For Sunday May 22, 2016
Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year C)
Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31
A guest essay by Edwina Gateley. Gateley's journey has led her to teaching in Africa, founding Volunteer Missionary Movement, sojourning in the Sahara Desert, spending nine months of prayer in a trailer in the woods, befriending and ministering to street people and women in prostitution — "God's little ones," and preaching the Good News that God Is With Us. Edwina is a poet, theologian, artist, writer, lay minister, modern-day mystic and prophet, and a single mom. She gives talks, conferences and retreats in the United States, as well as internationally, while continuing to reach out to women in recovery from drugs and prostitution. You can visit her website here.
These are hard times. No doubt about it. Wherever we look, there seem to be pain and suffering in our world. A few months ago, we celebrated Easter and were reminded of our fundamental Christian belief in the risen Christ and the hope that this most glorious event in our liturgical calendar places before us. But, even as our “Alleluias” fade into the past, the realities of our world and its violence remain fixed before us — on TV, the internet, the media, the next block. Everywhere.
How are we to understand the words from Psalm 8 telling us that Yahweh has made us “little less than a god crowned with glory and splendor?" Or the words in Proverbs, which declare how Wisdom permeates the earth and how the world is shaped in such a way that it manifests the presence of God? How are we to absorb the great mystery of last week's Pentecost, which assures us that the Holy Spirit comes down upon us in tongues of fire to send us forth with hope for the world?
Indeed, Easter and Pentecost challenge us as followers of Christ to live out our faith more in darkness than in light. I think that's it. I think that faith is, indeed, ridiculous — that it is only for those who have truly fallen in love with God and been captured by the Spirit of Wisdom — She who is Fire and Breath and Wind, She who calls us to listen especially in the darkness. We know all about that. But even as we experience these dark times in our world, we must be conscious of the light — not a lot — but intense enough to make a difference and reflect another reality.
Some years ago, Japanese scientists did some research on micro-organisms. They discovered that 10% of micro-organisms in and around us are negative. Another 10% were deemed positive. The remaining 80% were classified as “neutral” or “wait and see” micro-organisms. Those in this last category observe which of the two 10% (negative or positive) gain ascendancy, and then they gravitate towards the stronger.
This fascinating piece of research holds a powerful message for the Christian community in today's world. We are to be the 10% positive (light, leaven, salt) in a world of darkness — but so intense and authentic must be our faith that others will be drawn towards the light. We will be agents of transformation and new life. That is what the message of Easter tells us and what Pentecost empowers us to live out in reality. It is Wisdom — the Spirit of God — who calls us to see deeper than the darkness and to recognize that, even in the heart of chaos, God lives, permeating our reality and calling us to remain intense and authentic.
There is a story about an International Congress of Skunks that gathered not so long ago to ponder the state of the world (the skunks representing evil in the world). At some point, the chief of all evil (the devil himself!) stood up and counseled all the little skunks (devils) to allow humanity to do whatever they desired — even to love one another and to be kind and generous. “But," the devil declared, “even as the humans do good deeds, you must ensure that the light of hope dies in their eyes. Then we have them!”
A mythical but enlightening story of how we must keep the light of our faith and hope intense — especially in times of violence and fear.
We read about hope in the epistle this week from Romans 5: “Suffering brings patience, patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope” — one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Still, as always, being faithful in a world of suffering is a challenge and maybe making sense out of it is, as Jesus says to the disciples in the Gospel of John, “too much for you now, but when the Spirit of truth comes, She will lead you to complete truth." Maybe that truth is all about hanging on with a ridiculous faith because we do not let go of that tiny but intense light that comes upon us in an on-going Pentecostal event.
I remember many years ago, when I ran a program for women recovering from prostitution and drugs, a woman turned up at my door one night. Her name was Louise. She was high and “out of it." I let her in and she crashed on the couch for the next twelve hours or so. Once she had sobered up, eaten, and taken a shower, she left.
A week later, the same thing happened. Again and again, week after week, Louise turned up at my door high and drunk. Again and again, I let her in. People began to tell me that I was “being manipulated," that I was “enabling her behavior." Probably right.
But every time I saw her pitiful condition, I let her in, seventy times seventy, until one night, after at least two dozen appearances, Louise turned up again. She had been gang raped and beaten, and her jaw was broken. But she knew where to come. She knew where those of ridiculous faith and hope lived, and this time she stayed. Louise eventually went back to school, joined AA, and today is a counselor in a home for women in recovery.
Indeed, “perseverance brings hope.” We will hold on, even if, so often, it appears that we hold on to almost nothing. God's grace is more powerful than the deepest darkness.
Why is the world so messed up?
I asked God,
So much anger, violence, poverty,
And everywhere I look
I see fear and doubt and loneliness.
Where, in all this sadness,
Is your light -
Take your boots off,
Poem taken from Soul Whispers by Edwina Gateley.