Parakletos

hs
“Holy Spirit” by Colleen Shay.  https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/colleen-shay  

“Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

When I think of the word ‘mourn’, I think of people who look vaguely sad, who perhaps stare out the window in silence. For me, the word just doesn’t fully describe the full gamut of grief – the wailing, carrying on, shouting in anger, moaning with guilt and regret – all the extreme emotions that come with loss.

Jesus says that those who are in danger of being carried away in their anguish and despair are divinely blessed, because comfort, ‘parakletos’, will come. Jesus also used the word ‘paraklete’ to describe who would be sent to comfort us after he left the earth. The early church believed this was the Holy Spirit.

Parakletos means ‘to walk alongside and to call’. In the old Testament, it was used to describe angels, prophets, and others who advocated before God on behalf of the people of God.

What I hear Jesus saying is that when we are ravaged by grief, we will be blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit. We will be enveloped, loved, comforted, and completely enfolded in divine Presence.

That does sound like a blessing.

Rule the Universe

u

I am still working on Matthew 5:3. I’ve worked through “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, but what about “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? Again, Strong’s Concordance is my friend.

The phrase that is translated “kingdom of heaven” is “basileia ton auranon.” “Basileia” is the canopy of the sky and everything in it, i.e., the universe. “Auranon” doesn’t appear to mean literal land (a kingdom), but it means the power and authority to rule. So a literal translation might be “the authority to rule over the universe.”

“Filled with divine favor are you when you are spiritually impoverished, for then you have the authority to rule over the universe.”

This seems so Buddhist to me. It encapsulates the Four Noble Truths. 1) Life includes suffering. 2) The cause of suffering is clinging to our mistaken understandings, including that we are individuals. 3) Suffering ends when we empty ourselves of our mistaken beliefs. 4) We can achieve enlightenment by prayer (meditation), living authentically and ethically, and by developing wisdom.

Isn’t that what Jesus is saying?

1) Life is suffering = Feeling beaten down, abandoned, isolated;
2) We have a mistaken understanding = acknowledge our spiritual destitution;
3) Suffering ends = be made large with divine blessing;
4) Achieve enlightenment = With understanding, we become an partner in the entire universe.

And I remember that “blessed” is plural – this is a group activity. That brings to mind the response in Nineveh to Jonah’s (belated) proclamation of impending doom. “The people” believed Jonah, and immediately repented – everyone from the sheep in the field to the king in his palace fasted, wore clothes of mourning, and prayed. (Hey, I’m just repeating what the Bible says – don’t ask me how sheep pray. I suspect they do it far better than I.)

We, too, need to repent, to turn toward God and empty ourselves of false personas,  as well as our ideas about what constitutes righteousness. We need to be open to the infilling of Spirit. Big breath, because that means I need not fear emptiness – rather, I should be happy to be an open vessel, and trust that Spirit will make me large with love, peace, and joy.

“You will be filled with the Holy Spirit, enlarged with divine favor, when you (as a people) empty yourself of false notions of spirituality and worldly striving, and then you will all live in a universe of love, peace, and joy.”

Maybe tomorrow I can move on to the next verse?

Destitute

d

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Or in the CEB, “Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Matthew 5:3

What the actual what is this about? Happy and hopeless are not synonyms…

As usual, Spirit is way ahead of me. You see, I’m reading Henri Nouwen’s Show Me The Way, which is a Lenten devotional. In today’s reading, Nouwen says that the way of Jesus is the descending way. Jesus chose a life devoid of home, wealth, strength. He lowered himself to the place of the beggar. Nouwen says,

“God has descended to us human beings to become a human being with us; and once among us, descended to the total dereliction of one condemned to death.”    (pg. 17)

He goes on to say that the descending way of Jesus is also how we can find God, that we can only find God’s presence when we become deeply aware of God’s absence. This reminds me of St. John of the Cross and the dark night of the soul. St. John says that to feel God’s presence, we must come to the place where “both sense and spirit are stripped of all perceptions and flavors. The soul is made to walk in darkness…” (Starr, Mirabai; Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross, (c) 2002, pg. 94, for any who are interested.)

