March 1, 2015

Lent II

Psalm 80:1-7; Isaiah 64:1-9a; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Mark 13:(24-32) 33-37


To be a seeker of the Divine through religious tradition requires something of a sculptor’s sensibilities. Jews, Christians and Muslims pursue spirituality through community and history.  This path is inefficient, but it is meaningful and powerful. We religious seekers look to ancient teachings translated into contemporary English that sound plainly stated yet we must work away at them in order to access their meaning as well as their core beauty.

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for sake of the gospel will save it.

This is Jesus’ most declarative teaching about detachment. Others sound like this:  Lay down your nets and “follow me.” “Sell all your possessions and give your money to the poor.” “Stand up, take your matt and walk.” Each of these can be considered an instruction from Jesus to radically detach from a familiar way of being in order to reorient oneself anew. It is like reconstructive surgery for the soul. Every faithful act of detachment is an opening for the Spirit to shape us and move us closer to the Truth.

Some detachments are punctuated, such as the day we choose to get sober or the moment we vow to be married. In the case of the first, when we leave behind booze or pills or powders or serums, we detach from the lock of addiction or the fantasticality of numbness and fantasia in order to let ourselves be repossessed by consciousness, free will and sensation. In the case of the second, when we become tethered to another in matrimony we separate from a singularity of self - doing whatever I want the way that I want at the time of my pleasing - to a plurality of self where doing is orchestrated, negotiated and made more valuable by way of sharing the experience. The core nugget of Jesus’ teaching in this Sunday’s gospel is that is in loosing - loosening - losing, we are ripe to gain, even to be preserved, or perhaps to be made whole.

For those who want to save their life will lose it.

Can you think of a time in your life when you were so afraid - so hell bent on keeping things exactly as they were - that you were compromising the spiritual quality of your life?  Afraid to…lose the marriage…let the child go away to school…stand up to the abuser…take the early retirement.  Can you think of a time like that in which you actually pushed through - or you were pushed through - to the other side not only did you survive the transition, you actually could breathe more deeply?  You felt more yourself, more at peace, better aligned?

The Academy Award Winning picture, “Birdman” artfully lifts up this predicament.   The extended question throughout the film was would Riggan Thomson - Birdman - give up the ego, the former self, the super-hero image and character for a more up to date expression of his true and deepest self as an actor? He reaches from the sunny west coast superficiality of the screen to the frigid east coast exposure of the stage in an attempt to be created more in his own likeness, more into his true and current self. Will he succeed at the kind of performance that - as he says to the film critic - literally has cost him everything. In the end we do not know if he achieved his truth or his freedom. We don’t know if he fell or if he flew. And that is the perfect ending to a presentation the existential question that we each must face as mortals and that we must face together as church. To what are we wiling to die in order that we can be remade anew and made more true? What chunk of ourself - what piece of our personal landscape - will we sever in order to be set free?

For most of us Lent is a beginners exercise in spiritual detachment. We give up Diet Coke, desserts or alcohol as a shallow reminder of the depths to which we are called over time to separate and start anew. Our endearing Lenten habits are like indicator lights on our spiritual dashboard, reminding us that God’s call to take up much greater and more important considerations do not always fall in the 40 days leading up to Easter. Grandparents may leave behind everything they know to move to a new state just to be near grandchildren. A teenager may let go of a Sunday sport in order to reduce the stress level and have time to simply be. A mother may leave poverty, homeland and children to find work abroad. Getting to the truth and aligning with our sacred nature is an ongoing process akin to being sculpted endlessly by way of detachments that allow for refinements by our Creator.

Those who lose their life for sake of the gospel will save it.

A beloved and now deceased Indian teacher of meditation taught, “Detachment is liberation.”  Though detachment can be scary, it is the key to our freedom.  It is the key to truly living.  Mohandas Gandhi wrote,  “…I can see that in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists.” Gandhi studied Jesus and you can hear today’s gospel in this writing.  Something that Jesus taught and Gandhi reminded us is that the same mechanism by which we are individually fine tuned - detachment - is the mechanism by which society is rendered more just. The better we become at fine tuning our own lives, the better able we will be to identify injustice and imbalance in society. The more capable we are of spiritually detaching in our personal aspect, the better prepared we are to release old ways of doing things socially or politically in the public arena in order to progress toward justice and equity.

The Lenten message from Jesus feels heavy and a bit sad.  Indeed Lent mostly feels that way too. This is because all of our lenten habits are pointing to the ultimate detachment; the detachment from this life. We act as though Lent were about Diet Coke and chocolate, when really it is about preparing for death. And as people of faith we understand that in some cases death may be a greater freedom if the alternative is to live bounded to injustice or enslaved to untruth. Therefore, the church sings the hymn lyrics, “And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.”

It is hard to be a sculptor seeking out the kind of truth Jesus was pursuing whether in ourself or in society. But if we as seekers remain the same over time, we will suffocate spiritually. And if we do not seek the connection between our own refinement and the need for beauty and justice in the world, then our personal liberation will find little meaning or satisfaction.

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for sake of the gospel will save it.