To Feel the Bones Curled In

Jesus_crippled_woman

 

 

To feel the bones curled in, muscles drawn tight, until you struggle to breathe, to open up for even one little breath. The long days and painful nights when each turn and toss refuses to yield one comfortable position and lying awake at night while the household slept you might be given to pray over and over that God would release you from this tight, bound grasp, because what else would one do in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep but peace won’t come to you?

 

The painful draw of breath, barely sipping the air, into crushed, curved lungs, the eyes watching only the dust in which you walk, neck too sore to look up-which would be a strain anyway, bent over as you are. No glorious sunsets, no mountain vistas, no casual joy of watching children run and play for you! Only the dust and the stirring of small creatures in it.

 

Pain has this function, that it narrows one’s focus down, like the shadow of blinders narrowing that focus until all you can see is the pain. It takes over your life until that is all you can talk about, all you think about, all you can see, and this obsession with it sends others scurrying for cover, running the other direction because it is just too overwhelming, too much, too hard, and there are no answers, and how we long to give an answer and be done with painful thoughts.

 

So yes, she a child of the covenant, was alone, was unseen, was unheard, had long, long since worn out the compassion of others, now they averted their eyes and did not see her at all, better not to be involved, after all, what could you do?  So she, born an insider, one to whom God had made promises, passed her days and her nights, silent and alone.

 

The expansiveness of Sabbath, that incredible, glorious celebration of the end of slavery, was denied her. Even when others  put down their burdens, rested easy with their families and breathed in the cool, free air of “I’m not a slave anymore and pharaoh can take a swim in the red sea for all I care” was denied her. Her breath was still sipped through tight lips and her pain was unceasing.

 

She was not one to give up though. She moved, she walked, she shuffled her feet through the dust and the landmarks she made her way by went unseen by most as she made her way through the city streets and into the synagogue. She knew pain, but pain, for her, was just a way of being, it was the unrelenting pinch of nerves that furrowed her brow and denied her a future, but it was just her way of being. It had been with her for so long, she could not remember any other way.  So that day, as she had on so many others, she shuffled her way through the dusty streets and into the synagogue where she would listen and learn, and let her imagination take her places she would never know.

 

The first thing he did, which was unusual and unexpected, was to see her.  Her pain, her struggle had exhausted caregivers and healers and, well everyone it seemed, so she had forgotten what it felt like to be seen so fully and for a few moments she felt exposed and vulnerable, as the crowd, the same crowd she had grown up with, saw her as if they had never seen her before, saw her through his eyes.  So unsettling to feel so many eyes turned upon her, seeking out her flaws. Within the cage of her bent ribs her heart began to pound and while no one could really see, her face began to flush.  And then he called her over, touched her with gentleness and in words both simple and utterly incredible told her God had healed her, said, God has straightened you and she felt her bones and the contractions of her muscles release and let go their fierce grip, so sudden it was she laughed and feeling the breath draw fully into her cramped lungs, she laughed and coughed and gasped.

 

If all her life she had lived a tight, pinched life, this was the breath she had been waiting for and it took her completely by surprise. God had straightened her, made her right, opened her up and the newness was startling. It both filled her and took her breath away.

 

Release to those held captive. It’s a timeless story, one we all relate to on one level or another. But to really understand this story we must go back to the story of the exodus. We must talk about the Sabbath and how it came to be. It’s easy for us to relate the Sabbath to God’s resting on the 7th day of creation,  but it was instituted  after the release from slavery. Most scholars agree that this slavery lasted 230 years, but some suggest it was as much as 400. We can agree that it changed the very nature of the Hebrew people. For hundreds of years they labored without rest, without relief; they labored from dawn to dusk and lived in fear.  They scraped together whatever they could, they hustled, they depended upon their cunning, their wit, their strength, to make it from one day to the next. In the desert, this came to an abrupt halt. Imagine the dissonance. All your life, and all your parents and your grandparents lives, one thing had been certain, that you must scrape, fight, hustle just to stay alive and suddenly this stops. Suddenly you are told you are enough, you have enough, God is with you, God will do all the hustling, all the providing, so don’t even keep a stash and yes, for one day every week, do nothing but be. Be with each other, be with yourself, be with God, just be still and be.

 

The tightness that bound their lives was not physical, but emotional and spiritual.