I read Nouwen and St. John before beginning today’s SOTM study, and when I opened my Bible, I realized I was being Spirit led, pretty much by the nose.

The word translated as ‘poor’ in the KJV is ‘ptochos’, which means to crouch and cower, as a beggar bent with their hand out. It means to be completely without wealth, influence, power or position. It doesn’t mean to be merely poor – it means to be completely destitute.

The word ‘spirit’ is ‘pneuma’, which means breath, wind, and Spirit. So the phrase ‘poor in spirit’ really means those who are absolutely spiritually destitute and have no connection with God. They are spiritually breathless. Dead.

Well, that’s harsh, isn’t it?

Perhaps not. I think Jesus is talking about the dark night of the soul. About not being able to sense God – about feeling spiritually cut off, which makes us hungry for the presence of God. It’s only when we are so desperate for divine presence that we are willing to let the light shine in the darkest of places, so that connection and healing may happen.

(As an aside: I love the paradox. “Full of the divine are those who are completely bereft of the divine.” Jesus was a master wordsmith, his sayings full of nuance and stacked meaning. “Spiritually large are you when you are spiritually empty!” His koans would make a Zen master proud.)

When we are aware that we are devoid of God’s presence, then – and only then – can God make God’s voice known. If we are filled to the brim with our own sense of righteousness, if we assume that our decisions and actions are God driven, we have closed our ears, and cannot hear God. But those who are bent in two with the knowledge of their own spiritual destitution may hear God, and thus enter into communion with the divine.

It’s not enough to be individually aware of our spiritual poverty. Are we aware as a church? As a community? As a nation? Do we know and acknowledge that we are spiritual beggars, bereft of the voice of God? Nouwen says,

“God’s way can only be grasped in prayer. The more you listen to God speaking within you, the sooner you will hear that voice inviting you to follow the way of Jesus.”

We can’t listen if our ears are stopped with the words of false prophets – including our own. If we – individuals, churches, communities, nations – are puffed up with our own righteousness, we are deaf. Destitute. Dead.

It’s only when we stop the self-righteous chatter and hear the resounding silence of the absence of God, when we acknowledge our dire poverty, that we can begin to hear God.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit…

“Blessed”

b
Art by: Joseph Matar, https://lebanonart.com

I am a follower of the dusty-footed one. I find his words inspiring and confusing. I want to place him in a particular context: love, joy, peace – all the ‘good’ things, but he refuses to remain in the construct of my choosing – the construct of a progressive perspective, if you will. He certainly doesn’t fit in the box created by fundamentalists. Who, then, is this one to whom I have pledged my devotion and my life? The cognitive dissonance is mounting. Have I chosen the wrong divine?

For Lent, I have decided to study the Sermon on the Mount in order to ponder the question, “Who is this Jesus that I follow, and to where am I being led?” The SOTM is the largest collection of words attributed to him, and I hope that an in-depth study will provide me better understanding, as well as guidance. I begin by opening to the fifth chapter of Matthew, where the sermon commences.

Jesus starts with the Beatitudes, the ‘blessed are’ verses. My first thought: What is the greek word that is translated as ‘blessed’? Does ‘blessed’ convey the full meaning of the word? Why does the CEB translate it as ‘happy’?

And I’m off, digging into the Greek New Testament, third edition, published by United Bible Studies, (c) 1975. My primary Bible translations are the Common English Bible, (c) 2011 and the King James Version, because the former is one of the latest translations, and KJV, because it’s the best known. I also consult Strong’s concordance, and the internet (because of course I do.)

The word ‘blessed’ in the Greek New Testament is ‘makarioi’, from ‘makarios’. Makarios is an expanded form of the poetic word ‘makar’, which means divinely blessed, and therefore fortunate, affluent, and happy. The root of the word, ‘mak’, means to become large or long.

