Primitive religion is not believed, it is danced!

Arthur Darby Nock

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Elizabeth Browning

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lost and Found

I have been thinking, in this time when our society seems all too willing to abandon the vulnerable, about this thing called love. As we hear about services to the poor being cut, the privileges of the wealthy be extended. As we see immigrants, the mentally ill, the poor being minimized, we have to think about what it means, as Christians, as church, to love. Suffice it to say that love is not all fun and games. It can be difficult. After all, Jesus clearly asks us to love those who by objective standards don’t deserve it.

Many years ago, when I was in high school, I would work on a ranch in Plush, Oregon. A group of us would start out in Plush, and then for about a month, move the herd of cattle from water hole to water hole out on the desert. It was a lot of fun. But I remember well the “one horned cow.” We hated that cow. She just wouldn’t go with the herd. We would start out, and all would be well, then suddenly we would realize that we had lost the one horned cow.

So one of us would go back, and look around, and inevitably, there she would be… wandering off on her own agenda… so we would gather her in and force her back to the herd. A few hours later, she was gone again. The whole trip we fought that stupid cow. And I will tell you, buy the end of the trip we had a vision for that cow….. hamburger.

I am reminded of the parable of the lost sheep. Leaving the whole flock to go after one, especially one who is problematic, rebellious? Pretty crazy. But that is the way God’s love is, -- and that is the way our love is meant to be.

Fourteenth Century mystic Catherine of Siena is one of three women who have been honored by Catholic Christianity as Doctor of the Church, because of the depth of her writings on the spiritual life. She often began her prayers, “O Divine Madman.” While this brilliant, fiery Italian woman was asked to describe the God of her journey, she whispered “he is pazzo d’amore, ebro, d’amore”. He is crazed with love, drunk with love.

That is God. The mad one. One whose love is beyond logic. We see this illogical love reflected in the Jesus’ relational attitude toward his disciples. Brennan Manning expresses this attitude in a story he tells in his book The Importance of Being Foolish. “Jesus attitude was beautifully expressed” he writes, “on a tour through Sleepy Hollow Village on the Hudson River. Our guide’s only instruction was, “Please be gentle with the lambs. They won’t come to you if you frighten them.”

When Jesus eyes scanned the crowds, he looked with the eyes of compassion. And thus, except when people were afflicted, as were the Pharisees, with a fatal case of self-righteousness, he did not speak to them with words of blame and shame, castigating, moralizing, ridiculing, threatening, labeling.

No, he was gentle with the lambs. He looked at people with the eyes of love, and his goal was always forgiveness. He always sought to take that lost sheep, and return it to the flock. He took the initiative, over and over again, to seek out sinners, and draw them in to his circle… Matthew the tax collector, Peter the uncouth fisherman.

The woman caught in adultery. . . think about that scene. It’s incredible, really. He didn’t even ask her, as he forgave her and accepted her, whether she was sorry. He did not demand that she commit to change. He did not lecture her on the harsh consequences of future infidelity. He looked at the woman, love her, forgave her, and told her not to sin anymore. The lost sheep. Being brought back to the flock – not through guilt or fear, but through compassion. When we look at other people with compassion, we are recognizing that person as one created and loved by God. We are recognizing them as someone, not something. Not as an adjective. Poor, old, sinful, ill. But as a person, a child of God.

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