline moves as sacred. Tumbling and moving and inventing and bouncing and laughing — how can these be sacred? And yet they are. Your ability to move physically and enjoy emotionally and connect relationally are all profound and sacred mysteries that connect us to God in each playful moment. Curious, is it not?
Yet even as I come to understand the sacred nature of all life and all moments, I would make a change to the ancient rule of Benedict. One small change that, like the rudder of a ship, can change the course of our faith’s direction.
Scratch out the word altar.
Insert the word table.
You might not see the big issue now, my boys, but trust me that the ramifications are enormous. You see, ancient peoples — from the time before Christ even until now — made sacrifices on altars. These were holy places of penitence and gratitude and petition where life was given in hope of forgiveness, communion, and blessing. Sacrifices could have been made of animals, vegetables, fruits, or even people — any precious thing a person was truly attached to or relied upon for daily life.
It would be easy to give the lint in your pockets as a sacrifice. You wouldn’t miss it all. I daresay that you don’t even know it’s there right now! But if you were asked to give up your brother or your grandma, you would be thinking long and hard about why you had to give it up and what good it would do for you and your family.
And you would be thinking about how badly you would feel by sacrificing your family, even as you understood in this line of belief that it was for your betterment. Quite the quandary, isn’t it?
So why do churches still call our communion tables altars? Atonement theory aside, Jesus was seen as the Last Sacrifice. No more is needed on a divine level. On a daily level, we are called to sacrifice time, energy, skills and resources on behalf of others, in worship of God, or in becoming more fully ourselves. Trust me, it is no small task.
But we no longer are required to slaughter crop and beast and person to somehow appease the divine. And by insisting on using the word altar, we continue in this bound belief that our communion elements are somehow a sacrifice. Not only that, but we continue to create that long divide between the sacred and the profane.
My boys, we now gather around a Table. It is a Table meant for everyone to come and be re-membered: re-membered by God, re-membered by one another, re-membered within ourselves. It is a Table so vast and so big that the entire world is able to fit around it. And yet, sadly, we still find ways to keep people from it. We elbow one another, fighting for space and for voice, and we even shove others away whom we believe are unworthy of sharing in what is the most Simple Meal in the history of humanity.
In its beauty, we encounter God in ways we haven’t been able to before; we see ourselves in ways previously hidden from us; and we see other people through their eyes. These are gifts beyond what any toy or bookstore can offer. And these gifts transcend moments at the Table.
We carry them on.
When we bounce on the trampoline or clean our rooms or set the table for supper, we are praising God, we are spending sacred time with God, and we are welcoming the stranger. All you do in this life is sacred. The Table is our central focus to remind us of this powerful truth. Yet if we continually return to the altar, we will remain in a cycle of needing to make one small space sacred while declaring the rest of the world unholy.
This is God’s world!
We are co-creators and co-partners in its stewardship. We are created to treat all things and all people as sacred. And yet the irony is that this sacredness is as mundane as counting earth worms on a rainy day or making dandelion bouquets for your mother. These simple tasks that fill our hours reflect our Simple Meal.
“My body…for you.”
“My blood…for you.”
“In re-membrance of Me.”
Never stop setting The Table, my boys. Breakfast, lunch, and supper, choose to see God in the setting of cutlery and plates, cups and napkins. In these daily chores and choices, you are being re-membered into Christ, into God. It is no small task! Many days feel boring, especially when doing the dishes or sweeping the floor take up trampoline time. Remind yourselves that God is creating those chore-filled moments to be as sacred as your play.
So when, once again, you gather around The Table, you can not only encounter the holy but you can see all that was once judged as profane is, and has always been, expressions of God and God’s love.
Enjoy today, my boys. The sun, the bugs, the earth, the play, the chores, and the resting.