So, when Jesus tells the masses they are blessed, he means that divine favor rests upon them, that they are large with divine blessing. He specifically states that those who feel hopeless, those who grieve, those who are humiliated – all these are recipients of divine favor. So, too, are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness and fairness; those who show mercy; those who are authentic; those who make peace; and all those who are harassed for being merciful, authentic and peacemakers – all these also have divine favor.

The suffix ‘oi’ makes the word plural. It occurs to me that perhaps he isn’t necessarily speaking to the audience primarily as individuals, but as a group. As a group, he says that when they do these things and are these things, they are divinely blessed. In America, we’re very focused on the individual. But what if Jesus is calling us, as a people, to stand for mercy, authenticity, and peace? What if he means that as a group, we are divinely touched when we acknowledge that we cannot fix our broken world; when we are heartbroken about the many injustices that we are powerless to prevent or fix; and when we choose peaceful action over personal gain and/or retribution?

Perhaps it’s not about me as an individual, but me as part of a group. Perhaps its saying that the groups of which I am part MATTER. The group of the church to which I belong, of the community in which I live, of the state of my residence, of the country of my citizenship. The actions of the group MATTER. Furthermore, my happiness depends upon each group choosing fairness, mercy, authenticity, and peace for all, not just for ourselves.

It occurs to me that I need to look at all groups that I am a part of – even Facebook groups. Do they reflect the qualities to which I am called by the Beatitudes? If not, am I called to speak out? Am I called to withdraw? What should I do?

Sigh. I have more questions, rather than any answers. Not the start I was hoping for…

So tomorrow, I’ll keep reading. Keep pondering. Keep learning.

How Quickly Passes Our Moment

streetYesterday, as I was driving home, I came over a rise and there were the Cascades in all their sunset glory. Around me, multi-color leaves were sparkling in the amber light, and I said to myself, “What is more important than appreciating this?”

The thought hit me hard. Seriously, what in my life is more important than experiencing  the breathtaking beauty that surrounds me?  I thought of my Mom and Dad, young people back in the 1960’s with their lives ahead of them, vibrant and strong and full of dreams. How quickly their moment passed.

How quickly passes my moment, too. Mike, a childhood playmate, is gone, dead of cancer this year. My cousin Gordy, as well. They were my contemporaries, and their time is over.

But here I am, given the gift of this day, this moment. I’m here. I’m still here. I have the sunset to watch, the trees to admire.

I am blessed.

FOCUS 2019

focus 2019smaller

As you know, every year I create a FOCUS list. The FOCUS list is an assessment of one’s heart and spirit, and it helps us to know where to put our time, talent, and treasure for the upcoming months. (Create your own 2019 FOCUS list here.)

It’s been fascinating to watch the lists through the years. Some elements – spirituality, writing – remain constant. Other items move in and out, or up and down, in focus.

This year, as I worked through the exercise, it was immediately clear that in 2019 I would concentrate on strengthening my foundations. Health, home, work, community, creativity, spirituality, even time itself – all the focus is on ensuring my base is solid.

This makes sense to me. You see, I believe that life has three stages: childhood; first adulthood; second adulthood. In the first stage, childhood, we grow to maturity. That process isn’t complete at age 18 or 21; for most of us, it ‘sets’ around age 30.

Our first adulthood is the ‘trial run’, so to speak. It’s where we immerse ourselves in growing our careers, families, passions – it’s the nose-to-the-grindstone phase, where we learn our lessons and make our mistakes. That phase seems to last about another 30 years.

Then comes the prize, the payoff for all that painful growth. It’s our second adulthood, where we get to reap the benefit of all that experience. We can throw ourselves into life with confidence, because we’ve been here before. This time, we know our way around.  We can enjoy life, enjoy others, enjoy ourselves. 

