March 27, 2016

Easter II

EXODUS 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14, 1 CORINTHIANS 11:23-26; JOHN 13:1-17, 31B-35; PSALM 116:1, 10-17


If you are like me you have a million things you feel you want or need to keep track of.  We have so many tasks and to dos that remembering them all requires supernatural power or a very effective system of personal organizing. We keep up with things like phone calls, errands, pet medicines, tree trimming, retirement planning, replacing our tires, calling mom, calling kids, job searching, signing up for health insurance, renewing the bus pass, etc. White collar workers have reports and deadlines. Parents have children’s recitals and birthday parties.  We have things to file and cars to register. We deal with our debts and manage our savings.  In the modern world the to do list is infinite.

One guru of personal organizing says that the remedy is to write it all down. David Allen advocates compiling and listing everything, including the things we will never get to. He tells us to write everything down, because otherwise the mind is cluttered.  If our minds are cluttered trying to keep track of everything, then they will not be free to undertake their best work which is to generate insight and creative vision.

Throughout time the spiritual traditions have looked to meditation and contemplation for this kind of mental and neurological housekeeping. We sit in silence and attempt to master the art of letting our neurotic thoughts race around without attending to them. The better one becomes at ignoring those infinite, pesky, random thoughts, the more frequently important matters surface. One might experience a sense of peace where there had been anxiety.  One might receive an insight about another person with whom there has been conflict.  Solutions to hard problems can arise, and even the mundane in need of attention may make itself known.  Have you ever been in meditation and out of nowhere remembered that it was your brother’s birthday, or that you had an annual medical appointment that escaped your calendar?  This is how the unitive, integrated brain works.  Head and heart and neuropathy are given what they need to function as one system. The benefits unto us are innumerable.

The psyche has a way of bringing up what is important given half a chance, and the spiritual life is about noticing when that happens. Beyond tracking tasks and to dos, our deeper systems of remembrance track profound incidences, especially loss. We may not remember consciously the anniversary of a loved one’s death, but on such occasions we are likely to experience waves of grief, sadness or irritability. We will begin to make connections if we pay attention and show curiosity about those feelings. “Of course!” one might discover. “It is almost the anniversary of the hurricane that crushed my living room.” Or, “Oh my. Tomorrow is the death anniversary of my best friend.”

The question from today’s gospel – particularly Thomas – is how will they remember their leader, teacher, friend and guide who was no longer counted among the living. Thomas’ seeing-is -believing attitude is most unsatisfying perhaps because it hits too close to home.  But when Jesus invites Thomas to place his finger on the wounds in Jesus’ hands and to put his hand into the master’s side, he invites us all to take the spiritual high road. Even though the text does not say so, it seems somehow as though Thomas actually does place his fingers in the wounds and touched the raw, tender side of Jesus. Jesus was willing to be held by others in order that they would trust their own power to effectively teach and heal. What an intimate act of remembering the man, and what a powerful act of re-enfleshing one who had died.

Today we literally ‘re-member’ our congregation through the sacrament of Baptism. With water and anointing oils, with singing and prayer, we say to our new additions, “Welcome!” If we are in relationship with them and they with us, over time we will not be the same. We are enfleshed with new flesh. We have parts of our church body we had not before, and the whole is changed. The message that we remember on this day and that we promise to send and resend to our new companions is that the power of the divine is both inside and all around them.

There is a saying in the Gospel of Thomas that puts it quite directly.

(God’s) imperial rule is inside you and outside you. When you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living (God). But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty.

We come together to know and be known. We do so inside of a spiritual tradition that upholds a deep, psychic path to knowing and being known. We know and are known through honest relationship, and we know and are known through contemplation and prayer. The promise is that in the midst of our neuroses and in spite of our mortality, we can know consolation, deep friendship, renewal and a sense of peace.

On this day of baptizing and re-membering we say to our newest members and potential friends, “Welcome. May you come to know the ways of God which are already both inside and all around you.”