Rules

And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Mark 3:1-6


Those Pharisees. They’re hung up on the rules.

Rules make us feel safe. Or at least we think they will. We think that following the rules will keep us from harm. Of course, sometimes they do. Looking both ways at the crosswalk, etc. But when we forsake a greater wisdom for adherence to rules, we stop being human.

We still kill people for failing to follow the rules we contrive.

As in the previous chapters of Mark, Jesus is trying to show the Pharisees that they — that we all — are called to a greater fidelity. Not worship of rules, but worship of love, of life itself. Fidelity to our basic goodness, and the basic goodness of others. Fidelity to kindness. Allegiance to compassion.

 

Sick

When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17


I wonder whether there’s a bit of irony in Jesus’s words to the Pharisees. They see themselves as righteous, but of course their lofty self-regard means that they are as much in need of repentance as those they call sinners. Seeing the world in polarities (good and bad, righteous and sinner) is a symptom of spiritual illness, or at least a sign that one has room to grow.

When Jesus says, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners,” is he saying, “the righteous won’t even hear my call, but the sinners will, because they admit their failings”? The sinners aren’t  following the world’s rules, perhaps because they cannot. It may be their sins that make them vulnerable enough to hear the call to repentance. But when we’re full of a sense of our own goodness and rightness, we cannot hear the call to something greater.

Faith & Doubt

For months now, I’ve been visited by a small, quiet urge to sit in the mornings with scripture and reflect. Partly I am inspired by this guy. So, this week, I decided to respond to that urge and see where it leads.


When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he said to the paralytic– “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”  Mark 2: 1-12


Seamus Heaney (1939–2013)

Miracle

Not the one who takes up his bed and walks
But the ones who have known him all along
And carry him in —

Their shoulders numb, the ache and stoop deeplocked
In their backs, the stretcher handles
Slippery with sweat. And no let up

Until he’s strapped on tight, made tiltable
and raised to the tiled roof, then lowered for healing.
Be mindful of them as they stand and wait

For the burn of the paid out ropes to cool,
Their slight lightheadedness and incredulity
To pass, those who had known him all along.


Even in the presence of a miracle, there are doubters. Those who have elected themselves rule enforcers. Rather than meditate on the love that fuels the miracle, they worry about authority. Licenses. Permission. Property lines.

And there are those who keep finding a way, focused on the task. Not stopped by the crowds, nor even the house itself. Carried by faith rather than carrying doubt.

Honoring the source

For months now, I’ve been visited by a small, quiet urge to sit in the mornings with scripture and reflect. Partly I am inspired by this guy. Also, this guy. And this woman. So, this Monday morning, a couple of days before my birthday, I decided to respond to that urge, and begin, and see where it leads.

***

“A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter.” Mark 1:40-45

***

I empathize with both of them. It was impossible for the leper not to tell everyone about the miracle he’d experienced, how his whole life had been turned around in a moment by a healing touch. In a moment he is freed from an affliction that cuts him off, makes him untouchable. In a moment he is delivered from being an outcast. People no longer recoil at his rotting body but instead treat him as a fellow human being. No wonder he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

And poor Jesus. He gave a simple instruction to the leper and, once again, as with most of his simple instructions (see: “Love your neighbor as yourself”), it was ignored. 

Jesus wants the miraculous healing to be offered up as a testimony, not about him, but about God. He knows the miracle isn’t about him, but about the power of love, the power that comes from God. But people can’t see that, can’t see the unseen. So they focus on what and who they can see. And clamor for more. Poor Jesus, without benefit of an agent or Instagram, becomes the celebrity of his day, unable to go anywhere without being recognized and mobbed. Even his own disciples hunt him down while he’s praying. 

I imagine Jesus might have been thrilled when Simon’s mother-in-law, after being raised from her bed, simply gets up and goes on about her work (Mark 1: 29-31). Maybe she expressed some amazement, we aren’t told that. We’re told that she begins to serve them — probably making a meal, doing what was needed. Maybe her spirit, living in a woman’s body, knew that his body would need sustenance after that healing work. So she got about that work, feeding and nurturing the source of that healing power. Honoring and replenishing the source. 

Notes on doubt

notes from a session on Doubt, at Justen Ahren’s Devotion to Writing workshop,
Noepe, Edgartown, 2015

Ring the bells that you must ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
— Leonard Cohen

Doubt is:
punctual
every day
natural
common
a good worker

not just feeling, emotion, but exploring structure, meter, music, tension is structure, structure is tension

doubt signals that we’re at the edge, increasing the boundaries of our craft

doubt creates a chance to pause, slow down, deepen our resolve

train your doubt: e.g., “why do you think this is ugly?”
demand proof

doubt is attentive, persistent, potentially one of your best workers. ask it, “why shouldn’t I be writing that?”

we do not doubt what is mundane and casual

we doubt what is new

how can we not have doubt about something new? new to the world, new to ourselves

what doors are we opening?

pink paper clip, blue-purple wooden top, grabbing brass ring

coming back to a work: getting quiet, listening, because sometimes we mishear the universe during a first draft

What is the cost of writing — your whole life, but it is not a life that is lost, it is a life that is gained. — Joseph Stroud

 

 

 

 

fragment

a little fragment while drinking a latte at a cafe in Edgartown, summer 2015

Oh, I want to say to that beautiful young couple, life is happening, get off your devices. Your beautiful children are making memories of learning how to work the water spigot, your son with his platinum blond head, your beaming daughter, delighted, entranced by making the water pour into the cup with her own tiny hands. She holds up one hand, damp fingers spread in joy. You keep typing.

I know you are tired and working hard, not just raising children but doing your part to keep the wheels of commerce turning in their oiled grooves. I know you need a break, but, oh, please, see how beautiful she is, this passing moment of learning how to work things, how to get what she needs from the world — it’s already happening, she’s already growing, 10 feet from the table and she’s already walking away into the world.

later…

I write to stop myself from telling the beautiful blonde mother to put down her iPhone and look at her daughter toddling toward her, beaming with the joy of filling her own cup from the water spigot.

I write to keep my heart open, because I don’t see everything, because I don’t see the moments when the mother pulls her daughter close and holds her tight, holds her in her lap in her tiny pink hoodie, eyes closing, curls drooping, mouth dropping open, safe bird in the nest of her mother who loves her more than anything in the world, more than her lovely husband, so much that sometimes she can’t bear to feel it, her heart walking around in the world in a tiny pink hoodie.

Divination (Borrowing) (Stealing)

A little thing that used a line from Jane Kenyon’s Let Evening Come as a starting point. 

Let it come, as it will, and don’t be afraid.

Let the trees rise up before you, their shadows and the secrets they hold. Let them hold their secrets, let the wind carry away the secrets, let bird turn the secrets into colored string, the let the birds weave the string into their nests, let them lay their eggs in nests of secret.

Let the pine needles prick your feet, their rusty warmth perfuming the forest floor.

Let the sand, soft and silken, powder your toes.

Let yourself stop, look up, breathe the air.

Even in August you can feel the edge of winter.

You will come through winter.

Let yourself drift in lazy circles over the reservoir, the square boulders of the dam, the splashing in the lake, the whistling life guards, distracted mothers glistening in tight bathing suits.

Circle back and gaze down at the red and white plastic floats. Far off, under the tree boughs, beyond the shouting, an otter paddles at the edge of the lake.

Let yourself remember what you remember. The heat of the stones, the quiet of the reservoir. The litter — empty bag of Cheetos, a pink and white coffee stirrer, an unopened Handi-Wipe, its ammonia scent still intact.

Let it come, as it will, and don’t be afraid.