But just like the first two stages of life, we want to be sure we’re proceeding with a firm foundation. Thus my need to focus on the very structure of my time, energy, and purpose.

I can’t wait.

In the Beginning was the Word

vocabWith the rise of social media, I’ve become concerned about the disregard for grammar and language exhibited by many Americans. Although spell check is possible with the push of a button, many posts and tweets are thrust into the public eye with glaring errors.

These people are not embarrassed by their inability to demonstrate basic fifth grade language skills;  in fact, they often mock those who do. I’ve read posts about ‘grammar nazis’ and how they need to just be quiet, because grammar and spelling are not necessary in today’s society.

This morning I came across this, written by Madeleine L’Engle in the late 1970’s:

“If our vocabulary dwindles to a few shopworn words, we are setting ourselves up for takeover by a dictator. When language becomes exhausted, our freedom dwindles – we cannot think; we do not recognize danger; injustice strikes us as no more than ‘the way things are.’ ” (from Walking on Water – reflections on faith and art.)

I was stunned, because she is describing the exact situation facing America today.

Thoughtful discourse has been replaced with a few memes. Citizens are being fed a diet of words like ‘libtard’ and ‘bonespur’. People have fed for twenty years (or more) on this thought-shrinking diet and now espouse mindsets that are more evocative of Brave New World than the Declaration of Independence.

Have we become inured to danger and injustice? The Black Lives Matter movement says we have. The #metoo movement proclaims the same. And the proliferation of mass shootings in our country, coupled with the unwillingness of politicians to do anything substantive to protect America’s children and citizens, trumpets this most loudly of all.

“That’s the way things are” is a lie. It is a lie promulgated by those who would see people diminished, enslaved by an ideology that co-opts our ability to think and replaces it with a focus on minutia. If we are kept occupied by patriotic-sounding repeating loops about second amendment ‘rights’, we will not look up and see our country slipping away to a few powerful men. If we are kept focused on tweets and antics, we will not notice the laws passed that are the real threats to our freedom.

Most heinous, to me, are those who use Christianity as a tool in this sneaky takeover. That’s NOT what Jesus came for. That’s NOT what Jesus said. He did not say, “Well, that’s just how things are. We have to work with what we have, you know.” He did not say, “That’s what the religious rules are, so let’s not be rude or step on toes,” or “That’s what Caesar says, so we should just get behind him and give him a chance.” No, he shook up the status quo. He spoke against corruption and the abuses of power by both religious and political leaders.

What he did say was, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Freedom begins with having enough words to advocate for ourselves and for others: for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless. This is what Jesus did.

Words are so important that Jesus was called the Word. “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.”

Words matter. Being able to articulate our thoughts isn’t an act of snobbery. It’s an act of defiance as bold as our forefathers who proclaimed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The real battle isn’t being fought with guns, it’s being fought with words, and THAT’S where we need to armor up.

We must break free from the fog of small-thought rhetoric, and arm ourselves by reading broadly. Forget Fox News and News & Guts. Forget Blue Nation and Red Nation. Read the works of great thinkers, past and present. Read literature and biography and philosophy. We must expand our vocabularies and our ability to effectively express ourselves. We need more words in our arsenal, because with more words comes the ability for more thought. And with more thought comes less delusion, less ability to be swayed by the power mongers who RIGHT THIS MOMENT are making their play to take over our country, and to remake our values into a mockery of their original meaning.

Do we want to stop violence and injustice? Then we must read. Read everything, not just what has been selected for us by our religious or political pundits. If we read, we will expand our vocabulary and our understanding. We will be less likely to be duped by the rhetoric of those who are actively enslaving us for their own selfish purposes.

Do you think I’m overstating the case? Then prove me wrong. Read. Learn. Expand your vocabulary, leave memes behind, and articulate my error to me.

I feel confident about my challenge. I believe that if people venture beyond the borders of their pundit-fed mindset, there will be few who come take me on.