13 July 2018

"The Word you are to speak will be given to you"

The Gospel for today is Matt 10:16-23. In it Jesus addresses Apostles being sent on mission set on destroying them; he gives them instructions on how to be effective in what they do, neither being swallowed up by the world they enter with the Gospel of the Kingdom nor offering a kind of domesticated Christianity without --- death notwithstanding --- the power to really change things. This is exactly the same ethic we see from Jesus again and again throughout the scriptures: he traps (or "catches" and stops) those trying to trap him in their own reality and then offers them something new and better in the present moment, all without aggression or hostility. In the language of today's Gospel Jesus acts with the shrewdness of a serpent and the gentleness --- or innocence and simplicity --- of a dove. For those thinking that Christianity offers us a kind of bloodless piety incapable of challenging or otherwise dealing with the world, a piety which makes doormats of disciples the examples Matt gives through the rest of the chapter belies that (cf other posts under the label "gentle as doves . . ." for the real meaning of turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give him your tunic too!).

If we pay attention to the tremendous inner drama involved within each disciple in order for Jesus' instructions or commission to be realized in a world which is seriously dangerous to Christians, we will see a little more clearly what today's Gospel asks for from us in the midst of a turbulent world --- and what the mercy of God promises as well. It is, after all, despite the vivid images of brother vs brother and Father vs Son, the inner drama of conversion and transformation that is the real story in today's Gospel.

All of this was brought home to me on Wednesday. I prayed in the morning as usual but after quiet prayer I opened a book by John O'Donohue and prayed his "Morning Offering". I had been doing a lot of personal work with my director, and I had been reflecting on bondage to fear (the result of past trauma), and on contemplative presence.  O'Donohue's "blessing"  (O'Donohue says "Morning Offering" is not a poem but a blessing) was something I took with me then as I travelled on the train to hand therapy in El Cerrito; I had just read the following again as I disembarked to make my way to the appointment:

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.
May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

I moved to the elevator which would take me to the concourse level of the station and found myself waiting with a care-worn man with a mountain bike. He was older, salt and pepper hair which was also bright blue in the front; he looked like he had been through more than a little in his life and I gave a second thought and even a third to getting on a small and interminably slow elevator alone with him. Then, as we boarded the car two able-bodied men, physically imposing, pushed into the car behind us. Oh boy.

I decided simply, "I will put my fear behind me," and as I did I felt a kind of peace come within and fill me. In a second thought I decided, "I will just be myself and, whatever the situation is, maybe my presence will condition or change it some (not the habit --- which can make one a target --- but my personal presence!)." In any case, I knew I would be fine. The man with the bike greeted me first, "Hi Sister." I responded, "Hi, how goes it?" to which he quickly, even defensively, replied: "In comparison to what?" I thought for a second, (No comparisons here! Help him live in the present moment) and answered, "Just today. How are you?" My answer stopped him; he seemed surprised. Then, a slow shy smile crept over his face, and he said, "Good! I am really good. I have my faith in God!" Quickly he expanded his comment: "'Once things were really bad and a friend asked me to "Name just one positive thing, just one positive thing.' I told him, I have my faith in God. That's so important!"

 I agreed. and said so
I realized as we stood there and he told his story of faith and friendship, suffering and salvation, that my own vision was affected; I began to see someone else standing in front of me than a down and out man I might need to worry about. His own story had replaced the fearful one I had "told myself" about him. Perhaps this process began the moment I put fear behind me. A few seconds later the doors of the elevator car opened and we each went our own way. The two men in the car with us also went on and whether the encounter on the car affected them much I knew the man with the bike had been changed some by it. He had gotten in touch with a precious, empowering piece of his own story and shared it; he implicitly acknowledged the gift my own response had been in its likeness to his friend's demand to name "just one positive thing"; he had allowed himself to touch the treasure of love and friendship he carries within himself even when the darkness threatens to overwhelm; he had dwelt in the present moment with me and his (our) God, and he had been a gift to me in assisting me to do the same. This was the more significant inner drama the Spirit had involved us in.

All kinds of things can prevent us from living in the present moment: past traumata and the fear of repetition or just the triggering of painful memories, busyness and a sense of self-importance, disappointments that make risking ourselves or trusting difficult, the inability to truly entertain a meaningful dream in a way which lets us move forward in the present, the inability to trust in the grace of God that holds us securely no matter what, etc, etc. But Jesus sends us out, commissions us to be his presence in the world, to be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves; he asks us to be wholly at the service of the Gospel of God and those to whom we are sent. He asks us to dwell in the present moment, to put fear behind us and trust that we will be given what we are to say. He asks us to be wholly present in Him and to the other. When we do that witness is no problem; ''the word we are to speak (the word we are called to be in fact) will be given to us," and the world will be transformed for the good.