October 7, 2018

Proper 22

The Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis

I love richly flavored food.  The more layers of spice the better.  I remember a conversation a few years ago with a colleague.  I asked, “Why is Mexican food so rich and flavorful and the food of my people – Britts and Irish - so boring?”  “It is because in my culture for thousands of years we have been preparing food for the gods.”

Be the recipes simple or complex, good cooks and culinary artists of every culture generate satisfaction through flavor parings, and classically the parings of opposites or contrasts.  Like the salty and sweet of barbeque or kettle corn, or the sweet with the sour of sweet-and-sour pork and the addition of lime juice to sweet melon.

The pairing of contrasting textures can also be a winner.  I spent years as a child wishing for the world’s largest Twix bar.  The Twix candy bar has the crunch of the cookie and the satin of the caramel; not to mention the salty and sweet combination.  And, when all else fails for flavoring, there is always salt and pepper.

The phenomenon of pairing two distinct flavors or two opposites in a way that generates a third reality or singular taste is a winning culinary strategy, and it is a phenomenon that recurs outside of the culinary arts.  It is a universal phenomenon that pervades many dimensions such as color, music, and even relationships.

It is curious to pair two opposites and have the outcome of the pairing bring delight or harmony or strength.  Yet it can be done and seems to be a recurring phenomenon.

Several of the Bible passages for today suggest that mastering this phenomenon is an imperative exercise for spiritual growth.  First, this seems to be a fundamental thread of the hyperbolic, over-the-top story of Job.  At the onset of his troubles Job’s oxen and donkeys have been stolen, his servants killed, his sheep destroyed by fire, his camels raided and carried off, and all his adult children swept up and destroyed by a fierce wind.  To top it off, Job is then inflicted with sores from head to foot.  What is his response?  To insist that a person may not experience what is good without also experiencing what is bad.  Job is unwilling to divorce them, implying that good and bad are inseparable components of a singular phenomenon; the human experience.

We cannot take our lives and chop them in half – my good life and my bad life.  It is one life.

Job’s words suggest that such a separation is a false one.  The division is not real.  Furthermore, that kind of division is not faithful.  He tells his wife who wants him to condemn his own suffering, “You speak as a fool…Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

In Job’s words the discipline for reconciling contrasts is shown to be an act of spiritual formation and faithfulness.  The ability to accept and contain two distinctions or distinct realities and reconcile them as one is the spiritual conundrum and discipline that is highlighted in both the book of Job and also the gospel for today.

When Jesus insists that the little children be received in the inner circle of society, he is saying you cannot separate the undesirables from the desirables.  It is one singular society and set of people.  The power class cannot eliminate or pretend that those with no power do not exist.  This conceptual divorce is a denial of reality.  It is one population.

It is a similar principal that Jesus highlights in divorce discourse when he says, “So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  Here we have the same formula: one person plus one person equals one new singular spiritual entity.

Can we try to set aside our fears and trauma of divorce to hear these words not in their moral context, but in the context of the phenomenon of reconciling two contrasting elements?  If we can for a moment peel off the layer of ethical concern about divorce, we may hear Jesus speaking of an ethical concern more focused on the general human tendency to sever and separate when what humanity most needs is reconciliation.  Maybe the point is less about staying married to the same person, and more about the ways and places – marriage chief among them – we can constantly build muscle for reconciling difference.

Yes, opposites attract.  We build friendships, courtships and engagements based on contrast.  The introvert is drawn to the extrovert; the scientist to the artist; the emotive person to the intellectual; the spender and the saver; and most dangerously – the dancer to the non-dancer.  These differences are reassuring, interesting, even thrilling at first.  Once we get married, these same pairings would seem to threaten our very lives.  In this way, inside the sacramental life of marriage we constantly practice reconciliation.

One of my favorite breakfast dishes is huevos divorciados, divorced eggs.  But the name is dishonest.  While the dish is comprised of two fried eggs, the eggs are almost always conjoined.  They are called divorciados because one egg is covered in green salsa and one egg is covered in red.  The flavors are distinct and complementary.  While it is two eggs, it is one dish.  While some people neatly eat one side followed by the other taking care not to mix the salsas, others love it when the juices all start to mix together.

Opposites, distinctions, dualities are not inherently problematic.  In fact they can come together to a balancing or strengthening effect; but that effect must be sought and seized upon.  We must want it.  We have a choice to make.  And the human tendency to literally divorce aspects of society, one from the other; populations one from the other; races one from the other; species one from the other is when danger sets in.  It is when we pit one against the other that we step completely out of the flow of the Spirit and our spiritual potential.

Whereas practicing acceptance and mastery of contrasts and opposite pairings, we can gain the power for the highest levels of reconciliation, healing and peace.  The measure of our mastery of this art is most certainly a measure  of wisdom.  May we seek it.  May it find us.