 

We harden around our wounds, splinting and armoring in an attempt not to be hurt anymore. Where are we contracted today? Where have we curled inward, made our lives smaller? And can we acknowledge that changing that is really hard.  In the nursing homes I used to work in, there were always people who had grown stiff and rigid, their muscles shortening over time, contracting, pulling them in, just as we get used to certain groups of people, refusing to stretch ourselves into difficult and uncomfortable situations. When we enter a new group, or a new classroom, we scope it out, looking for our people, the ones that make us feel good. In today’s world we have even more options for limiting our exposure to those who would confront us. We can block them, unfriend them, sit behind our computer screens thinking ill of them while never having to actually speak to them.

 

I’ll tell you a secret, though I suppose it’s not much of a secret. I believe that if you can’t have a conflict with someone, you’re not really in a genuine, authentic relationship with them. If the relationship depends on my agreeing with you, patting you on the back you agree with me, pat me on the back, then it’s business, not a relationship. A genuine, authentic relationship is one that can hold conflict, that can withstand it, even grow from it. We learn to be curious about one another’s passions, about each other’s hearts. We learn to be with each other with all our vulnerabilities and wounds and when we can do this, we grow closer, our relationship deepens. Conflict isn’t a deal breaker, the inability to tolerate conflict is. Stay with me through our disagreements and conflicts and I will stay with you, and in this way, our relationship deepens and grows.

 

The more we isolate and contract our lives the smaller our lives become, the more we live in fear, the more painful our lives become and the more we pull away, it becomes a cycle which feeds on itself. Into this cycle Jesus steps with grace, with love, with forgiveness. First, he sees. He sees us in our contracted, limited state, our vision directed not toward others but narrowed by pain as pain tends to do, because pain takes so much energy to manage, to simply get by, other interests simply fade away. He sees us with our heads down, shuffling through the streets and into the church, still hoping, still having faith, still looking for and asking for healing, still willing to believe that life can be more than this. He sees us and calls us into a better life.

 

But oh it’s hard to receive isn’t it? It’s hard to believe one more time that this time it could work! 18 years this woman suffered. I can’t even begin to imagine the healers she must have been brought to even as a child, the teachers who were sought out, the priests, the shamans. How exhausting it must have been to get your hopes raised up one more time and then, bam, it’s right back to where you were.

 

So Jesus sees her in her pain and her loss, her small contracted life and asks her for one thing, to be vulnerable, to trust him, to dare to have hope one more time, and she does. She shuffles her way up to the front of the crowd and she dares to hope one more time, wearing her heart on her sleeve being vulnerable, daring to hope.

 

Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection, of creativity. It’s honest and she gives this honesty to Jesus. If he sees her so fully she also allows him to see her in all her brokenness and vulnerability, in all her need and it is in this moment that God straightens her up. It is in this moment that she is restored, made whole. This is faith as an active trust, not a passive belief but the active movement of one soul toward another, with faith, hope, and love. And it draws her into community, into wholeness, it heals her.

 

Jesus invites her into a Sabbath rest, to put down her burden, to accept release from all that contracts and limits her life, to breath deep into the release from pain and to find herself in God. This is an invitation we all receive, not once, but continually. We too are invited to release our burdens, let go our tight grip around all that hurts and breathe deeply, letting go of all that would limit our lives, make them small. As we release our tight grip, our splinting and armoring we discover an openness, a spaciousness in our lives where beauty and grace can breathe new life.

 

I want to end with a poem by Denise Levertov called The Avowal,

 

As swimmers dare
to lie face to the sky
and water bears them,
as hawks rest upon air
and air sustains them,
so would I learn to attain
freefall, and float
into Creator Spirit’s deep embrace,
knowing no effort earns
that all-surrounding grace

When the Heart Trembles

coin purse

 

 

And so we wait,

 

We wait for the kingdom of God and we wait knowing that it is God’s good pleasure to give it to us. We wait like bridesmaids at a wedding, our lamps lit and well fortified with a firm faith that the groom will come and we do not need to be afraid.

 

We wait together in community, stitching together our life of faith one blessing at a time, one act of kindness, one act of redemption and forgiveness, one act of reconciliation at a time. We wait and we stitch together a purse unlike that seen on earth before. One which holds true treasures, and we place our time, our effort, our very best gifts in that purse knowing that placing our treasure there will change us, will draw our heart, our time and our attention right there, where it belongs. We do not place our gifts in that purse believing that it will somehow prove we are good people and we are on the right track.

 

All of our efforts to prove our own worth and righteousness are as feeble as a general without his army. He may stomp his feet and demand justice but alone he lacks efficacy, he cannot create the change he wishes for. Without God all of our efforts to create change, to be made whole and righteous are likewise feeble, but we do not need to be afraid. We rest wholly in the peace and love of God knowing we are cared for, supported, nurtured, and loved more deeply than we can begin to imagine and that this treasure is beyond measure.

