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

Sunday, May 20, 2012

God works in mysterious ways

The Exodus is truly a journey, and there are some basic things about this journey that can’t be avoided

A first lesson is this.
The way up is often the way down

Think about the first thing that happens when Moses finally gets back to Egypt
Moses and Aaron talk to the people, and they get everyone on the Exodus agenda.
They have the people of Israel behind them,
And then….

He and Aaron go to Pharaoh and say, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the desert.'"   And the Pharaoh says, “well if that is that God want, far be it from me to get in the way…. You’d better get going!!”
Right?  Wrong!

Pharaoh said, "Who is this God, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go."   Moses and Aaron don’t give up, they make a further plea.  In fact they make threats.  “Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, or he may strike us with plagues or with the sword."

But still Pharaoh is not impressed.  In fact he is so unimpressed that he makes the life of the people of Israel worse, much worse.   He gave an order to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the people:  "You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don't reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, 'Let us go and sacrifice to our God.' Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies."

Have you ever seen a brick, made the way they made them in Egypt?  Well let me tell what a key ingredient is, what kind of holds the brick together and gives it substance.  Straw. You take away straw, and it is way more work.  You have to have more clay, and the clay cracks.  Frankly it just doesn’t work.

So here we have the great start to the process
The beginning of the Exodus
And it is marked, by failure!
And the people are not happy.  They blame Moses.  They attack him.

Not a good start!

Isn’t it interesting, how often in the Scripture God hints at the fact that movement, growth, change, restoration, so many good things, involve a journey through struggle.  Even failure?

So often what we see in the Bible is not a straight line toward renewal, but a crooked line, often involving loss, that leads to renewal.

It is almost as if we have to lose something, something important, profound, before we can move further in our spiritual lives. 

A job, a fortune, a reputation has to be lost
A death has to be suffered
A disease has to be endured

They may sound weird, but I think the “always blessed” are at a disadvantage.
Because it looks to me as though some kind of falling, what Rohr calls necessary suffering is programmed into the spiritual journey we see presented in the Bible.

Think about Moses, and Aaron.
Would they have been the same leaders?
Would they ultimately have had the same relationship with God,
The same trust in God, and what God could do
A trust they would definitely need, time and time again in the desert,
If they had not had this first moment of loss?

Where they lost their voice?  Lost their influence? When Pharaoh made them look like abject failures?

But we are scared to death of these moments.  We think they are bad.  We think they are evidence that God is not with us, or that we don’t have enough faith.

We work so hard to avoid them.  In fact the spirituality of far too many people is essentially made up of a journey where the main task is to avoid bad things, avoid sin, avoid mistakes at any cost

How far do we get… tip toeing through life, scared to death, looking over our shoulders, spiritually speaking?  If the Israelites had done this, they would never have gotten out of Egypt, and in fact they barely did… for that very reason….It was more comfortable to stay safe, and stuck…

It was clear from the beginning that they, the people, would not be in charge of this journey
They were not going to be able to plan the itinerary
Oh no…. They had no control, they could not engineer their own safe passage…

They fact is, they learned more from the initial failure of Moses and Aaron
Then they would have learned if things had gone well.  If Pharaoh had just let them go.
Moses, when he essentially tried to do it his own way….”all we want to do Pharaoh is just go out for a little 3 day retreat” thought small.  How far a 3 day retreat gotten them?
Learning to trust God and depend on God, they learned to go all the way, to freedom.

They learned more, and grew more, by doing it wrong, than by doing it right
Rohr notes that some people have called this principle of going down to go up a “spirituality of imperfection” or the “way of the wound”.

I like that.  And where it takes me is to those words of Jesus we heard earlier.  Matt 10:34-39
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Here-in is the mystery of the Christian faith.
When we fall, we are raised
When we die to the old, we find a glorious new
When we fail we discover forgiveness
When we are lost in the dark, the light shines.

Rohr calls this “falling upward.”

What happens is we learn that the path is crooked
And we learn that bad things happen
And we learn we can fail
And we learn that God, in grace and love can turn everything around.

Salvation, being raised to new life, is not sin, or failure perfectly avoided (this is where we with our spiritual egos would like to go)

No salvation is sin and failure turned on its head and used in our favor.
God used the failure of Moses and Aaron
He used the stubbornness of Pharaoh
We would use the whining immaturity of the people of God

All, to get them wonderfully, beautifully, to the Promised Land
To keep them moving
To turn sin and failure on its head

There is only one constant in all of this
Present and acting
Through it all, the people of God are never alone.
And God’s primary job description, Jesus’ too, is one of constant renewal of bad deals.

This past week this all kind of hit me, so I wrote this little piece for my blog
I’d like to end with sharing it with you now.

The way up is the way down
It really bugs me God
that life doesn't come with a handbook

I always thought it would have been nice
if you would have given me a little tome

Tips for the Road

I spent so much time trying to do it right
I was taught
by well meaning parents
and well meaning pastors
that this was the way to go

do it right
follow the rules
I learned a spirituality of perfection
and I was miserable
and frankly....

well frankly I became spiritually challenged

But you taught me a big lesson God
somewhere along the way

You taught me that it is OK to strive
and work to do and be my best
but you taught me it is also OK to fail
and forgive
and include imperfection
For God it has been from the depths
that I have been able to reach feebly for the heights
Thank you God for the spirituality of imperfection
For teaching me that I grow spiritually much more
by doing it wrong than by doing it right (thank you Richard Rohr)
it is when I fall apart
and my carefully engineered life collapses

it is in losing, failing, falling, in sin
that I find the mystery of grace
and you

the way down
my God
is often the way up
to grace

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