 

So we wait, not anxiously or in trepidation, but with anticipation of the master’s return, knowing that hope and glory and celebration are imminent. We wait in this liminal space, this threshhold of the already, but not yet. For already we are saved and sanctified, made holy through the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ but yet we long for and cry out for the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Already, but not yet. Already loved, named and claimed, but there is more coming and knowing this how can we not stay awake, stay woke, filled with the anticipation of the master’s homecoming, filled with the anticipation of the coming of the kingdom of God?

 

For we are kingdom people. We are the beloved of the king, called and chosen to be God’s people, encouraged and given a heart to be witnesses, to be ambassadors of the king. We are called to dwell in the heart of the Beloved, guided by Love’s holy wisdom and to make of our lives a purse to contain our greatest treasure, the love of God.

 

“May you abide in me as I abide in the father,” Jesus tells us. We are at once purse and treasure, for God abides in us and there is no greater treasure, no greater gift, and with astonishing humility we must acknowledge that, without justification, God treasures us, loves us, tucks us deep inside God’s very self, “abide in me.” For we long to dwell in the tent of the Lord, to tuck ourselves into some corner, out of the way, where we might watch the comings and goings of the Lord our God, knowing we are sheltered there forever. “Abide in me, as I abide in the father,” “abide in me and I shall abide in you.” We are at once the purse and the treasure.

 

Sell off the false treasure whenever it conflicts or distracts from the treasure that is the Lord your God. Do not be distracted by glamour, resting your attention on material things which are important today and passe tomorrow. Cleanse yourself of anything that distracts you from taking a simple moment each day to rest in God, to let God dwell in you, replenishing your heart and soul. Live in the world, but do not be of it; do not let it take your attention and your time and consume you. For you were never meant to live that way. You were never meant to be consumed by a desire for all that is false or trivial. You were meant for so much more.

 

You were meant to live with a heart bursting at the seams, heart strings pulled and tugged by deep loves, the loss of which will leave tender, vulnerable spots, ripe for the growth of new love, new life, and the impossible gestation of the Spirit, if we are brave enough. We may end up crying out with Jeremiah, that we have been seduced! That we cannot hold in this thing which is happening to us and we feel foolish and ridiculous, but if we try to hold it in it burns in our very bones and we just cannot keep it quiet, this thing which is happening to us. We were meant to live with the purse strings of our heart bursting at the seams, love spilling out, gospel goodness spilling out, like coins from a split purse, rolling into gutters and down dark alleys, and into the hands of strangers.

 

So sell off anything that would distract you. Empty your heart of worthless encumbrances. Clean out the spare room for that unknown guest which just might show up, prepare a space, and wait.

 

Wait with anticipation and excitement, trusting in the Lord your God. Open your hands and stretch them out, palms up, knowing that God longs to give you every good thing. Desire only the goodness that God desires for you and let go of all other promises. Life will not be better when you attain your ideal weight. It will not be better when you have that new car, big screen TV, or finally get every little thing in it’s just right place.

 

With Paul we might pray that the eyes of our heart would be enlightened, that we might perceive the hope to which God calls us and the riches of God’s inheritance which God longs to bequeath to us, the immeasurable greatness of his love. This love which will burn in your bones, an unendurable longing which we would never choose to part with, just as the whole of creation groans with longing and we will know this is good and right and just as it should be.

 

And we will wait, with our hearts on fire, burning with a holy passion that will not let us sleep nor rest, for our treasure fills us, changes us, and longs for expression. And we will know in our heart of hearts that God abides in us, just as we abide in God, and our purse strings are stretched beyond measure with the fullness of God’s glory,

One thing have I asked of Love

That I shall ever seek:

That I might dwell in the Heart of Love

All the days of my life,

To behold the beauty of my Beloved

   and to know Love’s plan.

For I shall hide in Love’s heart

in the day of trouble,

As in a tent in the desert,

Away from the noise of my fears.

and I shall rise above

my struggles, my pain,

Shouting blessings of gratitude

in Love’s heart

And singing melodies of praise

To my Beloved.

Psalm 27 from Psalms for Praying

 

Dwell in the heart of love my friends. Let God become your purse into which you tuck all your treasure, which you crawl into when the world becomes just too much. Let God become your treasure and stockpile that treasure every chance you get, letting God draw your time, your attention, your devotion, for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, to fill your heart and your days with good things.

 

No king, no army, no desolation nor time of terror or loss, will ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, for our hearts are filled with this immeasurable treasure, that we abide in God, and God abides in us.